Over the last week or so I've been trying to get my audio engineering and sound design ears open wide and analysing audio choices made in many classic fighting games. This very afternoon I had a nice gaming session of Super Street Fighter IV (SSFIV) on PlayStation 3 (with a little Guilty Gear thrown in for good measure).
And here are my thoughts on the SSFIV playing and listening session:
Basically the priority in the audio - what is most in the foreground - is the sounds that give player feedback. The strikes, intensity of the strikes, whether they disabled a combo, hit or miss, ultra or standard, blocked or not. All the sounds with encoded gameplay information are clearly at the fore over all other sound in terms of the sound mix.
I thought it would be the vocals, however, the vocals are pretty well mixed in with the ambient sounds (slightly above, and with an EQ spread that lets them cut through the ambient audio a little extra).
Street Fighter also has a very 'exciting' (as in stimulating) mix, it's very full (busy), highly compressed (in terms of audio dynamic range compression not data compression), high amplitude bass and treble and just enough mids to fill it out and keep the overall audio robust and 'chunky'. This style of mixing I think will not suit Blade Symphony so much. It's more specific to the SF project - but that's the decisions they made for that project and it works fantastically for that game. Also, SF is designed to be played in noisy arcades, so you can't have a great deal of dynamics; that's reserved for more quiet locations (think of the dynamic range compression many DVD, Blu-ray players and TV's have built in - the quieter your listening environment the more they will give you 24bit dynamic range. The noisier your listening environment the more they compress the volume of sounds into the upper levels. That means less range but you don't miss the quiet stuff).
The fact it's mixed for arcades also explains some of the reasons why the information is encoded in the trebles and bass, not really the mids so much - mids get lost in noisy environments where as bass and treble tend to cut through better. So some of the decisions they made were obviously affected by the context the game intends to be used in. Blade Symphony, having a PC release, we can expect to be played in a different environment and so the audio mixing will take that into account. This exploration is a case of finding how good audio decisions get made - not about mimicking successful audio design choices.
At any rate it's all food for thought. It's clear that the people at Capcom working on SSFIV made very conscious decisions on every level - there are no accidents in the sound design or mixing. Inspirational stuff really.
Let's see what kind of functional and beautiful audio I can organise for Blade Symphony hey?