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OrbWeaver

[Draft] Proposed volume guidelines

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Rationale

 

In real life, audio occurs over a large range of volumes, from a rustling leaf at 10 dB(SPL) to a stun grenade at 180 dB(SPL). With 16-bit audio, a dynamic range of 96dB can be achieved. However, in the context of a game, such a high dynamic range is not desirable: the player may be playing late at night, or in a noisy environment, and will not welcome the need to constantly adjust their volume knob in order to hear both the quietest footsteps on carpet and the bark of an angry guard.

 

For this reason, it is proposed that the maximum dynamic range used for in-game sounds is purposely limited to a range which will achieve a good compromise between realistic variations in the volume of in-game events, and playability in a less-than-perfect audio environment.

 

Overview

 

I propose that the volume of in-game events is limited to a dynamic range of 24 dB, which can be conveniently divided up into three approximate volume groups:

 

EDIT: Updated ranges to fit between 0 and -24.

 

0dB to -6dB

LOUD sounds: weapon impacts, guards shouting, explosions, thunder, heavy dropped objects, earthquakes, collapsing floors.

 

-6dB to -15dB

MEDIUM sounds: ambient music, in-game sounds such as loot or object pickup, doors opening, loud footsteps such as tile or metal, buzzing lights, conversations between AI, light impact sounds such as plates or candles being put down.

 

-15dB to -24dB

QUIET sounds: footsteps on carpet or snow, creeping footsteps, ambient drips, rats squeaking.

 

In-game versus shader volumes

 

Note that the volume adjustment specified in the shader is relative to the original volume of the sound file, which may not be normalised to 0dB. For example, if the guidelines suggest -6dB for a particular sound, and the audio file peaks at -4dB, then a volume adjustment of -2 should be used in the shader.

 

Determining the peak level of an audio file can be done with a variety of open-source or commercial tools, such as sox on Linux, or Audacity on both Windows and Linux.

 

Ambient music

 

The volume of ambient music can be independently adjusted via the slider in the game settings. When testing or manipulating the volumes of ambient music, I suggest that this slider is set to maximum and the ambient music is adjusted to the maximum volume that would be tolerable, with the expectation that it could be reduced if necessary by the player.

 

I suspect that part of the user demand for such a slider is caused by misadjusted ambient music shaders which are far too loud, and get in the way of gameplay.

 

Per-map overrides

 

In order for the standardised volumes to be effective, it is important that volumes are not overridden by mappers unless strictly necessary. In particular any increases in volume should be strongly discouraged. If the volume of a particular sound seems inappropriate, it is preferable to discuss this and modify the sound asset itself, to ensure consistency between maps.

 

Falloff distances

 

It should be noted that the use of minDistance greater than 1 results in a very unrealistic distribution of volume; in real life there is never a zone in which volume is constant irrespective of distance from the source. This is particularly noticeable in certain maps which include machinery that is deafeningly loud when up close, but becomes totally silent only 10 metres away.

 

This issue does not affect ambient music (which is by its very nature not intended to be realistic). In this case the use of minDistance and maxDistance together to ensure a smooth transition is reasonable.

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How does this measure up with the volume of our current sounds? A few random tests of vocals show that they're around -5 (just default barks, not shouting).

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I just noticed today while trying to use editsounds to lower the sound of the street lamps in The Rift (which im convinced are partly responsible for the earthquakes...) that there was no way to adjust the sound; that i saw anyway. The only 3d box I could see around the lamps were light boxes. There wasn't any falloff either. So it seemed that the sounds were just being called in their original form and played without any modification. I also noticed that all of the major offending sounds were not listed under the list of currently playing sounds. The street light and the torches in this case.

 

Is a music slider planned? Regular ambient background tracks are currently linked to the ambient music slider, otherwise i'd always have music off. I hate to insert my opinion sometimes, but some parts of some of the current ambient tracks seem like they would fit really well into a 1960's horror/thriller where the evil guy was stalking his way through a rich coke dealer's gaudy living room with orange shag carpet and lots of mirrors, wearing a red turtle-neck shirt and brown slacks.

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How does this measure up with the volume of our current sounds? A few random tests of vocals show that they're around -5 (just default barks, not shouting).

 

I haven't checked all of them, but conversational vocals at around -6 would fit in OK, I think (noting the point about normalised vs un-normalised sounds). The current stone footsteps are at about -14, putting them in the upper range of the QUIET category, and I've put a couple of the ambients down to -6. So I think some sounds are already there, whereas others aren't.

 

I just noticed today while trying to use editsounds to lower the sound of the street lamps in The Rift (which im convinced are partly responsible for the earthquakes...) that there was no way to adjust the sound; that i saw anyway. The only 3d box I could see around the lamps were light boxes.

 

I encountered the same with the torches, there is no speaker entity so editSounds doesn't pick them up directly. However, if you activate s_drawSounds you might be able to see the sound entity (for the torches it was something like "element_fire_torch"), which you can then locate in the editSounds list of sound shaders and edit from there.

 

Is a music slider planned? Regular ambient background tracks are currently linked to the ambient music slider, otherwise i'd always have music off.

 

Personally I'd rather not see a distinction between "ambient" and "music", this should be a decision for the mapper.

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I encountered the same with the torches, there is no speaker entity so editSounds doesn't pick them up directly. However, if you activate s_drawSounds you might be able to see the sound entity (for the torches it was something like "element_fire_torch"), which you can then locate in the editSounds list of sound shaders and edit from there.

 

 

 

Personally I'd rather not see a distinction between "ambient" and "music", this should be a decision for the mapper.

 

I'm not aware of any game i've ever played, except for D3, that didn't have a dedicated music volume slider, and even multiple options for music, such as combat music, as was the the case in a few MMO's. Thats a lot of games and im sure about that, because i turn it off, or down quite frequently to help immerse myself in the world. There are exceptions, like MMO's and Borderlands, where the music is usually very relaxing. I don't understand why its understandable that professionals at Warner Bros recording studios have their music subject to personal preference by the user of a AAA game, but not amateur game makers. I think your opinion is fine by the way, but i do believe your the luckier man not to be as picky about the music. But judging by how distracting the music "can be" (not always, to give some credit to the musicians) for me, I can only deduce that its not a question of if some people are bother by it, but how many. No need to respond, just putting this out there.

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I have no objection to controlling the volume of music, I just think it would make things more complex if there has to be a further distinction between "music" and "non-music ambient"; not just for the code but also the need to test that things are playable with even more combinations of volume. Not to mention opening a can of worms regarding how "musical" a particular ambient sound is.

 

At the moment the categories are "environmental sounds" which are attached to some aspect of the world: machinery, torch flames, wind etc; and "ambient and/or music" which are purely there for artistic reasons and don't represent any in-world sound. This seems like a logical and clear distinction to me.

 

I'm not sure what problem would be solved by having more categories. Are you concerned with things like water drips that might be inserted as ambient sounds but are really environmental?

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I have no objection to controlling the volume of music, I just think it would make things more complex if there has to be a further distinction between "music" and "non-music ambient"; not just for the code but also the need to test that things are playable with even more combinations of volume. Not to mention opening a can of worms regarding how "musical" a particular ambient sound is.

 

At the moment the categories are "environmental sounds" which are attached to some aspect of the world: machinery, torch flames, wind etc; and "ambient and/or music" which are purely there for artistic reasons and don't represent any in-world sound. This seems like a logical and clear distinction to me.

 

I'm not sure what problem would be solved by having more categories. Are you concerned with things like water drips that might be inserted as ambient sounds but are really environmental?

 

Probably not water drips as you would for the 3D effect attach them to specific speakers. But I think f.i. about wind. As a player I want to remove/mute the "music ambients" that so often apepar overly dramatic, but I don't want to remove the wind on a hill/roof.

 

But then, could the mapper create a spaker and attach the wind sound to it? The distinction between "sound comes from somewhere" (effects) and "sounds comes from nowhere" (ambient/music) that we curently have seems all right, (as you wrote) and the question is just "do we really need a third category and how do we sep. it from the two existing ones" (as you already wrote).

 

So after re-reading what I just wrote, I basically agree with Orbweaver on all accounts :)


"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." -- George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

 

"Remember: If the game lets you do it, it's not cheating." -- Xarax

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Hmm I thought all ambients were attached to the ambient music slider because in at least one map they were. Sounds like it might have been just that one map. Anyway, nevermind.

 

Technical, that slider controls all speakers that have a certain spawnarg set (s_music? I forgot) and all sounds played by the location system. Which sounds that are, is of course completely changable, hence the confusion, as some mappers might set it up "wrong".


"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." -- George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

 

"Remember: If the game lets you do it, it's not cheating." -- Xarax

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