John Broomhall talks with Turn 10’s Nick Wiswell about making the racing game's fast cars roar
Crystallising and delivering the next-gen audio vision for the latest in Microsoft’s iconic racing franchise and Xbox One launch title Forza Motorsport 5 was the responsibility of Turn 10’s creative audio director, Nick Wiswell. Was he aiming for realism or drama?
“I wanted it to sound authentic but not at the expense of impact,” he says. “It’s about people’s perceptions of what the world sounds like, not necessarily the reality.
“For example, a production car, even a loud one, has only a small percentage of the audio intensity or power of a race car at full throttle. That’s the reality, but having a production car’s intensity scaled to a small percentage of the loudest car in the game would rob all cars of impact and would not meet the listener’s recollected perception. This is why reality in its strictest form is not the goal. I want to reproduce the perception.”
During the early stages of design and prototyping, Wiswell and his audio lead Chase Combs headed to San Francisco to consult with Skywalker Sound’s post-production crew.
“The question arose: how would a top movie post-house approach designing and mixing Forza sound? So we thought, why not go find out? We provided Skywalker with video footage – a lap of the Alps, with zones of varying track detail and surrounding scenery – and asked them to ‘post’ it like it was a movie.”
Wiswell included a big crash at one point and some drifting to hear how Skywalker approached collisions and how they’d handle skidding. The direction was to make the video ‘impactful, exciting and thrilling’, like a film car chase scene.
With no camera cuts to work from, Skywalker's Al Nelson instead broke the footage down into track zones; the excitement of the crowd at the finish line, a tunnel followed by a big open lake and so on. The results gave Turn 10 some “very interesting” ideas about mix approach, but there were places where the car wasn’t audible in the mix. Still, that prompted Wiswell and his team to ask: where do you need to hear things, and where don’t you?
We wanted the race music to react to the action, like an extra layer of gameplay cues.
Nick Wiswell, Turn 10
“This led us down some new paths of creative thinking. For instance, adding non-literal sounds to add tension in certain places, and going over-the-top in some areas, like using cannons for backfires,” says Wiswell.
“For Skywalker Sound, the car became like the dialogue – the main character – mixed centre-channel heavy. Therefore, they’d keep other things out to leave that space. And these are techniques we carried forward to the game, in some cases overriding literal 3D positions of sound emitters to provide more mix clarity.”
Meanwhile, music was also set for a radical makeover, moving stylistically from previous electronica to a dramatic orchestral piece.
“Music in racing games is an interesting discussion,” says Wiswell. “Yes, there are hardcore racers who don’t want music at all, and yet it does add to the feel of the game so we wanted those positives without being sonically hamstrung by conflicting frequencies, such as distorted guitars and car engines.
“We wanted music to build excitement towards the race and came up with ‘The Hero’s Journey’. You have this Zen space: your ‘homespace’ where you select and work on your car. As you travel to the race location, music intensity starts to build a sense of exploration and discovery. Then, at the track, it’s all about race itself.
“We wanted the race music to react to the action, like an extra layer of gameplay cues to help you, so there are music shifts depending on race conditions. What’s your position? Is it the first or last lap? Are you working your way through the field approaching other cars? The music ebbs and flows and swells in response to this.
“It made sense to custom-create music specifically to hit these emotional beats – plus the whole thing sets a cinematic tone for an epic game.”
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