An analysis of why 'Insurgency' weapons in first-person sound a bit better than the ones in 'Insurgency Sandstorm'

I know there are more pressing matters for the development team to work on currently, but since I work in game audio I thought I could add my two cents about the sound of the game. When I started playing Sandstorm, I noticed right away that there are some major improvements to the sound of the game, like the way the gun sounds change in regards to distance and environment. But if we listen to the direct gun sound that you hear in first-person, the guns don't sound good as they do in the previous Insurgency game. You might think "no, the Sandstorm guns sound better!". They do in some ways, certainly, but let me explain why for the long haul, the direct gun sound in the original Insurgency serves it's purpose better. Nothing big, but i'll do my best to explain the differences and why they matter for gameplay and player feedback.

For demonstration purposes, I've recorded five different weapons from Sandstorm and the previous game. You can find the recordings here (excuse the occasional other sounds in the recordings): https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1bVq2ZOvRHeR5s8ApfL5RlA0vi5jf6IgR?usp=sharing

The weapons being compared are the AK-47, M4, AK-47U, SKS and Mosin. I picked these relatively randomly.The volume settings are the same, and I did not change anything in the recordings and it's always fired by me in first person. Let's listen.

AK-47

What I immediately noticed here, is that the Sandstorm AK sounds like it was fired by someone else, approximately 20 meters away. The AK from the previous game sounds much closer, and more like a gun that you are actually firing yourself.

One big reason for this is a phenomena in audio production called compression, which I will mention a couple more times. What it basically does is control the dynamics of a sound. If we take a gun shot for example, you have the initial PANG sound of the gun, and the reverberation of the area that you are in that comes after that. In Sandstorm, the weapon sounds are more 'compressed' than in Insurgency (2), because the initial PANG/BANG of the gun is more quiet and the reverberation is much louder. In real life, the initial gun sound is MUCH MUCH louder than the reverberation of the weapon. The main way human hearing can identify the loudness of a sound (besides pain threshold) is how the surrounding area responds to the sound. I.e. how loud the reverberation is. What this means is that if the initial gun sound in-game is too quiet and the reverberation too loud, the weapon will not feel satisfying because there is a disconnect between what you are hearing (a gun being fired 20m away), and what you are seeing (you firing the gun).

M4

Here we have the same going on as with the AK-47. The Sandstorm M4 sounds more distant, although a bit less extreme.

One other thing you might notice here, is that the M4 as well as the other weapons in the list perhaps sound a little more beefy with the Sandstorm weapons, but therefore the weapons of the original game sound much more tight. And that's where compression comes in again. Compression works not only on the PANG + Reverberation but also makes a difference for just the initial PANG itself. The first 30 milisecond of a sound like a gunshot are called the transient. If the transient is being compressed too much a sound will not sound satisfying. For example, if you say the word PANG, the P would be the transient. The louder you pronounce that P, the closer your spoken work will come to a gunshot. Try and say the word 'pang' with the P rather softly, you will know what I mean. In Sandstorm, it is as if the P is pronounced rather softly. In the original game, the P is louder.

AK-47 U

Same here again, the Sandstorm AK-47 U sounds more distant and less tight. Compression!

One thing that Sandstorm does better though is sound repetition. In the original game, the gun sound being played is just one single audio file, being repeated over and over. In Sandstorm, the gun sounds are not always the same file and therefore sound slightly different and less repetitive. Another thing that Sandstorm does better is the responsiveness of the environment. If you are in a small room the reverberation will sound more like you are actually in a small room. If you are in an open field, the reverberation will sound more like you are in an open field.

SKS

The SKS sounds pretty alright in Sandstorm. Not as far away as the previous guns, although still somewhat too compressed.

One thing about compression is that often times, if you listen to the sound alone it will make you think that it sounds better when you compress the sound. This is often times true! Compression, isn't always the bad guy, the opposite actually: it is mostly good rather than bad. But for guns and explosions, if you compress too much, the weapon or explosion will sound too flat won't be as fun to shoot.

Mosin-Nagant

The Mosin sounds good in Sandstorm. Not too far away, although also suffering a bit from too much compression.

One last thing that I want to mention is that if you listen to the all weapons in the list, the sounds of the original Insurgency game sound a little more unique and characteristic. They have a more recognizable flavor. The Sandstorm weapons overall sounds more harsh and metallic. This harshness does make it sound more like real life, but also a bit more annoying to listen to in the long run and not as satisfying to shoot. Guns in video games very rarely sound like they do in when firing a gun in real life, because frankly, guns in real life don't really sound that cool. What sound designers also take into consideration is that when you fire a gun in real life, you will also feel it in your body. In a game you don't feel that, so in sound we often compensate for that by beefing up the gunshot and giving it a bit more punch, making it feel a bit more 'haptic'.

TLDR:

Sandstorm weapon sounds are a bit harsher, not as satisfying and too dynamically flat compared to the ones in the previous game. On the upside they sound less repetitive and respond better to the environment.

You seem to know a lot about sound design. What do you think of the super-sonic sounds almost being non-existent?

@io543 To be fair if they were still loud it would kind of ruin the point of equipping a suppressor.

@io543 Sorry for the late reply. I feel like for many things, they should just look at how they did it in the previous game. Insurgency source was wonderful. Same for the suppression sounds there, it just worked nicely so I'm not sure why they are not just imitating and improving upon what they did before.

last edited by EffeX1

Hmm I haven't noticed this compression you talk about, however I am very glad they've finally improved the audio so that we can, amongst other great things, pinpoint the exact location of the enemy now not only on the X- but also on the Y-axis. Remember Ministry in Ins2014? 😉

See this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hlft6DQl580

last edited by Valerian

The FAL in particular is very disappointing in it's current audio design. While the handling effects sound authentic and accurate, the firing sounds are...closer to a pistol caliber carbine, than anything else. INS2 also had this issue though at least there the timbre of the effects was fitting.

I really hope the FAL in particular gets a rework at some point, but I have issues with the general soundscape currently. Especially the firing effects of the technicals, which often sounds like its behind you when they're infront of your character.

last edited by 11.11.11

Insurgency 2014 weapons sounded better because of the echo sound.

The echo should be louder.

Looks like your connection to Focus Home Interactive - Official Forums was lost, please wait while we try to reconnect.