This is part 2 of our interview with Dirt 5’s Development team. Click here to read part one discussing the game’s development with Game Director Robert Karp.
A true gearhead can identify the make and model of a car without even having to see it. It’s vital, then, that a game like Dirt 5 nails the roar of each and every engine. Capturing those distinctive car sounds is no small feat, however. To learn what was involved in bringing Dirt 5’s automobile audio to our videogame-obsessed ears, we spoke with Codemasters Audio Director Stuart Ross and Senior Audio Designer Christopher Jojo.
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What lengths do you go to capture lifelike audio?
We record the cars from a variety of angles and capture as much as we can from the vehicle.
Engine, exhaust, transmission, gear changes, creaks. Anything on the car that makes a noise, we capture it.
How many people are on the audio team?
On DIRT 5 we have up to 7 audio designers and 2 audio programmers on the project. It’s a lot of work making a racing game with the variety of DIRT 5. Lots of environments, surfaces and weather system to work through so we need a good-sized team.
Do members of the audio team actually get behind the wheel for some cars, or are professionals driving?
Members of the audio team go along to the recordings and sit in the passenger seat. It’s important in order to recreate the feel of what it’s like to be in one of the vehicles. It’s scary and amazing at the same time.
How many hours of recordings does it take to do something like Dirt 5?
Regarding the cars, hundreds of hours just for them, as well as surfaces and impacts. Not sure we could put an actual number on it.
What do platforms like the PS5 and Xbox Series X offer in terms of audio above last-gen versions?
The biggest feature the platforms are adding is the 3D audio aspect. This tech creates a 3D field around your head, and position the audio emitters in the games where they should be and creates a great immersive experience.
What was it like working with Troy Baker and Nolan North for the game’s Career mode?
It was a very exciting. To have their experience and voice talents on board was great, and it really added another level of audio quality to the game. They’re genuinely nice people and they worked well with the Donut Media guys.
How does 3D audio enhance the racing experience?
The 3D audio creates an amazing experience. The surfaces are below you, roaring engines beside and behind from other cars, reflections from the environment bounce all around. It really adds so much depth to the experience that it’s hard to put into words. it’s best experienced first-hand and we recommend everyone do that!
How do you think Dirt 5’s audio is best experienced?
DIRT 5 is best experienced in a spatial sound setup. Either in a full Dolby Atmos setup with speakers around and above you or in a virtual spatial environment using stereo headphones. Microsoft has a spatial sound setting on Xbox and Windows with can be turned on, but there are others which offer a more defined experience such as Dolby Atmos for headphones.
What’s it like recording audio for a game like Dirt 5?
The pandemic meant recording Dirt 5’s shortlisted cars was challenging, especially cars sourced outside of the UK. The latter prompted a ‘contingency’ review of the remaining cars, and a new slate of vehicles were sourced for recording under the constraints of the UK Lockdown to meet the production schedule.
Fortunately, there were two key recording track venues that were able to operate during the summer and the remaining Dirt 5 cars were successfully recorded (Observing Social Distancing and PPE guidelines) and the engine audio integrated to schedule.
What lengths do you go to capture lifelike audio?
Car audio is without a doubt the focal point of any motorsports game’s sound and one aspect where the enthusiasts are most vocal. It’s an aspect of game sound that Codemasters has always attached significant importance to, and over the years has earned a reputation for portraying realistically.
Capturing authentic audio recordings is pivotal to the sound design. First and foremost, ‘The Car is the Star’; it’s critical where possible to source the exact model/year of a licenced car for recording. The scope of a car recording is not just limited to engine and exhaust(s) but encompasses mech systems such as transmission/drivetrain whine, gear clunks, differential clatter, facets of forced induction such as turbo dump valve blow-offs, wastegate chatter, supercharger discharge whistle and drivebelt etc – So that the car is represented in-game as authentically as possible.
Then there is the environmental audio; the sounds of the car interacting with multi-terrain rolling surfaces, wheel kick-up & particulate, skids, multi-surface/material collisions & impacts, props, crowds, weather and ambient environmental sounds. Bespoke recording sessions are planned and conducted to capture specific assets for these audio systems along with on-the-fly opportunities incidental to car recording sessions.
Where and how do you capture the car audio?
The majority of car recordings for Codemasters’ racing titles are conducted on track. I generally record handheld or set up a few heavy boom stands with shotgun mics along the run of a track to pick up any ‘wild takes’ of the car manoeuvring, pass-bys, ambient detonations/overruns or any tyre squeals incidental to a session.
Multiple Microphones are rigged and secured onboard a car in the engine bay, to capture the cylinders, intake, forced induction etc, on the exhaust(s), and in-cabin using an Ambisonic microphone along with a mic focussed along the transmission line. The microphones are routed into two multichannel digital sound recorders synced with Timecode. A typical recording run-plan comprises of capturing on and offload single gear sweeps through complete RPM (full throttle acceleration up from base RPM to Limiter, offload deceleration from Limiter to idle), steady loads across RPM bands, performance capture of gear change modulations (successive upshifts close to the limiter and downshifts with engine braking), launches and static revs and throttle blips.
Are there any unique challenges in capturing realistic audio?
Safety is always the primary concern for onboard car recording, aside from the obvious considerations of microphone choice and placement. All microphone enclosures and cabling are fire treated with fire retardant tape and ‘Fire Jacket’ shrouds for cabling which are securely rigged and chased so as not to encumber the car or the driver.
With adverse wet weather or snow, where there is a high instance of wet kick-up, tracking noise from the rear wheels, it’s necessary to employ more focussed polar pattern microphones (super cardioid and cardioid dynamic and dynamic condenser mics) and tighter mic placement.
Our thanks to Codemasters for taking the time to answer our questions. To read part one of our interview with the team and learn about more about Dirt 5’s development, click here.
Codemasters has been in the racing game game for long enough to have encountered a mud-clogged gear or two. But even for such a seasoned studio, launching across multiple console generations in the middle of a pandemic was no easy ride.
Kevin Cassidy has been covering all things Nintendo for over 15 years now and has been leading the weekly GoNintendo Podcast for just as long. Kevin is also quite passionate about pro wrestling, anime, comic books, and more! Follow Kevin on Twitter via @GoNintendoTweet.