It’s all in the game

DSC00895_4a34113cb2e99-lightboxIt started with a post on the Classic Corvette Club forum by Jerry. Jerry runs a company called Media Mill that produces sound effects for video games, and was working on a couple of projects that required some “really meaty V8 sounds”. The process would involve attaching cars to a Dynapack system (like a rolling road, but attached directly to the wheel-hubs) and putting them through their paces while Jerry’s team recorded them. On offer was the chance to have our cars’ sounds featured in a top-quality, multi-platform game, together with the promise of a power-reading and some MP3s from the session. It sounded like a fun day out, so I signed up!

The recording was to take place at Thor Racing, based near Kenilworth. Although they specialise in tuning Japanese cars, it became clear during the day that their guys are true enthusiasts who know their V8s and some of them even go drag-racing in V8-engined cars.

When I arrived, Jerry and Adam from Media Mill were already there as was Aaron from the Kent branch of the Corvette Club, in a very nice ’71 Corvette C3 convertible in the perfect colour combination of red with a black roof! Seeing the side-pipes on his car, I had a sneaking suspicion Aaron might win the volume contest. His car was pretty comprehensively modified: in addition to the side-pipes, he had a trick engine, 5-speed ‘box and uprated suspension and brakes.

As we were chatting, a beautiful red ’65 Mustang arrived. Not only did it look great, it sounded fantastic too: a great exhaust note and nicely “cammy”. Its owner was, I kid you not, an undertaker on his way to a convention at nearby Stoneleigh!

The final car to arrive was a Dodge Super Bee, which looked and sounded exactly as a muscle-car should. So, game on (pun definitely intended)!

The process would be the same for each car. First, the car would be manoeuvred into the dyno cell. Next, the rear wheels would be removed so that the Dynapack units could be attached. At the same time, Jerry and Adam would position all of the microphones: at the rear to capture the exhaust sound, and around the engine to capture induction sound and general engine noises. Once everything was connected up, the Dynapack units had to be calibrated based on the car’s gearing. Finally, the recording could begin.

If you look closely at the photos, you’ll see that the dyno cell has both a blower to keep the engine cool and an extraction system to remove exhaust gases. Normally, these would run all the time that a car is being tested, and the exterior door of the premises would be left open to allow cool (and clean) air in. However, for sound recording all extraneous noise needs to be eliminated, so during each recording run all of the fans had to be switched off and the exterior door closed…then switched on and opened between runs. Once the recording was completed, each car would perform a power-run with all fans on.

The first sound-run for each car consisted of a slow run up and down the revs to check volume levels. When the team were happy with the levels, the real capture could begin. There were several runs per car: a few runs up and down the revs (each lasting about 25 seconds), a few runs holding near-maximum revs for about 10 seconds, then a run consisting of start-up, idle and a series of throttle blips. With all of the cycling of fans and exterior door, each car would spend about an hour in the cell.

If this sounds like a lengthy, involved process that’s because it is! However, the end justifies the means and according to Jerry this is why the games that his team works on sound so convincing; some other games just sample parked cars as they’re being revved, which will never sound as realistic.

OK, that’s the theory, what about the reality?

Aaron’s Corvette was up first, and was driven into the cell. As I mentioned earlier, the Dynapack system is connected directly to the wheel hubs. On removing the rear wheels and offering up the Dynapack units there was an obvious problem: the designers hadn’t allowed for side-pipes! The only option was to remove the outer case of the Dynapack units to provide some clearance: that’s why in the photos you’ll see lots of pipes instead of a shiny red box. The second problem became obvious during the runs: the extractor system was at the rear of the cell, whereas the side-pipes were venting their fumes out to the side of the car. This would be a headache in more ways than one: by the end of the day the Thor team had pounding headaches from all of the fumes of the non-catalysed cars. Aaron’s car sounded great (and loud!) during the runs, and ran flawlessly apart from a slight misfire at high revs. On the power run, it peaked at 273.6bhp at the wheels which equates to about 340bhp at the flywheel: very impressive, although a little less than Aaron had hoped for.

Next up was the Mustang, which also ran flawlessly and sounded fantastic. Its owner started smiling during the first run, and probably still hasn’t stopped! He was keen to see the results of the power run, and was very happy with 190bhp (call it 240bhp at the flywheel) at nearly 6000 revs: fantastic figures from its 289ci (4.7 litre) small-block.

It was now the turn of the Dodge Super Bee, which was a very tight squeeze in the dyno cell! Its owner had been looking slightly worried as he watched the earlier cars run, and sadly his fear wasn’t misplaced: it was immediately obvious on the first run that although his engine was strong, it was misfiring throughout the rev range. For safety’s sake the team decided to abort the session.

Finally, it was my turn. Setting up the Dynapack took a little time as the Thor team got their heads around the stellar gearing of my C6 (given enough power, 6th gear would top-out at over 280mph!). Once running, as a result of the rear wheels turning but the front wheels being stationary, the traction-control kept cutting power; a push of the magic button restored normality, although there was still a constant stream of messages telling us to service the active-handling and ABS systems!

The Thor team seemed pleased that my catalyst-equipped car was emitting no fumes…but were suffering from the fact that it was putting out a lot of heat! In fact, the cell was getting so hot that we had to keep opening the exterior door for extended periods to make it bearable. I had worried that, even with its aftermarket Borla Stinger exhaust system, my car would seem quiet compared with the other cars, but once off idle (still fairly loud by normal standards) it more than held its own. Once Jerry and Adam were happy with the sounds they’d captured, we did a power run (quite literally a hot run!). The result was 381.3bhp at 5800 revs which was exactly what I’d hoped for: transmission losses for a C6 auto are about 65bhp giving a flywheel figure of around 445bhp. The factory claim for a C6 is 430bhp, Borla claim a 12-18bhp increase for the Stinger exhaust system, so it was bang on the money. If you look carefully at the dyno-sheet (ignore, the comment about flywheel horsepower, it really is rear-wheel horsepower) you’ll see a couple of glitches at the top of curve: I was told that this was “operator error” but from where I was standing it looked more like “hurriedly covering my ears because it was so loud error”!

Once the wheels were back on my wagon it was time to head off. It had been a fun day out: talking cars and computer games, meeting some great guys, seeing some nice cars, and getting an insight into just how much work goes into producing modern computer games.

Now I’m just waiting for the e-mail from Jerry to tell me whether or not my car has made it into the game!

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Gary Walsh