Official development blog

Sound in Roguelikes

Sound effects are not something you see (hear) in many traditional roguelikes.

This makes sense from a developer perspective because there is often such a huge variety of content that it becomes a massive and difficult undertaking to provide sounds for everything. Adding sound effects is akin to adding high-resolution art assets--it detracts from gameplay/mechanics/content development and is an entire discipline in itself.

It’s also unfortunate because I believe sound effects can contribute greatly to the appreciation of any game, not least of all roguelikes.

Sound is especially vital for creating a truly immersive atmosphere. This isn’t something all roguelikes aspire to create, but there is a lot of potential when combined with the abstract nature of ASCII. Sound effects “spark” the imagination rather than take it over like detailed visuals do, thus they’re the perfect complement for traditional roguelikes.

On a more fundamental level, sound effects bring the advantage of better player feedback. Having both visual and audible confirmation of input and other events is always beneficial to the player experience.

The best experience divides the player’s attention as little as possible, which is something traditional roguelikes fail at by putting actors in one place (the map) and descriptions of the action in another (the message log). Many log messages can be either matched with or completely replaced by sound effects, keeping focus on the map. Warning alarms and other informational sound effects can make even the HUD less an attention grabber.

This is the approach taken by Cogmind. If a sound effect will make the game easier to play, it will be included.

(Note that a game with event sfx risks sounding chaotic if action animations are all instantaneous, as they are in many roguelikes. This leads to the same pacing dilemma I discussed in an earlier post, and is probably the most important reason many roguelikes have limited or no sound.)

SFX in Cogmind

There are many types of sound effects included in Cogmind.

  • UI: This most basic category is essential for player feedback, as mentioned above. They’re also just fun, and part of the immersion. The game is a glorified terminal interface; beeps and boops are a must! Even if there were no other sounds, these would definitely be included. The prototype even had a few of these. Cogmind will have about 80-100.
  • Combat: Weapon fire, explosions, melee attacks… These make up the bulk of the sound effects. There are already 400 and counting. The next post will examine this category in detail.
  • Destruction: Robot and terrain destruction are of course accompanied by sound, which is doubly informative if you can’t see the action because it’s around a corner.
  • Actions: There are actually very few unique actions in Cogmind, but picking up, dropping, attaching, and removing components should be audible.
  • Ambient Sound: One of the goals of Cogmind is player immersion, and this category is key to providing that. Discussed in more detail in an old post. None of these are in the game yet, because the game world doesn’t even exist!
  • Cut Scenes: These should naturally be audible, too. There’s only one in game so far, the intro.

One type of sound effect dropped from the game is projectile impacts. I really enjoy these in X@COM because they add a lot of immersion, but they don’t fit well in Cogmind because most projectiles are very fast and the impact would either go unheard or just add to a cacophony of sound. Only melee attacks have impact sounds, since they essentially hit their target instantly so the impact is the sound.

As an audio introduction to Cogmind, below is a recording of Cogmind’s start-up sequence included as part of the intro, the latter part including a related event. Blah, blah, blah, secrets, secrets… (next post will include a more eventful battle recording).

I don’t think it stands on its own very well without the accompanying visuals, but I’m interested to hear what readers have to say about the audio based on its own merits. (Note: In-game sound effects as heard in this recording are currently played at 22050 Hz.)

This is the first of a four-part series on the subject of sound effects. The next examines weapon sfx in particular, followed by an overview of the game’s audio engine and a closer look at the details of sound design.

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  1. Alex Heartnet
    Posted May 15, 2014 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    So the intro shows a robot powering up and leaving a hangar, followed by an alarm?

    It’s hard to visualize what is going on by audio alone. I had to replay it a few times to figure out what was happening.

    • Kyzrati
      Posted May 15, 2014 at 6:02 am | Permalink

      Very difficult, for sure. Everything in the game is from your own robot POV, so much of the intro is actually just looking at the system bootup info (which does have some meaning story-wise), followed by activation of your external mic where you hear another mining robot leave the area before starting your core. The last part is the post-startup process, which happens on every new level and includes the map scan animation during which you build a picture of the surroundings.

      The intro will probably be part of a future trailer, so you can get a better idea of what it’s all about then--didn’t want to start making videos just yet. It is interesting to take it out of context and see people’s reactions, though. (None have left comments here before, but there have been several from other sources.)

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