The most common word used to define Virtual Reality by and large is “immersion.” To achieve immersion, VR Developers need to work on the sense of presence, i.e. perception of physical presence in a virtual environment.
The ISPR defines sense of presence as “Telepresence, often shortened to presence, is commonly referred to as a sense of ‘being there’ in a virtual environment and more broadly defined as an illusion of non-mediation in which users of any technology overlook or misconstrue the technology’s role in their experience.”
However, a true challenge in creating a virtual reality experience is bringing this level of true immersion. In the past years, graphics have made a tremendous improvement in their role in Virtual Reality; game audio is still on the path to reach its true potential.
Immersion, both generically and in terms of PC/Console games can be divided in to three main categories:
- Narrative Immersion: Players are fully invested in a story, a narration.
- Tactical Immersion: A player performs tactile operations that involve using their skills.
- Strategic Immersion: When players are involved in activities associated with mental challenges
Virtual Reality makes use of a fourth category of immersion- called Spatial Immersion, the kind of immersion that convinces the player that the virtual world around them is real. To trigger the sense of presence, spatial immersion is the most important, for it assists in delivering a believable and immersive environment.
Scientifically, for the physiological positioning of the human body depends on the visual system to guide within the environment, the ears provide for surrounding information and the sense of smell assists in the provision for additional surrounding information, complementing the original information. The audio however goes beyond vision because it doesn’t depend upon the field of view, rather providing for complete 3D positioning for information feedback of surrounding environment.
As a whole, the VR Industry hasn’t addressed the audio aspect in VR with a lasting and high up solution. Ideally, to create spatial immersion that is realistic, players would require using all the five sensory organs to create a full sensory processing. At the current stage of VR, it is close to impossible to utilize all the five senses, with smell and taste not integrated with the experience altogether. Primarily, the sense of hearing and sight are used, while the sense of touch is yet to be fully utilized.
Fabulous work like in Dying Light and ADR1FT has been done in terms of graphics to work toward the sense of sight and the next thing that holds the highest focus for Virtual Reality right now, is Game Audio. It is the most potent medium that can be used to create powerful spatial immersion via delivering a complete 3D experience that gives the representation of realistic spaces with virtual sources, rendered through an imitation acoustic environment.
Creating Spatial Immersion for a 3D Experience
If you wish to enhance spatial immersion, the first step is audio positioning. Recent studies at Skalski and Whitbred, 2010, stated a pattern that games that had a better sound positioning created a higher impact of spatial immersion, than those with a visual quality. The differences in the timing, tone and loudness between the ears is used by the brain to position sound sources in three dimensional positions- distance, horizontal and vertical.
When experiencing Virtual Reality, players are stationed in the middle of a scene, quite literally; and so for the makers of VR to create a life-like listening experience determining the location of a sound source is the most important.
In the history of media, the first binaural recording can be dated back to 1881. Binaural recording means recording done using two microphones, arranged purposely with the intention of creating 3D Stereo Sound, which provides the user with a sensation of actually being in the midst of the origin of the sound.
In game development, it is suggestible that 3D audio be created with a real-time processing. This is because the locations of the sound objects cannot be anticipate, since it corresponds to the player’s head movement and location. After a century of its invention, investors and engineers are revisiting binaural recording with binaural processes to build VR compatible binaural algorithms.
As we continue to work with VR, we’re introduced to the multiple challenges and needs of Game Audio. Upon exploring these, the boundaries of VR Gaming can be pushed further ahead with focus on Game Audio on a rapid rise. Developers have realized the essentiality of audio realism in raising user engagement, boosting the sense of presence.
Continuous developments are happening in 3D audio positioning, audio working tools and new technologies are catering to the needs of VR. Game Audio is the next point of focus, for its potent to be the locus of delivering ‘immersive’ and ‘engaging’ VR experiences. VR certainly is helping game audio to take the spotlight!