Epic Games deployed a few waves of audio improvements into Fortnite during the early stages of Season 9, but have been oddly quiet on the larger HRTF updates. What has happened to these promised upgrades?
Audio in Fortnite has been an uphill battle from the beginning for Epic Games. Not only does Battle Royale inherently demand greater auditory accuracy than other games, Unreal Engine seems to struggle with delivering this level of fidelity.
Before Season 9 began, Epic provided the community with a long list of updates they’d get to before the end of the season. While some of the band-aid solutions have been implemented, where are the fundamental upgrades like HRTF? Let’s take a look at how long it’s been.
HRTF (Head-related transfer function) is an audio solution which seeks to better replicate how humans hear directional audio. For a further explanation, please check out the third section of this article.
Epic promises Season 9 audio improvements in May
Back in May 2019, Epic put out an extensive Reddit post that detailed changes they would be making to Fortnite’s audio. Many professional players and influencers had complained about the poor quality of audio.
The Reddit post included a list of improvements ranging from small patches to extensive reforms/additions. The list’s main points were better ‘tactical’ audio, clearer landing sounds, HRTF, and more. For a full list, please refer to the May 6 article.
Epic then delivered on some of these promises in the Season’s patches. For example, patch v9.10 included a majority of the original list. Epic then released smaller audio updates in later patches. While we are glad to have a better audio experience than Season 8, these solutions amount to little more than band-aids.
The key solution which Epic stated to be working on was the binaural/HRTF (Head-related transfer function) upgrade. But what has happened to this technology in the past month?
What happened to the Fortnite binaural/HRTF update?
Now, before lay into this topic, we want to emphasize the fact that game development is an extremely difficult task. Unlike many other tech jobs, it’s a seamless blend of art and science that involves a human element with design choices and natural errors. We’re critical of the lack of these updates, but we understand the hardships of game design.
Epic Games last mentioned HRTF in June when DanDaDaDanDan replied to a player’s complaint.
From there on out, we haven’t heard anything on this front. We don’t believe that Epic Games has simply given up on creating a HRTF solution, but the silence has us worried.
The audio upgrade would have signicantly improved the quality of Fortnite esports, but the Fortnite World Cup is presumably too close for that to happen. Casual players would also benefit from improved audio accuracy.
But what do HRTF tech improvements really mean for players in a gameplay sense? Let us try to explain the advantages.
So…what is HRTF and why do we want it in Fortnite?
Alright, so…HRTF audio solutions. Epic Games mentioned this in the initial list of Season 9 updates. Instead of small fixes or patches, this would constitute an entirely new system upgrade to Fortnite’s structure.
HRTF (Head-related transfer function) is an audio technology that tries to better replicate how we would hear sounds in real life. Regular surround sound (7.1) can’t fully capture the intricacies of human hearing, but it’s good enough for most situations. For Battle Royale games (or tactical shooters), you need something a little more robust.
How many times have you heard a streamer or friend say ‘I thought he has to the left of me, not the right!’ or something similar? It’s not their fault.
When we hear something drop in real life, we hear it with both ears. The fact that the rightward drop’s sound is quieter in the left ear is just as important as hearing it more loudly on the right ear. HRTF seeks to accurately measure the correct difference in volume for each ear to help you pin-point the location of the sound’s origin.
This is what HRTF seeks to simulate better than regular surround sound. And no, you won’t need to buy a new headset to take advantage of this tech (as long as you have a modern headset).
Do you think we’ll see these promised solutions in Season 10 or has Epic abandoned this project due to time constraints elsewhere? Only time will tell that truth, but we hope to see this key improvement finally come to Fortnite in the near future.