Riot explains its approach to footstep audio in Valorant

Riot Games, the developer of Valorant, regularly posts answers to frequent fan questions on its website, and the most recent session revealed some interesting revelations about how footsteps work in the game. Have you ever felt like footsteps sounded much closer than they should? Or come from the wrong direction? According to Riot, there’s a very good reason for that.

“We optimize for making sure footsteps are heard, as opposed to optimizing for portraying distance,” Riot writes on its site. “Under chaotic conditions where abilities are being used and you are probably hearing a lot of VOIP from your team, it is essential that you don’t miss a footstep.”

Basically, Riot deliberately chooses not to have a great amount of variation in footstep sound, so as to always ensure players can hear enemies in their vicinity. In programming terms, this is an “attenuation curve that is somewhat flat”, but essentially means distance is not a big factor in determining how loud footsteps sound.

Knowing – or at the time, hoping – Valorant would be an international game also played into Riot’s thinking with footstep design. “We also know our game will be played in a variety of contexts. NA players may be used to playing in a quiet room and hearing every detail, but players in China or Korea may be playing in a loud PC Bang, where a footstep that was quiet but gave more information on distance would be lost.”

Riot adds that once esports can be played in full stadiums again, the volume balance of the footsteps will be crucial for the pros too.

Riot also says that while quieter footsteps are technically more realistic, it was decided internally that being rigidly realistic in this case would result in bad game design. “If the game designers want you to have the information, we want you to clearly have the information.”

On the idea of footsteps coming from the wrong direction, if you’ve ever thought this, you’re probably right, but Valorant does not have a fix, unfortunately. “We currently mix the game in stereo, meaning there is no difference between a sound 45 degrees to your left in front of you and a sound 45 degrees to your left in back of you. Some people expect to be able to hear this difference, but that is not currently possible.”

While the lack of directionality will continue to be a bane for Valorant players, this most recent Q&A session at least provides some valuable insight, not only on how the footsteps in the game work, but why they function that way.