2009
12.15

This is the second entry in my set of “10 Game Development Golden Rules”. Hopefully, this one is less contentious than the first!

The rule is:

Provide gamma and volume controls, and separate music from sound.

Pretty simple. But essential! The good news is, the AAA titles pretty much universally support this now. And it’s a good thing, as I use these settings all the time.

I have an Xbox 360 but, unlike most Xbox 360s, mine isn’t connected to a TV – it plugs into a second DVI port on one of my 22” widescreen PC monitors. This is awesome because I can run it at 1680×1050 and games look beautiful! (handy bonus: I can web-surf on my other screen while waiting for Matchmaking in Halo 3)

BUT my monitor has a very different colour profile than your average TV, and games with a lot of contrasting light/dark elements can look really bad by default. Gamma controls in your game are pretty essential for me to see the graphics the way the designer intended. I’m sure there are other people in similar situations or even wildly different situations who also need gamma settings. Your game needs to support them too!! And since there’s nothing on the “con” side of the ledger that could make it a bad idea, you have no excuse!

Providing separate controls for sound/music: Music is awesome but people like to be able to hear the game sounds sometimes! Particularly in a ‘competitive’ environment, or simply when your game is providing an audio narrative (GTA4 is an excellent example – the “in-car radio” music is huge and contributes to the GTA atmosphere, but you need to turn the music volume down to be able to hear what mission you’re being given via the cellphone). If I’m playing an FPS single-player, I might turn the music up, but in multiplayer I want to use every audio cue the game gives me for competitive advantage, so I need to kill the music or at least turn it down.

Just like with the gamma controls, the good news is this is pretty universal now. But there are still Flash games that don’t separate them (and, even worse: there are plenty that have no Volume settings at all – sound is either On or Off). Sound might *add* to the game experience, but I’d like to set it so that it doesn’t completely drown out my background music, thanks! Vista and Windows 7 allow you to set the volume controls at the “application” level, which solves the problem for me specifically, but it doesn’t help anyone using XP (or anyone who doesn’t know about that feature). Support them too!