Colin McRae: Dirt 2 was a successful racing game back in 2009, but according to some hardcore racers its outspoken party style was maybe a bit too laid-back or casual. What was your main focus or leading idea when building Dirt 3?
The first thing we did was to listen to the feedback from all of the fans. We then looked at the telemetry data from people playing Dirt 2. We quickly concluded that bringing Rally back in a big way was very important to the success of Dirt 3. That said it was also important for us to keep the series relevant so the introduction of Gymkhana has given us something new and will give players a fantastic discipline in which they can hone their driving skills and actually feed those skills back into the classic disciplines like Rally and Rallycross.
This time you have added many new locations. What was the process like when choosing these locations and going from an idea to actual, playable tracks?
For Dirt 3 we looked at real rally locations that are interesting and exciting as well as holding a special place in the fans hearts. For our other disciplines we have found locations that are exciting but may not be the first place you would go and hold a race event in the real world.
In terms of process we send a team of level designers and artists to each location and they take tens of thousands of research photos while they experience the environment first hand. They then come back to the studio and the level designers create routes through these real environments. This way we can ensure that the gameplay feels right before the artists turn those white-box environments into the realistic worlds that you see in game. Once art have finished the track it then comes back to level design so that they can make sure that the track has retained its playability and so that they can put the important gameplay features in such as grid slots and reset lines.
For us, Finland and Norway are obviously a pleasant addition. But in your opinion, what's unique and interesting in these Nordic locations?
The sheer speed of Finland is for me what gives it its intensity. It is set in a beautiful part of the world but in reality you are travelling so fast through the stages that it would be foolish to try and take in the scenery. I love the way we have represented the fast crests, jumps and corners in the 1000 lakes region.
Norway was very important for us. We have reintroduced snow for the first time in the Dirt series and many will say that it is about time. The sensation of driving a rally car through the technical stages and that gamble of touching a snow bank has really been captured and I think the fans will really appreciate the effort we have put in.
If you then add the addition of weather effects and different times of day (including night stages) we are now offering players an unprecedented amount of variety as they race through these environments.
In Dirt 2 there was a world tour which you conquered in the career mode. Could you outline the career structure in Dirt 3?
The Dirt Tour takes place over four seasons. Each season has four championships and within each championship are a series of events. As you progress through the game the events will become longer and more intense. The ultimate goal is to win the SuperSeries Final at the end of season 4. Along the way you will get to go to the Gymkhana Academy at Battersea and compete in the X Games and Winter X Games but these are special events. The main bulk of the career is made up of a lot of Rally and plenty of the other disciplines that fans of the series will be familiar with. Finally, World Tours make a return however this time performing well in a specific discipline throughout your career will gain access to the events. If you love Rally you'll find that you unlock the Rally World Tour quite early on in your career.
The new trick-based Gymkhana discipline has been promoted a lot, but if you are an old-school rally fan and want to build your career around standard rally, can you do that?
We want players to try Gymkhana so we send them to the Gymkhana Academy where they are shown the ropes by Ken Block. There is however enough Rally Events in the game to make sure that a player that is absolutely committed to Rally can spend the majority of their time in the game competing in Rally Events. One of our key focuses is choice and we don't like forcing the player to do anything however because the skills learnt in Gymkhana translate directly to those used in Rally I think it is fair to expect the player to try it out a little bit.
Moving on to multiplayer and online features, what's new in this regard?
We were pretty happy with the way the online worked in Dirt 2 so we decided to build on those foundations. The first thing we did was introduce a two stage veto system for Pro Tour so that players get more say in the type of race they are about to enter. We then looked at a way of giving hardcore players a section of the game that they could really get into so we created Hardcore mode. This puts players in Cockpit Cam, removes all the On Screen Display, turns damage up to the maximum and removes all our driver assists. This is a very intense form of racing and for many of us in the studio it is one of the best online experiences. We've also improved our Impact Rating feature and tied it into the rewards system so drivers who are clean will get better rewards at the end of a race than those who have been ramming other players.
Last but not least we have our Party Modes. These are a great way for players to have fun in cars away from the intensity of pure racing. They are great to just pick up and play and while we have scoring systems that works out who the winner is it really doesn't matter, it is more about having fun and hooning around.
How have the driving physics and damage evolved since Dirt 2?
We have been able to refine and evolve the vehicle handling in Dirt 3 so that we can better represent weight shift. This has come about from a change in the way we model the suspension geometry and it means that the centre of mass is now positioned more realistically. This improvement has the biggest impact in Rally and Gymkhana as it allows the player to set the car up for corners and tricks. This development has actually made the handling more challenging so to help newcomers out we have introduced a series of driver assists that will guide players into the Dirt experience. The assists will help players drive but they will not make them faster because we want players to feel the urge to turn the assists off as they gain confidence.
New track types such as snow obviously add visual variety, but have you been able to push the hardware further and also make graphical improvements, allowing more detail? Are there any extra enhancements if you play with a high-end DirectX 11 graphics card on PC?
We have the following features in Dirt 3. Motion Blur, Tone Mapping/HDR, Lens Flare, Digital Distortion and Depth of Field. We also have Dynamic Interactive Water (i.e. dynamic ripples as you drive through) and High Quality Cascaded Shadows. For night stages only, we have fully dynamic deferred lights. We use tessellated deformable snow for deeper off racing line snow. We have used some of these features of these before but we are always improving the Graphical fidelity as the hardware improves.
For DirectX 11 only we have Screen Space Ambient Occlusion and Contact Hardening Shadows. For PC only we have 3D support provided by DDD. They are are taking our game and providing 3D support through the latest AMD graphics cards.
Could you tell us about your DLC plans?
I can tell you that we have strong plans for DLC but I can't go into any specifics at this stage. We know that DLC increases the lifespan of a product and we want to make sure that fans of the series get new content that keeps them playing Dirt 3 and keeps the experience fresh. Concrete plans will be revealed in the near future but this is by far the strongest DLC offering Codemasters have ever produced.
Finally, Dirt 3 is - at least in Europe - the first in the series without Colin McRae's name. Can you explain why you left the legend behind?
We spoke with Colin's family and came to the conclusion that the time was right to stop using his name. Colin's ethos still exists through everything we do. The design decisions we make are instilled with the way Colin lived and drove. One of his most famous quotes; "If in doubt, flat out!" rings true throughout the game. We still have a great selection of Colin's cars and we represent the Colin McRae Vision Charity in the game so we feel that Colin's inspiration is still very much part of the game.