The Importance of Sound in Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds

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If you’ve played Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) before, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. This is a headphones only game. Turn off the music and avoid outside conversations, this game requires aural concentration.

If you’re not familiar with PUBG here’s the rundown. 100 people are airdropped onto a deserted island with one goal: be the last person standing. Weapons, armor, and other gear are scavenged from abandoned buildings dotted throughout the large island. As time goes on the play area gets constricted by a blue wall that will drain the health of anyone caught within it. If this all sounds like Battle Royale or Hunger games, you’re on the right track as they are direct inspirations for this game.

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One thing that sets PUBG apart from other FPS games is its scale. Compared to the confined spaces of maps in Counter Strike or Call of Duty, the island is massive. It features many different areas, like a school, prison and even ruins. Because of its size players usually very far away from each other. Things like the initial path of the airplane and blue wall restrict this somewhat, but player interaction remains rare

Playing a more traditional FPS game like CoD is a constant battle. The quarters are tighter, and players respawn quickly after death. Gunfire, explosions, and footfalls are constant in the soundscape. My more experienced friend would explain that hearing was one of the most important aspects of CoD.  He even drove out an hour and a half* to Best Buy to purchase top of the line headphones.  At the time I couldn’t understand why.

*We lived out in the middle of nowhere at this time

PUBG’s wide open spaces and distance between players creates a game that is, at least initially, surprisingly quiet. Most of the game you run around empty fields, forests and towns, seeking supplies for an inevitable fight. What you’ll be hearing is mostly your own footsteps and occasionally the clicks and slides of a reload.

But just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Other players will make their presence known from the distant echoes of their gunfire. The direction and volume revealing information about their relative position. Number of shots, return fire, length of a burst, type of gun, all critical information conveyed only through your headphones. During my first round of PUBG I finally understood what my friend meant years ago.

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Cars are convenient, but loud.  Not only does the motor drown out other sounds, it also announces your presence very clearly for enemies nearby. A few seconds after taking this screenshot I was shot dead from the front seat of this car.

Weather effects really solidified this concept for me. The first one I encountered was fog. My visibility was limited, but so was everyone else. I knew this would result in more close quarters combat.  Despite hampering vision, generally the most important aspect of a shooter game, the fog mutator didn’t have a huge effect* on the gameplay.

*looks cool though

Rain, on the other hand, made the game much more tense.  Visibility isn’t greatly affected, but sounds become drowned out by the rainfall. This experience made me keenly aware of how sound had allowed for a 360-degree awareness, that the rain’s light pitter-patter shrunk down to maybe 180 degrees allowed by sight.

Because of PUBG’s slower pace and larger scale, I was finally able to understand and appreciate the importance of sound when it comes to multiplayer shooter games.   Now I’m applying that knowledge to other games like Overwatch.  Trying to “focus” my ears and listen in for more situational awareness.

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