The PlayStation 2�s DTS capabilities bring game audio closer to that of motion pictures

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The video game business has been chasing the business of film sound for many years. At last we are catching up. How I remember the early days as we departed from single-track monaural sound into the world of two-track spatial sound. I was absolutely amazed the first time I sat with Chris Jenkins and listened to Q Sound. Although I had experienced other psychoacoustic experiments while at Northwestern University, this Q Sound stuff really knocked me out. Of course, as with all of these types of spatialization, one must position themselves in the �sweet spot.� Having experienced the wonders of 4.0 Dolby Surround for many years, I became somewhat spoiled as to having to maintain a presence in the �sweet spot� to appreciate these new found aural wonders. When I came to Electronic Arts, my first assignment was a game called Road Rash. We had licensed several bands from A&M Records (including Soundgarden) to provide the music for this motorcycle game. The platform was the 3DO machine, which had a stereo output.

I immediately called my friends at Dolby who supplied me with the necessary encoding tools to create the first Dolby Surround Game. At the summer CES, we set up a stage with a total surround system. The fact that a game had moved up a notch in the world of audio technology created quite a stir. We were even written up favorably in Stereo Review. In fact, this was the first and only time any of my audio work was reviewed favorably in Stereo Review. That started a whole string of games � well over 100 by now � that we have developed utilizing 4.0 surround. A few years ago we were asked to remix Wing Commander 4 using AC-3 for a DVD release. This version was to accompany the first version of a computer including a DVD player as part of its hardware configuration. Although the game play was only in stereo, the four and one half-hours of movies were all in Dolby Digital. We also produced a version of Madden in 5.1. As the years passed, we developed our own tools for moving audio around the x-y-z axis in the Dolby Surround environment. But, by this time, 5.1 was the thing in feature film audio. Home theater systems could now play DVDs. Our games, as far as audio was concerned, were still behind in development as opposed to the audio produced by the feature film studios. Along came the PlayStation 2 and DTS.

Since the PlayStation 2 had the ability to decode DTS, we faced the technological problem of being able to encode the signal in real time to utilize this technology in the interactive sections of our games. We also had to refine the total system to not utilize too much processing power. Otherwise we might slow the game or create other unwanted artifacts. Our tools team in Canada came through with flying colors and solved all the problems. We could now encode DTS on the fly. This fall, we have two games that will be utilizing this technology on the PlayStation 2 � our snow board game SSX Tricky and our hockey game NHL 2002. Utilizing the center speaker for the play by play announcer adds another dimension to separation and clarity. The effects and music, both left and right as well as in the rear, go one step further in our goal to totally immerse the player into the game environment. We have given our technology the name SurroundSoundScape�. We also have the Xbox. We will be utilizing Dolby Digital on this platform. One of our first games for Xbox will be a racing game called NASCAR Thunder 2002. With cars passing you on both the left and right, you really feel as if you are on the track. You definitely know you are behind the wheel of a stock car by the noise of the engine and other cars passing or being passed. SSX Tricky and NHL 2002 will also be released on the Xbox using Dolby Digital. Those at the 3rd Annual Conference and Technology Showcase, �Surround 2001� at the Beverly Hilton on December 7th and 8th this year got to hear these games in action.

Yes, we have come a long way in the last eight years � from the purely monaural Sega and Nintendo game consoles through the stereo Sega CD, 3DO, Saturn, and Dreamcast (which were encoded to play in surround) to our present-day DTS and Dolby Digital machines. We are now releasing our games on DVDs with a much greater storage capacity and faster disc seek times. As our tool teams keep refining the process, the gap between motion picture audio and game audio becomes smaller and smaller. As I have stated in previous articles, we are aiming for the convergence of all communication art forms: television, movies, and interactive games. When you sit in your home theater and pick-up your control device, no matter what you select as your entertainment flavor, the audio delivery will be the same � the highest quality possible.

Surround Professional Magazine