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Need For Speed: The Sound of Pure Speed

Recording extreme sounds is a key niche of game audio, and one that is dominated by a few elite audio designers who have specialized. I first met field recording master Jedi and sound designer, Watson Wu (www.watsonwu.com) at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) a decade ago. His iconic look was easy to spot, even in a crowd. I was eager to meet the man who had so effectively branded himself and who was already widely known for his quality of work. He turned out to be a really good dude. The world (and world of gaming) has changed dramatically from even from just 5 years ago, while Wu remains consistent in his look, warm personality, and quality of work.  But enough about Watson Wu, let’s talk about Need for Speed 2015! It sounds amazing. Turn this one up because audio pushes gameplay and visuals over the top! From the rumble and roar of the engines to the screeching tires, hyper-realistic sound design not only compliments the action, it punctuates it! The game sounded so good I reached out to Watson Wu to ask about his part of it.

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LEVON LOUIS:

So, I have a Scion XB and love it. For NFS2015 you recorded a modified Scion FR-S, right? How was it modified?  I bet that was super fun to drive. How do you get ahold of these cars and drivers to work with?

WATSON WU:

I have a contact who tunes cars. He has a lot of clients, which is to my advantage to source out specific cars. I met him when I was recording a Ferrari 360 Modena. We used his dyno for that session. He modifies cars to achieve more horse power as well as more speed. For this Need for Speed session, we wanted a Scion FR-S to be much louder than a stock version.  Thus, he custom made and installed a new Air-Intake and modified the exhausts. He and his helper had a Blast driving the FR-S!

In order to win races in Need for Speed, you’ll need to purchase (in-game) upgrade parts. The more you win, the more money you earn to modify and/or purchase Faster cars. When you run modified cars in the game, they sound louder and/or meaner than the stock versions. Hence this is why we rig multiple mics on the cars so that more options are available for creative mixing.

LEVON LOUIS:

What other cars have you recorded? Which was your favorite or most memorable to drive / record?

WATSON WU:

There are too many to name.  My absolute favorite vehicle to record was the Abrams main battle tank! It was a once of a lifetime access when Aaron Marks’ hired me to work for him during Codemasters’ development of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. I pinched myself multiples times because I couldn’t believe we gain access to the Abrams as well as the other armored vehicles at a Marine base! My other favorites are a Super Late stock race car, all Porsches, and modified American muscle cars. They perform and sound Great! Modified cars typically sound better. Stay tuned for December because another AAA game I worked on features a really cool modified car and other types of vehicles I got to record!

LEVON LOUIS:

You have a solid reputation for producing quality weapon and vehicle sounds. Is that your passion? How is it you came to specialize in these areas? What would you like to do more of in the future?

WATSON WU:

Thank you. Yes, I just Love getting access to record extreme sounds! I wasn’t searching to record cars. The opportunities came up so I jumped in. Recording weapons was something I’ve wanted to try. At first it was scary to try to record them, but I learned. With proper tools, good contacts, and tons of experiments, I got good at operating and recording all types of weapons. I often go to the shooting range with professionals and some have taught me about their weapons. In the future I will be recording more weapons and vehicles for other games and film. I hope to discover more microphones that will work well for those sessions. Experiments are Fun!

LEVON LOUIS:

You recently published a weapons recording guide, and it’s awesome. I know the challenges of recording weapons and really enjoyed your take on it! Well done! I think professionals at every level can find something new and useful to apply from the weapons guide. Any plans to publish a vehicular recording guide? Please?

WATSON WU:

Thank you. I appreciate it. It took months to organize my thoughts then to actually write them all down. It was actually quite frustrating so I took a lot of breaks, LOL! I Love writing but this guide wasn’t easy to form. I may or may not write a vehicular recording guide. I have a lot of vehicle recording tricks so a guide would be giving away too much. 😉

LEVON LOUIS:

Congratulations again on Need for Speed 2015. Keep up the good work. What’s next for Watson Wu?

WATSON WU:

Thanks! A lot is going on right now with more games and an indie film. Again, another game I worked on will be released in early December. I also worked on Planet Coaster, which will release sometime next year. That was difficult but Fun project! Stay tuned to my blog at WatsonWu.com for updates.

LEVON LOUIS:

Thank you so much for sharing a few minutes with me, and for sharing your knowledge with everybody!

WATSON WU:

You’re welcome, Levon! Thank you for the great questions.

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Watson has also been recently working on Just Cause 3, We are looking forward to speaking with him about this in our next interview and see what it was like doing field recording for a title like this. Watch this space!

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