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Game Audio Theory: Ducking
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Game Audio Theory: Ducking

January 29, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next


Besides having the audio team in the know from a game design standpoint, there are some basic system elements that need to be addressed. At the very top of the list would be "priorities." There are certain sounds that are more important than others. A voiceover line that tells the player what they should be doing is far more insightful than a looping cricket call, for example.

This is where a priority system comes into play. The human ear cannot distinguish hundreds of independent channels of audio at any given time. It simply becomes a wall of sound, so there needs to be a limit put in place.

Generally a set number of allowed simultaneous channels that can be played at any given time will be set at the beginning of the project by the programming staff. From there, different "sets" of sounds will be given a different priority, which means that the higher priority sounds will trump anything else that is playing through the mixer at that time.

After the high priority sounds have finished playing, the lower priority sounds will pick up where they left off. If the priority system is set up properly and the sound sets themselves are organized in an intelligent manner, the player will never know that certain sounds have stopped playing and started again.


The next subject that I'll go over is the idea of bus hierarchy. Busses have multiple names: Sound Groups, Channel Groups, Volume Groups, SoundClasses, Event Categories, etc, etc, etc. For the purposes of this article, I will refer to all of these as "busses." Busses and sub-busses are essentially groups and sub-groups of certain types of sounds.

We lump things together for two major reasons. One of them is purely for organizational purposes. The other and more practical reason is to be able to affect similar types of sounds all in one fell swoop.

So, if all of the player's footsteps on all different types of substances (concrete, marble, grass, mud, snow, gravel, broken glass, etc.) have to be lowered in volume and pitch, we wouldn't change the values on each individual sound, we'd do it on the bus level, which would affect all of those sounds. This simplifies the process significantly and lessens margin of error when trouble-shooting audio settings and/or volume tweaks.

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