In recent years, the music game genre has been explored in great depth, most significantly by development studios Harmonix and Neversoft in the Rock Band
and Guitar Hero
franchises. For such a seemingly simple gameplay formula, there are many considerations developers must take into account to sell the experience.
In a new Gamasutra feature article
, Neversoft audio programmer Tom Parker walks through the fundamental elements of the audio system the studio developed and employed while creating its Guitar Hero
"Game audio doesn't always get the credit it deserves and I think that's because it tends to be the most powerful when it is at its most subtle," Parker points out. "A game like Guitar Hero
is fun to make because it lets us focus more on the sounds. It's all about music, atmosphere, performance and cheering crowds."
In this excerpt, Parker describes how Neversoft must factor in various lag-related concerns to keep the feel of the game intact:
"In a music-based game direct audio feedback is vital. The system has to be able to react to the people with the instruments and the more finesse we have with how we can alter the audio based on the player's action, the more we can make them feel like stars headlining their own virtual show.
"First, of course, we need to turn on and off the volume of the player's instrument according to whether he or she is hitting the notes in the game.
"Second, we want to provide some audio feedback to the user when Star Power is triggered. In this case, we wanted to accentuate that player's instrument audio to make it stand out more. Simply adding reverb to the instrument track -- be it guitar, bass or drums -- seemed to do the trick. It just nudged the spotlight in the right direction without being overpowering.
"Third, we want to enhance player feedback for multiplayer situations. Depending on where the player's highway is positioned on the screen, we pan that player's audio slightly over in that direction. We found it just helped to place people in the room.
"With Guitar Hero World Tour adding drums, and Guitar Hero 5 adding support for multiple instances of the same instrument this piece of polish managed to get pretty complicated pretty quickly. With vocals, there are 256 possible instrument and highway position combinations.
"Luckily, the vocal system is totally separate to the song audio streams, so it whittles it down to a mere 81. Fortunately, we are able to simplify this further by layering panning configurations based on the number of shared instruments."
The full three-page article, which is now available to read on Gamasutra
, delves into numerous other areas of Guitar Hero
development, including Neversoft's streaming system, signal processing effects, player feedback, and more.