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Online multiplayer space combat simulator based on hard science fiction. "Counter-Strike meets World of Warships in Space!"
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Starfighter Inc.: Sound in Space?

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Elephant in the room: Sound in space 

Before I start talking about the audio, I need to address the elephant in the room. Scientifically speaking, there is no substance in space to propagate sound waves to our eardrums, so you shouldn’t hear anything. Fortunately enough, the corporations of tomorrow have realised that humans rely on audio cues to have a better awareness of their surroundings. For this reason, we have the audible part of the Decision Support System (DSS). The DSS creates an audible and visual simulation of the events that happen around you.

Inspiration and tone 

Inspirations

One of our main inspirations are some of the great works by Ridley Scott - Alien, Bladerunner and Prometheus. Making every part of the game feel real is important to us. This extends to the ‘simulated’ audio. While things like the glitched and punch card-computer audio from Alien wouldn’t necessarily work in a world with holograms and augmented reality interfaces, they do serve as a solid inspiration to reinforce the presence and physicality of the world around you. There are also tons of other great works we tend to use for creative sparks - 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Expanse, The Martian, military sims and NASA design documents.

My personal touch
Added to that is my personal style, which I would describe as grim, dark and heavy. Things will feel heavy, things will feel real. Launching a shot from your railgun at 4 kilometers per second at a hostile shrike to completely wreck the internals will feel like an ominous force of death and destruction. The massive twin engines of your 2000 ton Pegasus will feel like a huge amount of thrust. Space is an intimidating dark place and the sound won’t make you feel safe.


DSS functionality


Player feedback

As I touched on before, the main function of the DSS is to provide feedback to the pilot to enhance their combat awareness and thus their effectiveness. You will hear the railgun slug being fired towards you, giving you the split second that you could use for a maneuver to evade it. You will hear the missile that was on your tail exploding due to your countermeasures, allowing you to focus on new pressing matters without having to look or wait for other confirmation.

We are aiming for the highest possible information density while ensuring the utmost clarity. Our alarm system is a major part of that. Human eyes are less than ideal for 6-axis combat situations, so we must rely on other methods to provide information to the pilots. One of the ways the alarm system does this is through bursts of short and long beeps akin to those found in military aircraft. They will notify you, within a second or two, that a missile is on its way to blow you up or that the ship is running low on fuel or ammunition. To flatten the learning curve, these can be accompanied by written messages or AI voice overs. All of these parts can be turned on or off by the pilot at their own discretion so they can decide for themselves what makes them the most efficient mercenary.

Excerpt from the alarm design document.
Excerpt from the alarm design document.

Being a combat sim, we take special care in making sure these kinds of systems are modeled after their real-world counterparts. This means that they should be concise, coherent, and easy to identify. On top of that, there’s a system in place which arranges the alarms by priority in the event that multiple alarms would play simultaneously because an incoming nuke is more important to know about than your ship running low on propellant. This helps keep things as simple as possible so that new pilots don’t need weeks or months of training to start being proficient with these systems.

Destruction, hacking
A downside of having to rely on these systems is that a well-placed shot can disable your DSS, leaving the pilot to fly blind and deaf. When the DSS is no longer functional, all you could be left with is the low-end rumble of your ship’s main thruster vibrating throughout the hull and the silence of space.


Systems like the DSS can be hacked. Would you settle for simply switching off the enemy’s DSS, or trigger random alarms and other simulated sounds, creating a distracting hallucination for the enemy pilot? You could even let the system play alarms and sounds in a more subtle way - creating distractions that your enemy might not counter but would draw their attention away from aligning the perfect shot.


Customization

We are aiming to give the pilot as much customization ability as possible. We will allow you to completely turn off your AI voice messages and turn up your alarm beeps when you feel you fully understand what each message means. That means that you can minimize the information given while maintaining efficiency. The more extra aid you turn off, the fewer bits of information you have to parse through, and the more focused you can be on completing your mission!

~ Dave van Wijk, Senior Sound Designer

Zane, Michael Barnhart, and 30 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Wisp on April 12

      Firstly, this is my favorite update yet. Comprehensive, colorful and bleeding with exhilarating potential.
      You folks approach challenge with a ballet of practicality and finesse that most simply couldn't, or wouldn't, dance.
      Your work is an outstanding example of that, Mr. Wijk. :)

      Now,
      @John Romero Normally I would say "more power to the choice of the player!"
      But in this case, your ideas would compromise the hard-science core of Starfighter and would likely trivialize and even cripple a whole branch of its unique approach to combat feedback.
      Imagine you have one player in the Lucas vein, surrounded by impossible vacuum-borne sound and said sound cannot be altered or eliminated because it isn't tied to any in-world asset.
      Now imagine a DSS user with a suite of audio feedback generated by an onboard computer. That system is vulnerable to alteration and elimination, because it is tied to physical assets and real-time signals, both of which (as the developers have emphasized) are never infallible.
      If they went head-to-head in a combat scenario, would this be fair?
      No.

      And, balancing problems aside, it still compromises the hard-science core. No way around that.
      Impeller is pioneering a new direction in space-combat simulation and I believe in maintaining the purity of their vision.

    2. Missing avatar

      Colby on April 12

      Design purposes like this are the reason why i'm pledging more than most games i buy, and why i REALLY want this game to be made.
      The thought, care, and customizability is great and what will truly make this game glorious.

    3. Jon Nebenfuhr on April 12

      - Starbuck, what do you hear?
      - What?!
      - Morning, Starbuck. What do you hear?
      - ... ... ... Nothing but the rain!
      - Grab your gun and bring the cat in.
      - Aye-aye, Sir!

    4. John Romero on April 12

      Physics be damned. If sound in space was good enough for grandpappy Lucas, it's good enough for Starfighter, Inc.

      But I'm sure you'll resolve this issue to your satisfaction. From vast experience in simulated outer space combat and in exploring a nuclear wasteland, I'm positive I want an experience that PRETENDS to be real, but isn't. I'm fine with hearing the impossible rocket exhaust, careening missiles and the impact of ordnance on my hull in the "vacuum" of space. In acknowledging that human fighter pilots respond to audible cues, why wouldn't the virtual combat system provide synthesized noises appropriate for the circumstance--it wouldn't be any more difficult to program such a device than say ... write a flight combat video game with sound in it. Based on data detected outside the ship with sensors built for the purpose, it would translate what it detected in real time to the appropriate sorts of battle noises -- but not too loud -- to give the pilot said cues. I certainly don't want to double anyone's workload, but it would be nice if this were at least a toggle-able option in the audio settings ("'real' combat noises, cinematic combat noises, arcade combat noises").

      I'm sure whatever you end up wiith will work fine, and I'll get used to it, I just thought I'd provide a counterpoint to what you're presenting here. Looking forward to the game regardless.

    5. Missing avatar

      David Socias on April 12

      @JesusFreke - They said that the ships are not presurized, so you are right about the sound not getting to your ears apart from the ones transmited through vibrations in your spacesuit. But as there is no way to provide ship vibration to you, I find nice to have at least a low bass sound to give me the feeling that the ship is vibrating.

    6. JesusFreke
      Superbacker
      on April 12

      Hmm. do the ships typically have their own internal atmosphere though? I guess if not, even if the hull vibrates, you won't actually get much sound to your ear.

    7. JesusFreke
      Superbacker
      on April 12

      Couldn't an explosion in space actually carry sound, if the explosion releases gas? Imagine a expanding bubble of gas from the explosion, that then "hits" your ship hull, imparting some vibration to the hull.

    8. Missing avatar

      Joshua Frkuska on April 11

      Attention to details like this make a game intriguing and non-repetitive. It opens up a whole realm of strategy possibilities. Keep up the mini posts!