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On February 24th of 2019 Tyler Davis vanished from Easton Shopping Center in Columbus OH under mysterious circumstances. In the short time since, his wife, mother in law, and his friends have been doxxed, harassed and borderline stalked by internet sleuths who are determined to solve his case.
The couple lived a quiet life, more content to spend an evening at home rather than a wild one out on the town. Both Tyler and Brittany worked nights. He would often get home around 4 am, and she worked well into the early morning hours as a bartender. Despite the challenges presented by their unique schedules, they made sure to find time to spend together. Every year they made a special trip, even if it was just for a day, on both their birthdays and their anniversary.
Brittany’s birthday was February 24th, and the couple had planned a weekend getaway to nearby Columbus. In the early morning hours of February 23rd 2019 Tyler got home from work around 4AM. He’d been pulling extra hours and was tired, but excited for the trip he and Brittany had planned the next day. They both went to bed around 5 am and were planning on getting up early enough to meet Tyler’s parents in Columbus around noon. However they both overslept, waking up around 12:30 and not getting out of the house until after one. Eventually they met up with Tyler’s parents at an outback Steakhouse on Stringtown road and enjoyed a relaxing lunch with them. Following lunch they left their son with his grandparents and headed north, stopping at a speedway gas station on Stringtown before the 71 on-ramp to get gas.
They arrived at their Hilton hotel around 4 or 5 pm, and got settled in. The couple had contacted their friends that lived in Columbus, Brittany’s friends had been busy, but luckily one of Tyler’s close friends was free. He made the quick ten-minute drive from his house over to Easton. The friend's name was Schon Hughes, and although his name was initially withheld from the public, the lead detective on the case used it freely in a press conference, and Schon himself has since given an interview thus his name is already in the public record.
Schon and Tyler had been friends for years, and although Schon moved an hour away to Columbus, they would still take the time to visit each other. When Tyler knew he wanted to propose to Brittany, Schon had even helped him design her engagement ring.
When Schon arrived at the Hilton, Brittany was just finishing up getting ready for their evening out. The trio hung around and caught up for a while and watched what Brittany described as “some trashy tv”. They lazed around until around 8:30 when they decided to go out on the town. They were planning on shopping and getting a couples massage the next day, so mostly just wanted to drink a bit and explore.
They had drinks at bar Louie and Adobe Gilas and were all somewhat inebriated by the time they were finished. Brittany drank mixed drinks, and Tyler had shots, and it was actually the first time ever the couple had gone out to a bar to drink together. Brittany was only 23, they had a young son, and she worked at a bar for her job, so any of these reasons could have been contributing factors as to why they'd never gone out drinking together. It is also possible that they just weren’t big drinkers. Either way, Brittany was feeling adventurous and suggested the three go to a strip club, as she’d never been before and wanted to see what it was like.
Following Brittany’s suggestion, they ordered an uber and decided to head to the Dollhouse, a strip club in a nice part of town. They ended up hanging out and drinking until around 2:30AM and at one point Brittany went out to smoke. She was hesitant to leave her drink at the bar since she knew to never leave a drink alone, but the bar had a strict policy about not allowing guests to bring drinks outside. She ended up leaving it and Tyler helped her finish it later. They had fun, and Brittany said they met some “very nice girls”. Not being from the area they weren’t exactly sure when the bar closed, but at one point Brittany went to the bathroom for a few minutes near the end of the night, when she returned the lights were on. Closing time had snuck up on them, and the bouncer was arguing with Tyler and his friend, saying they had to leave right that minute, but Tyler insisted they had to wait for Brittany. The bouncer seemed skeptical and was trying to get them out of the bar, but when he saw Brittany return, the tension diffused and they left. As pointed out later in Brittany's True Crime Garage interview, the bouncer may have been confrontational because he was used to seeing men trying to hang around after close to bother the girls who worked there.
One review of the Dollhouse mentions a patron out for the night alone, who suspected his drink was spiked with GHB. He said he blacked out after three drinks and doesn’t remember the rest of the night, but his girlfriend said two men dropped him off at his apartment late in the night, covered in cuts and bruises. His card had been maxed out at $2000. He said he filed a police report, but no follow up to the review was posted, and no other reviews mention this. Other negative reviews point to being overcharged, or no “fun” provided with the lap dances, which the owner responded to by saying “They are not a $20 BJ place” so it is worth noting, like with any business some negative reviews may be posted out of spite.
In her Dateline interview, Brittany initially skipped past mentioning the Dollhouse specifically. She just said that they went to various places in the area. The backlash and rampant speculation about the quality of their marriage after this information came out may have been why she wasn’t more forthcoming with that information. To this day, a popular theory on Reddit and Websleuths is that Brittany and Tyler must have been swingers, since they had a male friend with them on Brittany’s birthday, and went to a strip club. And of course, Brittany’s initial omission of the Dollhouse must have meant she had something nefarious to hide.
On the night in question, the trio waited outside for about 20 minutes for an Uber, and Tyler was fairly intoxicated at this point. A girl from the club brought them water and chatted for a minute. When the Uber arrived it was about a 15-20 minute drive back to the hotel and Tyler fell asleep. They got back to the hotel, and the uber driver seemed agitated, because Tyler was confused, and didn’t think they were back at the hotel. He was taking a minute to wake up, and the Uber driver was visibly irritated. Tyler thought he was being kicked out of the Uber early before they got back to the Hilton. Finally, they got out of the car, and Tyler started making a scene since he thought the uber driver left them stranded. He fell at one point and he attempted to flip over a few potted plants, and then stormed off. Brittany’s phone was at 4%, she needed to use the restroom, and Schon told Brittany he would go get Tyler. Tyler only had a 20-25 foot head start, and Schon quickly caught up with him while Brittany went back into the Hilton.
Around 15 minutes later at 3:37 AM Tyler called Brittany back to apologize and say he was just taking a walk and smoking, and would be back soon. In an interview in April of 2019 Schon said that Tyler was absolutely the type to storm off when drinking, he’d done it before and Schon wasn’t about to chase him around all night. Brittany disagreed with this. But she had never been out on the town drinking with Tyler before, whereas Schon had known him for years, and had seen him drinking many times. When asked if they’d had an argument, Schon said it wasn’t so much an argument as him telling Tyler “Hey man, get your ass back to your wife, she’s crying”
Shortly afterward Schon returned to the Hilton and found Brittany standing outside waiting for Tyler. They went back up to the room and Schon reassured Brittany that Tyler just needed to blow off some steam. He told her not to worry and that she should get some sleep
Schon talked to Tyler over the phone around 3:42 for about 8 minutes. He sounded coherent. Schon told him that Brittany was in bed and safe, and Tyler said he was going to try and figure out how to get back. Schon told him to just look for the giant building with the H on the side.
Using digital forensics, CPD traced Tyler’s route on foot from 3:20-3:53 AM. He meandered from the entrance to the Hilton, and ended up in the Easton circle around 3:40 when he was talking to Schon over the phone. Eventually, he ended up near Abbott labs, then started heading toward the Hilton. His last location showed him at the intersection of Steltzer rd and Morse crossing. At this point, he asked his phone to take him to Easton Suites at 3:51. At 3:53 his phone location shut off and CPD could no longer track his location, but he was still near the intersection of Morse and Steltzer rd.
At 4:10 AM Tyler called Brittany again to say he was walking through the woods and could see the hotel. He said he would be there shortly, in five minutes. In the True Crime Garage episode, Brittany stressed that she and Tyler were not outdoorsy people by any means. She said Tyler could look at “three trees in a circle” and call that the woods. They stayed away from the outdoors so much that Tyler managed to still own the same pair of shoes he’d worn in college. There aren’t any seriously wooded areas near Easton, but there are patches of woods, and a wetland area near Abbot labs. It’s enough woods to temporarily get lost in, but one could find their way out walking in any direction for five minutes or so. There are four wooded areas within a half-mile of Tyler’s last phone ping.
Many news sources didn’t report this last phone call accurately. Brittany stressed that Tyler was not confused in this phone call and sounded coherent, but several sources took Tyler’s earlier confusion in the Uber to mean he was confused and incoherent during this phone call. Brittany maintains this was not true, He sounded like he knew where he was. Online sleuths would later criticize Brittany for not being more worried about her “confused and incoherent' husband based on this misreported information. Immediately after the 4:10 call disconnected, Tyler called Brittany back, but when she picked up the line there was just silence for about four seconds. Brittany called him right back, but his phone went straight to voicemail.
Shortly after this, Brittany and Schon walked in opposite directions on the road in front of the hotel to look for Tyler. They didn’t see him, and Brittany was worried, but Schon thought she was overreacting, and they had a mild disagreement. At this point, Tyler had been walking around for nearly an hour without a coat, and while the high that day was 56, the low was 29, and it was a bit windy and rainy on and off. At 4:15 am footage of what the police initially thought was Tyler walking back to the hotel was shown, but this was actually Schon walking back. This incorrect picture was shown during a press conference, but Brittany corrected it on her TCG appearance.
Around 4:30 AM, Schon went home, since he lived about 10 minutes away. Brittany called a few friends for advice, and they told her she was probably worrying too much, and that Tyler would walk through the door at any moment, and everything would be fine. Her friend Harlee talked with her for a while and reassured her that everything was fine. Brittany found it hard to be calm though and called nearby jails, and hospitals, thinking Tyler might have ended up in the drunk tank.
In the early hours of the next morning Brittany got ahold of an old roommate Adam, who arrived at Easton around 8AM. They drove around, thinking maybe Tyler had passed out on a bench. She called her in laws around 9 or 9:30 to tell them what was going on and Tyler’s father started driving up to Easton.
She then called Columbus Police around 10:30-11AM to report Tyler missing. When the police met with her, she gave them a detailed account of his description, and what he was wearing. He was 29 at the time, with brown hair and brown eyes, 5’10 weighing approximately 170 pounds, and wearing dark jeans, a white t-shirt and a dark green flannel. He also has a distinctive birthmark on his arm, going across his chest and up to his neck. The birthmark is visible in a t-shirt. The CPD officer told her that “A 29 year old man can go missing of his own accord, if he chooses” and informed her that there wasn’t much they could do unless he was gone for 72 hours.
Her father in law arrived shortly after and started walking around Easton, looking for his son. Brittany went back to her in-law's house to be with her son for part of the day, but joined her father at Easton to help search in the evening. Brittany and her father in law kept searching until dark. At 1 am they got Easton security involved and let the Hilton know what was going on, and the manager on duty agreed to start pulling footage to look for something useful. A few more friends joined in the search before the day was through. At 8am the next day they stopped searching on foot.
Since that day at least six searches have been conducted of the four wooded areas near Easton. Volunteers and dogs from Search and Rescue OH combed the areas looking for clues. The Columbus dive team searched the Wetlands, and Equisearch looked at two ponds in the immediate area. Helicopters flew over the area when the weather became more dry, hoping to maybe spot something in the wetlands that they hadn’t found before, but all of the searches turned up nothing. Brittany, along with friends and family, still occasionally band together to distribute flyers in the Easton area, and Brittany still calls Tyler’s phone every day.
In March of 2019 Brittany started the Bring Tyler Davis Home Facebook group. She posted information about Tyler and the night he vanished, and the group currently has nearly 10,000 members. As more people joined, Brittany and her family had to moderate and remove posts with rampant speculation. She was then accused of trying to shape the narrative. While criticizing her, online sleuths shared a speeding ticket she got when she was just sixteen years old. They also rifled through her mother, Melissa’s past, at one point saying she had an extensive criminal record. The accusing poster quickly realized they had the wrong Melissa Fields, but rather than apologize, pointed at Melissa’s driving record which had some minor infractions.
The way some networks aired the story didn’t help, as some would only include bits and pieces of Brittany’s story, and one even clipped her statement about all of the things she loved about Tyler down to just “A great provider” leading people to call her a gold digger and say she was just using him for money. One theory on websleuths claims that the reason Tyler was so tired was that Brittany was forcing him to work extra hours so she could have a “nest egg” saved up for when she killed him.
True Crime enthusiast Katie Frederick got banned from Brittany’s group, and started her own called True Crime Junkies - Tyler Davis Missing, Case Discussion. Frederick made it to be a place where people could openly speculate. In Brittany’s group, posts accusing her of murder or criticizing her appearance that added no value to the group were banned, as well as speculation and news stories every time a body was found in Columbus. Brittany had been reading all of it, and friends who helped run the group asked people not to post such content.
Frederick’s group allowed for open discussion, much of which was centered on accusing Brittany of involvement in Tyler’s disappearance. Frederick had initially gotten involved after reading about Tyler’s disappearance on a smiley face killer theory page. This theory claims that men in their twenties who fall into bodies of water while out drinking are actually killed by a gang of serial killers. It’s called the Smiley Face Killer theory, because the supposed calling card of this killer or killers is that smiley face graffiti can be found near where the body was recovered or entered the water. Since Tyler Davis is often mentioned in the same breath as Joey Labute Jr. and Brian Shaffer, who are both associated with the theory, some subscribe to that idea. Joey Labute Jr’s body was found in the Scioto River near Scioto Audubon metro park, and Brian Shaffer is often mentioned with the smiley face theory because he was a drunk man in his twenties, which is the supposed demographic. Since Tyler was a drunk man in his twenties, and there are wetlands near Abbot labs, believers of the theory have been speculating about Tyler Davis since very early on in the case.
Early on Brittany got involved with Lori Davis, who runs the Missing in Ohio facebook group. Lori Davis is a Columbus local who also runs the missing website for Brian Shaffer, and had been very close with Brian Shaffer’s family. Lori helped Brittany assemble a detailed timeline of events the night Tyler vanished, by putting together receipts and phone records. In April of 2019 Britany would go on True Crime Garage, a prolific podcast local to Columbus. Brittany would use her timeline and notes from that night to ensure she was saying accurate information.
After her true crime garage appearance, people accused Brittany of sounding scripted, since she was partly reading from notes she’d compiled since Tyler’s disappearance. The co-host of TCG, the Captain said in her defense “she has very detailed accounts and people were like, 'She sounds scripted.' Well, if your loved one went missing, I'd hope you'd sit down and write down all the facts and anything you can remember, too."
In the first part of the True Crime garage episode, Schon’s name was accidentally left in at one point, although they had tried to censor it throughout. The next day, people on Websleuths were pointing out that it was said, and the Crime Junkies Facebook page was cross-referencing Brittany and Tyler’s pages to find a friend named Schon, though the unusual spelling threw them off. Wanting to help his friend, Schon had posted information about Tyler on his page, and given out his personal number. Online sleuths quickly connected the dots, and eventually someone posted Schons’ name, phone number and home address on websleuths. Possibly Facebook as well but if it was posted there it has quickly been deleted. It was just one day after the release of the podcast that all of Schon’s information was made available to the public.
On may 6th Schon would call True Crime Garage to discuss the case with them and give his account of events. He said that he has been questioned by police, and they looked at him and his wife’s phone records. This small tidbit of information would fuel more pointless facebook discussions, where sleuths would say Schon didn’t “seem like a married man” since he’d gone to a strip club, and been somewhere in the hotel room when Brittany was finishing up showering, meaning he surely must have watched her get dressed. He said there is surveillance footage of them exiting the uber. He also went into detail about a few sightings in Ohio of Tyler. He said they all seemed credible, as they mentioned a man with a distinct birthmark, but none of them ended up being Tyler.
Doxxing was nothing new to Brittany and her mother Melissa. People were threatening to come to Brittany’s house, and calling her to harass her. They called Tyler’s parents as well, and speculation ran rampant that Aaron was actually Schon’s son not Tyler’s. A popular theory online was that the reason Tyler stormed off in the first place was because Brittany and Schon had been flirting. One poster even threatened to call children’s services, alleging that Brittany must have been mistreating her child if she would murder her husband. Meanwhile Schon started getting death threats, and all of the facebook groups involved got more members joining, despite remaining private.
At one point Brittany got involved with 'We can bring you hope' and an organization run by Michelle Helman Bender. Bender got very involved in Tyler’s disappearance, conducting her own “investigation”. Brittany sent Bender her timeline, which included Tyler’s email password, and Bender logged into Tyler’s email. Brittany got a notification that someone in Pennsylvania had accessed Tyler’s email, but quickly realized it was Bender. She changed the password and told the police about the incident.
In July author Andy Downing would write an article for Columbus Alive called “The Disappearance of Tyler Davis and the Rise of the True Crime Complex”. He would truncate and somewhat rework a version of this article to go out in the Dispatch as well. In the Dispatch article, he took the same approach as Dateline, omitting the strip club entirely in the story, even though he’d mentioned it in his longer article. Whether this was done to make the story more family-friendly, or attempt to try and keep the discussion focused on Tyler’s disappearance rather than speculation about his marriage, some online sleuths did not realize that both articles were written by the same man, and once again went into a frenzy about Brittany changing her story. Ironically enough, a quote Brittany said in this article about the news coverage thus far became oddly appropriate "I've done so many interviews, and talked to so many people, and I told everyone the same story each time, but they can all spin it, I'm telling you my story, but I'm not going to write your article, so you can write it in any direction you feel, which is obviously your right. But if I had six different writers and I tell them all the same story, they're not going to write the same thing, which makes people say, 'Her story doesn't match up.' ... This has never happened to me before, so I'm just trying to navigate the waters as best I can."
In the Dispatch version of the article, Columbus police sergeant Daniel Weaver said of the internet and media’s involvement in the case that, "There are so many competing forces involved in this, and it's almost taken on a life of its own, It's hard to discern between valid information and armchair quarterbacks who read into things that just aren't true." He runs the missing persons/exploited children’s unit and said that the case is absolutely still active, but he doesn't want to release any details and add to the social media mess.
These articles interviewed Katie Frederick herself and when asked about her involvement in the case or how her group might affect the investigation, Katie said “That's a hard one to answer because of course, it concerns me, but at the same time I don't think anything we do on Facebook is going to interfere with what they're doing in real life. For the most part, our group is just a discussion group."
In that same article, Brittany disagreed with Frederick’s stance that social media was not harming her case. After having experienced months of the public criticizing her voice, her weight, and her feelings for her husband she said "We've all seen how damaging social media is, and there's going to be a point, regardless of the outcome, regardless if Tyler pops up tomorrow, there's going to be a point maybe 15 years down the road when our son gets online and finds this. He's going to see people talking so badly about his dad and me, and it's just so awful, and I don't think people are considering the gravity of what they're saying and how it can really affect people. I pray to God our son never has to hear about all of that. I really just want Tyler to come home so we can finally move on."
The original posts have been deleted, but at one point the death of Brittany’s father was a huge topic of discussion among the Crime Junkies Facebook group. He passed away on August 29th 2009. He’d been drinking heavily and passed out in his truck, and when a fire started in the engine compartment he never woke up. His body was found the next day, as he’d been idling in his van in an alleyway. Posters speculated that Brittany’s mother Melissa Fields had killed her husband, and Brittany was simply following the family tradition by killing Tyler. One group discussion speculated that the reason Brittany and her mother were so close was that they were both helping each other cover up murders.
During this controversy, a youtube channel specializing in tarot crime readings covered the case. For those unfamiliar with the practice, Tarot readers will sometimes do readings on unsolved cases to try and figure out what happened. In the video, a camera is pointed at two tarot card decks and a pile of crystals. The reader is behind the camera, and selects cards out of view, though you can hear them shuffling in the background to assure viewers that the cards were indeed chosen at random. In the video the reading backs up all of the popular theories, saying that Brittany and Schon were in love and conspired to kill Tyler and that Melissa was under investigation for killing her husband. Melissa is not and was never under investigation for her husband's death, but this YouTuber claims otherwise.
Katie Marie Frederick would at one point attempt to make some form of amends to Brittany by setting up an Amazon wishlist for her. The request went through Melissa, who absolutely refused to give Frederick her address, and assumed she was using the wishlist as a ploy to harass them. It is worth noting that Frederick seemed genuine in her attempt, and Frederick had started banning people who spread any personal information about Brittany or Melissa. However, we know from the Columbus Alive article that at one point online sleuths posted a picture of the van that Melissa’s husband died in, so her attitude is more than understandable.
Though Frederick does at times seem genuine in helping Brittany later on, she posted the 911 call Brittany made and asked if she sounded suspicious, and would blatantly ask her Facebook group to dig into Brittany and Tyler’s lives and see if they were in debt, as that could have been a strain on their marriage.
On July 15th Brittany wrote “Yesterday I attended the Missing Persons Day in Columbus. I connected with different law enforcement offices and organizations that have assisted in the search for Tyler. I met families that are dealing with the same unfortunate circumstance of a missing loved one. I was shocked to see the number of people that deal with this on a daily basis. Please remember to be kind, you never know what anyone else is going through. Cherish your family. Be grateful for what you have. Our family will never stop looking, searching or asking questions. We will remain hopeful & continue to stay positive. I appreciate your support, shares, and prayers in our family's time of distress. Please keep your eyes open, be vigilant & stay safe.”
On July 18th, 2019 it was Aaron’s birthday and Lori Davis posted an amazon wish list for Brittany and Tyler’s son Aaron, saying he loves Winnie the Pooh and Shrek. Support poured in from the group.
On October 3rd 2019 The Columbus Police Department held a press conference to discuss the case with the public. Lead Detective Jason Brammer answered questions and stressed that the wooded areas around Easton had been searched. Brammer and another officer mentioned that the press conference was part of the sheriff's attempts to be more open to the public, in an effort to get the police, the media, and the public to all work together as best as they can and solve the case.
The True Crime Garage episode is still referenced as one of the most detailed accounts of that night, as only a few news articles covered the disappearance. One reporter in the crowd asked Brammer if he was following what people were saying in podcasts at all and he responded with “I do not follow podcasts, I follow evidence”
Brammer was asked a few questions about if he had any theories, or was leaning one way or another in regards to what happened. He simply stressed that he wasn’t letting himself get wrapped up in any theories or lean in any particular direction so that he could keep an open mind and investigate all angles thoroughly as leads came in.
Near the end of the press conference, Brittany was given the floor, and as she started to tear up, Brammer put his hand on her back, encouraging her to keep talking. She asked the public to come forward with anything they knew saying “It’s been a really long time, and I deserve answers”.
That same day Katie Marie Frederick posted on Facebook, apparently after having a change of heart saying “The first thing I want to say is that we have seen evidence that cannot be released publicly. This evidence has led me to believe that Brittany Davis is 100% innocent. Obviously I can not control how any of you feel. However, I do ask that even if you may believe she is guilty, please think about this: what if she isn’t? If she is not guilty then that means she is mourning the loss of her husband and the father of her child. Before you type, ask yourself: is what I’m about to say beneficial to anyone, or am I just being cruel?Brittany has caught a TON of hatred and I just don’t think that is fair. Now I will be the first to admit that a lot of that hatred came from this group that I created and from me specifically. But that stops now. I apologize for all of that and for any pain I have caused Brittany and those who love her and Tyler. Since I made this group we have made a few more. And we have learned a lot. There are many things that I regret and I am so sorry that things got so ugly. I wish I could take back so much of what was said and done. Unfortunately, I cannot. I just ask that moving forward, we focus on Tyler and remember that there are still people here who love him and miss him dearly. As far as any of us KNOW, Brittany is innocent and that makes her a victim in all of this. Some of you may feel otherwise, but a feeling is not evidence.”
Websleuths and Facebook are still rife with people trying to solve the case. One poster on websleuths pointed out that there were many surface-level similarities between this case and that of Brian Shaffer. In both cases the night in question started at a steakhouse, there were two men and one woman out on the town, and the man who eventually vanished left to go off on his own for “mysterious” reasons. Many of the same theories thrown out in the Brian Shaffer case are also mentioned for Tyler, with some people claiming that he must have fallen in the construction of a new Easton parking garage, and is now part of the structure, or saying he ran away to start a new life, in the middle of the night, while he was drunk.
Anytime the case is mentioned on Reddit, the top comments are almost always about Brittany acting suspiciously. Of course, there are statistics to back up why people tend to assume a spouse in foul play. From 1980-2008 16.3 percent of all homicides were committed by an intimate partner, making it nearly one in five. But does a 16.3% chance justify harassing someone who is now raising a young child on her own, and mourning the disappearance of her husband?
Lori Davis occasionally gets calls from Brittany when she’s frustrated with how the case is going, and she’ll talk her through it. Telling her to do what she can, and not let the negativity get to her. But there’s only so much Brittany can do before she’s left with no option but to wait.
In January of 2020 Brittany took and passed a polygraph in relation to her husband's disappearance. As of March of 2020 Brittany is largely absent on her Facebook group, instead opting to let others post about their missing loved ones. Right now the most recent post is that of Andy Chapman, a man who went missing in 2006. Whenever a body is discovered anywhere near Columbus it gets posted in various forums about Tyler Davis, or Brian Shaffer, further linking the two cases at least in the mind of the internet. Tyler’s disappearance, perhaps in part due to the controversy, has quickly climbed the ranks to being one of the most well known missing person cases in Columbus, meaning many people know what he looks like, and are keeping an eye out for him. This also means that the numbers in all Facebook groups involved continue to climb, and speculation on all social media platforms shows no signs of stopping.
- True Crime Garage: episodes 296 and 297
Analysis: Assassin's Creed highlights a very concerning trend regarding how game audio is being poorly handled.
TL;DR summaryThe 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.
IntroductionThis 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.
AnalysisEnough 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 comparisonThis 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 theoremIt 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|
- Bad equipment: headphones, speakers or an improper sound configuration.
- The highest frequency of the sound in question was one half of the sample rate used.
- 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.
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? ⁴Audio quality is so bad for AC Origins ⁵Terrible Audio Quality Origins
Does it get better with Odyssey? Not exactly. ¹Terrible audio ²Audio quality for Odyssey ³Anyone experience poor audio quality with Odyssey? ⁴Audio quality is so bad ⁵Does 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 valhalla ⁴Bad audio in the game ⁵Assassin's Creed Valhalla audio is still bad and horrid ⁶Terrible 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 thoughtsIs 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 thoughtsOddly 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.
- Katana ZERO Original Soundtrack by LudoWic and Bill Kiley
- Castlevania Symphony of the Night by Michiru Yamane
- Arcanum by Ben Houge
- Halo 2 Volume 1: Original Soundtrack
- The Floor is Jelly Original Soundtrack by disasterpeace
- Anything from the Final Fantasy series, especially if it's by Nobuo Uematsu. The FFVIII Remake is great if you prefer orchestrated works.
- Mark Morgan's work, especially Fallout since it was the first PC game I ever played
- Michael Hoenig's Baldur's Gate II theme (wish it was longer)
- The criminally overlooked Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha Original Soundtrack by Shinji Hosoe, Ayako Saso and Takayuki Aihara. Sakura Mankai is my ringtone.
- Assassin's Creed Original Soundtrack of course. Favourites are II, III, Origins, Odyssey and Valhalla.
- Dark Souls, Demon's Souls and Bloodborne
- Divinity Original Sin 2 by Borislav Slavov as well as Larian's earlier games with Kirill Pokrovsky
- The incredible jazz music by Jerry Martin from The Sims 1
- Westworld Original Soundtrack