WiNG’s done a good bit of harping on why a good gaming headset is worth your money, and which ones he recommends. What we’ve missed so far here at T3 is how to properly utilize the sound developers put into their games. As WiNG said, having good ears, and the headphones to match them, will give the impression of cheating or other prescient powers. Let me give you a few pointers on how to learn your chosen ear-huggers and good ways to appreciate what they give you.
Direction is everything
Any surround sound headset, from stereo to 7.1, will give you a sense of which direction(s) your enemies are coming from. The best will all but pinpoint them with your ears instead of your eyes. And while dropping a fair bit of cash gives you the option of seeing through sound, it doesn’t necessarily give you the ability.
Here’s why. Every game is different, and the sound engine is no exception. Your success or failure, when it comes to directional prediction, hinges on knowing how the ground and environments around you sound. So, map knowledge, basically. But there’s more. If there is background noise like bird calls, rainfall, waves, even the clattering of rocks, you need to be aware of it. Much like a soldier on the battlefield or a hunter you must look for inconstancies in the soundscapes around you. The click of equipment, shift of grass, bird taking off; all of these can tip you off to a stealthy enemy. Your headset will give you a general idea of where you should start looking, and if you’ve mastered your set’s capabilities and your chosen game, you’ll be set.
Which begs the question, how does one learn how to predict movement based on sound? Unfortunately, I don’t have a quick and dirty answer to this one. Sure, going around each map and learning the various surface noises is a good start, but my best advice is simple: jump straight in. The headset will be a help and a hindrance. You’ll be amazed at what you hear but knowing how to separate important sounds from ambient noise will not be as easy as it seems. Take time to run the routes you thought about as you examined the map yourself, and if you wish, stand in one place for a few seconds and just listen. Close your eyes if you have to. If you hear what you think is an enemy behind you/to your side, try and spin to face him blind. Start attacking just as you open you eyes, and adjust as necessary. Such a tactic will cause you a few deaths and some frustration, but it might help build your awareness.
You must complete your training
For this section, I’m going to assume you have a good handle on how effective both you and your headset are at handling game sound. Remember that just because you have good equipment does not mean you can’t play without it. Here’s where this advice comes in. Like my suggestion above, it’s fairly simple. Put away the big phones and put in the little buds. I’m talking iPod earbuds or their equivalents. Plug them either directly into the sound card or through some other in-between, then fire up your game. Your knowledge of direction and prediction will hold, but the difference will be night and day. Without surround sound, all you’ll get is a ninety degree angle of where your enemies are. Sound becomes a guessing game instead of your own personal heat map.
I want you to play like that for a considerable amount of time. A third of your accumulated playtime, or twenty hours if you’ve played sixty. This will do several things. First, your reliance on sound will be hampered, forcing you to rely on sight alone. Second, it will make prediction harder while at the same time making you more effective at it, as you’ll have to think like your enemies rather than just listen to them. And third, when you return to using your big-boy/girl earmuffs, you will appreciate what they give you so much more. And I guarantee you’ll have more fun using them than you did before.
*I do not endorse this music. It just seemed to fit.