Here's the in-depth story on how those cars, bikes, planes and boats got to sound so good - from recording, designing and implementing the sounds in the game:
Written by Jennifer Walden, images courtesy of Ubisoft.
Any heavy-footed gamer can enjoy Ubisoft’s The Crew 2 because the game covers racing from every angle. Do you like off-road dirt bike racing? How about racing monster trucks? Have you ever raced a boat against a plane against a precision-built touring car? You can do all that and more in The Crew 2.
While it’s not really a simulation game, Audio Lead Nathan Blais from Ubisoft’s Ivory Tower studio in Lyon, France, says that realism is still an important aspect in regards to The Crew 2’s sound. Creating a satisfying racing experience is what pushed the sound team to round up, record, and re-build the real-deal vehicles in-game. When a player guns it, that event is reinforced through sound — the engine hums (or growls!), you feel the rubber tearing up the road or the hull cutting through the waves.
To capture the plethora of vehicle sounds needed for the game, Blais called on Sound Designer Max Lachmann and his crew at Pole Position Production in Stockholm, Sweden. Lachmann has recorded tons of vehicles over the years, for AAA-game titles and films alike. He’s definitely an expert. Together they devised a plan to tackle the impressive list of cars, bikes, planes, and boats, and the unique sounds that each racing style requires. Here, Blais and Lachmann share the specifics of that experience.
The Crew 2 incorporates a wide range of vehicles that cover the land, air, and sea! There are off-road rally cars, dirt bikes, and even monster trucks?? There are different boats, planes, and helicopters. What were the most challenging vehicles to track down to record?
Max Lachmann (ML): It was quite a thorough sourcing procedure, where Nathan [Blais] and his team wanted videos of every possible object before deciding on whether to record it or not, so I would say the whole sourcing task was more challenging than usual. Luckily, we had one person dedicated to only finding cars, and he did a great job. It’s a really time consuming task.
Even when you know the vehicle specs you might sometimes be surprised by the outcome (in a good or a bad way), so the sourcing process was definitely challenging.
Nathan Blais (NB): Indeed, we had a very precise idea of the sound we wanted for each vehicle and we wanted to make sure we’d get it during the recordings. Even when you know the vehicle specs you might sometimes be surprised by the outcome (in a good or a bad way), so the sourcing process was definitely challenging. Our friends at Pole Position have completely outdone themselves and were able to find real gems thanks to their incredible network of car enthusiasts.
ML: One car that we had a problem finding was the Ferrari Enzo. We initially talked to a couple of owners of the Ferrari Enzo but unfortunately, it didn’t work out with their cars.
However, a car that should have been really hard to track down — the Ferrari F40, we were lucky to find one in our close network. A friend of a friend owns a Ferrari F40LM that he bought from a former F1 driver who drove for Ferrari in the ‘80s. It’s a $3.5 million car today and it had rats’ nests in the intakes because it hadn’t been driven for a long time, but we were lucky that he brought it out for Ferraris 70-year anniversary.
Fast Lane Gaming has compiled a selection of 20 (!) of their favorite cars when it comes to sound. Feast your ears below in this thorough highlight:
How did you capture all those different vehicle sounds? First, did it involve a lot of traveling to record the vehicles at their different locations, or were you able to arrange a few days to record a bunch of vehicles at one time?
ML: Since the recording season in Sweden is limited to April through September for weather reasons, travelling was necessary. But this also meant we could plan the sessions accordingly. So we did a couple of trips to Italy to record Ferraris, Lamborghinis and some other brands. And we did another session in the US where we got most of the V8s we needed. And eventually we did a couple of sessions in Sweden, filling in the gaps with the missing vehicles.
NB: Logistically, it would have been next to impossible to record all of our vehicles in one session, so traveling had to be considered. This way, we were sure to get sunny weather in California while Sweden was covered in snow!
Moving around also allowed us to make some really nice and unexpected discoveries, like when we randomly went by this workshop filled with racing cars. The mechanic there turned a few engines on and we instantly fell in love with the sound of an old NASCAR ride, so we decided to improvise a recording session. That was an incredibly lucky catch!
What about the off-road vehicles? Did you ride along for those recording sessions?
NB: The sound portraying off road vehicles and actions is complex: it depends on the engine sound and the general driving behavior (gearchange, suspensions…), but also on the different ground materials and terrains.
ML: We captured lots of different ground materials for the game, using electric cars driving on snow, ice, grass, dirt, tarmac, sand and more. We performed skids and spins with both onboard and exterior perspectives to get as much content as possible.
From a technical standpoint, what were the most challenging vehicles to record? What were the specific challenges and how did you tackle them?
Very importantly, we had one person being a coordinator, just taking care of all the car owners, making sure everyone got food, coffee and that we were on time.
ML: I think the number of cars recorded per day was the biggest challenge. During the US session, we recorded 15 cars in two days, and those were really thorough recordings with lots of coverage. In order to reach that, we had our own person driving all the cars so we could get the maneuvers needed and performed how we needed quickly. We had one person rigging the next car while one was being recorded, and two recordists for exteriors. Finally, but very importantly, we had one person being a coordinator, just taking care of all the car owners, making sure everyone got food, coffee and that we were on time.
Obviously, we had double setups in terms of microphones, and also tried to do cars with a similar setup — like engine in the front and double exhaust pipes in the back, one after another. We also had to make sure we had memory cards and batteries to last all day, for all the recorders. It does take some discipline from the recordists to manage all this, to have proper slating of microphones, position, vehicle, and making sure there is enough battery and memory left.
Another challenge is the variety of vehicles. Boats and bikes are extremely exposed to wind, and with boats you also have waves that sometimes even flood over the exhausts. And the waves on sea can make it difficult to keep steady RPMs and the like, which makes the content harder to work with.
What mics and recorders did you find most helpful in capturing the different vehicles?
We have a client paying tons of money, and we have to deliver the best possible recordings. So it’s not a session where you take risks, or start experimenting.
sML: When you do sessions like this, there is no room for mess-ups. We have a client paying tons of money, and we have to deliver the best possible recordings. So it’s not a session where you take risks, or start experimenting. So we used our most basic setup, since we know it delivers good results.
For onboards, we used a Zaxcom Fusion recorder and an additional Zoom F8 and Sound Devices 702 when needed. We had a PZM, Sennheiser MKH8020 and a DPA 4061 in the engine compartment, and a DPA 4062 in the intakes. For the exhausts, we used DPA 4062s and RE-50s, and a pair of MKH 8040s for interior. For exteriors, we used a Holophone, a couple of Schoeps CMC6, a pair of MKH 8040s, a Neumann RSM 191, a Sanken CSS5, recorded into a Sound Devices 788, another Sound Devices 702 and Zoom F8.
Before going out on each recording trip, did you have a specific list of sounds to cover? How did you compile those lists?
NB: Yes, we built a list based on our artistic intentions as well as our technical specs for in-game integration, like the need to record full ramps of accelerations and decelerations. We also needed to record a whole series of additional sounds like ignitions, car horns, or doors opening and closing.
We have a very extensive list of maneuvers that gives a good coverage … to make assets for the game, but also for cutscenes and trailers.
ML: We have a very extensive list of maneuvers that gives a good coverage for both what could be needed to make assets for the game, but also for cutscenes and trailers. These lists are based on years of experience, and we keep adding to them all the time.
There are different categories/racing scenes: Street Racing hub, Pro Racing hub, Freestyle hub, and Off-road hub, correct? What were some of the specific sounds you needed to capture for each style of racing?
NB: Correct, we call them ‘motorsports families’ and they guide the player’s experience and progression. The Street Racing family holds some of the most iconic vehicles and disciplines, not to mention our players’ favorites. The Drift discipline had us work very hard on some specific skids to make sure we had it right.
The Offroad family is all about rocky V8 engines for cars and tailored tone for motocross.
Pro Racing is pure speed, with a modern feel. You’ll find powerful and singing sounds for touring cars, our single-seater alpha grand prix or powerboats.
The Freestyle family is more diverse, with some of the most exotic rides (aerobatic planes, jetsprint boats and even monster trucks). Some of those vehicles are actually concepts that we’ve designed ourselves at Ivory Tower, so we also gave them a tailored sound signature.
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What was the most challenging vehicle to record? Why? How did you handle it?
In order to get nice pass-bys we needed to drive close to land … and we did get some more sound material for our ‘angry neighbor collection.’
ML: One of the most challenging vehicles was probably the Cigarette Speedboat Top Gun 39 race boat. It’s supposed to be one of the fastest in Europe; it did over 100 knots when we recorded it. The airdrag at that speed is immense, and a pair of headphones were literally floating in the air from the drag. The boat sounded like a plane at low altitude passing by, and in order to get nice pass-bys we needed to drive close to land. Some neighbors were obviously not too happy about this, and we did get some more sound material for our ‘angry neighbor collection.’
What was the most fun vehicle to record? Why did you have fun recording it?
The most fun thing about recording is not a particular vehicle, it’s the team effort.
ML: The most fun thing about recording is not a particular vehicle, it’s the team effort. When sourcing, weather, recording, deadlines and everything falls into place, then it’s great fun, and you are so happy to be part of a team working hard and delivering. The US trip was one of these cases, and it’s very satisfying.
NB: Exactly, and that also includes meeting amazing people that are completely committed to their passion!
How did you get all of these different sounds to work in-game to create a realistic racing experience?
NB: Realism is very important to me, even if we’re not a simulation game. Players will spend hours and hours in the game and we want them to enjoy every aspect of it, to feel completely immersed in the experience. We’ve worked hard on the sound spatialization, to have 3D objects that would be dynamic when changing perspective. For instance, when using the hood view, you really feel the engine underneath and the wheels’ contact on the ground. The vehicle’s behavior is also a strong component of the sound, so we’ve worked very closely with the vehicle physics team here to make sure the sound would perfectly match the driving sensations.
With the Fast Fav feature, you can seamlessly switch between different vehicles at any time during any point of a race. Sound-wise, how did that transition work in-game?
NB: The Fast Fav feature was a big technical challenge for our audio programmer, because you basically unspawn and respawn a vehicle without any loading time. In that case, the code drives the sound so the first vehicle is muted and we have very little time to cover the graphic transition with a sound effect and start-off the second one at the right RPM.
Technically, what was the biggest challenge you had in creating the sound for The Crew 2?
Granular synthesis allows us to cut our engine recordings into a multitude of loops that we have to recompose.
NB: We’ve spent a lot of time tuning our creative direction and developing our tools. What’s very challenging in a game like The Crew 2 is that everything has to be constantly dynamic. For instance, granular synthesis allows us to cut our engine recordings into a multitude of loops that we have to recompose. That means we have to “chop” the initial sound to analyze it and build it back exactly the way we want it, while keeping it authentic.
Another challenge is the game’s performance. With such a huge open world we have to be careful with memory and CPU and look for the best possible balance between quality and optimization.
Creatively, what made this game challenging?
ML: Initially it was quite challenging to understand exactly what Nathan and his team were after. Before we could set a method and workflow that worked, in terms of the engine character, the amount of distortion, LUFS, etc, there was some back and forth. Eventually we found a solid way of making assets that share the same character and sound and worked well in-game.
NB : First, we needed to make sure we were in line with Pole Position on our needs in terms of raw material. We’ve invited Max and his team to Lyon at the studio, showed them our production chain and tools, explained our vision and expectations.
Once we got the right assets, the challenge was to get the right result in-game, the right balance between realism and emotion to keep the sounds authentic while offering a gratifying experience for the player. That means, for instance, amplifying some of the smaller engines to give them more impact and bring stronger driving sensations.
What are you most proud of in terms of sound on The Crew 2?
ML: First of all, I’m very proud that Nathan chose to work with us at Pole Position. I have a very dear memory from early on, when Nathan came up to visit us in Stockholm. We spent the day in the studio, and I showed him a recording of a bike we had, and we made some rough game assets as a test. We later on had a nice dinner, and before exiting the taxi to get back to his hotel, Nathan declared that he was looking forward to doing this project with us as a supplier. To me that meant a lot. As a company, we have worked so hard to get to this point, and it just made me very proud.
And second, Nathan and his team have been extremely demanding and very confident in what they like and don’t like, so it has been challenging from time to time for us to meet their vision and expectations. Nathan has great ears, a good feel for engines, and awesome tools at hand, so it has been very exciting and a pleasure, after all the hard work, to finally hear the result in-game.
I think the similarities between our quality standards has allowed us to take the engine sound design in video games one step further.
NB: I’m very happy to have worked with Max and his team on The Crew 2 and I think the similarities between our quality standards has allowed us to take the engine sound design in video games one step further. There is, without a doubt, more space for improvement, but when I look back at what used to be the sound of driving games just a few years ago I feel incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved here, giving The Crew 2 a unique sound signature, a depth and detail level that we’d never thought possible. That’s, of course, the result of Ivory Tower and Pole Position’s collaboration and hard work, but also the initial impulse of our game director Stephane Beley, who decided early on to invest time and energy to make sound design one of the game development’s priorities.
A big thanks to Nathan Blais and Max Lachmann for giving us a look at the powerful and satisfying sound of The Crew 2 – and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!
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