Heading off-road and into the next-gen with DIRT 5 and Dolby Atmos

Slaloming along loose shingle in the great outdoors is a thrilling experience and one packed with audio potential. We discover how next-gen title DIRT 5 embedded the audio within the world. This article was created in collaboration with Dolby

DIRT 5 is the latest installation in the exciting off road racer from Codemasters. We were lucky enough to have some time with Audio Director Stuart Ross who shares some insights into how 3D audio is implemented in the game.

Stuart Ross, Audio Director at Codemasters has over 25 years’ experience in game audio. Over his career he has won numerous industry awards including 2 BAFTA’s for audio, recognising his work in the GTA series and Crackdown – which included writing the GTA Vice City theme!

Can you enlighten us on how you use 3D audio in the latest release in the DIRT franchise?

DIRT games have always been a 3D experience with roaring engines, burning exhausts and tyres tearing up the earth. In this next rendition we really wanted to add to this experience by creating a rich enveloping environment for the cars to live within.

Can you give us an example of how you achieve this?

The first stage would be to create an ambisonic base ambience. We record our own and have several based-on locations within the game, forests, desert, city etc. These ambience beds create a foundation for us to add more detailed localised ambience emitters around the track, such as rivers below bridges, birds in trees and church bells in high towers. With the ambisonic nature of the spatial technology provided by Dolby Atmos, it really helps immerse the player in the 3D environment, height creates that extra level of immersion.

How are you using music within the game? I heard some pretty interesting stuff going on when I was playing.

We’ve spent a lot of time getting the music just right. Rather than the conventional way of having music as a soundtrack, we’ve created some tech where it is part of the environment as well as all the ambience. We wanted to create the feel of a festival and designed our tech and soundtrack around that idea.

We place speaker emitters around the track at various points such as the start line where there’s lot of crowd or a grandstand for instance. These music speakers are then attenuated over distance and you can really hear them ebb and flow around the track. It really creates a dynamic experience. Of course, if you would prefer a more traditional experience, you can easily switch back via the audio options to 2D music.

So does the music become effected by the environment in the world?

Yes, we have a reflection system which bounces the game sound around the environment, such as cliffs and walls, and the speakers are included in that processing as well.

The reflections really help give space to the environment, they reflect all around you, especially when you have the Dolby Atmos for headphones plugin enabled! The sound really is all round you. You not only hear if a car is behind you but which way they might overtake you from left or right. It helps you become a better player.

You have internal cameras in your cars, have you designed anything cool in the cabin sound wise?

Of course! We have various emitters around the cabin for gearbox noises, suspension and various other rattles and squeaks but also, we use an ambisonic convolution reverb.

It’s great in that if you turn your head or camera the sounds not only stay where they are but the reverb in which they are bussed to also stays on its axis. It’s all these small details that when they come together, create the full exciting experience. The future for interactive audio has never sounded so exciting.

About Chris Wallace

Chris is a freelancer writer and was MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer from November 2019 until May 2022. He joined the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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