Nick Wiswell Returns for Part 2!

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I want to wish Nick a warm welcome back! Since our last interview, Forza Horizon has been announced, as has the Porsche expansion DLC for Forza Motorsport 4, so he’s been understandably busy since interview part 1. Here it is, your part 2!

TTA: So in the last interview you explained the recording process, but what microphones and recording equipment do you typically use? Do you have any go-to microphones or placements (both for the AV-style recordings and for on-dyno)?

NW: We have a wide selection of microphones available for recording, each with different patterns and characteristics that we try to match what is being recorded. Our standard setup includes 2x DPA 4011, 2x Sennheiser MKH-40, 2x Sennheiser MKH-20, 3x Rode NT5, 2x Audix D6, 1x AKG D112 and a DPA 5100 as our 5.1 microphone.

For recording we use a Sound Devices 788T paired with a Sound Devices 702 to give us 10 channels in total.

TTA: How do you go about sourcing the ultra-rare cars and race cars?

NW: At Turn 10 we have a team of people whose job is to locate cars for visual and art reference. We try to source locally wherever possible and there are some great cars and owners here in Washington State, but sometimes the cars cannot be found here so we have to travel to get them.

TTA: The video of the CCX on the dyno was awesome. Is it normal for you to have a production crew on-hand?

NW: Not usually, but for certain rare cars we know that the community would be excited to see the cars on a dyno and hear more about the process we use to record them, so pieces like the CCX recording and the recent Mazda 787B recording we wanted to capture these for later media pieces.

TTA: In a previous interview with Mike Caviezel, he said that in Forza 3 some of the preliminary or non-car audio was done using FMOD as middleware (i.e. the UI) — was this again the case in FM4?

NW: Forza 4 again used Fmod as the audio middleware solution. All the engine sounds are created using custom tools that work with the low level FMOD API, so we are still using FMOD for these, but we are not using their FMOD Designer tool. All other sounds (tires, collisions, crowds, ambient sounds, UI, HUD etc.) are created using the FMOD designer tool.

TTA: Will the soundtrack for FM4 be available ever?

NW: We are looking into this, but there are no specific plans at this time.

TTA: How closely were you working with Lance Hayes, the composer from Forza Motorsport 3? FM4 seems to have a bit darker of an edge compared to FM3, which I’ve described as “clean” in the past. The menu music, the UI tones, all seems to be a bit more moody to me.

NW: We worked very closely with Lance Hayes again on the UI music and this time he also supplied four in-race music tracks .When determining the audio feel for the UI for this project, I determined that what created the feel of Forza Motorsport 3 was the combination of Lance’s music, Peter Egan’s voice and a set of tonal UI sounds. I believe this was a successful combination, so we wanted to continue down this path for Forza Motorsport 4, but to evolve the feel and take it a slightly different direction, hence what you describe as the “moody” feel.
For me the UI should be a Zen place, the calm in between the storms of racing. We wanted to really push the aggression on track with the new car audio, so making sure the UI was a breathing spot between races became even more crucial this time.

I was very pleased when we finally got the new combination of Lance, Peter and the sounds in an early build of Forza Motorsport 4, as straight away it felt like Forza, but was different enough to still be new and exciting.

TTA: Racing game audio is, as I understand it, very unique in the video game world (much like the racing genre is rather unique). It seems like it takes the right kind of person who’s really into cars to produce a great racing game. Do you feel this is the same way for racing audio? Are there particular challenges unique to racing games compared to other genres (technically and/or creatively)?

NW: Creating audio for racing games has a very different set of challenges to creating audio in most other types of games.

Most games require lots of one shot sounds for things like character movement, footsteps, weapons, VO, world objects and object interactions etc. with a small number of constant sounds for moving objects, vehicles or background ambience.

With a racing game most of the objects in the game and making sounds created from many layers of continuously changing sounds.

In Forza Motorsport 4, a car can be built from the following layers:
-Engine
-Engine Intake
-Exhaust (either single or separate left and right exhaust)
-Transmission
-Forced induction (if fitted)
-Electric engine (if fitted)
-Front Left tire
-Front Right tire
-Rear Left tire
-Rear Right tire
When you are driving, each of these layers is playing a sound, but the sound of each layer is constantly changing based on what is happening to the physics of the car, as the physics is driving the audio you hear.

As an example, the following physics values will be being tracked as the car is driving, and each of these will impact one or many of the layers listed above:
Per Car
-Engine RPM
-Throttle
-Engine Load
-Transmission RPM
-Turbo RPM
-Turbo Boost
Per Tire
-Surface Type
-Tire Speed
-Lateral slip
-Longitudinal Slip (wheel spin or locked brakes)
-Tire load
So as each of these values change, the audio system reflects these changes and plays the relevant audio for each layer.

So, whereas in an FPS title, a character may be using 5-10 sounds to create the movement, footsteps, weapon and VO, a Forza 4 car is regularly playing between 20-40 sounds to create the audio of a car.

When I started making games that was more sounds than you could play at once for an entire game, and this is just one of up to 16 cars on track plus all the other non-car related sounds (collisions, wind, whoosh-bys, crowds, ambient sounds, music etc.).

Also it does help if you are into cars when you do this for a living, but it’s not essential as the skills required can be learned. However, you do have to be prepared to be listening to cars all day every day, so it makes a big difference to your job satisfaction if the sound a roaring V8 or a screaming rotary stirs your soul.

TTA: I have heard that Turn 10 employs testers who are dedicated to audio testing. As I understand it, having an audio tester is rather uncommon in its own right. Could you detail a little bit about what an audio tester does and how they go about doing it?

NW: Turn 10 does have a dedicated audio tester and, deep into production, that can be a team of testers.

There are several distinct roles within this job. The first is to test the core audio functionality, to make sure all the relevant sounds are playing when triggered and at the correct point in 3D space. Another is to make sure the audio system is running within its performance targets for CPU and memory, and another role is what we call a subject matter expert or SME.

The SME’s job is to make sure that all the game sounds are as authentic as we can make them, so they will be cross referencing our original recordings against more widely available footage of the car to ensure we are authentically representing the sound of the car in the game.

TTA: And last question, what is your dream car? As a person who’s heard and probably experienced most of them, I’m sure you’ve got an interesting answer!

NW: Several cars over the years have really appealed to me at many levels, these include the TVR Sagaris, Porsche 911 2.7RS, Aston Martin V12 Vantage, Ford GT and the ‘67 Mustang Fastback, but only one car really stirs my soul. This is the car that got me into cars in the first place: the classic Mini Cooper S.

My first car was a Mini, and I’ve owned a few over the years but I’ve never owned a Cooper S. I do intend on rectifying that though at some point in the future.

Another huge thanks to Nick again for his time and thoughts! As of the time of this writing, Part 1 had over 500 views already!