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How Sound Design Can Add Texture To A Virtual World

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How Sound Design Can Add Texture To A Virtual World

Explorations in VR Design is a journey through the bleeding edge of VR design – from architecting a space and designing groundbreaking interactions to making users feel powerful.

Sound is essential for truly immersive VR. It conveys depth and emotion, builds and reinforces interactions, and guides users through alien landscapes. Combined with hand tracking and visual feedback, sound even has the power to create the illusion of tactile sensation.

In this Exploration, we’ll explore the fundamentals of VR sound design, plus take a deep dive into the auditory world of Blocks. Along the way, we’ll break a few laws of physics and uncover the surprising complexity of physical sound effects.

What Can Great Sound Design Achieve in VR? Presence and Realism in 3D Space

When it comes to depth cues, stereoscopic vision is a massive improvement on traditional monitors. But it’s not perfect. For this reason, sound is more than just an immersive tool – how (and where) objects around you sound has an enormous effect on your understanding of where they are, especially when you’re not looking at them. This applies to everything from background noises to user interfaces.

Engines like Unity and Unreal are constantly getting better at representing sound effects in 3D space – with binaural audio, better reverb modeling, better occlusion and obstruction modeling, and more. The more realistic that zombie right behind you sounds, the more your hair stands on end.

Mood and Atmosphere

Music plays a crucial role in setting the mood for an experience. Blocks has a techno vibe with a deep bass, inspired by ambient artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto:

 

Weightless features soft piano tracks that feel elegant and contemplative:

Finally, Land’s End combines a dreamy and surreal quality with hard edges like tape saturation and vinyl noise.

If you imagine shuffling the soundtracks in these three examples, you can understand how it would fundamentally change the experience.

Building and Reinforcing Interactions

Sound communicates the inception, success, failure, and overall nature of interactions and game physics, especially when the user’s eyes are drawn elsewhere. Blocks, for example, is designed with a wide range of sounds – from the high and low electronic notes that signal the block creation interactions, to the echoes of blocks bashing against the floor.

For game developers, this is also a double-edged sword that relies on careful timing, as even being off by a quarter second can disrupt the experience.

Tutorial Audio

It’s sad but true – most users don’t read instructions. Fortunately, while written instructions have to compete with a huge variety of visual stimuli, you have a lot more control over what your user hears.

Using the abstract state capabilities in Unity’s Mecanim system, you can easily build a flow system so that your audio cues are responsive to what’s actually happening. Just make sure that the cues work within the narrative and don’t become repetitive.

Setting Boundaries

Virtual reality is an exciting medium, but for first time users it can take a few minutes to master its limitations. Our hand tracking technology can only track what it can see, so you may want to design […]
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