AUDIO SPECIAL: The Audio Guys talk to Develop about contributing to Forza 3

One Forza petrol heads

It’s set to be one of the most ambitious and detailed driving sims available, and that goes as far as the audio too. Michael French spoke to Tim Bartlett from The Audio Guys about working on Forza 3…

How much of the audio for Forza 3 did Audio Guys handle? Had you worked with Microsoft before?

This was indeed the first game that The Audio Guys worked on with Microsoft Game Studios, and we’re looking forward to continuing this relationship. We were a part of the Forza 3 audio team, specifically focusing on engine sounds. The team was led by Greg Shaw and Mike Caviezel at Turn10 studios in Seattle. We were responsible for a sizeable chunk of the engine sounds heard in the game, from an authoring and designer-side implementation perspective.

You’re a whole ocean away from the developers – what advantages did this offer? What challenges did it create, and how did you overcome them?
It could be said that we were the Forza 3 audio nightshift. The Seattle work day starts immediately after we finish here in the UK at 6pm (their 10am). Therefore, it was useful to be able to access servers during US downtime, giving us optimum connection speeds. We also had regular scheduled conference calls, timed to coincide with the end of our working day, and the start of the Turn10 day which worked very well.

The only real challenge was our physical distance from the servers, which could occasionally slow some of the larger downloads such as game builds, but this was rarely an issue with exchanging assets. The Microsoft IT team were excellent throughout: they were on call 24 hours a day and immediately addressed any issues that occurred.

What was involved in the outsourcing process – can you explain the flow in terms of your contribution?

The whole Forza audio process is largely governed by the truly mind-boggling numbers of cars in the game, with a number of car audio recordings to match. Thankfully the majority were already in place at the start of the project. The Turn10 team in the US dealt with all further recordings, although we also did a number of car audio recordings for other titles of ours recently.

In addition to the new cars featured in this game, the format for assets in Forza 3 is different to Forza 2, so every single car needed to be revisited, and have its audio authored from scratch. The Turn10 team made the existing recordings available to us, where necessary.

We worked with these recordings as well as many new ones, pulling out suitable assets. For some cars we revisited the edited assets themselves, and applied various techniques using a variety of audio software, giving them some enhancement or more ‘punch’ if required.

At the final implementation stage, all cars needed to be reformulated for Forza 3, using the in-game tools, to tune the assets to the in-game physics and make sure they sound great in the engine.

In terms of asset delivery and exchange, a source control system was used and we were able to access the team’s main source control server in Seattle. Therefore, from this perspective, we were simply another member of the Turn 10 team. In addition to this, FTP was used for very large chunks of data such as source recordings, while game builds were handled by recursive download software to keep data sizes and transfer times to a minimum, only downloading changes and updates to any given build.

All in all, considering the distance, the whole process was overwhelmingly successful. It proved, if any proof were needed, that outsourcing is an entirely feasible option, even on next-gen titles where large data sizes and complex game tools are involved.

What can you tell us about the real-time tools used for the game? How has that affected the amount of work you have to do?
The real time audio tools are extremely powerful and enable the audio engine to take much greater advantage of the assets than is usually possible. Therefore, the implementation process does not necessarily cut down the amount of work; rather it enables the sound designer to mould and shape the assets more sympathetically with the car on screen.

The best racing game audio is not going to be created by simply throwing assets at a game engine – for them to sound like a real car, all manner of nuances, techniques and methods come into play to make the assets sound like what the user is expecting to hear.

Therefore, various real time DSP effects are employed as well as many other techniques, directly tying into game physics values, and all curves, volumes and behaviours are tweakable real time within the game. You can even employ an AI driver, set the car away and then tweak as it drives around the track – it’s a sound designer’s dream.

These tweaked settings can then be stored and automatically written to that car’s setup file. Then it’s simply a question of repeating the process, with equal attention to detail, for the rest of the cars.

Are you able to give us any figures on how much material you compiled?
TAG worked with hundreds of cars in game, utilising hundreds of car audio source recordings. Each car was revisited several times and went through several major sign-offs. Forza 3 is a petrol head’s dream, and the attention to detail is very demanding: it wouldn’t be desirable to simply cut, paste or stamp from a mould, so a lot of loving care and attention was paid to each car. It would be safe to say this took a lot of man hours.

In terms of raw size, the main working folders are over 20 gigabytes, which is purely dedicated to audio work and implementation data and doesn’t include builds.

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