AES Section Meeting Reports

Pacific Northwest - January 8, 2013

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The PNW meeting for January 2013 took "a deep dive into the interesting, diverse, and sometimes dangerous world of sound design for racing games" with Nick Wiswell, Creative Audio Director for Turn 10 Studios (part of Microsoft). Nick revealed many details about how painstakingly sound is produced for modern car-racing computer games. About 34 persons (13 AES members) attended the event at the Microsoft Research building in Redmond, WA. More than a few attendees confessed to being car nuts as well as gamers.

PNW chair Dave Tosti-Lane conducted the opening business, had everyone briefly introduce themselves, then PNW committee meeting organizer Scott Mehrens introduced Nick.

Nick's duties include the sound direction for the Forza Motorsports game series, and he previously had similar duties at Bizarre Creations (UK) doing car game audio.

He noted that a given car sounds the way it does due to its particular construction, which can be compared to a musical instrument, making sound from a combination of mouth, mouthpiece, tubing (intake and exhaust) and so on. He showed the formula used for calculating the fundamental note in Hz from the RPM and number of cylinders.

To get the real individual flavors of the cars in the game, recordings are made of the real cars on a dynamometer under various performance conditions, with mics on the engine, exhaust, and intake areas, as well as from a distance. Some recordings are made during actual driving, but this has limitations. A variety of mics and a portable, high resolution multitrack audio recorder are used on location, where ever the car may be. Nick had stories about going on location to record various cars, which can be fun - and dangerous. Nick was once hit by a flying wheel chock, breaking some foot bones.

Nick stated that they do not just play the recordings in the game, but rather use hundreds of driving physics parameters which adjust the audio during the game. This could include RPM, throttle position, gears, engine load, etc. Recordings are cut into segments appropriate to use with the physics logic. Combinations of crossfade loops and granular synthesis are used to stitch the sound back into the game, with full synthesis of great interest for the future.

There are many other sound details/layers to consider, and attention to detail counts. A lot of DSP may be done to such things as exhaust sound changes, complex gearbox noises, tire noises (the most complex sound in their games, with over 30 surfaces to consider under myriad conditions and up to half the voice count), environmental sounds with reverb, early reflections, Doppler shifts, crowd sound, collision sounds, ambient music, and interface sounds. You can't really make it as loud as real life, so they simulate it at lower levels and process it to give a satisfying tone.

Nick demoed a little Forza Motorsport 4 on Xbox for us to show the some of the sounds.

Some Q&A revealed more details about mixing in wind noise, the size of their office, that engine types can trump the actual car as far as sound goes, that 800+ cars have been recorded in the past 12 years, user testing and game authenticity checks, licenses & approvals from car manufacturers, suspension sounds, game hardware restrictions/CPU budgets, and dynamometers.

A break was then held, then a drawing for some door prizes (courtesy of Microsoft Research/Ivan Tashev).

Resuming the presentation, Nick went into mixing audio for interactive games, which is not like mixing for linear media. He discussed several common methods used, hardware performance budgets, and accommodating various lo-fi platforms (he assumes most games will be played on a plain TV sound system).

Nick did a demo of the Activision Blur car racing game he worked on to show the sound mixing in action.

Lastly, his YouTube video showed him and his crew recording destructive sounds on cars in the junkyard. Another lively Q&A period finished the meeting.

Links to the Microsoft Research video of the meeting and other supplements are available at the PNW website

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AES - Audio Engineering Society