Audio? Sounds effects? Musical score? No big deal, most of us probably just run iTunes in the background, or maybe even Pandora. For most this is a viable option for MMORPG's, since unlike first person shooters, when you are the last man alive in a 5 versus 5 situation, you might want to be aware of the footsteps of the guy running up behind you, instead of your favorite heavy metal tune. Though, like the visuals, and game play, audio plays a very important role in a game. It's a particularly powerful art form that can dramatically toy with the players emotions and senses.
First off, do me a quick favor, and view the trailer of this Half-Life 2 modification entitled, NEOTOKYO. But turn off the audio.
Great, now watch it, with the audio.
Notice anything different? For me, I have seen this trailer roughly ten times, and everytime I watch it, it gives me chills and goosebumps, and makes me want to fire up STEAM and get fragging. Now, granted, this is not you playing the game, it is you watching the trailer for the game. But this trailer for a lot of people, is the deciding factor of whether the game is worth the download, or if the name will never get further than your short term memory. The reason I suggested this video, is because compared to other game trailers out there, the the choices of video clips stitched together, with this glorious coat of audio to bring the whole outfit together, creates an immersive experience.
Consider the trailer for the game, Runes of Magic.
Not quite the same effect, is it? We have some more traditional orchestrated music, with a dash of choir work. The music isn't tailored to fit the scenes to creat emotional hits, though I saw plenty of opportunities to do so! Not to engaging.
Now all of this is out of game experiences, but how about in game? Sound effects and scoring are all important in game as well! One of the best examples of both come to mind, from the game World of Warcraft. One of the most epic feelings that I recall was the first time I decided to mute Ventrilo and my music on a Ragnaros fight (goosebumps as I type that, recalling the situation!). As Ragnaros emerged from the lava, and the fight engage, an audio track that I had never heard before initiated, and everything became much more intense, in addition to his low rumbling voice. Unfortunantely I'm unable to find a YouTube video depcting this. As for sound effects, a buddy of mine had a love for the Deep Wounds sound effect of an Arms Warrior. It was a dramatic gushing chop sound, unique to the ability, assisted by a rather bloody splash graphical effect. Though the rest of the game is rather lacking in enjoyments like these, and if I recall, the music for Ragnaros was used for several bosses.
That brings up another point, though. With all these other factors playing along with us, Ventrilo and our personal taste for music, why have this third line of audio further garble up our speakers? Who needs guildies commanding and yelling, insane guitar rifts assisted by a furious double bass, and a uninspired classical score with some bland combat sound effects? Probably the reason why most opt out of even having game sound on in the first place, and why developers don't put as much effort as they could into these things. But unfortunately, for those who do give it it's well deserved attention, it usually goes unnoticed.
Unfortunately I can not highlight any MMORPGs that excel in this area of immersion, since after the Ragnros incident, I fell back into the 'mute game, play music' niche. Which is why I was forced to use the NEOTKOYO trailer as my leading example (and a rather damn good one, if I do say so my self). Though from what I've seen so far, Aion is showing some possibilities of having a great score and set of sound effects, but we will see on its release. How about next time you fire up your game of the moment, instead of loading up your favorite audio player, turn on the sound, and see what you are missing. You might be surprised.