Dolby's Simon Arnold looks at what the Dolby Axon brought to Need for Speed World, and what it can offer you
Tapping messages into a keyboard during the fast-paced, action-packed world of virtual racing isn’t exactly conducive to great gaming, especially if you race hard, but type slow.
However, this month, the world of racing games received a boost to the voice box when EA introduced the in-game voice chat technology, Dolby Axon, to its online Play4Free racing game, Need for Speed World – one of the first games to offer voice-chat entirely free to all users.
For many years, voice chat has been a laborious downloading exercise, fraught with unwanted clipping, and has arguably remained one-dimensional. But not any more. Dolby Axon, from the audio experts at Dolby Laboratories, is a large scale interactive voice system that promises to be more realistic, easy to integrate and won’t prove a drain on gamers’ bandwidth.
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Need for Speed World is recognised as one of the world’s most popular, free-to-play racing games, boasting over three million registered users. Equipped with incredible graphics, it is an addictive social format, which sees players compete against their friends or pick from thousands of top ranked players. However, until now, using voice chat to communicate with these adversaries has been an issue, because using a keyboard to communicate while playing the game online is about as practical as texting your mates while driving your family saloon on the M25.
Jean-Charles Gaudechon, producer for Need for Speed World, insists the game’s developers are constantly looking for ways to evolve the game, as evidenced by the recent additions of Team Escape and Visual Customisation. He also sees the implementation of Dolby Axon as another big step forward
“Working with Dolby Axon gave us the opportunity to offer a seamless and high-quality voice communication feature to all Need for Speed World players, enhancing our social gameplay experience,” said Gaudechon, adding: “With the addition of Dolby Axon, we’re confident that players will love voice chatting in high quality, without noise echoing or clipping.”
Because Dolby Axon is fully integrated into the Need for Speed World game client, players don’t have to set up a voice server or even install a separate client to use it. They simply set up a group and will be automatically entered into a voice chat room with their group members. They will be able to chat with them regardless of whether they’re in Free Roam, a race, or their Safehouse.
Speaking about the added element of Dolby Axon in the game, Jane Gillard, EMEA marketing manager at Dolby, agrees that it will make an exciting addition for white-knuckle racers: “EA has taken the game from being text-based communication to a 3D voice component that includes surround panning and distance attenuation, voice fonts for improved role playing, and an advance occlusion engine that maps voices to the game environment.
“This means clear and realistic voice chat, making it easier than ever to communicate and strategise for Team Escape, or simply chat with group members as you cruise around with the rest of the community.”
One of the biggest challenges faced with such an extensive voice client was how to expose all of its features to users, but as Gillard explains, to help with this, a GUI has been added to the game to make all the functionalities of Dolby Axon easily available.
“Integrating an advanced voice client can be a complicated process that takes up crucial developing time,” said Gillard, “but the Dolby Axon initial integration took a matter of hours.”
The Dolby Axon client uses a proprietary codec that can be run in two different modes – one mode provides a very low bandwidth and the other one uses more bandwidth but is of higher quality. The two modes can be mixed on one server. This suits an MMO with the ability to support up to 8,000 concurrent users by a single server and bandwidth rates as low as 16kps per player.