Creating best-of-breed racing game audio requires serious commitment, and Codemasters’ dedicated team, headed by Stephen Root, have continually raised the bar.
With Dirt 3 offering a mature, stable technology base and crack audio development tools prototyped and proven on their last F1 title – the opportunity to improve Dirt’s sound even further was there for the taking.
However, the quest for authenticity for Root and Mark Knight, racing audio group lead, would entail many hours’ car recording around the globe.
“Dirt 3 is the culmination of a three-year plan to completely revamp the audio in our racing titles,” explains Mark Knight.
“We got a granular system into Dirt 2 but it was a prototype, not intended for inclusion in the final game.
We had a bit of a mad rush thinking, ‘we’ve got the system, now we need the actual audio recordings’.
“Our new reflections system was proven on the last F1 title and so we’d arrived at a point where we had a solid foundation and we’d gotten familiar enough with our tech to start using it really very effectively.
But of course we needed the right audio recordings for Dirt 3’s specific vehicles. It was a case of ‘going to town’ and searching out the right cars – the old Group B rally vehicles are famous for the way they sounded; for example the Audi Quattro.”
BACK IN THE DAY
“The original was written off in its first race but it was the development platform for the S-tronic double clutch system so Audi re-built the car and would take it around the shows to say, ‘this is what we were able to do back in those glory days’,” adds Knight.
“Getting hold of such unique-sounding vehicles to explore the potential of what they can do – for a whole day’s recording at a remote airstrip - has taken us to a new level of authenticity.”
What must be the zenith of this petrol-headed quest came when Knight found himself being driven around a Scottish circuit by Jimmy McCrae, father of sadly-departed rally driving legend, Colin.
“It was an amazing privilege – and really exciting," admits Knight.
“We recorded the champ’s Sierra RS Cosworth and his Escort Mexico MkII. But the big coup was something called the R4, based on a Ford Ka – a rally vehicle Colin McCrae was actually designing himself having become somewhat disenchanted with manufacturers’ offerings.
Apparently, he said ‘I’ll just go and produce my own car’. We got to go out in it. It’s a sublime car – an absolutely awesome piece of machinery.”
The team predominantly uses DPA 4011 and 4062 microphones with the recorder of choice being an 8-channel Sound Device’s 788T. When it comes to capturing the sound of ‘kick-up’ – for instance, gravel shooting up into and out of the wheel arches – the team’s attention to detail is just as enthusiastic, so no surprise that Codemasters’ audio gear gets seriously splattered.
“Our mics get absolutely covered in mud when we’re recording surface audio and different skidding variations,” says Knight.
“We spent a day at Phil Price’s rally school in Wales recording on as many surfaces as possible because this was another sonic area where we felt the tech was very much in place, but not necessarily the right audio assets to back it up. So we did multi-perspective recordings using a Subaru – not the quietest car unfortunately, but it had to be able to handle the abuse we would give it on gravels, tarmac, dirt, mud and anything else we could find.”
Accordingly, they’ve become somewhat adept at creating their own little Rycote-style fluffies and all manner of other hairy protection for their baby mics.
“We generally have time to make all the recordings we want and can have the car driven to the specification we need, to help make our subsequent implementation job as easy as possible,” concludes Knight.
“For instance, we do a lot of recorded sweeps – idle to red line and back again in ‘x’ number of seconds. Sometimes the biggest problem is teaching the driver exactly what we want them to do.
"I often take them out in my own Subaru and show them – a technique that also helps when there’s a language barrier. Not being very good with languages, we make sure we spend time with Google Translate to create a crib sheet of commands we can give the driver. Obviously, what they should do is just give me the car to drive myself. But for some reason beyond me, I haven’t managed to convince them of that yet.”