Main menu

Ok…here goes with a first blog!

This piece was written for Sega, as the first part of a dev diary, but for one reason or another, it hasn’t appeared on their site, so we wanted to put it up here.

Hi…let me introduce myself. I’m Tim Bartlett, and I’m the main audio guy on Sega Rally. Dan Gardner and I make up ‘The Audio Guys Limited’ and it is our job to make Sega Rally sound awesome! We have been in the industry for a long while now, and our previous audio credits include the “Colin McRae Rally”, “TOCA Touring Car”, and “Race Driver” series of games.

So…we are very familiar with the subject matter, but this is a different situation than we normally find ourselves in. We are a new company, the Sega Driving Studio is a new studio, and Sega Rally is technically a new title. Therefore, the challenge with this project is huge…create an awesome sounding racing game…completely from scratch. No code, no recordings, no samples, nothing to work from whatsoever!

Back in April 2006, work began on building an audio design for the game. The design had to cover everything…all the assets, all the systems, how they would all work and fit together. Lay it all down beforehand so there are no surprises while in the full throes of development.

Building the audio for a next-gen racing title is no small feat. Gone are the days when you can get away with throwing a few engine loops in.

Engine loops are short ‘constant’ samples of engine sound, recorded from different RPM’s, which constantly loop round and round. Get a bunch of loops, crossfade and mix them together according to RPM and that used to be ‘job done’. Not any more!

Engine loop technology is now a thing of the past – it was cool back on PS1, sufficed for PS2, but is now ‘old hat’. The time is finally upon us where we can ‘lean’ on the processing power of next-gen consoles, and dedicate some of it to audio for a change! We promise we won’t damage your frame rate!

So…in comes a lot of real time jiggery pokery from some very clever audio code.

Now that we had a plan in place, and a busy audio coder, it was time to go and acquire some suitable assets to work with. Recording cars is fun, tense, amusing, scary, dangerous, and to be honest…bloody difficult! It is lucky for us then, that we had probably already recorded 50 odd cars in our past, and therefore we could avoid many of the pitfalls immediately. First and foremost, our preferred method of recording the cars for the game is on a rolling road, or a dynamometer. These are not your average MOT rolling roads, but proper 4WD facilities capable of taming (and holding) the most powerful of beasts! We can record material whilst on track, but this is far more challenging due to road and wind noise. For more reliable and consistent results, a dyno is perfect.

The first and most important thing of all – have the right equipment. We were a new company at the beginning of the year, with limited cashflow, but this made no difference – we had to get the right stuff for the job. Hiring a rolling road, and getting hold of expensive cars is not easy, quick or cheap, therefore we are usually only going to get one shot at recording these beasts! So we quickly decided that rather than simply recording engine and exhaust, onto a stereo recorder, we wanted to have more flexibility to capture more footage. Therefore, we armed ourselves with two pairs of very high quality (and very expensive) microphones – two full size, and two miniature. The two miniature mics were quickly encapsulated into top quality 49p tea strainers from a local supermarket – only the best for us !!! This protects the microphones and makes them easier to mount in strange places.

We then added a digital recorder, capable of recording 4 channels simultaneously, along with a whole bunch of accessories for the task ahead. Very soon, we were capable of recording engine, exhaust, gearbox and turbo, all simultaneous, and all at 24bit 96Khz resolution. The final piece of the jigsaw was to get our first ‘voice’ to sing for us! First up to the microphone, back in June 2006, was a lovely, freshly rebuilt Group B Lancia Delta Integrale, at one time driven by the legendary Carlos Seinz.

Delta

As soon as the car was started up, to get it on the dyno, we knew we were in for a treat – it sounded great! It’s always a bit tense during these sessions. Imagine if you will a very loud, and very powerful car, driving right beside you, sometimes at significant speeds, just held down by a few straps! To get the ‘right’ kind of recordings, it is important that the driver gives us full throttle as well! You can see and feel the car surge forwards when the power is down! This isn’t for the feint hearted!

We have seen cars jump out of their restraints in the past, and it isn’t recommended. Memories of Colin McRae’s £¼m Ford Focus WRC jumping off the dyno come flooding back…

Tune in next time to see if our worst fears are realised during any recordings for Sega Rally!

However, the Lancia behaved beautifully for us, and we came away with a great recording, of a rare and special car. Time to get it into the game…