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DiRT 3 Interview

13 Apr 2011  by   Paul Younger

With DiRT 3 now just around the corner, we chat with Lead Designer Paul Coleman and Car handling Designer Tim Dearing about what we can expect as well as try to get a feel for the process behind the game’s creation.
IncGamers: DiRT 3 features a lot of different modes, is there a chance that you’ve tried to cover too many bases and stretched yourself too thin?
Paul Coleman: I think that, because we’ve been making rally games for so long now, we’ve gotten very good at doing what we do and we always build upon each of the modes that we’ve included. The new Gymkhana mode was a really big focus for us, so that was something we put a lot of energy into – and the new Party Modes have been developed from that. Once we got Gymkhana up and running, and the handling model was dialled in, that gave us a great platform from which to build further game modes.
In career mode you’ve got the option of competing in quick 30 to 40 second challenges using the Gymkhana cars but you’ve also got the option of playing online with your friends in the party modes. We’ve done rally modes well in the past and I think this has been a good return to that, and that was really just a case of taking elements we already had and dialling them in as best we could.

IG: Do you think there’s still a place in the market for a racing game focused entirely on traditional rally elements?
PC: There probably is but we’re trying to reach an audience that’s bigger than just the core rally fans. We don’t want to do rally fans any kind of injustice and we think that rally fans will be able to enjoy our rally modes but, we also want to introduce them to the other aspects of off-road races.
For example, Rally Cross is born from traditional rallies and Gymkhana has been described by Ken Block as his way of practising for tarmac rallying. All of our modes are relevant, we’re not throwing game modes into the game for the sake of it.
IG: Gymkhana seems to be focused much more on precision and being able to handle the car with much more control than you’re expected to achieve when playing the standard game modes. Is there any difference between handling models across different game modes?
Tim Dearing: The handling model is the same throughout the whole game, but we do tailor it to different cars in different ways. So for Gymkhana, as it’s multiplayer orientated, we need to make it fairly accessible so that you feel as though you can learn how to the handle the car without too much effort. Whereas for other modes, like WRC, we can approach them more as a simulation because they’re very focused.
PC: The key thing here is that the physics engine is the same. The cars have been put together using over 400 parameters, which gives us the ability to make sure that the cars have the attributes they need to have in order to represent the different disciplines.

IG: Has the technology moved on much since DiRT 2?
PC: We’re constantly improving it. The suspension model allows you to drive the car in a much more realistic way as it allows you to throw the car from side to side and really feel the weight shifting across the chassis. You can use that to your advantage in Gymkhana, for example, to get around a lap-post.
If you look at the way a rally driver drives, they’re throwing the car from side-to-side before they arrive at a corner because they know the weight shifts across the chassis will allow them to navigate that corner better. That’s what stands rally out from a lot of other motorsports where it’s more about keeping grip and living on the edge.
IG: You’ve mentioned in the past that the rain generation system you’re using for DiRT 3 has been taken from F1 2010. Is there much in the way of resource sharing between the Codemasters racing studios?
PC: Definitely. We’ve also got the Monaco harbour in DiRT 3 which also came from the Formula 1 game. We took all the environment, the buildings and the surrounding area but created our own rally tracks to allow for head-to-head racing and Gymkhana sessions. Having another team of guys making another really strong racing game gives us that extra strength to allow us to build our engine up, share technologies, it’s an ongoing process of sharing and communication.

IG: How do you go about tuning each car to make sure it feels as close to real thing as possible?
TD: We’ve done two main track days; we drove rear-wheeled rally cars, like the Ford Escort, as well as WRC cars so we could get a feel for ourselves how the cars handled and try to replicate that in the game.  Aside from the research we did ourselves, rally drivers like Kris Meeke gave us stats and tips as to how their cars actually feel. It’s then just a case of bringing it all together and making it work in the game.
PC: I think the key thing is that it’s quite difficult to get access to certain cars because the owners are quite precious about them. It’s our audio engineers that get close to the cars a lot of the time because they’re the ones given the access to wire in their microphones. Whenever we can get into the rally cars the [handling team] will go out and experience it firsthand. The closer we can get, obviously the more realistic and accurate we can make the cars.
IG: Is each car locked into specific modes or can you use whichever car you like on all game modes? Can a rally car be used (or even customised to work on) a Gymkhana arena, for example?
PC: That’s something we looked at early on during development but we really wanted to make sure each car was balanced correctly and was accurate to the mode it was designed for. We didn’t want to compromise anything in that regard. It’s something we might consider in the future because a skilled driver could use a rally car on a Gymkhana course even though it may be more difficult to do so.
The main thing for DiRT 3 was to make it focused and make sure that when you’re doing Gymkhana it feels like Gymkhana and when you’re doing Rally Cross it feels like Rally Cross.
IG: How does the Gymkhana scoring system work? How do you differentiate your performance from the rest of the crowd?
PC: We’ve got five main trick types: smash, jump, drift, donut and spin. Each one of these is scored based on the object you’re ‘tricking’ through, around or under. Tricks have a maximum score associated to it so, for a drift, you have to go sideways as quickly as possible through a drift gate to achieve the maximum score. For a spin you need to stay within the spin zone and circle it a certain number of times.
It’s important to get into the trick as quickly as possible to maximise your score. So, for example, a really good driver will get into a donut really quickly, which allows them to get out of it more quickly and go to perform another trick while their friend is still struggling to find that donut ‘sweet spot’.
On top of that you’ve got multipliers which are rewarded for stringing tricks together and allow you to get some really big scores.

IG: Seeing as how Gymkhana is based around self-expression and personal style, did you ever think about including a course creator?
PC: Yeah, the first thing you want to do when you see Gymkhana is to make your own track but, with the time we had available, we needed to look at what we could do well and make those elements as strong as possible. The best thing we could do was to create a great Gymkhana environment and then use our level designers to make as many different variations to fit different game modes and different play styles as possible.
Battersea Power Station, for example, is a very strong location to use for this sort of thing. We’ve fictionalised certain areas but we’ve tried to stick to reality as much as possible and I think it’s worked really well and it’s something we definitely want to build on in the future. A level creator is something we’re still looking at and we want to push our technology as far as possible but, as with all of our games, it needs to be of a very high standard before we’re willing to take that step and include it in the final product. If it’s not of a high enough quality then it’s not going in.
IG: Are the game’s locations all based on real-life tracks/places?
PC: Every location is real. For all of our tracks we take research photos and then the level designers put those tracks together with the help of our artists. Aspen is a really good example of a real-world location; the track is set in the shadow of Buttermilk Mountain, which is where the Winter X-Games take place but there’s been no rally driving there before – it was suggested that X-Games might incorporate some this year but they didn’t.
What we ended up doing was to create a rally course whereby you start off in the centre of a half-pipe before going off your separate ways and meeting back at the top of half-pipe. There are a number of tracks in there that have a grounding in reality but we’ve used our level design talent to make sure that they feel right, play right and give the gamer the best possible experience.
 

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