atari email archive

a collection of messages sent at Atari from 1983 to 1992.

An Audio Commentary

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	Most people don't realize how loud arcade environments really are. The
ear is a very forgiving organ. On a Saturday night typical arcade 'ambient'
noise levels can reach 80 -> 90 dB-A. Ambient noise in this case refers to
people talking (and screaming to be heard over the other noise), all the sound
competing games, and the usual noise in any large room (air conditioning,
fluorescent lamps, street noise etc... none of which you can hear anyway
because of all the other noise!). Sounds produced from specific game cabinets,
at the players head, can reach 106 dB-A. Add all this 'noise' and you have a
very serious problem of noise pollution. 

	The Department of Industrial Relations of the State of California
enacted in 1962 a Noise Control Safety Order for shops, which reads as follows:

	"If an employee is exposed to noise for five or more hours per normal
workday, the level shown in [the following table] are the levels at and above
which the wearing of hearing protectors is mandatory. For employees whose
exposure to occupational noise is less than five hours per day (this would be
an arcade... unless you are a devout arcadian!), the noise level may be 3 dB
higher for each halving of the exposure time, e.g., for an exposure of 2.5
hours, the noise level encountered may be 3 dB higher in all frequency ranges
than the values shown in [the table]." 

			American Standards		Octage Band
			Preferred Frequencies		Sound Pressure Level
Frequency Band		for Acoustical			   dB
    Hz			Measurements (Hz)

20   -    75		  63				110
75   -   150		 125				102
150  -   300		 250				 97
300  -   600		 500				 95
600  -  1200		1000				 95
1200 -  2400		2000				 95
2400 -  4800		4000				 95
4800 - 10000		8000				 95


U.S. Department of Labor specifications indicates a maximum permissible noise
level of 95 dB-A for 4 hours and a 100 dB-A level for 2 hours without hearing
protectors. There are additional guidelines for other environments such as
hospitals, restaurants, fairs etc. , all of which have about the same specs.
I know of no guidelines for the arcade, but it is very possible there is. 

	I'm very concerned with noise pollution. I've expressed my views many
times to John Ray and he was very receptive to my concerns. He had the typical
reaction to any problem that you can't personally control - 'What are you going
to do? We can't dictate to the operators how loud to turn up the game sound'.
He was absolutely right. We certainly can't put out a game that limits the
level of sound that is delivered to the player. Put it next to a Spy Hunter and
you will never hear the game. On the other hand we can control how we present
the sound to the player and thus begin to lower the ambient noise in an arcade.

	There are several ways of presenting the sound to the player and at the
same time lower the ambient noise of the arcade. First we must have crystal
clear sound. If our audio is relatively clean of digital noise and produces
crisp clean sound, then our games will be noticed and enjoyed in the presence
of other games that are full of distortion. Clean sound will cut through the
arcade noise and will present our games to the public how we hear and developed
them in our labs. 
 	Our cabinets must also acoustically involve the player(s) only and not
the rest of the arcade. Very little sound should mix with the ambient noise of
the arcade. I am not advocating the limitation of audio into the arcade
environment. First, this would be impossible without a lot of work and money.
Second, it would be detrimental to us since one of the 'hooks' that draw people
to our games is the sound. However, involving the player within this acoustic
umbrella will enhance the game, involve the player at a more emotional level
and at the same time cut down the noise pollution in the arcade. 
	If we educate the operator, perhaps by way of a chapter in the game
manual, as to this problem we will be on our way to the elimination of the
problem. We need to inform the operator that competing sounds, such as his
stereo, will only interfere with the player's audio feedback from the game,
reducing the player's enjoyment and which will eventually cut into the
operator's profits. We should also suggest ways of setting up arcade cabinets
in his environment to maximize acoustic seperation between games. Lastly we
should strongly point out our commitment to music in our games and make it
apparent that the music, sound effects and voice are an integral part of the
game experience. 
	If we set a precedent in the area of audio by 1) producing clean audio
electronics, 2) designing superior delivery systems, 3) establishing our
commitment of the intergration of music, video and game play and 4) presenting
our concerns and our willingness to help about noise pollution, then we will be
ahead of the competition and stay there. 
Message 1 of 1

Oct 12, 1984