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First Contact - Third Wave - Chapter 364

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Grand Most High of Savash Mu'ulatu'uk trembled as he stood behind the last of his guard. Twelve Lanaktallan Executor Military Force warriors, clad in the sleek black armor of the Executor forces, all carrying plasma rifles as they knelt down facing the doorway.
The mansion shuddered as a flaming ball, shaped to look like a screaming Terran skull, dropped from the sky and hit the mansion grounds, exploding in green and purple flames that devoured the few Lanaktallan combatants left but left the greenery and the statuary intact. The mangonel that launched the fireball creaked as the saurian soldier in charge cracked his whip to encourage the short greenskinned creatures to haul on the ropes.
Mu'ulatu'uk didn't look out the window, as blast shutters had sealed them off, leaving them blank. The smartglass was cracked to prevent it from coming on and showing enemy propaganda.
The Grand Most High Executor looked at Mu'ulatu'uk, his tendril crests shaking in a combination of outrage and fear. "How did this happen?" U'ustela'ak asked, his helmet open to show his fearful face.
"Because we're losing the war," Mu'ulatu'uk said. His hand went to his flank, where the wound had been cured by quick heal compounds and quick work by one of the few remaining medical technicians that still obeyed him.
He'd been shot with a wooden projectile tipped with sharpened rock called a 'flint arrow', that had driven deep into the muscles and punctured his abdominal wall.
U'ustela'ak looked at Du'ulyss, the Military Most High. The Grand Most High of the Unified Military Forces had been killed when a screaming green maniac had buried an huge ornate axe in the Lanaktallan's chest, the axe ripping through the high tech armor as if it was tissue. That left Du'ulyss in charge of what few military forces remained.
"How did your forces fail to such extant?" U'ustela'ak asked.
"My forces? What about yours, oh high and mighty Executor? We both had tanks, aerospace fighters, graviton strikers, armored vehicles, artillery, and here we both are, hiding in the System Most High's office hoping that we don't get killed," Du'ulyss said.
Mu'ulatu'uk noticed the Military Most High was only wearing flank covering, sash, and satchel, not armor, not carrying a weapon. Just dressed as if he was going to be attending a meeting.
The mansion shuddered again as a flaming screaming Terran skull slammed into the ferrocrete and exploded, cracking the faux-marble veneer.
"They're cheating, that's how they must be winning. Cheating somehow," U'ustela'ak whined, wringing all four hands.
Mu'ulatu'uk wanted to smack the Executor.
The sound of plasma rifles firing came through the thick door and the last three government officials on the planet stared at the door, wringing their hands.
Du'ulyss spit his cud in the reclaimator and got off the chair, struggling to his feet. "It sounds as if they are here," he said.
An explosion caused dust to raise from the carpet as well as to slowly drift down from the ceiling.
The dozen Executor troops licked their lips and tendrils and readied their plasma rifles.
"The door is molecularly bonded, there's no way they can breach it," U'ustela'ak said, trying to sound confident.
"Did you send them a strongly worded missive informing them of that fact?" Mu'ulatu'uk sneered before he could stop himself.
"I don't see you out there defeating them," U'ustela'ak snarled back. "What witty tricks of planetary bureaucracy are you planning on performing to save your skin?"
The twelve Executor troops began trembling. One wondered why he was about to die defending three idiots.
"I should have surrendered months ago," Mu'ulatu'uk lamented.
There was another explosion, this one closer to the door.
"Get ready men, here they come," U'ustela'ak snapped.
Du'ulyss shook out his hand as he closed his eyes and slowly counted to ten.
A thunderous impact shook the door. Then another. And another. Black mist puffed out around the edges of the double doors, including down the center line, as another impact shook it.
The lights in the room flickered twice.
One of the Executors depowered his rifle and loosened his grip. A plan had formed. It wasn't a good plan, but it was a plan all the same.
He'd really like to go home.
The door creaked and cracks extended even further.
The door made crackling sounds and the leading edge of an axe bit through, showering the inside of the room with fragments of wood.
"So much for your 'impenetrable door'," Du'ulyss sneered.
An ornately etched and inlaid sword blade punctured the door, right above the locks. It twisted and the doors flexed.
The doors sprang open. On the other side were a pair of Savashan in heavy plated archaic armor in the middle, two massive green skinned bipeds flanking them, and a pair of tall Terran women with jet black skin, white hair, and a scandalous amount of skin revealed.
Eleven of the Executor troops opened fire.
The twelfth dropped his rifle and laced his fingers together, left lower hand to right upper, left upper to right lower, in an awkward movement.
The plasma rounds hit round shielded that flared to life when the plasma packets hit. Instead of fireballs erupting at the impact point, it was bright flashes with sparkles. The shields were multicolored, covered in runes, and were obviously being emitted from the female Terrans somehow, who were chanting and moving their hands in a complex pattern.
The two Savashan and greenskin bipeds jumped into the room, swinging their swords -in the case of the Shavashan- and axes -in the case of the greenskins--, wading into the Executor troops.
U'ustela'ak got a single shot off with his plasma pistol before a stroke of a sword cut off both arms at the shoulder on the right side of his torso. The return stroke opened his belly, parting Executor armor as if it was tissue.
Nobody else got off any shots and the four weapon wielders covered the room in blood and gore in less than ten seconds.
Mu'ulatu'uk found the point of a bloody sword pressed against the bottom of his jaw, forcing him to lift his head slightly to avoid having the point slide into his flesh.
"Tell your men to stand down. It's over," the red scaled Savashan growled.
"What do wit dis one? He no fight," one of the big green ones said, reaching out and poking Du'ulyss in the chest with a thick finger hard enough that Du'ulyss stepped backwards a single step.
"Spare him," the red scaled one said.
"Dis one no fight," the other greenskin said. "Spare too?"
"Yes," the red scaled Savashan said. He looked up at Mu'ulatu'uk. "Order your military forces to stand down, save their lives."
"And let you butcher the civilian populace in retribution?" Mu'ulatu'uk choked out. "Never."
The other Shvashan, with black scales instead of red, chuckled. "Even at sword point he still tries to bargain."
"Why would harm come to the Lanaktallan subjects? Her Eternal Elven Grace, Divine Light of the Aether, Lady of Magic and Power, Queen Radosalvov the Eternal and Graceful had commanded that the peaceful commonfolk Lanaktallan of this world are beneath her protection, glory, and rulership," one of the tall female Terrans with the pointed ears stated. "A ruler as wise, beautiful, and just as Queen Radosalvov cherishes her subjects all, not just the ones who look as she does."
Mu'ulatu'uk swallowed thickly, feeling the sword point dig into his throat. "Spare my wife, my colts and fillies," he said. "Please, in the name of your queen."
The red scaled kobold stared for a long moment, smoke oozing out of his nostrils. Finally he nodded. "I will do so."
"You may kill me once I order them to stand down," Mu'ulatu'uk said. He pointed at the comlink. "May I?"
The red scaled Savashan lowered the sword, moving to the side.
Mu'ulatu'uk got on the comlink, ordering the last of the troops still fighting across the large mega-continent to surrender. Over the next ten minutes each unit signaled acknowledgement. Finally the last one signaled that they had surrendered.
"The fighting has ceased, milord," one of the pointed eared females said.
Mu'ulatu'uk stared at the Terran's exposed skin. It was as black as night, as black as space. As if she was carved from living onyx. She wore lavender lipstick and eyeshadow, highlighting her pale eyes and bone white hair.
"I am ready," Mu'ulatu'uk said, tearing his gaze away from the Terran female. "Please, make it quick."
The red saurian turned and looked at Mu'ulatu'uk. "I'm not going to kill you."
"You aren't?" Mu'ulatu'uk frowned. "If our situations were reversed..."
"But I am not you. I display my strength and power through mercy to the defeated," the Savashan said.
"Then what will become of me?" Mu'ulatu'uk asked.
The Savashan pointed at the window. "Open those, if you would."
One of the Terrans waved her hands and chanted. Mu'ulatu'uk saw a glowing nimbus surround her hands, saw runes pop up and vanish as her fingers passed through them. The windows began to glow until, with a soft sigh, the smartglass and the shutters both collapsed into ash.
Sunlight flooded in, along with a breeze. It smelled of soot and ash, of scorched metal. The lawn was pristine, just a few Lanaktallan skeletons here and there, completely cleaned of flesh.
"You shall dwell here, within your residence, with servants I shall hire to provide for your needs," the red one said. "A King in Exile, held abay only by my might and power, by the power and steadfastness of my allies, ready at any moment to take back his throne and restore his tyrannical rule over all the subjects of this planet."
The phrasing was archaic, but Mu'ulatu'uk understood it.
"What of the people?" Mu'ulatu'uk asked.
"There shall be much changed on this world," the red one removed his helmet, revealing a scarred snout. "As I learned beneath the firm gentle guiding hand of Queen Radosalvov, at times the best way to move forward is to return to the beginning."
He looked out the window. "For my people to flourish, to grow, they must be tended to."
"Wat bout dis one?" one of the green males asked.
"He shall be that former System Most High's personal body guard, entrusted with that personage's protection and safety," the red one said.
"Will you adhere to our agreement, Dreaded Dragon Knight Aastruk?" the more thick bodied of the Terran females asked. "Will you honor your promises to House Nazza'atama'azipan?"
The red scaled on, Aastruk, nodded slowly. "The Savashan people keep their promises, Matron Swi'izlshti'ik."
There was silence for a long moment. Mu'ulatu'uk could faintly hear something, something that grew more plain each moment.
With a shock he realized what it was.
People were chanting 'Aastruk' over and over.
"You must know, the Unified Species Council will never let this stand," Mu'ulatu'uk said softly.
"The Unified Council would be better served paying attention to the Terrans and let the Savashan people tend to themselves," Aastruk said. He reached out and grabbed his helmet. He turned to the two green ones. "Guard the prisoners. Make sure they do not come to harm."
Both of them crashed massive fists to their chests.
The heavily armored Savashan left the office.
The conquest of Savash was complete.
Really? Full membership?
Well, more like Full Probationary Membership.
Saurians who go past hunt and eat phase are pretty rare. Nature has a tendency to lock us into a never ending cycle of hunter gatherer.
Kind of like us insectiods. Trapped by flukes of our biology. Like sis and I are trapped by our very own biological makeup.
Still, it seems weird. They really are going back to primitivism?
Oh, come on. I wish they'd stop that.
Eh, that's pretty normal. Let your people flex it a bit, see the edges. It helps them understand that we don't read their minds or anything like that. We're not Big Brother, we're them.
Hey, you're back.
Yeah. Just got back when Rigel pulled a full membership vote. I noticed all the heavy bandwidth use. Well, it would have been heavy bandwidth a few weeks ago, now it's just a notable.
How is it 'down there'?
Weird. Turns out we've been running on one of the emergency channels since the Glassing. We're being slowly shifted to the actual Gestalt channels instead of the emergency channel.
So, those voices we're hearing are the repair crew?
That's... something I don't quite have too much data about.
The system says there's three users logged on. I got a system ID off of two of them, but the third is only referred to as "The Detainee".
Is that why you asked me for a full scan of ID's?
I got two hits. One is someone registered with your corrections and law enforcement database. A fairly young DS who hacked Nebula-Steam a while back and vanished into the system, the other is a scientist that your records list as having been killed in an EMP lab accident.
Urk. ThIs KeEpS gEtTiNg WeIrD oN uS.
So have a convicted hacker, a scientist, and a prisoner messing with the hardware for all of this?
I swear, things are just getting weirder and weirder since we encountered those Lanaktallan.
Aren't you worried they'll break the system?
They're messing with the backbone hardware, couldn't that mess things up?
You would have to have gone down into the lower channels to see just how messed up it all was down there. Trust me, they might be messing with the headers but things are much better now.
Switching our headers is actually a good way to make backup copies. They might be doing a
massive data transfer or even a full...
...wait, did something just happen?
OK, since when have we been able to see server messages?
These are indeed strange times.
You said it, sister.
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submitted by Ralts_Bloodthorne to HFY

Analysis: Assassin's Creed highlights a very concerning trend regarding how game audio is being poorly handled.

Updated @ 11:55 AM CST 20/11/2020: I had no idea this thread would resonate with so many of you, please excuse the pun. You have my sincere thanks for the reactions, comments, recommendations, corrections and affirmations.

TL;DR summary

The audio quality throughout the AC series has been progressively getting worse. This post analyses Origins, Odyssey and Valhalla, exposing the fact that heavily compressed low bitrate 24,000 Hz audio is utilized across all three titles. Origins and Odyssey was less noticeable because it mixed higher quality 44,100 Hz ambient environment sounds with low resolution 24,000 Hz combat, character and UI sounds. Valhalla was recently discovered to be the worst offender since it uses 24,000 Hz audio across the board.
The aim here is to provide a technical explanation, cross-comparison and to raise awareness of this bad trend. Audio is a fundamental immersive component of any AAA video game, and should be presented with the same level of quality that you would expect within the film and TV industry.


This started out as a technical analysis of the in-game audio present in Assassin's Creed Valhalla, but it has since evolved into a topic of a wider scope; if you haven't played the past three AC games, Pandemic notwithstanding, let me be the first to tell you that we are in a predicament.
The idea of this thread is to not only educate, but try and prevent a problem before it becomes more of a problem. Since this is a technical subject, there will be references to sample rate, bit rate and codecs, but I feel like it is more common knowledge these days, especially due to the rise of content creators, or anyone who regularly deals with MP3 and video files.
Admittedly, there is much to talk about regarding Assassin's Creed, especially if you're of the opinion that the series died after the 2nd/Brotherhood or 3rd game. Set that conversation aside for a moment, grab a squeezy ball, punch a pillow, and let's talk about how Ubisoft are starting to set a horrible trend for in-game audio.
So I caved in like many others, gleeing at the prospect of virtually visiting my homeland as an axe-wielding maniac, and decided to pre-order Assassin's Creed Valhalla after thoroughly enjoying my time eliminating the cultists from Odyssey. On launch day during my first playthrough I noticed something that sounded eerily familiar.
I game using a pair of Mackie MR624 studio monitors, or if I feel like giving my neighbours a moment's rest, with my Beyerdynamic DT-770 PRO headphones. The audio I was hearing sounded muffled, or in layman's terms, a bit like listening through a pair of tin cans that were accidentally dropped into a cup of earl grey.


Enough was enough, I put my investigative cap on and started by first extracting the audio files using Wwise-unpacker, and proceeding to analyse the files using Adobe Audition. I discovered that the SFX is saved at a 24,000 Hz sample rate, with a variable bitrate that peaks at around 70 kbps. Yes, mystery unravelled, it really is that bad. Those of you who do not fully appreciate this technical blunder, might better appreciate it if I put it this way. Visually, it is the equivalent of removing 50% of the colours in a painting, and leaving smears where the details are.
Here is a screenshot of my analysis.
Looking at the Frequency Analysis tab, you can very clearly observe a frequency rolloff at around 11000 Hz. The low bitrate issue is also not just limited to the PC release. It is affecting all platforms.
This is an unusually strict choice of compression considering that the English audio and SFX only take up 4.5 GB of hard disk space. Standard CD audio is at 44,100 Hz (DVD standard is 48,000 Hz), and those are the two sample rates that nearly every streaming service, sound device and operating system are designed to work with.
Now, you may have heard people say "Oh, but your ears cannot hear above 20 kHz, so the missing detail is irrelevant". Unfortunately, there is complexity surrounding this issue that the statement fails to address. Firstly, when you take a 24,000 Hz sound, the highest audible frequency will be 12,000 Hz. This is already 8000 Hz lower than what the human ear can detect. When frequencies are missing from the original sound, it also negatively impacts the entire representation of that sound. The more you remove, the more hollow and less defined it becomes.
Are you curious to hear the difference?

Side by side audio comparison

This morning I recorded a YouTube video to highlight the differences between 24,000 Hz and 48,000 Hz.
Technical analysis of the poor quality audio used on Assassin's Creed
If you'd rather hear a lossless version of the presentation, you can download the audio file here.
Alternatively, you may also download the individual sound files used for the basis of this comparison: ¹sounds_sfx_3369_high_quality & ²sounds_sfx_3369_low_quality
To help provide an even more visual description of the issue at hand, here's a comparitive study of sample rates performed by a reputable audio company.

The Nyquist theorem

It has been over ten years since I last sat in an audio theory class, so I'm likely over-simplifying the technical details of this theorem. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated, and in addition, I would highly suggest reading an external official scientific resource.
The Nyquist theorem describes this better. Named after a Swedish-born American electronic engineer who worked on the speed of telegraphs in the 1920s, the Nyquist theorem states that a waveform must be sampled twice in order to get a true representation. The sampling frequency must be at least twice the highest signal frequency recorded in order to be effective. Here is a table showing the Sample rate vs. Highest Frequency.
Sample rate Highest Frequency
22,050 Hz 11,025 Hz
24,000 Hz 12,000 Hz
30,000 Hz 15,000 Hz
44,100 Hz 22,050 Hz
48,000 Hz 24,000 Hz
As a result, if the highest frequency a human can hear is around 20,000 Hz then 40,000 Hz is the lowest sampling rate you can use to accurately represent any sound that a human can hear. If you are listening to a recording of "bad audio", but to you it sounds acceptable, the issues are probably one of the following:
  1. Bad equipment: headphones, speakers or an improper sound configuration.
  2. The highest frequency of the sound in question was one half of the sample rate used.
  3. Your hearing is damaged or has deteriorated naturally with age. By the time we approach 40 years old, most of us will not able to discern individual tones above 15,000 Hz. If you would like to test your ears, try this Human Hearing Benchmark. As a safety precaution, only perform this test at a medium or low volume.
Even though the highest frequency our ears can detect is around 20,000 Hz, the sound frequencies that exists beyond our hearing range (overtones) greatly colour and impact the sound we hear. Therefore when we record digital audio and cut out those frequencies above 22,050 Hz with a high pass filter (we have to use a filter or else they would cause aliasing or noise in the sample), we are actually changing the original sound that we were trying to record. If you raise the sample rate, the recording will be more accurate. The trade-off is that it takes up more storage. Partly sourced from another post. ScienceDirect overview.
This theorem is still used today to digitize analog signals, nearly 100 years after Nyquist was an engineer at Bell Laboratories.

Oi mate! Don't take me for a mug.

This is when I had a revelation, realising that this issue has been slowly getting worse and worse with every new Assassin's Creed title released. The games are getting bigger, and sacrifices are being made as a result. I first noticed it with AC:Origins, but because some sounds are higher quality than others, it masks the issue to an extent.
Let me clarify further. Both Origins and Odyssey have high quality stereo ambient background sounds that are bounced to 44,100 Hz with an average variable bitrate of 241 kbps, but then you have all of the mono UI, voice, interaction, footstep and fighting sounds that are bounced to 24,000 Hz, all lacking any convincing spatialization, unceremoniously resulting in a bubbling cauldron that is extremely disconcerting to the trained ear. I say trained, but if you take a minute to search online you will discover that gamers, including some gamers with hearing impairments, picked up on this very quickly and early on. Why? We care about sound.
To summarise how Origins and Odyssey attempts to mask the issue: Even though certain frequencies are missing from non-ambient sounds, the detailed ambience and music in the background compensates psychoacoustically for what is missing. Valhalla sounds worse because it sacrificed more, and it does not have any high quality ambient sounds.
There are far too many links to post, so here's only a small subset of threads that I hand picked, all complaining about the same thing. First up, Origins. ¹Really poor audio quality for voices ²I can't get into origins because of the bad audio quality ³What's up with Assassins Creed Origins audio?Audio quality is so bad for AC OriginsTerrible Audio Quality Origins
Does it get better with Odyssey? Not exactly. ¹Terrible audio ²Audio quality for Odyssey ³Anyone experience poor audio quality with Odyssey?Audio quality is so badDoes the audio sound weird for anyone else?
Aaaaannndd Valhalla. ¹Why have no critics mentioned the terrible audio? ²Has anyone notice the weird audio quality in the recent AC games? ³Assassin's Creed Valhalla audio is the worst of any game I've played Audio is terrible in AC valhallaBad audio in the gameAssassin's Creed Valhalla audio is still bad and horridTerrible sound on PC.

The Why?

My first question was: is the sacrifice of quality an attempt to try and cram as much in to meet a specific distribution criteria? I've spoken to a few people within the gaming industry personally about this, and the general consensus seems to be: Yes. Please pitch in here if you've had any first hand experience dealing with this. Realistically, it should only affect products within the physical realm, such as trying to compress the game in order to fit it onto a 50 GB (dual-layer) Blu-ray disc. Digital media does not suffer from this limitation, can be downloaded at our convenience and is much cheaper to distribute.
If they provided the sound at 44,100 Hz (CD Quality) with an average variable bitrate of 128-192 kbps, as an example, similar to the quality you would expect from streaming a song on Spotify, you would see the total size of the in-game audio increase from its heavily compressed 4.5 GB to approximately 9-12 GB. At a minimum it would be 9 GB since we are doubling the sample rate. Still not very large, but it would be a light and day difference for sound quality.
If you're curious to experiment with file size estimations, here's a neat audio filesize calculator.

Is there a solution?

The idealistic solution would be to re-export all sound effects and voice using a sample rate of 44.1 kHz, with the OGG quality parameter set between -q 0.4 and -q 0.6. They could then deliver this as a compulsory patch or a free regional high quality sound pack DLC.
Popular games such as Skyrim, Fallout 4, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Call of Duty: Warzone, Monster Hunter: World and even Ubisoft's own Watch Dogs 2 have all received DLC addons that increase the quality of the game experience.

Final thoughts

Is it acceptable to allow such a fundamental aspect of a game to suffer a significant loss of frequencies in order to meet that distribution criteria? Absolutely not. This sets a neglectful precedent and one that not only severely destroys immersion, but attempts to normalize poor quality sound to the masses. Here's another question for you. If you bought a Blu-ray box set of your favourite show or movie trilogy, would you be satisified knowing that they replaced the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio with muddy, tinny, anti-climatic explosions worthy of being peer-traded on KaZaA and Limewire? (I was born in the 80's so please excuse the reference).
Consumer expectations compared to the film and gaming industry aren't that different, VR is evolving and the lines are blurring with every new AAA title. We are starting to expect the same kind of treatment: Detailed facial micro expressions, lip syncing, motion capture, in-game characters based on the likeness of real world actors and actresses, quality voice acting, and dare I say it, high quality sound effects, more commonly referred to as Foley within the film industry.
I do not game in one room with a sub-par home media center, and watch films in another where my favourite monolith shaped speakers sit in each corner. If they were sentient and had a mouth and a stomach, I would expect vomit on the floor every time I embark on my journey with Odin. Instead, I have to deal with my audio producer brain punching my cochlea from the inside.

Final, final thoughts

Oddly many of the official reviews of AC:Valhalla I have read so far completely fail to mention the audio issues, and this is concerning. The issues are so obvious that they must have either purposefully omitted the critique, have sub-par sound systems, or couldn't care less. I remember back in the day when video games magazine reviewers took pride in providing a detailed opinion of sound effects and music. Fond memories of reading Zzap!64, Amiga Power and GamesMaster back in the day.
How do you guys feel about it? To me, the $60 price tag is a bit of a kick in the teeth, and I feel that Ubisoft should really have audio technicalities down to a T. Is this what we are meant to expect for a title with a AAA budget? Am I crazy for writing or caring this much?
Ubisoft could learn a thing or two from the guys and gals responsible for Middle-earth: Shadow of War. They released 4K cinematics for free, along with higher quality in-game assets. We deserve to optionally download HD quality assets for Assassin's Creed, especially since there are many gamers among us that invest a great deal of time and money into our home cinema set-ups.
Here is a current thread following this topic on the Ubisoft Player Support Forum:
Audio Issues: Bitrate / Dynamics & Balance / Muffled Sounds / Stuttering / Volume etc. | POST HERE
If you read this all the way to the end, thank you. Let's hope that the trend of heavily compressed audio dies hard.
On a side note, since I've had a few people ask: I'm a music producer and songwriter on the side. Software dev by trade. Gaming, music and audio means everything to me.

Recommended listening and current favourite soundtracks. Links provided where appropriate.

submitted by captainstarpaw to Games

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