What SIGGRAPH, sound design, and game writing have in common

A recent trip to SIGGRAPH and a party with a few sound designers confirmed what I already knew: art, sound, and writing have pretty much the same goal. We all want to make the world believable, but we also want to take the player or viewer on a bit of a ride… either virtually or emotionally. And based on my scientific research ;), we all get there the same way: a spoonful of realism and the fantasy will be bought.

At SIGGRAPH, I sat through a LucasArts presentation on matte art. What struck me was that artwork that was entirely fabricated looked fake,

Bad picture of Shipwreck Cove (Shipwreck Cove)

while the same technique when combined with realistic images makes you buy the whole picture.

The ship is gone

Everything in this picture is real, except they fabricated the tropical island in the background. This technique works even if there are no actors in the picture. Granted, games are a bit different, due to artistic and file size limitations, but putting real-world objects or scenes goes a long way to sell the fantasy.

Many sound designers follow the same principle. At a party this past weekend thrown by the (in?)famous Tommy Tallarico (Video Games Live), I had the opportunity to speak with composers and sound designers.

Tommy T’s party
(this has nothing to do with sound, but it’s from Tommy T’s party)

One designer particularly enjoyed going out and getting recordings of real sounds, however he acknowledged that many developers wanted the sound to heighten the emotional experience. We both concluded that if you gave listeners realistic sounds in the beginning, they’d be much more likely to follow you to the more heightened experiences at the end.

Thus we end up at writing. Like the first two, the best writing builds on what the player already knows or believes and takes it to the next level. Artificial situations with no basis in reality don’t sell the story. They jar people out of the game and leaving them wondering — why is the archvillain intent on destroying the world? Giving characters relatable motivations, believable dialog, and a reasonable plan of attack can transform even the most fantastic world and story into one that immerses players and compels them to finish. Good writing can make the difference between a game that falls flat and a game that flies.

Where have you seen a bit of realism in games, whether in art, sound, or writing, that totally sold the whole world to you? Or the opposite?

Question Mark Last week’s game dialog came from Sam & Max: Season 1, Episode 1. Stay tuned for more Guess that Game Dialog this week!

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Filed under Game Design, Guess that game dialog!, Writing

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