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Sound For a New Generation Turn 10 Studio

John Broomhall talks to Turn 10 Studio’s John Wendl, Nick Wiswell and Chase Combs about defining the sound of Xbox One launch title (and fastest selling XBox driving game ever) Forza Motorsport 5.

THISTIME last year, I entered the hallowed gates of George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch for an unforgettable week of orchestral recording. The project? Turn 10 Studios’ iconic game Forza Motorsport 5 – a key Xbox One launch title and a franchise beloved of petrolheads the world over. As one of the music supervisors, as well as second composer, I attended the majority of live sessions at Sonic Fuel in LA, Skywalker Sound, and Avatar Studios, NYC – and as expected, both performers and recording talent were super-impressive throughout. The game features high production values indeed, but there’s no surprise there. John Wendl, Turn 10’s content director, explains: “One of our missions, as a first-party studio, is to showcase Microsoft’s devices and services such as Xbox, Xbox LIVE, Kinect, etc. And one of the highest goals of Forza Motorsport 5 was to be the ultimate gaming showcase for Xbox One. We wanted to be that ‘killer app’ that people buy the Xbox One to play. We pushed the boundaries of what’s possible on a next-gen gaming system with beautiful in-game graphics running at 1080p/60fps, Cloud-powered Drivatar technology and a massive amount of content, built from the ground-up for the next generation. “But the effort went beyond just technology. We focused heavily on emotional impact and immersion. We wanted the tech to ‘disappear’ to the player in an incredibly realistic and immersive gaming experience that moved the player through a variety of emotional states before, during, and after in-game racing experiences. Sound design and music were critical to that. It’s amazing to what extent sound can ‘colour’ what you see, bringing powerful emotional influence

28 March 2014

to any visuals – and when they’re paired together to work in harmony the result is a cohesive and powerful emotional experience. The sound of the cars and environment and the dynamic mix of originally composed score all come together to take the player on an emotional journey.” Crystallising and delivering the audio vision fell

to Turn 10’s creative audio director, Nick Wiswell. So, given the ‘emotional’ goals for audio in the context of a racing simulation, 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 actual reality. For example, a production car, even a loud one, has only a small percentage of the audio intensity or power of a race


Lance Hayes, principal composer, Forza Motorsport 3-5

“Compared to previous instalments, Forza 5 had a significantly more iterative and collaborative approach to the music. We were scoring in a way that’s new to the franchise. Additionally, while most musical decisions were nailed down early during prototyping, some of the process was ongoing so we had to stay nimble. “From a delivery standpoint the new music

system was very hungry! We were trying a lot of ideas so lots of music layers were required. My studio alone created well over 1,000 stems. It’s

one of the more stem-intensive output projects I’ve ever worked on. Special thanks to my assistant Matthew Steele who was invaluable during the output phase. “Paul Lipson (music director, Central Media,

Microsoft) assembled a remarkable set of recording locations and talent. Working with industry greats Leslie Ann Jones, Jeff Vaughn, and Roy Hendrickson was a thrill and the results speak for themselves. The performances were beyond compare – The Skywalker Symphony strings were superb, as were the women of The New York Film Chorale, and who doesn’t love MB Gordy’s percussion work?”

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, as Wiswell explains: “The question arose of 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 different zones of varying track detail and surrounding scenery, asking them to ‘post’ it like it was a movie. We included a big crash at one point so we’d

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