Sound Theory: The Importance of Audio Cues

Hello again, everyone! I hope you're doing well. KOF XIV came out recently and the KPB boys are greatly enjoying it. As a quick thought, it really is an awesome year for fighting games. Street Fighter V, KOF XIV & Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- were all released. It’s a great time to be a fighting game fan and a PS4 owner, but let me not fan THOSE flames. Aha, I digress.

This article will start out with a little bit of a story. My friend Hasson (aka KPB|Prodigy) asked me to do him a favor and mail his headphones out to get fixed. Ever since I knew Prodigy, he always played with headphones on. I never asked him why he did until about a year ago. I always thought that it just blocked background noise from the crowds at majors. While that is one reason Prodigy opts to wear his headphones, he says that the main reason  is because he pays strict attention to audio cues. The game he plays is my favorite fighting game, and the one TRUE fighting game (I’m sure many of you will disagree there). Can you guess what it is? That right! It’s Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. Extreme adoration for Marvel aside, the game is a great example that illustrates why audio cues are extremely important in fighting games, especially for more fast paced games, but it applies across the genre. I’ll also use Killer Instinct to illustrate my point as well. Its intricate combo system places a great deal of importance on audio cues.

The neutral game in Marvel is very delicate. There are many things to consider. Unlike SFV, when you can see everything that happens in the game when it happens, UMVC3 is so fast paced and high flying that you cannot see everything on the screen as it happens. There are a lot of movement options you can utilize to hide things such as assist calls. There have been so many times when I’ve gotten hit by assists when I didn’t even know they were called. Because things happen so fast and there’s so much going on, a lot of players have opted to rely on audio cues to help them in the neutral game and be much more aware of what’s going on.

As my textbook example, I’m going to use this match between RayRay and Coach Steve. These two play some of the most delicate neutral in the game’s community. RayRay plays Magneto, Doom, Sentinel and Steve plays Nova, Doom, Spencer. In the beginning of every match of this set, whenever Magneto approaches Nova or vice versa, they always have assists covering them. However, very rarely do you see their assist jump out on screen, attack, then leave. All you see is the point character moving forward and an assist coming from behind them. When you watch RayRay in the neutral, you always see drones, but almost never see Sentinel. This is great for Ray because that makes it very difficult to punish the assist call, but it also makes it hard for his opponent, Coach Steve, to know when the drones are coming and where they are coming from. So how is Steve supposed to know when an assist is coming? The answer relies in why Hasson wears headphones during battle: audio cues.

Playing on MUTE simply is not an option.

Playing on MUTE simply is not an option if you're playing to win.

In Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, every character says something when an assist is called. For example, Magneto says “Come to me!” and at that point, if Steve was listening he would know that an assist was called. If Ray called Sentinel, Sentinel would say “SENTINEL FORCE CHARGE” and Steve would know that drones are coming. But Ray has to be cognizant of audio cues as well. For example, Magneto spends a lot of time at super jump height. Steve, using Nova, can throw energy javelins and since the camera is on Magneto, Ray can’t see Steve throwing Energy Javelins. Ray has to listen to when Nova says “ENERGY JAVELIN”. Using Marvel, we can see how audio cues are a big part of how the game is played at a high level. But for another example, let’s move onto Killer Instinct.

Before this write-up, my exposure to KI was very limited. It was cool to watch, but I didn’t really understand what was going on. However, upon doing some research, I’ve found that the game is really interesting and that its combo system is very complex. There are moves called auto-doubles and linkers. An auto-double is a two hit normal activated by a single button press. Linker is just a name for a special move that continues the combo sequence. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to stick to talking about auto-doubles.

Combo breaking is an integral part of this game. In order to combo break from auto-doubles, you must be able to recognize what they are. Heavy auto-doubles are slow and each hit delivers an audible “thunk”. Medium auto-doubles are slightly faster and deliver a more subtle sound. Light auto-doubles are very fast and sound more like a soft pat for each hit. As a defender, you have to learn how to recognize auto-doubles based on the cues. This really just barely scratches the surface when it comes to the complexity of KI. But, again, audio cues prove themselves an integral part of high level play. In both games, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Killer Instinct, audio cues greatly help the recognition aspect of fighting games.

In order to play fighting games at a high level, you need to be cognizant of a lot of things. One thing that often gets the short shrift are audio cues. They’re a terribly important part of any fighting game at high level play and it shows why good sound design is important in these games. Special shout outs to KPB|Crusher with his Top 8 appearance in Killer Instinct at ECT 2016 and a special thanks to Infil and his Complete Guide to Killer Instinct! His guide was instrumental in me learning a bit of the game and making me able to apply it to the subject matter at hand. I hope this was informative and helped you guys understand the importance of audio cues in fighting games.

Until next time!

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