Forza Horizon 5 is an award-winning adventure into the beautiful land of Mexico, with an audio soundscape that is lovingly crafted to match. Featuring authentically recorded ambiences, a revolutionary overhaul of its engine audio, a stunning soundtrack, and an entirely new environmental acoustics system, this game is a feast for the ears.
We had the opportunity to chat with Fraser Stranchan, Lead Audio Designer at Playground Games, about the audio design for Forza Horizon 5.
For those that don't know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm Fraser Strachan, I lead the Forza Horizon audio team here at Playground Games. Everything from car audio, sound design, music, voice-over, and cinematic audio - to name a few areas - run through me to be mixed into an open world racing audio spectacle! I joined Playground Games back in 2014 and have been championing the audio experiences for our titles ever since. Having previously worked in the post-production industry as a Dubbing Mixer for linear media, I was determined to bring dynamics, subtlety, and detailed sound design to the games that I work on.
Let's dive right in, why do you think Forza Horizon is suited to spatial audio?
Spatial audio is the perfect accompaniment to Forza Horizon 5’s unique palette of fun and frenetic activities filling the screen at every turn. Some of the series’ most iconic moments see the player racing against a variety of showcase vehicles either flying or jumping across your line of sight. Our gigantic open world is a fantastic playground to explore sounds in all dimensions, especially since Forza Horizon 5 is one of our most vertical worlds to date. There is a huge volcano towering into the sky, jungle filled with lush tall trees, and a vast river network connected by massive waterfalls. All the experiences are complimented with wonderful surround sound and spatial audio content giving the player a feeling of height and perspective.
You've worked with spatial audio before, how is it used differently in this game?
Since spatial audio was added in Forza Horizon 4, we have evolved the integration of the technology so that it permeates at every level of every system. Our brand-new acoustics system in Forza Horizon 5 features multiple ray checks around the player detecting walls and buildings to simulate accurate sound reflections. As part of this system, we also calculate reflections above the player so that as you enter tunnels or pass under bridges, you can hear the sound of your car bouncing off the ceiling. We have now ensured that all internal reverb in our games fills the height speakers, surrounding the player with immersive echo and decay. Spatial audio was also a consideration while we developed the improvements to the internals of our cars. In cockpit view, the player will be able to hear a reverb impulse response that plays from every direction, really selling the material confines of each cabin. Rain, waterfalls, and debris from dust storms can all be heard above the player’s head while in this perspective, battering against the metallic roof. Additionally, the jungle canopies are brought to life by spatialising our unique wildlife recordings in the tree branches above the player. The audio experience in Forza Horizon 5 has been heightened in every way possible.
How do you ensure players hear objects overhead when you want them to?
We use a combination of techniques to craft our spatial audio “moments” such as cinematic triggers, slalom style gates and a certain amount of time stretching on the events. This stretching involves using our checkpoints to determine how far along our showcase vehicles should be in comparison to the player car and speeding it up or down as a result. This allows us to hit those cinematic moments at the right time whilst hearing those wonderful vehicles sounds travelling in front or overhead at just the right moment. Sometimes we may even use the height speakers to our advantage and play certain effects from sources you can’t see in that perspective that raise the intensity even further.
What did you learn while working with spatial audio?
The biggest lesson I learned using spatial audio is to use it sparingly. That might seem counterintuitive to what I’ve discussed above, but our brains tend to start filtering out constant sounds. Even more so with sound from above. The content that you design to be panned above the player needs to catch their attention but then not outstay it’s welcome. The frequency content is an important factor too as lower frequencies are less easily distinguishable with an exact location so to use them to their best advantage, it’s best to focus on mid to higher frequencies. Additionally, spatial audio needs to be a consideration from day one before starting to design any of your systems. Having adhered to these principles, Forza Horizon 5 is our best sounding and most immersive game to date.
A big thanks to Fraser for taking the time to talk with us about spatial audio in Forza Horizon 5. For more information about Forza Horizon 5 and to get your copy, click here.