'Ducking', or lowering the audioscape volume, can create greater engagement for listeners -- Day 1 Studios' Zachary Quarles explains how it's done in this fascinating game audio feature
The "ducking" effect is an important technique that audio professionals oftentimes employ to discreetly lower the volume of all elements of the audioscape with the exception of the dialogue track, that way, players won't miss important information during a particular moment due to the soundtrack's complexity.
To understand the validity of a process such as ducking, certain elements must be taken into account beforehand, such as pacing:
"Game pacing is a basic game design practice. It is essentially the approach of creating a gameplay experience that has multiple peaks and valleys in the action so the player does not become fatigued and disinterested in the product.
Audio plays a key role in effective game pacing. The reason is simple; the vast majority of elements in a game have an aural representation, and if the gameplay action and visual portion of a product is relentless for too long, the audio spectrum will lose dynamics and quickly become a wall of noise.
When this happens, the player will more than likely turn down or mute the audio -- thereby destroying the atmosphere and the pacing that the developers were trying to achieve."
Fortunately, there are a number of ways in which a development team can avoid this problem. In an ideal scenario, the audio team would be involved with all level layout meetings and planning discussions to help with audio pacing through the game:
"Much like a great piece of music, a game has a "rhythm." It has establishing motifs and themes, it has gradual builds and rising action, it has massive climaxes, it has denouements, and it has resolves. If it's a constant climax, the player will get exhausted and probably pretty frustrated after awhile.
In addition, as a project gets closer and closer to final lock-down, the more important it becomes that the audio department is aware of any changes that occur at the design level. For example, if a new battle encounter is added to a section of the game where there wasn't one before, the "rhythm" of the level has now changed.
The audio department needs to be able to go through the levels and do a final mix of the entire game from top to bottom after design has completed any major reworks to make sure that the aural integrity remains intact throughout the shipping process.
You can read the full feature
, which also discusses priorities and bus hierarchies, ad shares practice examples for Ducking (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).