Lifting ingame dialogue as close to reality as possible
As the Dialogue Director, Olly Johnson from British video games developer “Codemasters” is responsible for making ingame speeches and discussions sound real. In our interview Olly tells us how professional ingame dialogue is being recorded, which video game has changed his life and how he got into the industry.
Johnson, who has been part of the Codemasters team for nearly two decades started as a sound designer in 2002, editing speech and recording cars for Rogue S on Playstation 2 and Xbox.
But his passion for video games developed even earlier. “I essen-tially ruined my grades in school by playing computer games. And games like Silent Hill really changed my life, because I realized what a huge role sound design plays in those games,” says the 41-year old. And already back then he knew about Codemasters’ existence and about the fact that they were near. “I saw an ad in the local newspaper where they were looking for testers and thought it would be the coolest job to work on computer games!”
Until today, Johnson never lets a day go by without thinking of having the coolest job in the world. And Codemasters grew massively as well. Today, the British company is one of the best known studios for developing racing games including DiRT and the official F1 series of video games. Since 2021, Codemasters is part of Electronic Arts which cost the mothership $1.2 billion.
Johnson now focusses especially on dialogue and moved away from the classic sound design of video games. “I always liked to work with people. So I naturally developed from pure sound design into the expertise of ingame dialogue,” he says. “But I do believe that I carried over a bit of the sound design aestetic to how I work today.” What shifted is the amount of preparation that his team is doing now for all projects. The hard work is always done before the recording sessions and to create the best environment for most realistic results.“So my job today is to get actors and speakers in a psychological position where they are not acting anymore,” says Johnson who loves podcasting in his free time. And with a lot of gamers switching from TV audio to headphones, the expectations and level of detail rise. “Especially in rally games, you need to have calls that are clear and precise. What is as important is the logic when implementing thousands of lines of dialogue. That is a big difference between games and film. Film is linear but in games you do not want to hear any repetition,” says Johnson. “We have always tried to develop games slightly differently. And especially nowa-days in rally games we are having co-driver calls as close to reality as possible.”According to Johnson, headphones changed the gaming experience massively allowing for more immersive audio where gamers can feel an obstacle passing close to their head.
But at the same time, Olly Johnson wants his ingame audio to be as authentic as possible - no artificial effects. “For DiRT Rally it was important to commit to the raw real sound and get as close to what a Rally driver hears as possible. By recording the sound directly out of a rally helmet, and using only a light touch in post-processing, we could be confident in our realism first approach.” With Sennheiser wireless equipment like the EK 6042 and evolution wireless G4 500, as well as Neumann studio monitoring and recording equipment at hand, Johnson’s daily job is “not dealing with technical limitations anymore. Microphones and studios are good now. We have reached a climax in getting warm and rich voices. But what is hard even to this day is to have an actor step into the role of a Formula 1 driver, and to have him talk and feel exactly like one to be authentic."