The Audio Subsystem

Although computer audio technology has not been hyped as much as computer rendering technology during the past few years as, a game's audio subsystem is every bit as important as its graphics subsystem. Fortunately, producing high-quality sound on a computer is not as difficult as producing high-quality graphics.

Sound is easy to play back (usually a simple matter of a few function calls with a multimedia toolkit), but creating production-quality sound effects for a game is as much an art as creating graphics, and should be left to a specialist. Stellar sound effects can boost a game's atmosphere, and lousy sound effects can seriously damage a game's potential.

3D enhanced audio is one of the latest trends in computer sound technology with modern sound cards (like Creative's SB Live! series) supporting four-speaker surround sound, and 3D-aware sound processing to simulate the Doppler effect and other complex sound wave interactions. (Simple two-channel stereo sound just falls short of the immersive environments of today's 3D games.) In fact, some sound cards can even accelerate these effects in hardware. Several competing 3D sound API's have emerged, and we will discuss one of these (OpenAL) in Chapter 5.

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