Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Request hour: Sound effects, great writers, and PC vs. console

We're nearing the end of the increasingly inaccurately named "request hour."

Jorge Albor asks:
What has been your favorite audio effect in a videogame (ambient sound, music, etc.)?
Sometimes I think we underestimate the importance of sound in a video game, particularly as a feedback mechanism. I love the way coins chime when Mario picks them up, and the jingle that plays when Link opens up a secret area. You learn to associate these things so closely with success or failure that when you hear something in real life that sounds similar, you feel a little jolt. Some of my favorite sounds in games have been:
  • Mega Man teleporting ("blort" is what it sounds like in my mind)
  • The high-pitched death rattle of the Combine soldiers in Half-Life 2
  • The whispering priests in Resident Evil 4
  • Hadoken!
  • The wind in ICO
  • Reloading the double-barrelled shotgun in Doom 2
And my all-time favorite background music is in Ridley's Lair in Super Metroid.

Iroquois Pliskin asks:
Which video games writer do you read, and say to yourself: "Man I really wish I could write like *that*"

I'll give my my answer: Tycho Brahe.

Maybe you aspire to write like some non-video-game critic instead. Like, I really love Dave Hickey; I'd push quite a few old ladies down the stairs in order to write like that.

Tycho would be one of my answers, as well. He has a way with metaphor and visual imagery that seems effortless, although it's probably not. And he's damn funny. I often find myself saying exactly what you do when I read his stuff. I also admire the elegance and lucidity of Tom Chick's writing, and the raw knowledge that Jeremy Parish drops in every sentence. A bit closer to home, I'm always impressed by Duncan Fyfe's creativity, N'Gai Croal's insight, Michael Abbott's humanity, and, yes, Iroquois Pliskin's erudition. Often when we get talking about what's wrong with the way people are writing about video games, it's easy to forget how many people are doing an awesome job these days.

In the non-game but still-critic arena, there's no one I hold in higher esteem than Roger Ebert. I also think Anthony Lane is hilarious (David Denby is fine, but when it's a Lane issue of the New Yorker, I always read the movie reviews first).

I'm also gonna throw out kind of a weird one: I have always been in awe of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 writing staff. I was flipping through The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide the other day, and I laughed all over again reading a sentence about an "oily" guy "lazing about on his grimy, sticky sheets." Their word choice is always perfect.

Ed Borden also has two questions:

Why do game on a console over a PC?

Growing up, I always did both, although I've always felt a greater affinity for consoles. I'm not sure why that is -- I have fond memories of playing Dark Castle on our Mac Plus, and then later Wolfenstein and Doom on the PC. In my high school years, I actually spent a good bit of money on graphics cards (3D accelerators!) for the family computer, so I could play the Quake games. I'm not even sure how many hundreds of hours I put into Quake 2 CTF. Had a clan and everything. A bumbling, incompetent clan, which placed dead last in the only competition we ever entered.

These days, I'm not sure I could really tell you why I don't play computer games. I almost said that it costs too much to buy a decent computer, but I've spent $1,250 on consoles since I bought my last desktop four years ago, so that can't be it. One of the reasons I bought the computer I'm using now was to play Doom 3 and Half-Life 2. I did that, and then proceeded to play nothing else. The funny thing is, I still prefer the mouse-keyboard combo to dual analog sticks in a FPS, and I'm far more proficient with it.

So the answer, clearly, is that I've been brainwashed.

Are you real, or just a construct for an ARG ad campaign?

I have some bad news for you.

That does it for request hour. Thanks to everybody who participated. I thought it was great to have the chance to explore a lot of different topics. We should do this again.


Ed Borden said...

Maybe the problem is that you bought that machine to play Doom 3. Then it sucked.

I'm curious what your cpu/vdo/mem specs are. Maybe you need to just pick up some twitchy shooter to get the PC blood back in you and flowing. Did you play Left4Dead on the xbox? Say it ain't so

Darius Kazemi said...

Not sure if you saw this, but I figure you might interested in the history of insult swordfighting.

Also... Boston Post Mortem is tonight! You should come.

Mitch Krpata said...

Ed, I'll try to tell you my specs from memory. Tell me if it sounds right for a machine that's just about exactly four years old: 3.2 ghz Pentium 4, Nvidia 6800 GTO, 1 GB RAM. I'm pretty sure that's it.

I've definitely been playing Left 4 Dead on Xbox. In my defense, that's also the platform that most of the people I know are playing it on.

Darius, awesome.

Mike said...

Thought I'd throw my $0.02 in on the favorite sounds question: the scream of a Revenant in Doom II when it first sights you (heard at 1:14 here).

It may have just been me, but I always had a terrible time with killing them and the sound to this day will give me chills. It's the sound of terror as I try to figure out where it is and how I can hide from it.

Also, props to the sound extras in all the *Craft games, especially StarCraft. The sound effects in that game, in general, are still excellent.

Matthew Gallant said...

I love the sound effect question. One of my favourites has to be the sound people make when you roll them up in Katamari Damacy.

Anonymous said...

I feel obligated to point out that your bumbling clan came in second-to-last. Weren't even able to fail properly.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

aw, that's sweet Mitch. i swear I wasn't fishing for compliments with that one. I may be able to put one idea in front of another but I wish I had style. To my mind, it's command of the written word (maybe even more than analytical depth) that distinguishes the great critics. And like you say, I really look up to critics who can write wittily, it's such a huge part of creating entertaining writing.

Mitch Krpata said...

Anon, we did no better than tie for last, as I recall. We finished 1-9, with our only victory coming over another 1-9 team (splitting the season series!).

Just a disaster.

Iroquois, I agree. That's why it's so hard to find great writers in any medium -- they have to do many things well. It's not much use to be a brilliant guy who can't communicate, or a deft wordsmith with nothing to say.

Ed Borden said...

Mitch, that sounds about right on the specs. If you have a PCI-express slot in that machine, you could spend $150 on a current video card, like a 4850, and $50 on some memory, and you'd have a great machine that could handle current games very well. That's how far ahead NVIDIA/AMD are over games right now.

Just food for thought, in case you wanted to play your next FPS on the PC

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