INTERVIEW: SOUND DESIGNER KEVIN DEDOU

How would you define the job of sound designer at KT? Could you your role at Kylotonn?

It's a mixture of two things: I design all the sound aspects of the game, i.e. I create the sounds, integrate them into the engine and check that everything works, and I communicate a great deal with all the different trades.
And I'm associate lead sound designer on TDU.

When you say you create sounds, what does that mean?

It all depends on the sound: For cars it's a bit complicated because there are so many aspects, you can't just say "I'm creating the sound of such and such a car", you're going to talk about the sound of the engine, the transmission, the gearshift, the wheels, the drifts, the surfaces that change depending on where you are... all that corresponds to the experience of the car. There are elements that are common to everything, and things that are very specific, particularly the engine sounds. The basis of all our thinking is to encourage players to immerse themselves in the world and behind the wheel of their car.
For the ambient sounds, we'll use recordings, but always reworking everything : we won't simply take a 'forest' ambient sound and play it as such, but we'll take several recordings and mix them together. Once in the game, we've integrated them so that the sounds appear randomly, so that there are no repetitive effects and the pleasure of discovery is preserved. We know that players can sometimes stay in one place for hours, and we want them to enjoy staying in that same atmosphere, so the sound environment has to be rich. 

For other more general sounds, such as interface sounds, we create them ourselves using our synthesizers, generating sounds from waveforms and then transforming the signal with effects. That's the basic principle of sound design. And we do all this according to the artistic direction of the game. For example, in TDU we're working with fairly pure and elegant sounds, reminiscent of luxury, with bass sounds that have been altered very little, using sinusoidal waveforms. To explain, a sinusoid is the purest sound there is: what makes a sound 'rich' is the number of harmonics it contains. But the sinusoid contains only one! So we're going to use this sound a lot as a basis for design so that people feel the 'purity' of this sound. This helps us to evoke in audio the luxury and 'advanced technology' of TDUSC.

Synthesiser used to create sound designs. Here, a sinusoidal waveform.

How has KT implemented solutions to improve the sound, and what are they?

We've come a long way technically in recent years, particularly with the KT Engine. For example, for engine sounds, we work with 'granular synthesis', which is a type of sound synthesis that breaks up a sound into lots of tiny 'grains' (i.e. very small parts of an audio file), which we use in practice to be able to play an audio file in several directions in real time. This is very practical and relevant in a video game because the audio has to follow everything that's happening simultaneously with the rest of the game. And this has been quite complicated from a technological point of view in recent years.
We've developed a lot of tools that allow us to be more independent too. Before, to integrate the slightest bird sound, we had to ask a gameplay programmer. Today, we can be independent in most situations, and we save an incredible amount of time.

How do you create the sound of a car? Do you start from nothing, or from recordings?

First of all,we take a look at what's inside the car: what type of engine it is, what brand produced it...

Then we listen to a lot of car sounds, especially on Youtube, and we read a lot of the comments under these videos to see what people like best about this or that engine sound. It's all the more tricky because in real life, the sounds of supercars are often so loud and violent that they don't give the same impression as when recorded through a microphone. We also have to do a lot of work on how people feel about what they hear, to render it as effectively as possible in a video game.

Then we look to see if recordings of engine sounds already exist, or we organise recording sessions for cars that sound too distinctive. So we generally start with existing recordings and edit them: we take what interests us in the sound and try to embellish it with various effects (compression, saturation, filters, exciter, etc.). Now we're going to go into a bit more technical detail! In a film, you can take an image, put a sound over it and it more or less 'sticks'. In a video game, it doesn't work like that, because you have to follow everything that's happening in terms of physics. The game sends us lots of information, like the state of the car's engine, its number of revolutions per minute, whether the player is pressing hard on the accelerator or not, etc... And we have to adapt the sounds in real time using our audio integration tools.
To go into a little more detail, when we make an engine sound, we synthesise the acceleration and deceleration ramps (i.e. a recording that starts at the lowest engine revs and ends at the highest for acceleration and vice versa for deceleration) and we cut all this so that we can 'wander' through the recording as we wish according to the player's driving style. All this is achieved thanks to a powerful algorithm and a lot of case-by-case analysis depending on the engine.
And then there's electric cars. In real life, it's sound designers or even composers who create the sounds of cars, because they don't make any noise! Everything is completely artificial, using speakers. Incidentally, one of the sound software packages used in electric cars is often used in video games. And so, in the case of electric cars, we don't use recordings because the samples are not made available by the manufacturers. So we start from scratch and recreate everything using synthesizers and sampling. It's a really interesting job, with all the cars having their own personalities and distinctive sounds. 

In your opinion, is there anything that distinguishes the sounds of the cars in Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown from other games on the market?

We think we've gone in a slightly different direction to most open world car games at the moment: our aim is to create a personality for each car. We still have a lot of cars, but we're paying particular attention to the choice of recordings and the way we treat the sounds to make them unique! We're trying to strike a real balance between what you'd expect from a video game and what you'd expect from a realistic representation, and I think we've struck a very good balance.

On average, how long does it take for each car to produce an engine sound for the game?

It all depends! We get a V1 fairly quickly, but we often have to go over a car several times. I like to make a first version very quickly and then implement it in the game to get an overall feel before reworking the sound, because the dyna (editor's note: the way the car behaves in the game) has a huge impact on the sound environment and each car represents its own audio challenge. And I go back and forth a lot like that, it lasts about two weeks, I'd say. But it all depends on the car. On some cars we did 6 versions. Others took two months to do. It all varies. We are also in constant dialogue with some manufacturers, so they can give us their opinions and advice on the sounds of their vehicles. Note that we don't necessarily work in a very linear way, sometimes what we do on one car can help us with another (it gives us ideas for new audio treatments, for example).

We all know that the best graphics need a lot of power to work in a game. Is the same true for sound? Have you ever had a sound that was perfect but too demanding on the engine, for example?

We're much less affected than graphic designers in this respect. We have to be careful, of course, but we're pretty relaxed about what we can do, especially since PCs and consoles are generally more powerful these days. 

Can you tell us about your background?

I started doing sound when I was at college, mainly to produce music.It wasn't long before I wanted to work on the sound world of video games. I was enrolled at a conservatoire, mainly to play the piano, and I had the opportunity to enroll in a 'sound engineering' section. I did that for 4 years, and it was an introduction to digital audio production and the use of creative software. It gave me a lot of useful grounding for sound design.
When I left secondary school, I did a 3-year degree at ISART in sound design applied to video games. Those years were great for getting to grips with the creative tools specific to video games and discovering what game production is all about...
Then I did an internship in music composition, and when I finished my studies I was able to work on an investigation game at Ikigai, which generally produces educational games. And finally I joined Kylotonn 3 years ago!

What do you like the most about your job?

Being super versatile! We base our work on the WRC experience, but an open world imposes a lot of other constraints. We have to do everything, from interface and background sounds to car sounds and in-game integration, which is a bit like graphics programming. They're all very different tasks, and that means I never get bored!

What's your typical day like?

Like everyone else, we start with a DailyWe divide up the day's tasks, and then... it all depends! Either I have a specific design task that can take me several days to complete (design it, mix it, integrate it into the game and test it), or I do a few disparate tasks to fix this or that feature or problem. 

What qualities do you consider essential for your job?

I'd say listening to other people's suggestions and criticisms. We work as a team, we exchange a lot and we all need to learn from each other. When you can't do something, don't hesitate to ask. There aren't many of us in this job, and we need to help each other. This is especially true at Kylotonn, because we're working on a complex project at the moment: making a racing game, in the open world, in multiplayer, with technical constraints, complicated physics that constantly impact on the audio... that brings with it a huge number of constraints in terms of optimisation too. You're not allowed to do 'just anything' and you have to keep learning! In the end, the most important thing is to know how to adapt. 

What was your favorite project to work on?

Well... Test Drive Unlimited Solar Crown! For all the reasons I mentioned earlier. I really enjoy doing sound research, it's very satisfying to go from the theoretical moment when you have the idea, to the moment when it's integrated and everything works.

Which TDUSC sounds are you most proud of so far?

It's hard to choose, but I'd say the Audi TT, just for the time it took me! For a long time, we couldn't find a clean recording of this engine, so I used a source from a V10: it's not the same type of engine at all, but given that there are 5 cylinders in the Audi, well... a V10 is just twice as big! So the harmonic interval relationships in the audio spectrum are broadly the same. After reworking it, I ended up with a great sound that's very similar. I spent a lot of time iterating on it, struggling to find a recording that fitted and sounded right, and today it's one of the ones I'm most proud of!

November 13, 2023