The Role of Ambient Sound in Gaming

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Immersion is a big deal in gaming. The characters, storyline, and environment must work together to bring gamers deep into the game. However, there’s one other element that brings gamer into the game world that’s often overlooked — ambient sound.

Don’t you just hate it when a game involves the character walking in a dense forest yet it’s totally quiet there? No wind howling, insects buzzing, birds singing, or leaves rustling. A super quiet forest just doesn’t feel right.

Why is ambient sound so important in gaming?

A great video game is more than just visual. Adding the right sound arms the game to attack you from multiple senses.

Be it in a dungeon, beach, floating island, or alien planet, the right ambient sound helps gamers create a mental model of where the game takes place. Good ambient sounds make you experience the game than simply play it.

The sound can also act as a cue. Is this the right time to gather resources or should we arm ourselves preparing for the boss battle?

Just for fun, strap a heart monitor while playing your favorite game and see how your heart rate changes as you play. You’ll see that the sounds play a big part in the spikes.

All this immersion only happens when you pick the right sound to help enforce the game world. A game set in 1850 San Francisco can’t have the same ambient sound as 1888 London. Roughly the same timeframe, yet totally different place and background story. One is all about cowboys and gold rush while the other is the hunting ground for Jack The Ripper.

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So, how and where do you get the best ambient sound for gaming?

One option is to record on site. When you need the ambient sound of a pine forest, you travel to the nearest pine forest in your area, bring the recording equipment, and collect real sounds.

Be sure to capture the whole feeling of the place. The real sound of a forest is more than the sum of its elements. The interactions between the sounds and the environment make everything sound organic.

In case that sounds like too much trouble, you just have to make do with what the internet provides. users have created tons of ambient sound. Need a city ambiance? There’s plenty of that there. Need something more sci-fi related? Got plenty of that there too.

Using a pre-made sound is a much more cost-effective method to collect great background audio for your game. Money-wise, it sure beats going to an actual forest like the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in Inyo County, California – when you’re living on the East Coast.

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