In a huge and ongoing multi-part interview on Aussie blogger Ben Abraham's Super Legacy Reading Club, Bungie's Marty O'Donnell has been giving some fascinating insights into the art of audio design. "What I didn't like was people, especially game players, have gotten into a habit that they should have control over all these things and basically I'm saying, you know what, no - you shouldn't," says O'Donnell, when asked why players can't tweak Halo's audio mix.
Here's some more on the same topic, taken from the fourth part of the interview series:
Ben: I also read in an interview with you, that you deliberately decided not to let the player fiddle with the volume of the music and the mix. I thought that was a really interesting choice.
Marty: That goes all the way back to Halo 1, you're right. B: And I didn't even know as well, I'd never gone to look for it until I had started my analysis for it, and tried to turn it up so I could hear it over the noise of a tank. Is that choice related to you want to have that composer control?
M: *laughs* Probably, I think my genetic makeup is 'I'm a composer' but I like technology, I love games and I play games and I help design games, but... yeah, my DNA is as a composer and composers are primarily control guys. Even more than that is that I want people to have a really great experience. It's as though I was a chef and, look, I'm making a really great meal and if the first thing somebody does when I serve them is they pour ketchup all over it or salt all over it, I'm like 'wait a minute! You're not tasting what I prepared. Now, if someone tastes it and goes 'wow this tastes like crap, I need ketchup' then fine. What I didn't like was people, especially game players, have gotten into a habit that they should have control over all these things and basically I'm saying, you know what, no - you shouldn't. What you should do is, play my game and if you hate it you should return it. *laughs* You should stop playing it. But I don't want you to return it because you poured ketchup on it right away.
"If the very first thing people do, and which I've seen people do, is they change the mix before they even play through the game... my suggestion was, hey I have no problem giving people control over the entire mix of the game, that's fine, I want to give you control of the entire mix of the game, however I'd like you to earn that right *laughs* and I would like the technology to be... play the game my way once, and then you unlock the mixing console and now you can go back and play the game again... but at least I know at least one time you heard it and experienced it the way I like it... I'm not even saying it's the right way, I'm just saying this is what my vision was. So, what I don't want— people go 'hey you know I had a really crappy audio experience' and then I say 'really?' And they go 'Yeah, well of course I turned the sound effects all the way up and I couldn't hear the music'. It's sorta like, well that's not the experience I gave you so...
You know what, he makes a very good point.