Dirt Showdown [Interview] – Crafting destruction

20 May 2012  by   John Robertson
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With Dirt Showdown out later this week, we took the chance to sit down with producer Iain Smith and have a chat about the new route for the series and where the feature rests.
Read on for information about tweaks to the handling model, the importance of creating a party-like atmosphere for multiplayer and the where the original idea for Showdown came from.
Our full review of Dirt Showdon will be published towards the end of the week.
IncGamers: Where did the idea for a demolition derby-esque racer come from? It’s not what the Dirt series is known for…
Iain Smith: The idea has been in our minds for quite a long time. Essentially, we’ve always prided ourselves on our car damage simulations and because of that we implemented a demolition derby mode into Race Driver: Grid which, for the longest time, was the most played mode online. So, we could see people really liked that kind of idea.
Also, because of the damage modelling we’ve worked on we knew we could take things even further. In the past we’ve always used licensed cars which sometimes made it difficult for us to smash them up, due to the restrictions and red-tape with various manufacturers, so instead we’ve gone with fictional liveries that allows us to wreck the cars. Fictional liveries also help make the world feel like our own.
IG: Why brand this as a Dirt game? Why not give it a title of its own?
IS: Fundamentally this is a Dirt game; it’s grounded in reality, these kinds of events can and do happen in real life. Showdown is a branch off into the more action-focused elements of motorsport, which were there in Dirt before but not in such abundance, and that feels like a logical step for us.
We feel like the loyal Dirt audience will still get a lot out of this game, it’s visceral and instantly accessible and there’s depth to the Showdown Tour single player mode. Then there’s the universal appeal of the online modes and the party game aspects. We’re conscious of not cutting off our nose to spite our face by alienating our long-term fans, but we really feel Showdown is the right direction.
However, we didn’t want to be cautious with this game. We wanted to be very brash about it and give off that extreme sports message, and say that this is a balls-out, over-the-top racer.

IG: But you’re not abandoning the ‘traditional’ Dirt games and their rally focus?
IS: No, definitely not. Paul Coleman, our chief game designer on Dirt has worked on Showdown and is a rally driver himself, he is the biggest rally fan I’ve ever seen and his mind is very much set on producing Dirt 4 and making a game that will appeal to that hardcore audience. That will tick all of the boxes and go deeper into the rally experience and take what we’ve been able to do to the next level.
So, definitely, that’s on the way.
IG: With Dirt 3 the Ken Block influence was played up a lot. Have you incorporated those involved in these kinds of destruction/aggressive racing events in the development of Showdown?
IS: Yes, Ken has been involved again. Hoonigan mode is kind of like an extension of Dirt 3’s Gymkhana mode. Gymkhana 2.0, if you like. It’s a little more intuitive, it holds the player’s hand a bit more, and a lot of that has been designed alongside Ken Block’s influence. It’s an investment for him to get that Gymkhana message out there, so he’s always been onboard and is keen to continue.
Being able to take his advice in regards to the handling and the physics has been great.
IG: A more intuitive Gymkhana… does that mean ‘dumbed down’?
IS: No [laughs]. We looked at handling in a very specific way, so rather than dumb it down we feel we’ve made the entry level point more accessible while the higher tier control and difficulty settings still provide the hardcore challenge. Early levels can feel as though players are playing Dirt 3 with all the assists on, but as you unlock more cars they’re more difficult to handle but provide greater rewards when you master them.
Gymkhana is still the most skilled element of the game, but the entry level means that people that haven’t even heard of it can take part and enjoy it.

IG: Has that been the biggest design challenge, tweaking that handling model?
IS: No, there have been a lot of different challenges. One of the biggest issues was the AI because our programmers have essentially focused on point-to-point rally games in the past. For them to create AI which hunts out and destroys cars, while avoiding taking too much damage themselves, was a totally new challenge. Fulfilling that expected quality was difficult.
IG: Is it the exact same team as previous Dirt games? Have you brought anyone special in with more experience of this of kind racing game?
IS: We split the team out into different directions. We’ve got the ‘Inception’ team, which concentrate on research and development and investigate future projects and prototyping opportunities. Then we’ve got the ‘RaceNet’ team who are building the RaceNet servers which will be the online system that your Codemasters racing profile can exist on and link all future Codemasters racing titles.
On the core game side there’s the Dirt team and an as yet undisclosed new game team.
IG: In general, what is it that makes Codemasters so good at racing games? And lots of different kinds of racing games, at that.
IS: The secret would be out if I told you that! That’s a good question, though, and I really don’t know the answer to that.
One of the big advantages is that we’ve got a big central art team that can help on multiple projects and reuse information and share it across all projects. In terms of the teams themselves, they’re all incredibly dedicated to what they do.
When we bring staff into the studio we make sure that we have varied groups. For example, many of our car artists have worked for car manufacturers and have had real experience in working with CAD in designing actual vehicles. Then you’ve got people like me who are racing nuts and have been brought up on the sport. Racing and cars is really part of the company’s DNA.

IG: Often when someone describes a game as having an ‘immediate impact’, that can mean it suffers from a lack of long-term appeal. How have you tried to tackle that issue?
IS: The online is a big part of that, and the social aspect is something we’ve really pushed. All the different online modes can be played solo or as a team, that alone gives it a lot of longevity beyond the single player career.
I think the career will take you about 15 hours to finish, so there’s significant investment to be made there. Along with that there’s car upgrades that improve handling, power and strength, which is something we’ve not done before.
There are also challenges which you can send to your friends – if you’ve got a really good lap time, for example – and if they beat you then they will get awarded with cash. Plus, all cash is shared between single and online which brings the whole thing together and prevents the online feeling like a separate/throwaway element.
IG: You guys seem dedicated to splitscreen. Why are you including that in many Codemasters racing games, when other devs seem to be abandoning it?
IS: It goes back to that Mario Kart 64 thing, right? Being able to play with your friends huddled around the TV, that’s what we want to deliver.
I’ve read Tweets of people talking about the Showdown demo that said they’re going to be playing splitscreen multiplayer before heading down to the pub. That’s exactly what we’re aiming for, a way to have a good time with your mates easily. There’s nothing worse than getting home and seeing that every game you’ve got is either single player or only includes online multiplayer.
IG: And why is 360 exclusive to the PC edition?
IS: I believe it’s to do with the 60 frames per second that we aim for, and it wasn’t possible to achieve that along with 3D on consoles.

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