This is the second part of a three-part article that tries to shed some light on the use of surround sound in 2D games.

You can catch the first part and learn the dangers of misconfiguring surround sounds in your games and what game developers fear, or if you already like the idea of using surround sound in 2D games, read the third part of the article with our recommendations on how to do it right.

Keep on reading on this second part to learn the benefits of using surround sound in your 2D games and why you should do it anyway.

Actually the benefits of using surround sound output in your 2D game are relative to your game’s aesthetics in general. Only you, the creator, can think of how you will use it and what will play through it. But I will give you some major reasons why you should do it anyway, to show you the bigger picture.

Unique selling proposition

A unique selling proposition (aka USP), is a marketing term referring to the unique features that a product has, in order to differentiate from the rest of the similar products offered in the market. One of the highlights of your game if you will. Imagine having that at the “back-of-the-box” description of your game for your happy players to discover while browsing for games to play. Not to mention that it creates even more curiosity, your players thinking “What? A 2D game with surround sound? This must be special!”, and click the “buy” button.

Fantasound (1938 – 1941) was a stereophonic sound reproduction system developed by engineers of Walt Disney studios and RCA for Walt Disney’s animated film Fantasia, the first commercial film released in stereo. The neat feature of Fantasound, was that under the stage, operators assigned to each movie character, were panning the sound according to the location of the character in the movie screen, in real-time by following a timed script. When Mickey was moving to the right of the screen, the audience was hearing Mickey’s singing sound moving along with him in stage-space. That was one of the commercially successful beginnings of immersive sound in the history of entertainment media.

Surround sound can be a strong feature that sets your game apart from the competition.

Extra interface feedback

Those extra surround channels can be useful. Sending various feedback information to the player is always a task worth exploring, as you develop better multimodality for your game.

  • Moving a sound from the speakers near the screen to all the speakers, as something is coming towards the player.
  • Big gameplay events play back from all over the place. You know, the orchestral piece that signifies the end of a level with great success, or the hungry sounds of zombies that finish off the player right before the dreaded game over screen. Yikes!
  • You have any fancy ways to transition between levels? Portals, light-speed traveling, time-jumps? Play with sounds that transition between speakers and amaze your players.
  • Super powers or power ups that just got picked up or gained? Magnify the effect by playing the sounds around the players.
Spice up your game’s environment outside the screen

Oh, there are many thing that you can do here. It’s up to you really, but here are some ideas:

  • Is the player’s character entering a cave? The reverb that plays back the reflection from all the sounds and surrounds the player, will put the player in the same cave, augmenting in a way the player’s physical environment.
  • Did the player blow up something on the screen? The debris should fall all around the player’s room.
  • Do you have any elements in the level supposed to be all around the place? Birds, ghosts, gun shooting? Surround the player with them.
  • Do you have 2 environments simultaneously within the game? A space battle simulator with sounds coming from outside the spaceship and sounds coming from inside the spaceship’s cockpit? Maybe a car racing game with events happening from both inside and outside of the vehicle. Use reverb to separate and deliver in multichannel to surround the player.
Separate diegetic versus non-diegetic sounds with ease

Use different reverb for diegetic versus non-diegetic sounds and pass that through all the speakers. That will immediately inform the player, that the sounds are outside the on-screen action. Very useful for:

  • Narrator voices.
  • Graphical user interfaces located outside the game’s world, such as on-screen energy bars, counters, scores, etc.
  • Graphical user interfaces located in the game’s world but supposed to carry feedback outside of the on-screen action. Like a strategic command’s room HUD in a tower defense game, which should feature different reverb effect and no the same as the environment shown where the game’s action takes place.
  • And my favorite, the player’s internal monologue. Always a great way to deliver information, progression tips and great humor, for the game creator that will use this feature wisely.
That powerful low frequency effect
  • This can be used every time you introduce some world-altering event in the game. Big earthquakes, meteor shower, world destruction, end-of-days stuff.
  • You can also drive your players mad with anticipation by slowly rising the volume of a low frequency loop, as something evil this way comes. Drive the loop’s volume with the player-to-evil entity distance to make the player explore the level in fear.

After the release of several free and paid utilities that render any surround sound to a fully spherical binaural experience, your game’s surround sound output can also be enjoyed by players with stereo headphones. The two most famous utilities are the Windows Sonic for Headphones and the Dolby Atmos for Headphones. More on that at the third part of this article series.

Surround sound gives you the power to create awesome gameplay with clear user feedback and unique user interface mechanisms through sound.

At the first part of this three-part article we learned what game developers fear by analyzing what are the pitfalls that one should be careful when developing a 2D game with surround sound.

At this part we learned why you should do it anyway, by listing the benefits of using surround sound in your 2D games and how to make a difference with your game.

To finish this three-part article you can continue and read the third and last part of the article with our recommendations on how to do it right.

About Panagiotis Kouvelis

The founder and leader of SoundFellas. An audio engineer with old-school roots in game audio and a passion for sound design and psychoacoustics. He is also an educator and an instructional designer specialized in creative media. Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook