Sometimes we get asked about gaming soundtracks, and what are our favourites. Retro games had so little processing power to deal with audio, so it’s amazing the fact so many of those noises instantly create nostalgia today - Be that the coin sound of Super Mario, the “wacca-wacca” of Pac Man or the clicking from Chuckie Egg. I recently found myself in San Francisco on holiday, and visited The Museum of Art & Digital Entertainment (The MADE - http://www.themade.org/). They had an exhibition on - The Sound of Games - dedicated to the weird, wonderful games that made audio such a key part of their gameplay.
Alongside such japanese curio pieces such as Vib Ribbon and Guitaroo Man, there was the multi-million selling Guitar Hero, Beatmania with it’s part-keyboard part-turntable controller and Dance Dance Revolution (complete with dance mats). There was also one game that really interested me that was pretty out there for someone like me, that always appreciates the art style in a game. Mainly because there wasn’t a single sprite or polygon in sight. It’s called Deep Sea, and you have to entirely rely on your aural senses to play.
The guy there explained the game in the best terms possible - some sort of “zombie whales” are after you, and you have to survive for as long as you can. You don a gasmask designed to limit your senses and make you feel entirely uncomfortable, place some noise-cancelling headphones on and fumble around for a joystick. A voice explains to you that there are some monsters out there, you can turn your submersible in a 180 degree angle and you can shoot. By shooting, you’ll hear the groan of a monster - which means your shot has just disappeared into the darkness somewhere, and you have to try and pinpoint whereabouts this monster is. Left or right? Fire again. Now where are they?
It’s a very uncomfortable experience - even breathing normally is a challenge. The mask is built with a microphone that gives you a feedback of your breathing through your headphones, obscuring the sound of the monsters. By limiting one of the senses you rely on daily, you really feel out of depth. It’s no surprise to discover the game was created by someone who is a sound designer by trade.
After what seems like an eternity, the monsters get louder and the glass smashes. You hear the voice from earlier say how many bodies they found (your score, I presume) before static starts blasting out the headphones and you have to rip them off your head. It’s certainly a new way of telling you “Game Over”.