Simply put, Proactive Audio is audio that affects gameplay. It's any audio or audio system that can change the visuals, systems, or interactions within a game. At this point you're probably thinking to yourself "this isn't a new concept! I can list a ton of games that do this kind of thing!" Yup! It's not a new concept but it is a new term.
We're all used to terms like Adaptive Audio, Interactive Audio, Dynamic Audio, Procedural Audio, and their "music" variants. These systems specialize in triggering changes in a game's audio mix when certain game events occur.
- "The player pressed 'A': play the Jump sound."
- "The player entered the arena: transition to intense music."
In both of these simple examples, an audio mix that would otherwise remain unchanged reacts to a change in the state of the game. These are examples of Reactive Audio.
This flow of events is reversed with Proactive Audio.
- "The Jump sound was played: shake the controller."
- "Transitioning to intense music: darken the scene."
In these examples, the audio system proactively informs the game about a change in the state of the audio mix. These are examples of Proactive Audio.
WHY PROACTIVE AUDIO?
The power of Proactive Audio lies in its ability to enhance the impact of a game scene by improving the synchronization of audio and visuals. One need look no further than cinema to be convinced of the value of this added impact, emotional or otherwise. Film composers and sound designers spend a great deal of time matching their audio to the visuals in film, reinforcing the emotional content and realism of the final product.
Game composers and sound designers have a similar goal but the challenge is far greater. Due to the interactive nature of games, a change in the aural landscape won't necessarily coincide with a particular game action. Adaptive audio techniques have increased the responsiveness of game audio mixes (particularly with Procedural Audio approaches), but the final effect doesn't reach the anticipatory level of synchronization afforded by the filmmaking process.
This is where Proactive Audio comes in. Using Proactive Audio, the sound or music can provide other game systems with information necessary to perform the desired synchronization! Fancy beat drop in that music? No problem! Your audio system can tell the game when it happens and the visuals can be updated to reflect its impact.
Just the Beginning
This post is the first of a Proactive Audio series that we have planned for the coming weeks and months. In those articles we'll cover specific techniques, dissect Proactive Audio examples found in the wild, and suggest a few best practices. Hopefully they will help you turn Proactive Audio concepts into a tool that you can add to your game development tool belt!