Saturday Spotlight: Sounding Out F1 2017’s Audio (Interview)

Note: This article was originally published on the Codies Blog, June 2017

When you’re driving F1 cars in-game, both classic or modern, what they sound like really makes the difference – from hearing the 2017 Scuderia Ferrari overtake you around Spa, or hearing the charm of those screaming V10s or V8s. As there’s nothing that puts a smile on our face more here at Codemasters than the sound of an F1 car driven around a circuit in anger, we sat down with F1 2017’s Audio Lead Brad Porter and Audio Designer David Gurney to sound them out about F1 2017’s audio.

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What’s new for F1 2017?

Brad: As an audio team F1 2016 was our maiden voyage, taking over from the previous audio designers. As a team we decided that an important part of our job going forward was to communicate with and take feedback from the community. So going into F1 2017 we’ve listened and we’ve made improvements as well as added many new features. As always we’re very active on the forum, on social media and on YouTube so feel free to continue sending in comments, feedback and letting us know about any issues you find. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved as an audio team for F1 2017 and we can’t wait for you to hear the results!

David: For 2017, we’ve made a host of improvements, but the two biggest ones have been around how sound propagates through the virtual world. These are occlusion and convolution reverb. Previously, when a car disappeared behind something, like through the tunnel at Monaco, you might have been able to hear it through the wall. If a car drives behind a building or something now, the audio should change according to what is in the way. The second one is quite nerdy, but it sounds super cool. We previously used algorithmic reverb, but now we use convolution reverb. What this allows us to do is to take an ‘impulse’ of a real world location, for example a real tunnel, and apply that effect to our Monaco tunnel. We have a bunch of different impulses that are used in different environments, so each one has more character and sounds more accurate.

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How have you recorded the sound for F1 2017?

David: We attend events (with the cars) and organise our own. We take a bunch of microphones and stands, memory cards, and batteries on trips. Almost all of our recording trips take place ‘in the field’, so we have to be prepared for bad weather – like the rain at the British Grand Prix in 2016 – and good weather – like the second stage of the 2017 pre-season testing in Barcelona, where one side of my body was burnt from being stood trackside pointing a microphone all day! Recording trips are a huge amount of fun, especially when they involve my favourite sport, but they are tiring and sometimes challenging.

When it comes to recording the cars themselves, we grab as much trackside reference as we can, from as many different angles as we can, and we work alongside teams to record their cars. As you may know, car engines and exhausts are very hot to the touch – especially on high performance cars like these – so we have to be very careful with microphone placement and preparation, since we don’t want any melted cables or the microphones themselves being damaged. We generally give the equipment to the teams’ engineers who will mic the car up, according to our guidance, as they know how to balance the weight of the equipment to maintain performance.

Brad: We’ve been out and about doing some crowd recording sessions, you may have even seen us next to the podium at the Silverstone 2016 GP! We also recruited some willing Codies staff to perform chants and other crowd noise for us so if you’re lucky there’s now also a chance you’ll hear the crowd chanting driver names. We’ve also made great efforts this year to research the little details that fans may not even realise unless they visit a circuit. We’ve researched pit horns for example and ensure to the best of our knowledge that each track now has authentic pit horns triggering whenever a car enters the pit lane. Where possible we’ve grabbed the actual pit horn used on each track. With the help of some teams we’ve even recorded different types of air blowers.

What should people listen out for in F1 2017, that they might not otherwise notice?

David: One thing that I think is that when audio works well, it doesn’t get noticed.

Brad: Our new occlusion and reverb systems. We’re now using convolution in game so audio with the world now sounds far more like it belongs in that world, while tunnels now sound like tunnels and grandstands now sound like grandstands!

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

David: This job suits me down to the ground, based on my experience and interest in audio, my love for video games, and my passion for all things motorsport. It’s almost like the job was made for me. It’s a joy to work on this project, with this team. And I love Mondays.

Brad: I get to work with two other great audio guys and we’re all on the same page about how we want to drive audio forward for F1 2017 and beyond. We all have our own particular strengths and we gel really well as a team as a result, so in almost a decade of working at Codies I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had here.

What are you playing at the moment?

David: When I was asked this question, I said Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild because it had just been released. I would be lying if I said I had completed it, Hyrule is soooo big. And Mario Kart 8. Both are fantastic games.

Brad: I have a big backlog, including some games of a daunting size like The Witcher 3 but I’m renovating a house and I have a 1 year old son so I’m finding it increasingly difficult to put aside time. Right now I’m playing the odd bit of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and I’ve just started Rise of the Tomb Raider.

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We can’t wait for you to hear what both the modern and classic cars of F1 2017 sounds like, and fortunately we’ve only got until the 25th August to wait! Don’t forget that you can pre-order F1 2017 now on Steam here.

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Develop – Get That Job (Interview)

Note: This article was originally published in Develop, June 2017 #183, p.44IMG_8781

This month:Brad Porter, Formula 1 audio lead at racing game developer Codemasters

What qualifications and/or experience do you need?
15 years ago or so, many audio designers were taken on with little-to-no qualifications – but today, setting yourself apart from the rest is more important than ever – so qualifications are a must.

In terms of experience, that really depends on the job role. Experience with common software such as Soundforge, audio middleware like Wise or Fmod and audio library software such as Basehead are also really good to have under your belt, regardless of the job level you are going in at.

In terms of the audio lead role, that’s normally a position you’d work your way up to based on experience, years in the industry, and a vacant position. I started in the industry with a degree in music technology but I had basically no experience with game audio. I worked my way up the ranks at Codemasters, and almost a decade later a lead role opened up. In previous roles (and still today) I was big on organisation, documenting workflow and processes, training new starters and fixing and simplifying audio systems. I think these are good strengths to have in my current job role.

If you were interviewing someone, what do you look for?
It depends on the job role we are looking to fill. Our Junior designer was taken on last year and he had no professional experience – but a general rule of thumb for juniors, I’d be expecting applicants to have a related degree – so something music tech based. With fierce competition about and more applicants than there are jobs, I’m increasingly seeing applicants with a Master’s degrees!  If we were hiring for something like an experienced or senior role, typically I’d be expecting the applicant to have put in several years within the games industry and have credits on at least one or two titles.

What opportunities are there for career progression?
I guess I’m a good example of career progression, as I started at Codies immediately after my degree as a temporary QA technician. I’ve built my way up through audio from an “associate” audio designer to a project lead. It’s taken time and I’ve had a big learning curve, So I’ve had to work closely with my peers to pick up the various skills I’ve needed along the way. There’s certainly a lot of variety in what we do and plenty of opportunities to specialise and diversify, as well as working your way up the ranks.

We’re encouraged to take many opportunities, from recording Hypercars in Italy, to F1 in Bahrain, to learning new tools and software, to interviewing applicants for new roles, to managing your own staff.

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