Petition to Bring Back DirectSound3D
Windows Vista and 7 have helped catapult graphics into new realms, but cut the knees out from under sound with the exclusion of DirectSound3D. DirectSound3D was a mature, powerful API as integral to sound as DirectX is to graphics. Providing many important capabilites, it added a new dimension to games with the accurate position of sounds in 3D space as well as the ability to transform even anemic stereo mixes into full surround sound. With the advent of Windows Vista, Microsoft cut DirectSound3D in favor of the noticeably inferior XACT audio (the same audio employed by the XBOX 360), despite claims to treat "Windows as a first–class gaming platform". MaximumPC echoed this sentiment in regards to the loss of DirectSound3D emphasizing "A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but we like good audio too." Soundcard companies such as Creative have made noble strides since then to revive hardware sound, most noticeably with ALchemy, but without the support of an operating system their efforts can only go so far. For more information, a great place to start is the Wikipedia article on DirectSound3D. However, while reading about DirectSound3D is great, the best way to understand it is to experience it. Take Prince of Persia (2008), a fairly recent game for example. It supports DirectSound3D and XACT since the game came out on the XBOX as well. As such, the game provides an ideal opportunity to compare the two sound APIs. A dual boot between Windows XP and Windows 7 allows for this comparison since DirectSound3D is only supported in Windows XP (a simpler comparison can be achieved using ALchemy in Windows 7, but there is some sound corruption documented in the following link. Comparing the two, DirectSound3D is noticeably fuller, more precise, and 3D than XACT. It is difficult to capture something as abstract as sound with words, but what stands out the most is the fact a full 3D audio environment is created and sounds are precisely positioned within it. This is known as 3D audio spatialization. While XACT does attempt to do this, it is considerably more anemic and less precise with sound having a tendency to "jump" between speakers and overall feeling far less dynamic and immersive. In DirectSound3D for instance when Elika casts her tracking spell from behind you, one can "feel" it pass by their character in the game. Perhaps most impressive is that this sensation of 3D audio can be created even from a 2.1 stereo speaker setup thanks to the mature development of the API. In short, DirectSound3D is a mature, powerful, and advanced API capable of delivering a compelling and immersive sound experience . Despite this, Microsoft cut DirectSound3D reducing PC sound to the lowest common denominator, the XBOX 360. This is the key. Microsoft did not cut DirectSound3D because it was an old aging API, and Microsoft did not cut DirectSound3D to make the PC better. It cut it to accomodate the XBOX360. Most ironically, DirectSound3D was actually part of DirectX. Thus, while Microsoft continued to push the graphics envelope far beyond consoles with DirectX 10 and 11, it scaled back sound to match the consoles. Two steps forward for graphics, three steps backwards for sound. If this is sound, I'd rather be deaf. If the Prince of Persia (2008) example wasn't enough, consider Crysis. Crysis is well-known for its graphical prowess and use of DirectX 10 (though much of this was skilled use of DirectX9). But it also used DirectSound3D to acheive accurate 3D sound saptialization. If dedicated hardware was not found, FMOD, one of the more prominent software sound solutions, was used . But now, in Vista/7 appropriate hardware can never be found because DirectSound3D was cut from the OS. The problem is DirectSound3D was better developed and in short sounds noticeablly better. This is the irony. Crysis demanded Vista or higher for the best graphics, but XP or lower for the best sound. This is the crux of the situation at present. Do you want immersive and positional surround sound or do you just want to see pretty explosions? The point is there is no reason not to have both. Sound or Graphics shouldn't have to be a choice. They are compliments, each enhancing the other. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but no one is aching for the days of silent film either. Finally, DirectSound3D is important not just from a sound standpoint, but also a programming standpoint because the API is/was supported by other third party companies, such as Creative (What follows is not exclusive to Creative Labs, but they are used as an example based on their pioneering and prominence in sound). Why is this important? Because no programmer (game or otherwise) should have to spend obscene amounts of time fiddling with a science as complicated as sound. Creative Labs is a company dedicated to making sound sound good. It's what they do. It's in the name: Creative Labs. They have sound scientists dedicated to research and technology in sound. Ideally, a game programmer should collaborate with a company such as Creative, use supported APIs and tap the company's vast pool of knowledge. This not only makes the games (or other programs) sound better than software sound, it's easier on the programmers and developers, freeing their efforts up to focus on other important aspects of development. This is exactly what happened here. While this article centers around the OpenAL API, the same argument holds for DirectSound3D as Creative supports this API as well. While OpenAL is a powerful API, where DirectSound3D edged out OpenAL was its integration into the operating system. In the same way a game is a program, the operating system too is a program, but one through which all other programs are run. By integrating DirectSound3D into the operating system, its enhancements could span the entire operating system environment, permeating all programs run through it. We have eyes to see, but also ears to hear. To demand audio fidelity on par with the visual fidelity of DirectX 11, please sign this peition.