NACVGM 2020 – “What Does Early Video Game Dialogue Sound Like?”

From the Abstract

Elizabeth Medina-Gray (Ithaca College)

“What Does Early Video Game Dialogue Sound Like?”

With highly restrictive technological limitations, early video games typically were not able to include realistic recordings of human voices.  Yet a significant minority of early games do include some aural component of in-game dialogue. 

Some of these aural components sound like voices, albeit voices heavily mediated by technology; speech synthesis appeared in some arcade games beginning in the 1980s. and brief, low-resolution speech samples became increasingly prevalent in certain 16-bit games, for example.  Some aural dialogue components sound like purely mechanical output, without a vocal element; such sounds can be either pitched or un-pitched, and they accompany the appearance of on-screen dialogue text. Some aural dialogue components-either vocal or non-vocal-can begin to sound like music.

This talk shares the results of a corpus study that examines the sounds of dialogue in early video games.  Based on a corpus of over 200 titles-comprised of “best selling” and “most popular” games lists for early arcade, early home computer, and 8-and 16-bit home consoles, supplemented with additional examples- this study considers the following questions:

(1) Approximately what proportion of highly successful early games include aural components for in-game dialogue? (2) What types of aural dialogue components appear in early games? (3) What trends or tendencies emerge from those sounds, for example in pitch range, rhythm, timbre, etc.? (4) In what ways might some of these sounds be considered musical? This study provides a foundational context in which to examine these sounds that occupy ambiguous, liminal spaces between voice, sound effect, and music, and between human and machine.

Source: Bardic Knowledge

Source: NACVGM

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