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Why Do Racing Games Sound Weak? |

Many of you know that I enjoy racing games, probably more than most on here, and I also enjoy some real racing. One thing I have noticed over the years of gaming, even in the current generation, is that racing games seem to not have caught up to the quality of the video department in terms of sound. Sure, most of them are getting better, but overall, the sounds of a racing game are still pretty weak.

Some probably wouldn’t agree with me, and say that the cars (and the game as a whole) sound nearly perfect (especially in more simulation-oriented games). That would depend on the kind of cars you race, how high your volume is, and whether or not you have a muffler on your race car. What’s missing is the “throatiness” of the cars. There isn’t nearly as much low-end as there should be, especially for race cars.

I, myself, am a big fan of the older American muscle cars. And with that, I’m also big on performance. If you’ve ever been to the drag races, or even a NASCAR event, you know how loud it is, and that’s because most race cars run an open exhaust (which means that the exhaust is basically just a pair of headers running off of the block; no catalytic converters or mufflers). For an older car, we should be getting much closer to this:

Even stock, these types of cars still aren’t getting the low end sound they should be (my truck is slightly above stock, but has a muffler and can still cause car alarms to go off). With lossless and HD audio available now, we should be able to expect even more than this, especially from PS3 games (since most private videos of races usually rely on the camera’s microphone and on TV, they dumb it down there, too). Of course, most AAA racing games on the PS3 have been multiplatform, save for Gran Turismo 5. Will GT5 bring the low-end of the sound of these cars to light, or, at least, give the option to do so?

One thing I’ve been disappointed with racing games in general is the lack of being able to run open exhaust, which creates more power due to less back pressure (but not so much less that the car loses pressure). Without going into detail, think of back pressure like blowing out of different size straws. Thin straws are hard to breathe through, and a large diameter straw causes the air to flow without restriction (but you can tell you lose too much pressure on larger ones and lose flow because of it; you want a steady stream of optimal pressure).

Oh yeah, forgot, this is a gaming blog haha. But seriously, Forza 3 probably has come the closest so far, as you can see from this video:

But, it’s still missing the growl. You can probably get it to work real well with the volume up pretty high, but on lower volume listening levels, it’s kind of disappointing since at that level, the sound isn’t noticeable and with that, the exhaust sounds really weak. Not everyone can have their sound systems blaring (I have a 7.1 setup with DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD and it sounds a-freaking-mazing on blu-ray movies; we need that kind of awe in the sound department from video games as well).

Then you have the tire screeching. On that subject, people are always complaining about the Gran Turismo “ghost scream” tires, which are definitely irritating (just watch this video here), but Forza 3’s sounds about the same, but on a lower octave (compare with the Charger drift video above). Of course, Forza 3 does do a decent job of capturing the sound, but what about after a burnout, with the loud chirp after you gain traction? What about taking a tight corner, and you can hear variations in the tire sliding on treaded street tires (which has like a wobbling, low screeching sound)?

There’s also the small nuances we’re missing out on (which would be something HD audio could excel at). The sound of wind being one of them (GT4 actually did OK with this one). If a track has wind, you should be able to hear (and maybe feel) the wind rushing up against the side of the car with directional sound. Another nuance? Track sounds. For the most part, the only time we get the subtle sounds from the track is when we hit those little speed bumps or go off-track (or race on rally tracks). On asphalt, you don’t hear much/any road noise at all. We should be able to hear random pieces of small debris, etc bouncing up and hitting the underside of the car, or the sound of the tires gripping the road itself, maybe even the sound of vibrating metal if you damage the car (I don’t mean the engine knocking, either; i mean loosened panels, etc).

If developers can pick up on these kinds of things, then it would definitely make for a much more engaging and immersive racing experience. The only thing I wonder is, though, is it because they don’t feel that the subtlety of the other sounds are necessary and the low end of the exhaust isn’t needed or because the audio capture doesn’t pick up the sound (which I doubt, since the first video I posted had plenty of low-end for a camcorder), or because the consoles themselves don’t have the resources to reproduce accurate sound down to the most minute detail?

If that’s the case, then the PS3 should definitely be able to, but given the videos of Gran Turismo 5, I’m thinking that the sound design will still be put on the back burner, because I don’t really hear anything that sounds any different from Gran Turismo 4, so I’m under the impression that they aren’t putting as much effort into the sound design as they are the visual detail, and because of that, I feel that other racing games may be exceeding Polyphony on that front. And despite the lack of full sound replication in any racing game, Forza 3 has the best sound design so far (and I commend them for that).

  • Royalty32

    Racing games are weak. Well the sim racing games. Now games like burnout, blur(which is AMAZING) and split second seem fun cuz of this arcadiness feelin. Nobody wants to play perfect to win. We wanna go fast and things be all chaotic. Not all racing games suck just the ones that make u think about ur next turn.

  • Jay

    did you even read the article? This is about sound design, not gameplay. And I, myself, enjoy racing sims 😛

  • I couldn’t agree more with your post Jay. This has been in the back of my mind for a long time. I’m a fan of muscle cars as well. They have never really fully captured the “real” rumble of a muscle car. Just sorta ….

    I love rotary engines (Rx-7), and no game has really captured that unique sound either. You have covered all the points I’d like to see “upgraded” in the racing genre. Great post!

  • I think studios like Poly Digital focus more time on making the cars look super realistic and forget to add the defining sound of the indiviuals models.

  • TheRealMaxPower

    The funny thing is most of the sims record car sounds and use them for the game. Maybe they mix it down as TVs can’t reproduce bass all that well. Maybe they will include a separate sound selection for people who have good systems.

    How did prologue sound? Hopefully they can get it right with the full game. I have spent a fortune on my sound system and really appreciate using it to it’s fullest extent. Gaming sound design leaves a lot to be desired with many games. With GT5 in development for this long, they definitely have the time to get it correct.

  • Jay

    @TheRealMaxPower: and yeah, I think, in response to your first part, you’d be right about mixing it down for TV reproduction, so I totally agree with making it a selectable option. A lot of games have Hi-Fi and surround options, but its the same quality sound found on stereo really. They should have the options blu-ray has, where one disc has the standard 2.1 and 5.1, etc, as well as DTS-HD and/or TrueHD. They have the disc space to do so, after all.

  • FerrariThug

    Didn’t read the passed the Forza video

    but I completely agree with you.

    I feel like (in the Prologue) the Ferrari F430 (car that has one of the best engine tones) has a very low tone and it needs to be more higher pitched.

    I hope GT5 just blows my mind away with the sound

  • We’ll have to give GT5 the benefit of the doubt (is that correct English?)

    If GT5 comes out without a real roar I’d be dissapointed. Altough in recent past polyphony digital has been boasting about all the unique sounds coming from the real thing.

    I just wonder what kind of engine sounds they record.

  • Royalty32

    Yea my bad yall, didnt read the post at all. Sorry!

  • Jay

    SL33PY: We’ll have to give GT5 the benefit of the doubt (is that correct English?)If GT5 comes out without a real roar I’d be dissapointed. Altough in recent past polyphony digital has been boasting about all the unique sounds coming from the real thing.I just wonder what kind of engine sounds they record.  

    I think they get the raw sound, and as TRMP put it, mix it down so replication on the TV won’t be compromised in some cases, but given the popularity and capabilities of modern surround sound, there’s no excuse for the weak sound design anymore.

  • Bianchi90

    I agree with this article, the car sounds are definitely weak. Look at the Ferrari F2007 & F10 on GT5. They don’t sound anywhere near the actual cars. They sound very high pitched like a whipper snipper, and Ferrari F1 cars usually have a way deeper more amazing sound. Is there a program around so you can record the proper sounds like rfactor and try to change the sounds to make it more realistic?

  • seinbeans