AUDIO SPECIAL: We speak to Codemasters' audio director about managing sounds across triple-A projects

Sound Management

As Codemasters’ director of audio, Stephen Root is faced with the mammoth task of managing the teams currently working on nine projects across three studios.

To that end, he and his colleagues have developed a flexible audio resource allocation model that promises to provide the ideal staff for each job. Develop spoke with Root to learn more.

Develop: What kind of ecosystem does Codemasters have in place to make sure each project and team gets the right audio talent and tech?

We have a centralised audio department, and at the head of that, with my leads and audio directors, I assign resource to the given projects for certain periods of time. I have to balance my resource pool with the need to ramp up and ramp down on projects, and decide carefully who is needed when.

The way we have set it up, and this is really important, is that we can find the right specialists among the audio designers. We have highly specialised people we can apply to a project that exactly needs what they offer. For example, on the racing side, I have a guy who just works on engine sounds. He is a real specialist in that field.

To get the most out of teams, and the best audio, having these specialists is really essential. So we’ll have people that are incredible at front end and flow, or cutscenes, dialogue or atmospherics. The whole approach reaps massive awards.

So you have a team of specialists you can assemble highly tailoured teams from, to give projects just what they need?
Exactly. Pardon the analogy, but it’s a little like a Michelin-starred chef. They wouldn’t just pop down to Tesco. They’d pick the best butcher, the best grocer, and pick the best of what you need.

What I’ve tried to do is employ people specifically for their specific skill sets, rather than use all-rounders. That way we get more from their different areas. Having a team you can deploy in this way is key to getting bigger successes out of each project.

What makes it all the more important is that we have a range of styles of product. Our method caters for that diversity.

Did you conceive this dynamic team model on day one, or has it evolved over time?
It’s been over time, with a lot of conversations with my audio managers and key leads. We’ve just had to take a good look at what really works, where the bottle necks and project spikes appear, and ask how we best do it and how do we overcome things. You always need more resource, but having a good pool means that I can always work out the best way – with the calendar – to pool them at different times.

This way of doing things also means that you can adapt to the process of a game’s development. Maybe the flow and front end wont come until three-quarters of the way through a project’s cycle. Wel,l having small ‘attack teams’ means I can anticipate exactly that and get the best there are there when they’re needed.

A flexible approach also gives the best results because it keeps people fresh. It keeps them on the move, and broadens their experience of their discipline.

Sometimes people are on projects from start to end of course, which can be a really good thing, but it’s great when people can move around.

How does using tech fit into your strategy? Is your approach largely proprietary or do you opt to use external tools?
At Codemasters we have our own technology – EGO – which covers graphics, audio and many other disciplines. It comes with an implementation toolset, and the engine itself. It’s always evolving. We have three dedicated audio programmers on EGO all of the time, who are updating tools and runtimes and moving stuff forward into areas like speech and surround.

However, we’re not averse to middleware. We keep an eye on how some of it is coming on. For example Wwise is really gaining some steam, and it’s very interesting to see. In the future we might look at other solutions, if they partnered well with what we were doing. Again, it’s about flexibility.

Does that flexible approach go as far as being open-minded to using freelancers and outsourcing work?
Well, I’m hiring heavily at the moment, and bringing people in, and we’re also working with freelancers on occaision.

For example, I have a brilliant freelancer on contract for the Bodycount project down in Guildford. If there were more really good freelancers around, I’d be open-minded to bringing on more. It would be great to get them in, and bringing on contractors can certainly fit with our way of assembling specialised teams. If it fits, and makes for a better product, of course.

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