Real Time Art Engines 2: Sound in Games
Adam Nash

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1. See Mark Pendergrast (2001) for a good overview of the development of synthesisers in music in the twentieth century.

2. Subsequently, in the late 1990s and early 2000s emerged a retro movement celebrating the work of these synthesiser artists, but that is slightly beyond the scope of this argument, although it is interesting to ponder the coming retro movements of computer gaming in general. The current retro taste is for 1970s and 1980s arcade and Nintendo games; assumedly this will grow 'forward in history' to the point at which this essay is being written (2006) with pop culture-sanctioned movements and patterns emerging that may or may not be actually present in the current gaming landscape.

3. Games such as Darwinia use the processing power of cutting edge real time 3D graphics to produce a decidedly non-'realistic' 3D environment.

4. See, for example, Jonathan Miller (2006) paragraph 1: 'While good sound in movies and games often goes unnoticed'

5. R. Murray Schafer calls sounds divorced from their original context 'schizophonic' and considers it a negative phenomenon. But Pierre Schaeffer, the inventor of musique concrete, called them objets sonores, a kind of 'aural photograph', and considered them to be the essential building blocks of sound as art. See David Toop (2004). See also R. Murray Schafer (1994); and Michel Chion (1994).

6. The commercial production of real time 3D environments is often aimed at the economic end of consumption,
so there has been little product that targets this ability within the games industry. The 2001 game Rez (Mizuguchi & SonicTeam, 2001), essentially an old-school first person shooter with tunes and beats instead of blood and guts, is notable for privileging music in its gameplay. It probably can't be said of Rez that its primary aim is the user's interactive perception of sound, although in practice it can be enjoyably used as such to a limited extent.

7. In whatever format, but .wav, .ogg and .mp3 are the currently favoured formats.

8. For an interesting discussion of alternatives, see Philip Brophy (1989)

9. Frustrating as it is to use vocabulary sourced from film, the basic definition of soundtrack (ie, music serving to reinforce the visual/emotional/conceptual message) holds up, as long as the above considerations of an active role on the parts of both composer/sounds and user/listener are kept in mind.

10. 'Foley' is the term used in film production to describe incidental sound effects, perhaps best illustrated by the coconut-shell-as-horses-hooves example.


Pendergrast, Mark (2001) / The Ambient Century / Bloomsbury
Leonard, Paul (2003) / Audio Prototyping with Pure Data / GamaSutra / May 28th
Bridgett, Rob & Paul, Leonard (2006) / Establishing an Aesthetic in Next Generation Sound Design / GamaSutra, June 20th
Farnell, Andy (n.d) / Practical Synthetic Sound Design / chapter 1, section 1, para. 3
Harrison, Jonty (1999) / 'Diffusion: theories and practices, with particular reference to the BEAST system' / eContact 2:4
Greene, Brian (2003) / The Elegant Universe / New York: Norton
Toop, David (2004) / Haunted Weather: Music, Silence and Memory / London: Serpent's Tail /pp. 56-67
Schafer, R. Murray (1994) / The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World / Rochester: Destiny Books
Chion, Michel (1994) / Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen / Columbia University Press
Miller (2006) 'Randy Thom Interview' / Independent Gaming Network / June 30th
Mizuguchi & SonicTeam (2001) / Rez, Playstation 2, SonicTeam/Sega
Brophy, Philip (1989) 'Film Narrative/ Narrative Film: Music Narrative/ Narrative Music / Cinema Papers No. 71 / Melbourne


Adam Nash is a new media artist, composer, programmer, performer and writer. He works primarily in networked real-time 3D spaces, exploring them as live audiovisual performance spaces. His work has been presented in galleries, festivals and online in Australia, Europe, Asia and The Americas, including peak festivals SIGGRAPH, ISEA, and the Venice Biennale. He is currently undertaking a Master of Arts by Research at the Centre for Animation and Interactive Media at RMIT University, Melbourne, researching multi-user 3D cyberspace as a live performance medium. He is also a Lecturer in Computer Games and Digtial Art in the School of Ceative Media at RMIT University. He has been a writer and reviewer for Digital Media World magazine, and editor of the Computers and Internet department at LookSmart. He was also a Project Officer at com.IT, a community charity he helped to establish that recycles computers and redistributes them for free to NFPs domestically and overseas.