Whenever a conversation on the next generation of gaming consoles comes up, we’re usually focused on two topics within that space: How games are going to look, and how quickly they’re going to be playable. The short answer to those questions is “pretty good” and “damn that was fast”. But there’s a discussion to be had with how these games are also going to sound on those platforms.
Sony and Microsoft have been teasing a massive upgrade in that department, with each company bringing new hardware to the table that’s specifically designed to get your eardrums tingling. The PlayStation 5 has an entire GPU dedicated to this, that goes by the name of Tempest and focuses on creating positional audio experiences using HRTF methods. For the Xbox Series X, Microsoft has hardware accelerated audio from a dedicated chip that’ll result in audio no longer fighting for resource real estate from the graphical side of that technology.
So what does it all mean? If anyone has a valid opinion on how revolutionary sound is going to be in the next generation, it’s someone who has worked with current console technology and happens to know a thing or two about putting together a game soundtrack. “I think it’ll have more of an effect on how sound is delivered to the user,” Ori and the Will of the Wisps composer Gareth Coker said, after I pressed him for an opinion on the console audio technology.
One of the things that has happened in this generation is that gamers recognise audio much more than they used to. Audio is being held to a much higher standard and as a result you’re going to see all of these technological innovations. The only thing I can really say about the hardware now is that there is no limitation on what audio can deliver to the end user. What it’s actually going to be about now, is execution of good concepts.
It doesn’t matter if you have the best technology in the world, if you don’t have the right creative minds to utilise it properly and if you don’t have good music in the first place, it’s actually going to be meaningless.
And that’s what it all comes down to, as these tools will need talented hands and minds to use them to their full potential. Something we’ve seen plenty of in the visual side of gaming. “Obviously the best combo is to have great music combined with great technology for how it plays back in the game,” Coker added.
But if you don’t have that first thing, it does not matter how good the quality of the tech is. Recently Epic showed off Unreal Engine 5, it looked incredible. The thing is, they have that massive scan library which is very easy to access. Yes you’ve got the technology to pull off something magnificent but you’ve also got to have the creative ability to use it in the best possible way.
How many games have you played with amazing graphics that you don’t remember? Whereas a game like Half-Life 2 which is a decade and a half old, still looks great not because it has high fidelity graphics but because it has an amazing art style and a unique look.
And that is timeless.
There’s no doubt that the next generation of gaming is going to look amazing, but it’s the inclusion of memorable audio that truly helps sell a game and makes it stand out. If the current generation of ear-popping explosions and emotional soundtracks are any indication, the audio side of video games are about to reach their zenith in the 2020s.
Last Updated: June 5, 2020