Team Fortress 2 is a first person shooting game that places you on a team – red or blue – with a predetermined goal. There are multiple character types, each with their own capabilities and personalities.

The play mode that I enjoy the most is called “payload.” In this mode, the blue team as an atomic bomb on a train cart, and it needs to move it into the red base. If the bomb makes it, the blue team wins; if not, the red team wins. Generally, when I am playing on the red team I like to play the engineer, while on the blue team I prefer to play the sniper.

The Engineer

The engineer has the ability to build and repair sentry guns, medical/ammunition supply dispensers, and teleporters. He generally doesn’t get directly involved with the combat; instead, he builds his support machines and tries to keep them running. By banging away on his machines with a wrench, he keeps them running and repaired.

From a sound perspective, the engineer can be incredibly annoying. As I write this, I am playing the audio track from a play session, and I find myself wincing with every stroke of the wrench. Initially, the engineer isn’t directly involved in combat; he just builds things while the other team members push, or push back against, the bomb. When the enemy catches up to his sentries, however, all you can hear is wrench banging, damage warning alarms, and heavy machine gun fire.

Listening to these sounds without seeing them is really uncomfortable. This fascinates me because I was never really bothered by the sound while playing the game. In this way, visual context completely changed the sounds.

The first time you play this video, minimize the video and just listen to it sounds. Pay close attention to how the sounds make you feel, and the potential stress you experience.

The Sniper

The sniper delivers a very different experience. The sniper holds a single shot rifle that has to be manually reset after each round is fired. he has a thick Australian accent, and is very opinionated. Throughout the video below, you will regularly hear him commenting about his team’s failure to move the bomb.

After the initial rush out the door, sniper players tend to find good cover positions to shoot from. The idea is to find a spot where you can pop out, fire off a round, and quickly hide again. Since the sniper likes to shoot from far away, the sounds of battle tend to be further away, too; it’s not nearly as loud as playing with the engineer. These quiet sounds tend to be punctuated by the fire of the sniper’s rifle and occasional comments.

Once again, when you watch this video, just listen to the sounds. Try to identify what the character is doing at the moment that the sound occurs, and write down any sounds that don’t make sense to you. Then go back and watch it to see what changes.

Lesson Learned

The lesson here is that context can change the experience that you have as you listen to the sounds around you. If you are constructing a soundscape, it’s important that the sounds you create aren’t offensive to the ears when they are removed from the visual context that they come from.

How does the context of the video change the experience for you?