Co-driver calls are one of the most critical components of a rally game. With no mini-map, no sat nav, and no other way of knowing what lies behind the next corner, accurate and timely co-driver calls are crucial to making sure you and your car make it through a stage in one piece.
They’re also very important to immersion, too – not only do they perform the function of navigation, but when done well, they make you feel much more a part of the world you’re rallying within. With DiRT Rally 2.0, we’ve worked very hard to make it feel as authentic to the real-life experience as possible.
At the helm of putting calls together for you is Codemasters Dialogue Producer Olly Johnson, who took some time out of his hectic schedule of recording co-driver calls to talk to me about DiRT Rally 2.0. I caught up with him about the method behind recording co-driver calls, what additions and refinements DiRT Rally 2.0 will introduce, and what sort of equipment we use to get the full effect.
Talking about the original DiRT Rally, Olly was keen to drive home how that set the foundations for how we recorded our calls. ‘Because DiRT Rally was experimental in so many ways, it allowed us to be more experimental with our co-driver calls too. Historically we always wanted to do what we have done for DiRT Rally, and we came up with all sorts of daft ideas for trying to capture vibrations in our co-driver voices – but with DiRT Rally, our Lead Audio Designer Stuart Ross was able to get Paul Coleman into the d-box to see how well the calls would work with an authentic level of stress.’
They recorded his lines just once, at first – but it soon became apparent that more nuance was needed for calls. ‘The wobbliness of his voice sounded a bit funny if you were just starting off, or if your car had been reset. We realised pretty immediately that we would need to record the calls a few times to make sure we had the right level of stress for different situations.’
This led to Paul recording the calls for DiRT Rally three times: once with no stress or impact on the diaphragm, a second run with a medium impact (the one most commonly heard in game), and finally, a third super-fast run with the d-box ‘turned up to 11’, to really capture the stress and heightened tones of a co-driver voice in the throes of a blisteringly quick run.
Because of DiRT 4’s track-generation technology, we had to take a slightly different approach to recording co-driver calls – but with DiRT Rally 2.0, the aim was to capture the same level of authenticity as we did in the original but with added refinements and detail. To build on something which was widely regarded as the most authentic pace-notes experience out there a difficult challenge, Olly explains: ‘We knew we were ahead of the game with DiRT Rally’s co-driver calls, and we didn’t want to completely change everything and undo the good work we’d done in the first game. However what we did want to do is expand on that, and make subtle changes here and there to make it feel more authentic.’
One of the ways we’ve done this is at the very start of a stage: ‘Co-drivers aren’t voice actors – so in previous games, when we’d ask them to record some “good luck” lines before a stage started, it sometimes felt a bit stilted. With DiRT Rally 2.0 we’ve actually got our co-drivers introducing the first couple of corners before you start, which feels much more natural – both to the co-driver and you, the driver.
When we spoke to Phil (Phil Mills, the English language co-driver for DiRT Rally 2.0) about doing this, he actually said that’s what he would do with Petter (Petter Solberg, 2003 World Champion) on a stage – and Jon (Jon Armstrong, Codemasters rally consultant) also said this is what he does with his co-driver before the stage kicks off. So in terms of the experience and how real it sounds, it’s definitely legit and a lot more realistic than our previous stage intros.’
As we did in the first DiRT Rally, we recorded Phil’s runs three times – one with no stress, one with medium stress, and one with high stress – so for whatever your scenario or driving style, we have something that keeps you fully immersed in the scenario you’re in. If you’re wondering what that looks like, here’s a quick video demonstrating the how much we rattled him around in the d-box for each variation:
It’s also really important to note that while we were only able to do this for English language co-drivers in DiRT Rally, we’re expanding the roster of languages who have native language co-driver calls. ‘Ryan Champion’s been amazing not just in the handling department, but with the people he’s been able to connect us to,’ said Olly. ‘We’re super proud to have more actual co-drivers making calls for DiRT Rally 2.0, and at launch we’ll have German and French language calls made by real-life co-pilots.’
In fact, our German co-driver voice is that of Tanja Geilhausen, who has co-driving experience in the WRC – and she’s been in this week to record her calls.
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‘Tanja and Phil have been in so far to record their calls and to watch them in the zone is amazing. They make it look easy, but realistically they have so much to juggle at the same time – they’re trying to read from a piece of paper while being thrown around in the motion simulator, while trying to look at the stage, and their bodies are undergoing a very similar amount of stress as they would during an actual rally.’
The process of making pace notes is an interesting one too, as of course, they don’t get to go on the usual kind of recce. They do get to see the stages as ran by Jon Armstrong, so they are able to formulate pace notes – but particularly with the tracks that aren’t necessarily finished while those calls are being recorded, things can change throughout the level design/building process.
‘When we recorded the New Zealand calls, the stage wasn’t 100% finished – so when level design started adding more furniture like rocks and trees, a few “cuts” became “don’t cut”!’ In this instance, the pace notes are more collaborative – as Jon Armstrong will then work with Phil on refining the pace notes further to make it more accurate to the final stage.
Once that is done, the pace note audio files are cut up into small chunks and invisible triggers are set on stages to ensure the right notes, with the right amount of stress, go to the driver at the right time. ‘When you’re going through a stage, we want what you hear to perfectly correspond to what you’re playing – so using different versions and triggers is our way of understanding your driving and making sure the co-driver audio is tailored to your experience.’
You might’ve noticed from the video that we also use all of the proper co-driving equipment to record co-driver calls. ‘We try to record it as authentically as possible – so take with Phil, it’s his voice, and he’s wearing his helmet, and we’re recording his calls by taking the audio from his mic. Similarly with Neil Cole, for the first time we’ve recorded his spotter through the headsets the real life WorldRX spotters wear in real life, just to give that added level of authenticity.’
And what of the co-drivers make of the experience themselves? ‘Phil absolutely loves it. At the end of every stage we’ve recorded, he’s paused and just gone “Brilliant!” afterwards. It’s a sight to behold when he’s in the zone too; bearing in mind that we’re asking him to do 18-20 rally stages in a week and he makes no mistakes, it just shows you how at the top of his game he is.
‘We also mentioned to him that we drove Nicky (Nicky Grist, former co-driver and DiRT 4 co-driver voice) into a few trees and off cliffs a few times to get the ‘reaction’ noises, and he couldn’t wait to have a go. We actually got Jon to sit next to him with a helmet on to do these – so Jon would drive him off the cliff and Phil would react to every bump and roll. Because Jon was there, after the car had stopped tumbling, he’d actually look over to Jon and say “are you OK?” – and it’s that level of realism that makes DiRT Rally 2.0 stand out so much.
‘As as a driver, when you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone, and we want it to feel real. Not robotic, not acted, but real – and with this, it is real. We use their equipment, we shake them around in the d-box, and the amount of stress we put upon them makes it real.’