The No.1 Website for Pro Audio
 Search This Thread  Search This Forum  Search Reviews  Search Gear Database  Search Gear for sale  Search Gearslutz Go Advanced
Video Game Reference Level/Standards Headphone Amps
Old 29th August 2008
  #1
Gear Head
 
havlowjumper's Avatar
 

Video Game Reference Level/Standards

Hi All,

I know that there was one fairly robust thread earlier about Game Audio, but I was hoping to introduce a new thread that addresses what we might consider a crossover topic:

I know it has been beaten to death, and we are all tired to a degree of talking and writing about it, but loudness, and the "loudness war" has been infiltrating gaming. As the game technology catches up to film and TV (games in surround, Dolby encoded) many of the same issues that Film and TV mixers face in terms of loudness and mixing are now being faced in the world of gaming.

One major issue it seems to me is that there is no one group that can effectively regulate or even suggest any standards for the game industry audio professionals to follow. Networks have QC and delivery specs, Films have delivery requirements, but for gaming there seems to be no real control.

I work for a game company, and I have been asking colleagues this question, and often times the answer comes back to "what does the publisher want?"

That is fair, but I also don't want to blow up my audience's home speakers when they switch from TV or a Movie to gaming... not to mention the use of dynamics for effect (god forbid there is any art involved in mixing a game)

Any game audio folks (or anyone) out there with some thoughts or sources?

thanks for reading,
-abe
Old 29th August 2008
  #2
Lives for gear
 
TVPostSound's Avatar
6 years ago, I was hired as the dialogue editor for a video game that released alongside its movie counterpart.
This company wanted "Hollywood" sound people to make their game as good as features.

The dialogue was sent to a well know dialogue mixer, when it was returned, the game company freaked. Granted it was properly processed and leveled at theater specs, they claimed the audio was way too low. The sound supervisor immediately took all the dialogue into Bias Peak, and slammed it to the top. I swear it looked like a sine wave at -.01dBFS.

So the loudness wars has been around in video games for a while!!

The names were withheld to protect the guilty.
Old 29th August 2008
  #3
Gear Nut
 
dsteinwedel's Avatar
 

Start at -20 dbFS pink noise = 79 db. Same as TV/DVD post.

If your publisher/developer complains, fight the good fight and inch it down bit by bit (78, 77, 76, etc.) as needed. I got my last game out at 75 db reference level and it is/was quieter than a lot of games but it sounded just fine in the end. Also pick out blockbuster games that have a decently referenced mix and use them as examples in your arguments (Gears of War and Halo come to mind).

-Dave
Old 29th August 2008
  #4
Lives for gear
 
danijel's Avatar
Can someone explain why would there be loudness war in games?

I imagine gamers immerse themselves for hours in one game, so there are no disturbances like commercials or other music playing from winamp.... Or has that changed?
Old 29th August 2008
  #5
Lives for gear
 
TVPostSound's Avatar
Quote:
If your publisher/developer complains, fight the good fight and inch it down bit by bit (78, 77, 76, etc.) as needed. I got my last game out at 75 db reference level
By inching the reference level down, you are raising the mix up!!!
Old 29th August 2008
  #6
Gear Nut
 
dsteinwedel's Avatar
 

It depends on the platform. Consoles are much better than PC titles about this. But I'll speak a little bit about the situation on PC.

Most software programs that include audio alerts, Windows XP included, master their sounds at excessive levels. AIM, Trillian, etc. Also, many players do use a music player in the background. Many of these programs do not have independent volume controls and if they do they're often buried in the preferences (music apps excluded). Most users either work with the master volume output or the speaker level knob.

Hence, most PC games are competing against sounds that are excessively loud.

On top of that, many games are mixed in less-than-ideal rooms you would never see a film or television show mixed in. They're too small, un-calibrated, with high noise floors and varying degrees of acoustic treatment. I'd venture to guess that a small amount are even mixed on headphones.

Personally I think things have been getting better in recent years. Many of the stylistic choices (like orchestral scores) necessitate a wider dynamic range, and hence a lower overall level. Also some of the real-time mixing technology coming of age today allows us better control of what does play--letting what's important through and eliminating the 'wall of noise.' Some games are setting aside mix time in a real studio (although not nearly enough) to do a final pass. And finally, many developers are installing high-class post facilities (Sony has some fantastic ones up and down California).

-dave
Old 29th August 2008
  #7
Gear Nut
 
dsteinwedel's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TVPostSound View Post
By inching the reference level down, you are raising the mix up!!!
Exactly. But what are your choices? We're assuming that whoever is in charge has demanded a louder mix. First things first is that you have to turn up every sound. At that point you can either keep your reference level the same (but assuming the mix was good in the first place it's now too loud, fatiguing, and potentially ear-damaging) or you can lower the reference level and keep everything at a reasonable volume.

I know what I'd rather do when mixing a game based on firing a gun for 8 (10, 12, 14) hours a day for months at a time...

-d
Old 30th August 2008
  #8
Lives for gear
 
TVPostSound's Avatar
Quote:
you can lower the reference level and keep everything at a reasonable volume.
Yeah, I understand!
Old 31st August 2008
  #9
Gear Addict
 

Usually the level of the ingame sound fx and ambience is set by the game programmers themselves, and the audio post department delivers the cutscene and ingame dialogue to be integrated into the game by the programmers. I would think all modern games would work this way, since there is a lot of perspective mixing going on within the programming code relative to the position of the player's character in the 3d world.

In this case it's most important to make sure what you do and they do matches up. So, if they insist on slamming their ingame sound fx up to zero dbfs, then you will have to do the same with any cutscenes and ingame dialogue you deliver to them. Or if you can convince them to set their fx to levels that will match film mix levels than of course that's how you would deliver your elements. Consistancy is key.

Gamers are used to adjusting each individual game's volume since there is no standardized level for games. Of course if you have total control over all game audio or you can convince the programmers to take your lead then by all means mix it like a nice film mix. But make sure they don't change their mind at the last minute and destroy everything by crushing it all with a cheap limiter. Mixing it like a mastered pop record is not ideal, but if that's what they want, it's much better to have an audio engineer get the levels up there.
Old 1st September 2008
  #10
Gear Addict
 

There would be absolutely NO WAY to introduce a standard into PC games, the market isn't built to control such a scheme, and nor should it be.

For consoles, there are standards. Different ones for each console. The Sony standard is particularly rigid.

The nature of gaming is that a large portion of the mixing will be performed procedurally, and this use of volume to designate distance dynamically to a certain extent self-imposes a restriction on ridiculous RMS readings. Cut scenes will be leveled (code side) in such a way as to not sound stange as they come in/out of gameplay areas (ideally, anyway): Even so, I would recommend mixing them hotter than you might prefer, as art directors/lead programmers/studio producers are even worse at audio engineering than they are their own roles: If they limit, it ain't gonna be pretty. Not much can go wrong with them turning it down, however.

Game sound is a long way behind the rest of gaming technolgy/art, although as someone else in this thread pointed out, there are exceptions, such as Gears of War and Halo (and also good examples on PC games, such as Half-Life 2): But these games have budgets vast multiples higher than most other games, even most other "AAA" games.
Old 1st September 2008
  #11
Lives for gear
 

Yes, it sure seems that way. I've only mixed one video game, "Enter the Matrix", and it had many animated scenes as well as 45 min of additional filmed scenes to augment "The Matrix Reloaded". I did not mix any of the in-game sounds, just these "cineractives" and "FMV's". We mixed them in a theatrical environment, at 85db as per normal and I was later told that the mix levels were raised 12db before being incorporated into the game. Wow.
Old 1st September 2008
  #12
Lives for gear
 
Rob King's Avatar
The "Mix it like a record" mentality is pretty dominant across the board in Video Games. The reason for this is that the Audio Director and Main Audio programmer basically set the overall levels throughout the game play. There are so many variables in a game mix it is ridiculous. When you have 128 tracks of random SFX playing in a dynamic environment with Ambience, Music, dialogue and Cinematics it is really the programmers job on a technical level to set correct overall levels for the game. When the ingame movies play they have to be equal to all the game play sounds to sound seemless. It is quite challenging fighting mix levels in Next-Gen games. Basically it comes down to the consumer to turn up or turn down their TV or audio systems. But we all strive for clarity and a huge impact! I have worked on over 100 games, this is what I have seen/heard in my experiences.
Old 1st September 2008
  #13
Lives for gear
 
TVPostSound's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by JoeMilner View Post
Yes, it sure seems that way. I've only mixed one video game, "Enter the Matrix", and it had many animated scenes as well as 45 min of additional filmed scenes to augment "The Matrix Reloaded". I did not mix any of the in-game sounds, just these "cineractives" and "FMV's". We mixed them in a theatrical environment, at 85db as per normal and I was later told that the mix levels were raised 12db before being incorporated into the game. Wow.
Joe,

I was the DX editor on "Enter The Matrix", Mark Fishman mixed the DX , and 12dBs was about what they raised it!!! Dont forget the compression needed to raise it 12dBs.

Oh, well there goes protecting the guilty!!!
Old 2nd September 2008
  #14
Gear Head
 
havlowjumper's Avatar
 

Lots of great stuff here.

I think there is a sort of loudness war, and while there is no specific reference level or standard from gamers rapidly changing content, producers and publishers will play one game, and then another and say, "why is their game louder than ours?"

In my experience, the game mix does not fall exclusively on a "game programmer." In fact, I suppose you would say I am a "game programmer" as the audio engine middleware used to implement the sounds into the game have become so sophisticated with their handling of attenuation, and occlusion, not to mention compression or in game effects. Maybe this is just a matter of semantics; the difference between "sound designer" and what some of you are calling "game programmer."

Rob's comments resonate with me. Clarity and impact. To me, dynamics are a HUGE tool for delivering clarity and impact, and I guess I am personally pushing for more dynamics in game audio.

-abe
Old 2nd September 2008
  #15
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TVPostSound View Post
Joe,

I was the DX editor on "Enter The Matrix", Mark Fishman mixed the DX , and 12dBs was about what they raised it!!! Dont forget the compression needed to raise it 12dBs.

Oh, well there goes protecting the guilty!!!
Ouch and ouch. Fortunately, I suck so bad at video games that the only FMV or cineractive I actually heard in-context was the intro; I wasn't good enough to get to the next level to hear anything else I mixed, haha!! With that much compression, maybe my total lack of game skills is a blessing
Old 16th September 2008
  #16
Lives for gear
 
danijel's Avatar
Just stumbled upon this:

THX: Establishing a Reference Playback Level for Video Games

It's mostly a rant about lack of standardization, similar to what you can already read in this thread.
Old 16th September 2008
  #17
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by danijel View Post
Just stumbled upon this:

THX: Establishing a Reference Playback Level for Video Games

It's mostly a rant about lack of standardization, similar to what you can already read in this thread.
The following section:
- For subwoofers: +10dB of in-band gain (compared to a screen channel) when viewed on a spectrum analyzer.

Should be:
- For the LFE Channel: +10dB of in-band gain (compared to a screen channel) when viewed on a spectrum analyzer.

The paper seems to confuse the subwoofer, with the LFE channel.
Old 17th September 2008
  #18
Lives for gear
 
danijel's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pascal Sijen View Post
The paper seems to confuse the subwoofer, with the LFE channel.
Nitpicky! :P
Old 17th September 2008
  #19
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by danijel View Post
Nitpicky! :P
It's kind of a pet peeve for me... (see the link - this is actually the second time I posted this today) heh
Old 17th September 2008
  #20
Lives for gear
 
TVPostSound's Avatar
Not to be confused with JBL 6312 subwoofer, which you calibrate WITHOUT the 10db compensation, as they have a +10db switch for the LFE direct on the rear.
Old 18th September 2008
  #21
Gear Addict
 

Something related to this topic...

How are all of you METERING your work in games? Do you have an in-game visual meter you can access from a debug menu? Are you metering the output of the console?
Old 18th September 2008
  #22
Gear Nut
 
dsteinwedel's Avatar
 

I use a dedicated meter feed from my monitor controller. Other than that you're options are pretty poor/limited.

-Dave
Old 27th September 2008
  #23
Lives for gear
 
danijel's Avatar
A thread at SDO with some advice and some official information from Sony and Microsoft:
Niveau Sonore en jeux vidéo :: Sound Designers.Org (Babelfish English translation)
(Note: the Xbox360 document is in English)
Old 12th July 2011
  #24
Here for the gear
 

Since there is a lack of standard on PC games relative to console games, has anyone found their sound noticeably different on, say, an Xbox game relative to its PC counterpart?

Reason I'm asking is that I have started working on the sound for an independent game for Xbox Live Arcade, with a view to release it on PC also.
Old 12th July 2011
  #25
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pascal Sijen View Post
It's kind of a pet peeve for me... (see the link - this is actually the second time I posted this today) heh
My boss (a video guy) calls the sub/lfe channel, the BASS BIN!!! You can imagine my internal rage every time heh
Old 25th March 2012
  #26
Gear Head
 

Hey guys,

Interesting thread, the topic is becoming more and more prevolant in the industry as we're trying to get ourselves out of the mixing state we're currently in. Most devs these days tend to lean towards home theatre style reference level. But there is no standardisation as a whole for the industry yet. I know GANG were pushing for standardisation as were IASIG and we're slowly getting towards a goal. From what I've read Sonys inhouse depts have adopted the same specs as their movie studio counterparts, but with the arrival of EBU R 128 that has also sparked a lot of discussion.

I'm currently mixing a title at -20dfbs = 80dbspl and whilst the investors and backers are nervous about the choice, they're allowing me to go ahead with it which I'm thankful for.

I have only briefly looked into EBU R 128 but one part that striked me as interesting is -
that the audio signal shall generally be measured in its entirety, without emphasis on specific elements such as voice, music or sound effects;
Games are a non linear form, and are giving players more and more choice. In a shooter game a player might run and gun the entire time whereas another player might stealthily complete a title in a far less loud manner, this means two playthroughs will yield entirely different output signals as a whole. One will be far louder than the other - from the same title. How is this taken into account?
Old 25th March 2012
  #27
Lives for gear
 
danijel's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by samueljustice00 View Post
Games are a non linear form, and are giving players more and more choice. In a shooter game a player might run and gun the entire time whereas another player might stealthily complete a title in a far less loud manner, this means two playthroughs will yield entirely different output signals as a whole. One will be far louder than the other - from the same title. How is this taken into account?
I suppose it's not taken into account, as R128 was not made for games
Old 25th March 2012
  #28
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by danijel View Post
I suppose it's not taken into account, as R128 was not made for games
Sorry I meant to say how're other games developers/audio guys taking this into account.
Old 22nd November 2012
  #29
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by samueljustice00 View Post
Sorry I meant to say how're other games developers/audio guys taking this into account.
You've just got to kind of humour it really We just measured each level and cutscene individually, with everything as 'default' as possible (music turned on, game played as 'normally' as possible, etc.) and allowed for a +/-2 deviation. It's a far from ideal system for games but it worked out okay for us in the end. In fact, most measurements were registering at or around -23 already - maybe we were just lucky!
Top Mentioned Products
Post Reply

Welcome to the Gearslutz Pro Audio Community!

Registration benefits include:
  • The ability to reply to and create new discussions
  • Access to members-only giveaways & competitions
  • Interact with VIP industry experts in our guest Q&As
  • Access to members-only sub forum discussions
  • Access to members-only Chat Room
  • Get INSTANT ACCESS to the world's best private pro audio Classifieds for only USD $20/year
  • Promote your eBay auctions and Reverb.com listings for free
  • Remove this message!
You need an account to post a reply. Create a username and password below and an account will be created and your post entered.


 
 
Slide to join now Processing…
Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Similar Threads
Thread
Thread Starter / Forum
Replies
gsilbers / Remote Possibilities in Acoustic Music and Location Recording
12
url / Post Production forum
6
ty604 / Mastering forum
5
structuredloud / Music For Games
0
gsilbers / Music For Games
1

Forum Jump
Forum Jump