At its simplest, Triton looks at an entire video game level and calculates the reverb properties of every material. From there, it applies realistic echo/reflection effects to the soundscape. This means incoming fire passing over a wooden crate sounds different than it would a brick wall.
It’s a much different approach compared to the way other games tweak audio to sound more realistic. Those rely on comparatively basic volume ducks and one-size-fits-all muting effects to create the illusion of occlusion and obstruction between you, the player, and the source of the sound. Peek your head up to take a potshot and the sound is unobstructed, but because you’re sitting behind a wooden garden box in a greenhouse instead of a cobblestone plaza it’s going to sound distinctly different.
Obstruction and occlusion are what keeps dialogue or battle sounds in adjacent rooms from playing at full volume, confusing the player as they walk around an environment, too. Rather than adjusting the levels of audio clips for distance, Triton considers the simulated materials and acoustical properties of the surrounding gamespace. Sound bounces off of a cave wall differently than a deserted hospital, so Triton does its best to simulate that.
If you need an example of obstruction and occlusion gone horribly wrong, fire up the recently released BioShock Collection — also based on a version of the Unreal Engine. Early on in the first game, a splicer enemy is singing a lullaby to the revolver in her baby stroller. Yes, she’s crazy, and the scene is absolutely creepy. But her voice sounds clear as day from two rooms over when there’s 30 feet (and a wall) between you. This is the type of thing that robs a scene of its immersion and atmosphere and undermines the developer’s intent: to make you forget you’re playing a video game.