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.

F1_2017_reveal_image_2010_Red_Bull_Racing_RB6-1024x576

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.

Williams-1992-end-1024x576

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.

F12017__capsule_main-2

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.

Advertisements

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.

Capture

So you want a job in the games industry? Musings from Codemasters Birmingham audio department.

Untitled.png

I’m occasionally asked how I got into the games industry and while my path is fairly straight forward I can ask almost anybody else at Codies and they’ll tell a different story of their own path into audio design. The core audio department here at Codies Birmingham consists of three audio designers, myself in a senior position as the project lead designer, James “Duke Uterus” Kneen in a senior position and Dave Gurney in a junior audio designer role. Here we share those three stories.

I never formally interviewed for a job in audio when I was originally taken on. I’d started out as a QA technician at Codies and got talking to the audio department and one of the audio programmers. As well as continuing with my general QA bug reporting I also went out of my way to add each and every audio related bug I could find for each project I worked on. The benefit here was that I was immediately identified by the audio department due to how few people in QA seemed to concentrate on entering audio bugs at the time. On top of that I’d make it my mission to go over and chat with the audio guys that I knew a couple of times a month – not so often that I’d become annoying but not too infrequent that they’d forget about me. The important thing to remember here was that I’d never normally get a great opportunity like this had I not worked in QA. I couldn’t exactly turn up unannounced at game companies for a chat with the audio guys. Even handing in CVs and show reels and bugging designers via email doesn’t have quite the same impact as being able to walk across the office and interact with people face to face.

Luckily, at this stage two great steps forward happened, firstly the audio guys mentioned that there might be some “dog’s body” work coming up. Generally this would be tasks such as chopping and organising assets or adding regions and markers to projects. The second step was that one of the audio teams really needed somebody to focus on audio bugs for a particular game – having seen my list of audio focused bugs on the database and knowing I had an interest in audio they approached QA management and asked if I’d be interested in some focused QA audio work. Even to this day this is quiet a rarity; it involved me temporarily moving over to the audio department and specifically working with the audio guys to identify as many audio bugs as I could, all while still under QA management and budget. You can read more about my QA job role here:

https://leavelucktogames.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/working-in-qa/

06062008287.jpgNew beginnings – My first desk in QA.

After several months of working with the audio team they decided to take me on permanently in a junior capacity. It’s worth adding that before working in QA I’d been studying music technology for 3 years at college and a further 3 years at University. I then gained around 1 ½ years of QA experience which in itself provides great background knowledge when moving into games development. Two of my previous articles go into more detail on my time in education:

https://leavelucktogames.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/studying-music-technology-at-college/

https://leavelucktogames.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/is-an-education-really-needed/

I’m actually the only member of Birmingham audio who started off in a QA role, Dave (our junior) completed a master’s degree in game audio before applying for the junior role we opened up. Both Dave and I enrolled on generalised audio / visual media degrees but Dave furthered his education with a game audio master’s degree where he got to grips with middleware such as FMOD and Wwise. At degree level neither of us went into game audio territory, the assignments I completed during my 3rd year were specifically massaged to steer towards game audio but there was no training with any middleware or any game audio practices.

Dave applied to us straight after his master’s so he had gained no previous professional experience. One of the audio designers at Codies contacted him through Linkedin after seeing his profile, at which point Dave sent in his CV and show reel for us to consider. James and I looked through all the CVs that were handed in before narrowing down the candidate list to around 6 or so or of our favourites. This decision was based on multiple factors such as the applicant’s previous experience, the quality of their show reel and how excited they seemed to be about working on racing games. For us it wasn’t essential that our junior be into racing or racing games but let’s say in a situation where two very similar applicants applied then somebody with a good interest in motorsport would have the edge. Not only would this mean the applicant is less likely to tire of the sort of audio design work we do but they’d also be more likely to be excited to attend recording sessions, watch reference footage and suggest and work on very specific features present in motorsport. This might include things like turbo systems, detonations, engine bundles, mechanical tools and so on.

img_0146David Gurney – We insist he wears this hat when working on critical tasks.

Once we had narrowed down our search we held a skype or phone call interview with each candidate. James and I went through each candidates show reel; before we gave them feedback we asked them to critique their own show reel to see if they understood where their short comings and strengths lay. We then provided our own feedback on the show reel before going over each applicants CV and asking them for further questions. Typical lines of enquiry here were questions such as “Why do you want to leave your current job?”, “What games do you play?”, “Do you play any Codemasters games?”, “How do you feel about re-locating?”. After narrowing our search down further we finally invited our candidates in for a face to face interview. By this stage we were finding it difficult to choose one applicant, there wasn’t a lot in it and in all honesty I’m sure any one of these guys would have fitted in just fine. The main goal here then was to talk to each candidate to see how well they would fit in and so we discussed their hobbies, games, audio and other generalised chat. Importantly though, Dave was also excited at the prospect of working on a motorsport game; he suggested ideas for systems and asked us how existing systems were implemented. He’d asked questions about recording sessions and what we’d be expecting from him. He showed a clear interest in what we were doing and how he’d like to help build upon our work if he were given the opportunity. James and I both felt it was important to take on somebody that we could get on with as a friend as well as a colleague; after all we have to work very closely with each other day in day out.

Unlike Dave and myself, James doesn’t have any formal education in audio design. James seemed destined for a job in the audio industry; he grew up with a passion for all things sci-fi and audio related. Sometimes I wonder if he’s part synth – both of the android and musical instrument varieties. The “Duke” as we affectionately call him here at Codies first became interested in audio when his parents bought him a portable cassette recorder when he was a child. He started off recording joke “radio” shows and silly sounds before moving on to recording episodes of Doctor Who. Listening back to these recordings sparked an interest in sound effects and synthesis. This passion stuck with James through his teenage years and the first wave of hip-hop only helped cement this passion. From here on out James decided that he’d like one day to become a sound designer. With no qualifications to speak of James decided to go down the experience route and seek out a tape operator position in a studio. Unfortunately James found this extremely difficult to secure and ultimately failed.

Capture.PNGExterminate! – Where it all began for James.

Although James remained passionate about audio and production he decided to seek alternative employment and instead tried to break into the games industry. James considered trying to start a career in QA (similar to my own route into games audio). By his early 30s he found himself working for Empire Interactive but rather than a QA role he found himself burning game builds to disc. This ultimately would form the basis of his path into game audio. After a few years James made the move over to EA in a similar role and during his time here he’d spotted the recording studio and over time became friends with the audio studio head. Not one to miss a great opportunity James sweet talked his way into using the studio for a few evenings a week. A junior audio designer role eventually came up and after cutting his teeth with the EA studio gear James decided to apply. Once again the Duke was on the cusp of making it into one of his dream jobs but it was not to be. Although interviewing well, James lost out to an applicant with current experience.

IMG_0148.jpgJames “Duke Uterus” Kneen – He’s really not that grumpy, he really is that old though.

An audio assistant role eventually came up which James did secure – finally he was in! By this point James was into his late 30s, so a relatively late starter. James currently holds a senior audio designer role here at Codies Birmingham and readily admits how difficult his path to this position has been. I’d asked him for advice to pass onto up and coming audio designers seeking a position within the industry to which he replied:

“Securing a position in game audio is difficult, but not impossible. It’s about your attitude, passion for audio and your tenacity. If you keep on keeping on, you will do it. I am of course biased but I reckon it’s the most interesting and fun job on the planet.”

Three designers all with different paths into the industry; so where does that leave you if you’re seeking the best way to secure a job? Well you’ve still got to carve your own path out but here’s some general advice to help you along the way.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The important points to remember are to network and gain some experience and while these steps are by no means sure fire ways to success they’ll greatly help you out. About a year ago I had a situation where two budding audio designers contacted me about work experience; one was a recent college graduate who was mainly interested in composition while the second was on a temporary contract in QA. Both prospective designers had graduated from sound related courses at college and both had at least started out on the right track; they’d done what many in my opinion fail to do. They had both contacted me and politely introduced themselves and shown some level of enthusiasm. As always I asked both of them for a show reel and a CV and asked them what they wanted to get out of any work experience. The guy in QA replied to tell me he would have to update his CV – I heard back from him about 4 months later! I politely informed him that unfortunately he’d missed the boat on this occasion as I’d taken on somebody else who’d replied with the information I’d asked for. The college graduate who applied was given a shot, despite primarily being interested in composition.

F1_2016_May_012_WM-823x436.pngF1 2016 – Sound design by Brad, James and Dave.

A decent education does help and in all honesty these days I don’t know of many young audio designers without a degree or higher. That being said, you could land a 1st class honours followed up by a master’s in game audio and you’d still not be guaranteed a job. Considering most of the other candidates will also have a degree it probably won’t do a lot to help you stand out. Think of your education then as a good fundamental framework once you’ve landed the job. It’s pretty obvious when we’ve spoken to or taken on work experience designers which are from a University background and which are not. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions to this rule.

Experience is great but none of us in Birmingham audio took the work experience path and although it’s a great way to get a foot in the door we quickly discovered our work experience graduate didn’t have enough knowledge to be considered anywhere near ready enough for a job in the industry. I have however dealt with one intern here at Codies as well as managed a handful of University students on weeklong work experience. What I will say here is that you should only take on whatever work experience you feel you can manage. Generally you’ll find yourself forking out for travel and accommodation as well as working a full time, unpaid job! On top of that jumping in head first to something you’re totally unfamiliar with may actually deter a future employer from taking you on. Before taking on any experience try and find out what software the company uses, ask what their day today workload consists of then prepare yourself. Work experience is valuable and not easy to come by so if you do land a temporary position utilise it and make the most of it. Jump on new or unique tasks; ask the designers what they are currently working on and how different systems work. Don’t be too pushy but make it clear that you are interested in learning all you can in the limited time you have at the company.

Apply for the right positions and tailor your CV and show reel to appeal to these positions. We had various applicants apply for the role which Dave ultimately ended up getting. Dave handed in a show reel which highlighted various types of sound design, but importantly it also included motorsport. Not only did this show he was interested specifically in the role he was applying for but it also highlighted his aptitude for tailoring assets to suit motorsport content. Contrast this with some of our other applicants who handed in show reels full of low budget mobile games and no examples of motorsport. Some applicants occasionally send in show reels which only highlight compositional skills rather than sound design ability. We were specifically looking for a full time sound designer and there was no mention of music in the job specification so highlighting these skills didn’t really give us any idea as to whether the applicant was suitable for the position. It’s important to note at this point that I’ve had quite a few composers contact me over the years asking for advise, work experience or just to pass on their show reel and CV. I’ve explained to each of them (including our previous work experience graduate) that generally speaking not many game devs will take on a full time in-house composer – it’s just not something that happens. My advice here would be to go freelance or work on some small indie projects. If you are clued up on sound design you could get into the industry and eventually you may even find that you’ll be suited to score some of the projects you’re working on but composition shouldn’t be your primary driving factor.

Some of the really great applications we received showed off actual middleware implementation and video of middleware projects in action. I personally find this an excellent and interesting way to highlight sound design ability as well as the ability to implement finished assets and take into consideration variety and dynamically altering soundscapes. Audio for games is quite a different skill from track laying for linear media such as film so highlighting this ability proves you’re able to fulfil some of the requirements for a job in game audio.

Finally, as James experienced, don’t be deterred by rejection. We’d actually turned down a previous applicant because we were only taking on one designer. It pained us to turn him away as he was just as good as the applicant we offered the job to but we had to make a decision. Several months later we called him again and offered him a job on another project. You’ll apply for jobs and most likely you’ll be rejected for quite a few of them. This could be through no fault of your own, maybe another applicant took the position for a lower salary, maybe you were just as good but a coin flip decided on another applicant for the one vacant position, maybe your skills were tailored for a different role. Refine your CV, ask the company for feedback on why they didn’t proceed with your application, continue working on your show reel and continue applying.