Exploring the Importance of Sound in Video Games

This is what success sounds like.

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Or maybe a truncated reprise of the main theme that blissfully emerges out of your speakers.

Whatever it is, it means success. Using sound to represent success is one of the quickest ways to reward the player and make them feel gratification. In the case of the Legend of Zelda games, an iconic tune literally takes you on a short, emotional adventure every time you open a chest, defeat a bad guy, or level up.

Any fan surely remembers this tale. Link approaches his reward and slowly begins to open it. An ascending scale of tones starts to play. The tempo picks up as the anticipation for your item builds. It’s essentially as if the game is ringing, “ooooo, whatcha gonna get, what is it, whatcha gonna get, oooooo I can’t wait” into your ear for 8 seconds before proclaiming, “WOW, LOOK AT THAT COOL THING!”


dananana dananana dananana dananana DAAANAANAANAAAAAAA!

The triumphant tone that bellows as Link holds aloft his sweet new tchotchke fills you with the feeling of having truly earned something. And, let’s be honest, that little victory tune is so ingrained in our heads that we occasionally hold our car keys to the sky and sing it when we’ve rescued them from the couch cushions.  I mean, we all do that, right?

Little chimes and tones have been the audible shorthand for “item get!” throughout gaming’s history. Nearly every RPG ever made has crafted cues that accompany leveling-up or mission achievements. To take a time-honored classic,  Final Fantasy would simply not be Final Fantasy if it didn’t include the fanfare tune after every successful battle. In this way, the mechanic of “success sounds” helps the player  push forward through what might otherwise be a monotonous string of battles. It’s letting you know that even small victories are still victories.

final fantasy

You definitely showed that chocobo who’s boss

If we go way back to a time when legible gaming sounds were technologically difficult to achieve, we can see the ancestors of “success sounds.”  It was a time when 8bit sounds were king and dragons roamed the land. Graphical adventure games were commanding the scene, with Sierra Entertainment leading the charge.

There were a suite of features that Sierra showcased with almost every game they developed during the nineties: instant confounding deaths, irreconcilable fail-states where the game would become un-winnable for reasons not always clear to the player, and even ancient DRM that required pouring over the game manual for cryptic clues.

Kings Quest

You ended up seeing this very, very often

Those were some of the “features” Sierra was known for. But breathtaking graphics and animations (for the time), verbose and well recorded voice acting (for the time), and a penchant for pushing the storage capacity of current hardware (Kings Quest 6 first shipped on nine floppy disks) –  these were some of the good ones.

And beyond all of their advancements, Sierra games also had the sound. That damned sound.  The one that would play every time you correctly solved a puzzle.

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