[PLUS] Knowledge: This is how modern game sound works, including audio ray tracing

Halo Infinite offers Dolby Atmos (also

Modern game sound

In PCGH 02/2022 we dealt with the hardware sound in PC games from the late 1990s and early 2000s. At the time, Creative’s EAX was one of the most popular. With the Environment Audio Extensions from the sound card manufacturer, sounds in games could be provided with various reverb and echo effects depending on the environment. In addition, with the hardware audio using – for that time – powerful sound processors and via HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function, translated: head-related outer ear transfer function), sounds in 3D environments could be calculated and played on loudspeakers and/or with virtual surround (stereo )headphones. But since Windows Vista, the omission of the hardware layer (HAL) in Direct Sound and thus the support for hardware audio as well as the increasing
With cross-platform development, the hardware sound is more or less dead. But even after the demise of EAX and Co., many of the ideas from that time live on in games today, and are even experiencing something of a renaissance. The hardware sound also changes again. Just like the hardware sound of the past, modern game audio can use different sound environments and, for example, play 3D sound on headphones using virtualization. The game sound in current games is also much more complex than it was a few years ago, and there are some titles, engines and game engines that go even further and include ray tracing and/or occlusion, i.e. sound masking and convolution reverb, in their sound include calculations. Technologies such as Dolby Atmos, the current next-gen consoles and audio ray tracing provided further impetus for sound progress. The latter is also offered on the PC, sometimes even GPU-accelerated. In this article we want to shed light on how game sound works in current titles and what developments are emerging for the future.

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Sound in current games

Halo Infinite offers Dolby Atmos (also “for Headphones”) DTS Headphone X as well as Windows Spatial Audio (Windows Sonic).

Source: PC Games Hardware

Forza Horizon 5 uses audio ray tracing for sound reflections.  Both on the PC, the Xbox Series and - in reduced quality - on the Xbox One.

Forza Horizon 5 uses audio ray tracing for sound reflections. Both on the PC, the Xbox Series and – in reduced quality – on the Xbox One.

Source: PC Games Hardware

The game worlds are always changing, and this also applies to the sound in games. Sony, among others, is currently making a name for itself with the quite impressive Tempest Audio Engine of the Playstation 5. The Xbox and some PC titles offer, more or less competing, the object-based Dolby Atmos. Valve and AMD, among others, are pushing hardware-accelerated sound and audio ray tracing with Steam Audio and True Audio Next. The Unreal Engine 5 comes with the new, programmable meta-sounds, which put a powerful tool in the hands of sound designers. But first things first. If we’re bombarding you with jargon and raving about technologies like convolution reverb, ambisonics, or effective attenuation and occlusion working together, it might be time to get the basics straight. So: How does sound work in today’s games?

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The following topics can be found in the article:

  • Sound in current games
  • Modern 3D sound
  • Distance: Attenuation
  • Position: Spatalization
  • Occlusion: Occlusion
  • Reverb and Echo: Reverb
  • Windows Audio and 3D
  • Virtual Surround
  • Future music: We are VR!
  • Audio ray tracing

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