Wednesday, 12 June 2013

'Always Listening' | Xbox One and what this phrase really means

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As well as the issues 'Always Online' and no used games surrounding Xbox One there are some privacy rumours floating around. People are no fixated on the Xbox One's Kinect to be constantly 'spying' on gamers through audio and video recording. Even when the console is in standby. As if anyone actually cares what you are doing 24/7 let alone wants to watch it on a feed.

First things first, Microsoft confirmed that you are in fact able to completely power down the Xbox One (including Kinect) without unplugging the console. (Kotaku, 2013) therefore those who really are paranoid about whether someone can see what they are doing can rest easy if they've switched their console off.
But people are still wrapped up around this phrase 'Always Listening', this is merely a term used which has been twisted by people. As Microsoft have fully integrated Kinect 2.0 into the Xbox One as a permanent device they are involving the use of voice command as much as possible. In the audio industry it's been a challenge for technology developers to create something that can detect voice through a noisy environment whilst still running on a tiny amount of power. Microsoft have done this with Kinect and I thoroughly applaud them for that. But the term 'Always Listening' refers to the microphone within the Kinect waiting for a command. It is listening out for instructions on what to do next. This does not mean it is a direct feed to Microsoft who can hear you telling a player in America how you are defecating over him and made love to his mother last night.

I personally am looking forward to seeing some in game implementation of Kinect 2.0. Along with integration with the controllers rumble triggers.

Thanks for reading,

Rob Tyler

V | G | A


Kotaku. 2013. Xbox One's Kinect Can Turn Off, Microsoft Says, Noting Privacy Worries. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 12 Jun 2013].

Business Breakdown | Exploration of the Xbox One 'Always Online' & 'No Used Games' Controversy

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A lot of negative feedback and hatred is feeding to Microsoft for the features of the Xbox One that include requiring an internet connection at least once a day and the elimination of lending games and selling them on at independent resale stores such as Gamespot, Game and even C2C (Customer to Customer) services like eBay.

Don Mattrick discussed the 'Always Online' feature yesterday. Microsoft's attitude seems that of future proofing Xbox One as they try and lead the way to the future of gaming systems. Perhaps it is one generation too early? I respect gamers views on having to connect once a day to Xbox LIVE to even play offline single player being a nuisance. Fortunately for myself I am truly always connected to the internet when on my Xbox360 but even I have times of no internet connect, such as our impending internet provider changeover resulting in a lack of internet for a couple of days. With that I do strongly believe Xbox One is following Valve's gaming platform Steam as a business model. Having superb benefits of being online but it does enable a true 'Offline' mode for when you do not have a connection. I think this would solve a lot of issues regarding the Xbox One controversy.

So from there we move on to Microsoft's elimination of the second hand market with Xbox One. Well, that is an unconfirmed fact as we are yet to see their plan for selling used games they mentioned back at the Xbox One unveiling. But I think their motives were trying to balance out too much. This new method enables the developer to receive more money from sales than the 3rd Generation method, which Sony is adopting for the 4th generation but allowing devs to integrate the digital medium in the future.
Being a Playstation to Xbox gamer I try and stay as little biased as I can. But I believe the Xbox One could actually develop their Marketplace well if we imagine it to be like the Steam store. With such diverse prices and multiple sales per year allowing for such deals as the entire GTA Franchise for less than £15. If it allowed me to purchase a game such as the upcoming Battlefield 4 for £29.99 rather than a normal £39.99 disc edition it would be quite exciting. Giving developers the choice of pricing could drastically change the console gaming community. Plus opening up the Indie market being able to snap up new games for a couple of quid!
But this does mean that you cannot simply share games with your friends, say lend it to them for a week which will affect the younger gamers who depend on this sort of socialisation with their gaming. For the adult community it will be less of a diminishing factor. That being said the implementation of adding up to 10 "Family Members" means those included in this can use the same copy of your game free of charge, even on another console thousands of miles away just you cannot play them at the same time. Which is actually a nice touch.
I think that if Microsoft had actually wrapped up some of these queries and presented their reasonings to the world during their conference and not via different reporters it may not have received such a negative reaction from the community.

If we see the Xbox One marketplace as diverse in pricing as Steam is then I would be more than happy to purchase one. The always online topic still is a sticky one and a true offline mode would make the console much much better.

I guess as always... we wil have to wait and see...

I'm tired of waiting though...

Thanks for reading,

Rob Tyler

V | G | A

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

A Titan Falls | Playstation 4 dominates Xbox One at E3

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Last night through to the early hours of this morning here in London we witnessed the opening conferences of E3. Without going off on tangents with SO MUCH to discuss we are going to look at the main focus of E3 2013 and what all the buzz is about; Sony's dominance over Microsoft in the next generation console wars.

The controversy of Microsoft implementing 'Always Online' and no Secondhand/Used Games market with the Xbox One console was still up in the air last night as they did not address the elephant in the room. Providing a great demonstration of new games such as Ryse: Sons of Rome and Titanfall before announcing the £429 price and release in November 2013 proved futile as the question everyone wanted answered was merely avoided... again.

Enter Sony and their Playstation 4. Although I found the Sony conference dull with too much emphasis on the games (not that the games are a bad thing) but not enough on the console itself they still managed to blow everyone away after the 2hours dribbled by.
Announcing that the PS4 will use disc based games and there were no restrictions on usage, enabling gamers to share, sell and buy used games as they wished and also no 'always online' brought a smug end to the Playstation conference. Not to mention an £80 difference from the Xbox One having Sony's PS4 retailing at £350

But what's in the box?

Xbox One comes equipped with:
- Xbox One Console
- Kinect sensor
- Xbox One Controller
- HDMI Cable

Playstation 4 comes equipped with:
- Playstation 4 Console
- Dualshock 4 Controller
- HDMI Cable
- Headset

I strongly believe that unless Microsoft consider apologising to their fans and remove some of these restrictions. They may well and truly dissolve in this generations console war!

Look for more posts regarding E3 over the next couple of days!

Thanks for reading,

Rob Tyler

V | G | A

Saturday, 8 June 2013

E3 - 2013 | A New Generation

So so so...

Next week we see the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 as it's better known, appear on our screens live from Los Angeles, California. Three days of video game news and announcements to get stuck into.

Most importantly we're finally seeing the official Playstation 4 console unveiling and more from the notorious Xbox One console. Rumours are buzzing high in regards to digital rights management across both platforms but to be honest. I'm more interested in the games!


We'll be reporting on the events at E3 here at V | G | A so feel free to get stuck in 11th June - 13th June

thanks for reading,

Rob Tyler


V | G | A

Friday, 31 May 2013

FIFA 14 | Amazon Pre-Order price extortion

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So two days ago we saw Amazon post up pre-orders for both Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's Playstation 4 at a staggering £599.99. From what I've seen its not been well received by the community.

Now they're predicting games at £89.99... what's next? If the prices are anywhere near these Amazon extortions... I could well be moving over to PC gaming permanently

Thanks for reading,

Rob Tyler

V | G | A

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

How it Sounds | Dear Esther

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Dear Esther was originally released as a mod for Half Life 2 having been built in the Source engine. It rapidly drew attention to itself and became a critically acclaimed experimental first-person game. Dear Esther was created by Dan Pinchbeck, writer and producer of, the seven person team, The Chinese Room. The reasoning behind this unusual game was to show what a video game really can do.

"Dear Esther is a poetic ghost story told using game technologies. You explore a deserted island, uncovering a tale of love, loss, grief and redemption, delivered through stunning voice-over and soundtrack and set against one of the most beautiful environments yet created in a game." (

I personally picked up a copy from the 2013 Steam Indie Spring Sale, for around £1.50, as per recommendation from fellow author Achidi Frick. He often informs me of any interesting soundscape/sound design/audio in video games thanks to my near obsession with it. I have to thank him once again for my introduction to this beauty.

Moving away from the stunning visuals, you can see those yourself just from searching the game and from the images within the article. We are looking toward the beauty in the Sound. I will say that although Jessica Curry's score is exceptional and superb for the game, I'm probably not going to discuss it here on out as I want to focus on the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds excluding the score/soundtrack, the true Sound Design.

Image courtesy of Strategyinformer
From the blustery coast to the dank caves, Dear Esther stimulates the ears not quite like any game I've experienced before. As we enter the world we can do nothing other than wander it, searching for scraps of prose to unlock the horrors that preceded us. The coastline beginning opens us up to the wind whistling by and the waves crashing below.

After just over 2hours of gameplay I came to the conclusion that the environments of Dear Esther are built on stereo location recording for the ambience, the 'room tone' if you were. This became apparent as I rotated the protagonist showing no change in directionality from the wind and sea. The same occurring later in the game as we find ourselves in a labyrinth of wet caves. The dripping never really seems to come from anywhere but the environment is just producing it. I'm not saying this is/was a bad approach, what better way to replicate reality than sample it? The only element that dropped me back into reality was the lack of directional variation. Apart from that it really does sound like you are at the seaside.
Yet again the abandoned shack at the beginning of the game really did feel drafty... superb capture of an environment and extremely immersive.

Footsteps. The only real downfall in the audio department. I didn't feel they were a big enough focus. It seemed as though the developers simply assigned a cycle of footstep samples and left it at that. Textures didn't seem to influence the tone of them and there was no impact on the acoustical space.
As you walk through a cave you hear your crunching footsteps around you, the sound bouncing off the surfaces back to you. This doesn't happen within the experimental game but the footsteps seemed slapped on top. Perhaps they were more of an afterthought?

Image courtesy of

Despite the mild let down in the foot department, the voice was incredible. Nigel Carrington gave a compelling performance throughout this indie title. Well suited to the passages of prose it was well recorded, processed and mixed into the game. Plenty of punch and low end and enough rasp to create the eery British tone that Dear Esther wreaks.

Dear Esther isn't brand new, the full title was released in 2012 with the original mod about in 2008. I'm grateful The Chinese Room experimented with video gaming. Not just making a generic shooter. They thought about it, took care in their sound to make realistic sounding virtual environments and acoustic spaces. I am forgiving of the slight let downs in the game as it is only an Indie game. Hopefully instilling inspiration into indie developers to take time in their games. Dear Esther may only be 2hours long but its detail and unique depth have made it one of the modern greats.

Thanks for reading,

Rob Tyler

V | G | A

Rant: Survival

Shinji Mikami's coming up with The Evil Within. A new Resident Evil's coming out. Both are classified as survival horror. ... Well, I'm a little skeptical about Resident Evil, considering their recent track record.

Anyway, let's get back on track. I had a little talk on the web with someone recently (let's call him Person A for referencing's sake), and to my amazement, he has a "new" definition for the survival genre.

Ready? Here we go... *cough*

Most games are in the survival genre. *WHAAAAAAAAAAA*

Alright, here's the thing. He stresses that most games have the survival element in it, and I can't refute that. Action-adventures, RPGs, FPS'es.... EVERYTHING. The point of the game is to achieve something without dying.

Makes sense, doesn't it? 

NOPE, NOT TO ME. And here's my two cents on why.

In deciding a genre, the main components of the game decide where it belongs. If the core of your game is about shooting, it's a shooter. If the core is about action, it's an action game. Though there may be overlapping elements with games from different genres, this does not change its core element.

Take for example Metal Gear Solid. It... :
  • is played from a third-person POV, with first-person view available
  • uses guns and some form of physical combat
  • requires the player to not die and accomplish objectives
  • has some form of action elements in it

By the logic of Person A, the game belongs in the 3rd person fighter, FPS, survival-action game, because there are elements of those genres in it, but the game is classified as a stealth-action game. Why?

Metal Gear Solid centres around you stealthily sneaking around enemies and avoiding detection. The game was MADE with the idea in mind that the players will utilise stealth and action sequences to be sneaky. The other elements in it, such as survival, close-quarter combat and shooting are all secondary elements of the game. Yes, the elements exist but they do not make up the core of the game.

Using that train of thought, survival games' core would be about surviving then, right? What is surviving to you? Take that, and make it the core of the game. 

Survival to me means enduring hardships and barely making it out alive. The earlier Resident Evils had players put in a situation where ammo is limited, and there are tonnes of enemies out there to kill you. PlagueOfGripes' video makes this point, where ammo restriction forces the players to make decisions on whether to have a short-term benefit or a long-term benefit. The game wants you to feel the pain of surviving, the harshness of the elements that are against you. 

Sure, pitting me against a mob numbering in the thousands while I am in possession of a ton of weapons and ammo is still challenging and my survival is challenged, but that probably doesn't happen often enough for the game to be listed in the survival genre. And, if anything, that game is testing my shooting abilities above all else.

I think game developers are mostly not stupid. Surely, they create games and label them in a genre for VERY good reasons. Why would they label, say, a game like Mortal Kombat under the survival genre? Yes, Person A's logic would dictate that it is a game about surviving, and taking his stance, you are saving the world on a global scale too. It totally fits the survival genre then! But the creators of the game intended Mortal Kombat to be ABOUT fighting. It is a fighting game. A. Fighting. Game. Damnit.

Don't get me wrong, I see his logic but I think Person A fails to see the bigger picture here. Games are placed under certain genres because it is intended to appeal in that market. Secondary, minor elements of the games are still there, but these things are not what make the game super appealing, although it may be interesting.

Alright. Rant. Done.

Xelthius, out.

Xbox One & Playstation 4 | Pre-order for £599.99

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I spluttered.

Amazon have enabled consumers to pre-order both Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's Playstation 4 for a staggering £599.99. Along with this they have posted a disclaimer (as shown in the screenshot above) stating that "There are no official prices announced for Xbox One products" and their pre order price guarantee will mean you are charged the lowest price on release. But seriously?


That is a hefty sum Amazon are predicting the next generation console to price at on release. We saw the Xbox360 priced at £279.99 in 2005. We here at V | G | A are predicting the Xbox One between £300-£400 way below Amazon's bold prediction. Then again it could work out well for both Sony and Microsoft to see the reaction from the community in time for E3. The Playstation 3 hit UK shelves March 2007 at £425 to uproar, perhaps we're in for a shock or (hopefully) a pleasant surprise come E3.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading,

Rob Tyler

V | G | A

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Small Speaker | What Playstation 4's Dualshock 4 brings to the table

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Being an audio guy, the most noticeable feature of the Playstation 4's Dualshock 4 controller is the small speaker implemented into the front of the handset. I'm intrigued yet apprehensive as from my experience with small speakers it doesn't bode well for this one. I can only hope for good things to come from it.

If you have ever had a go on the Nintendo Wii then the speaker implemented within the Wii remote is probably what springs to mind as you gaze between the PS button and new multi-gesture touchpad at the home of the Dualshock 4's speaker. Upon first impressions I really want the speaker to work for Sony but dread that the results are going to be tinny and a mere novelty.

Scott Rohde, SVP, Product development featured in Sony's video as they unveiled more features of the Dualshock 4. His speaks on the controller having a speaker; "That adds a lot of dynamic sound when you are in a shooter for example and you've got bullets whizzing by you"and also that "more personal and intimate elements will come out of the controller"
I can see clearly why they have implemented a speaker into the Dualshock 4, the next generation is bringing the experience out of the box (TV) incorporating other elements into next generation gaming.

If we move away from the hardcore gaming such as the First Person Shooters, Third Person Shooters and Action-Adventure titles and toward more arcade/indie games for more casual gamers and younger audience's perhaps the integration of the speaker will work nicely. Some gentle touches say from collecting a specific item in a platformer to alerting the player when it is their turn (much as the Wii remote does) may be what the main intention of the speaker is for. Catering for a wider audience than that of the 18-34 male demographic.

As we look ahead to E3 in June I am curious as to the implementation of this mystery speaker within the gaming experience. If the response isn't that of a corded telephone it should be a promising feature for Sony.

Thanks for reading,

Rob Tyler

V | G | A

Who said what now? | Xbox One and Kinect 2.0 Speaker Recognition

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As the details regarding Microsoft's latest console 'Xbox One' remain hazy, my flatmate posed the query, as I am sure many have considered;

When you are playing it would be really annoying if someone in the room said "Xbox, go home" and you were taken out of your game to the Xbox One homepage.

My first thought was surely the multi billion dollar company, that is Microsoft, probably had someone point this idea out... otherwise they are going to be a bit in shock. The next thought progressed me into thinking about this from an audio engineer's point of view, (This being my training and not just a hobby of mine). If you consider your voice and all your friends voices, it's quite rare that you will have similar voices right? Therefore the Kinect should detect the increased frequencies in one persons voice compared to the next.

For example someone with a nasal toned voice has a boost in the mid-range frequencies (800Hz - 2kHz) where as his friend has a deep voice with prominents around the 250Hz - 500Hz range.

If the Kinect can analyse these voices as they're coming in and assign a voice to one of its persona slots it should be able to keep track of who is saying what. We were shown at the Microsoft unveiling that upon saying "Xbox On" the Xbox One will start up and log in the profile of whom said the command.

"The physiological component of voice recognition is related to the physical shape of an individual's vocal tract, which consists of an airway and the soft tissue cavities from which vocal sounds originate. To produce speech, these components work in combination with the physical movement of the jaw, tongue, and larynx and resonances in the nasal passages. The acoustic patterns of speech come from the physical characteristics of the airways." ( | Speaker Recognition, 2006)

So as we look ahead to E3 (11th-13th June 2013) we can expect to see a lot more from the Kinect 2.0. I can only assume something along the lines of speaker recognition will be incorporated as the new Kinect can now monitor up to 6 bodies at any one time. Then again these things are never perfect, my brother and I both have quite similar voices so perhaps there could be some issues there...

Thanks for reading,

Rob Tyler

V | G | A

The Future of Acoustic Space Simulation?

I don't think one can avoid the fact 2013 is seeing the 4th Generation of games consoles hitting home come winter.  PC fans are right to point out that both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 specs meet up with that of a mid-range PC's capabilities. But we cannot disregard that this will endeavour the standard of gaming to be a lot higher than that of the 3rd generation.

So lets go back... way back to Half-Life 2 and the days of 2004. HL2 received 39 game of the year awards and is to be considered one of, if not, the best game of all time. It brought us from limping cave gamers into First Person Shooter (FPS) galore. Not only were the visuals like nothing we had ever seen. The audio had actually had a decent budget assigned to it.
We hear our protagonist's footsteps ebb out from under us, varying as we walk from concrete to wood, to concrete, to cardboard. I've said it before and I'll say it again... it's the little things.
We're not stuck in mono. As we look around sounds radiate from their point source, increasing and decreasing in amplitude as we change our distance to and fro said source. Now we're wielding a handgun and pulling off shots in a room. The walls are made of plaster board and we're getting the slap-back of our gunfire coming back to us (these are referred to as early reflections) followed by a decaying reverb (formed from the combination of the late reflections from the rooms surfaces) It's 2004 and you're in awe and for what feels like the first time, an immersive experience is upon us.

Cue another one of the greats: Battlefield 3. Released in October 2011 from DICE incorporating the Frostbite 2 game engine. Having received over 60awards to date BF3 is also considered one of the best FPS of all time. Not forgetting the praise that has gone to the Sound Design in this game. I've played BF3... a lot! My reference headphones are that of Sony MDR7506's and I made my analysis of BF3 with them on. The gunshots are incredible, sound localisation is terrific, voice acting superb and distance effects great. My only beef is that... the acoustic space simulation isn't far beyond that of Valve's Half-Life 2.


Although I do not have the direct insights into the methods DICE use for their audio in the Frostbite 2 engine I can assume it is using Cell based approaches in order to compute the reverberations. This means the games levels are broken up into sections called Cells, for example, you have an alleyway and an auditorium, these will be split into two Cells. From there the acoustic simulation is processed on each cell individually creating reverberation for that environment appropriately. Here is an image courtesy of Crytek looking at the cell based approach in Crysis, their incredible release of 2007:

Crysis, 2007

This is a highly popular technique used in video games over the last decade and you're thinking 

"yes this is a good idea, it calculates the correct reverberations appropriate in each sector."

"It's sounding really good in Battlefield 3 as I'm shooting inside this big room"

But the issue comes when we transition between two cells... If your front door is open you can hear the birds and road traffic coming in through the open door. Within cell based games this rarely does occur, as you pass through the door the environment will change from acoustic space A to acoustic space B. Within BF3 a crossfade effect occurs as you pass through the portal into the new acoustic space. This was a obscenely noticeable for me and brought me right back to reality as I realised I was actually playing a video game. 

So what is the future of acoustic space simulation? 

Well, the big game companies are holding their cards very close to their chest. The only response I seem to be able to get is that of Indie developers whom are more than happy to share their information. Where would we be without them?
But as my undergraduate thesis is based on Dynamic Acoustic Space Simulation I have come across some great examples of work from Masters and PhD students in my research. One of which is a 'Directionally varying reverb' which means anywhere the player stands in the game will have a different reverberation effect just as it does in real life. I would gladly delve deeper into this but I fear this article has dragged on. So check out this video and skip along to 3:35 to hear the comparison between their reverb algorithm and the one currently in the Half-Life 2 engine.

I leave you with a quote from a contact in the audio department at Krillbite studios;

"I see the gameplay and physics as the inner body, skeleton and gooey stuff, lighting and visuals as the appearance and audio as its personality(or the twinkle in the eye)."
                                                                                - Martin Kvale

Thanks for reading,

Rob Tyler

V | G | A