Dirt Rally was a major hit for Codemasters, helping them regain their stature and come out of the funk of a difficult transition to modern consoles and a new game engine. Dipping their toes in with an Early Access release, it grew and validated that there was a major audience there for Codies to target that wanted a more simulation racer than the arcade vibe of Dirt 3, Dirt Showdown and other games.
Dirt 4 took some of that on board, but with Dirt Rally 2.0, they’re again speaking directly to those fans that want a simulation rally game. Having gone hands on with the game, we sat down with Ross Gowing – Chief Game Designer – and Jon Armstrong – Rally Consultant – to see how the game is evolving.
TSA: So… why does the game title look like a patch number? [laughs]
PR: Oooh, that’s a tough starting question there!
Ross Gowing: So if you cast your mind back all the way to Colin McRae 2.0…
TSA: Ah, yes, of course.
Ross: Yeah, we wanted to make a nod to that with the 2.0. It kind of bubbled up with feedback on our community forums with guys doing their ideal box art, and it all came together nicely!
TSA: Slightly more seriously, what was the reason for doing Dirt Rally, as opposed to Dirt 5 or continuing the main series in a way?
Ross: So our sim audience was super vocal about what they wanted, and they were very clear that they wanted Dirt Rally content, Dirt Rally cars, more Dirt Rally. The phrase ‘throw money at the screen’ got brought up quite a lot!
So we wanted to give them the game that they wanted and that so many people in the studio loved making. That’s why now, really.
TSA: It is interesting because Dirt Rally did feed into Dirt 4 and you have the simulation handling option. Why didn’t that scratch the itch for people in the same way?
Jon Armstrong: I think for the simulation based players, they wanted something that was a bit more authentic and Dirt 4 they found the cars were set up to be a bit safe, potentially. Now we’ve gone back to the Dirt Rally roots which is pure simulation handling. We just felt that with the amount of people on the forums asking for more content for Dirt Rally, we could bring them 2.0.
TSA: That must be interesting from your point of view, Jon. Is this the first game that you’ve been full time on?
Jon: Yeah, it’s the first time I’ve been in the game industry at all, so it’s all very new to me and I’m learning very quickly. It’s a great process and I’m learning how games are made, the amount of people that are involved and the amount of resources that you need. I don’t think the public realise just how much it takes.
I’m glad to see the input that I’m putting in is improving the game in a positive way, so it’s something that I’m proud of.
TSA: It must be a bit different having a fan coming in house, as well. Obviously, a very well informed fan as a real world rally driver, but a fan nonetheless.
Ross: [laughs] It’s brilliant having Jon in the studio every day and he ticks so many boxes for us. He’s got the real life experience, he’s got the esports experience, and actually works really hard, so from my point of view that’s brilliant!
We all sit in the same bay – the game design team and Jon – so any idea we have, any thought or refinement we want to make, we can run it through Jon really quickly to make sure it accurately represents something.
For example, the other day he came to me because he’d noticed that one of our marshal signs was slightly inaccurate based on what he’d seen at his last event, so even going all the way down to little things like that, it’s great to be able to get that accurate straightaway.
TSA: I can just imagine you’re overworked and frustrated, you slam a fistful of papers on the desk and shout “We’re going with 2015 rules, Jon! None of this 2018 nonsense, I don’t want to hear it!”[laughter]
TSA: So where have the real points of change and improvement come from in 2.0?
Ross: So the interaction between tyre and loose surface is something that we’ve gone to town on really, the amount of work that our handling and simulation team have put into that has been incredible and it’s been a continual validation loop with Ryan [Champion], Jon and Oliver [Solberg] as well.
Jon: And the community…
Ross: Yeah, and the community, with the community builds that we’ve been putting out. We’ve explained to them which tyre compound they’re using in which scenario. That’s really been our headline feature.
Our physics guys have also been back through it, down to the nuts and bolts, to be honest. Everything they had set up for Dirt Rally and then everything they learnt through Dirt 4 and back to Dirt Rally again, it all comes together. The handling feels evolved from Dirt Rally, it’s serious, but there’s a noticeable evolution there for players.
TSA: Has that all tied into the locations that you’ve picked this time around? You’ve got six of them, and you’ve announced Argentina, which has got quite a lot of loose stuff!
Ross: Yes, there really is! Argentina’s a good one, New Zealand, Poland and Australia are what we’ve got for loose surfaces. It was making sure they felt spot on, because the difference you feel between a surface in Poland which is incredibly fine, against Argentina which is incredibly heavy, we wanted to make sure that players were able to feel the differences between those two as well. So yeah, that combines very nicely.
TSA: Have you gone and done on location testing, or have you just sent this fella [Jon]?
Ross: Well he’s done all the real life driving we would ever need! But no, we have…
Jon: It’s interesting because some of the locations we have I’ve done that rally and that actual stage we base it on in real life, so it’s quite surreal for me that I’m driving down a stage that I’ve done and I can give them as much feedback on what it should feel like and what it should look like. Even saying that the fence on this corner is not in the right place, and they should change it or more it…
TSA: Again, it’s the 2015 rules! We already covered this! [laughs]
Jon: But it’s the small details that make a big difference overall!
Ross: [laughs] We think that’s one of the things that does set us apart from anyone else is that attention to detail and making sure the environments feel alive and accurate.
But yeah, going back to what you asked, there are other guys around the studio who have been out on their field trips, so to speak. […] Jon gets to do the best ones in the R5 class and the rest of us are stuck tooling around in whatever’s lying around as well.
TSA: One thing that I’m curious about is how much you’re going to go into trying to get players up to speed with sim racing. That is one thing that driving games have to do with racing lines, but is there anything in particular that you do because of the sim handling?
Ross: We have to strike a careful balance, because there are very experienced guys in the community don’t want any handholding in the game at all. We’ve got the historic front wheel drive cars such as the Mini and the Abarth…
Jon: There’s the Golf now.
Ross: Yeah, though the Golf is slightly more powerful. We’ve got starter cars in the game, essentially, so that people can get to grips with things in a lower speed front wheel drive set up.
We do also have plans for Jon to do a bunch of real life drive tutorials to be released via our social media channels, where he can explain to people the techniques he’s using to get people up to speed. Obviously not his speed, but to get them up to a bit of speed! [laughs]
TSA: Beyond 60mph!
And looking to the future of the game, it’s a big change from Early Access for the first Dirt Rally. You’ve got the full game launch next year and then post-release, so what can you say about plans for DLC?
Ross: So, we know what we want to do for the first six months and people who pre-order the game will, if you buy the Super Deluxe Edition…
TSA: Is that what it’s actually called?
Ross: I think so, yes? Or one of the PR guys will probably come running in and correct me…
But that contains stages Stages or Seasons one and two, which is the first six months of content.
TSA: Seat of your Pants Edition. That would be a good one.
Ross: Ha! That would be good… [To Jon] Write it down!
So we’ve an idea for what we want to do beyond that first six months, and then it’s up to seeing how players engage with that and if they like it. If they do, then we’ll follow through on the rest of our plans.
TSA: I like that the community get to feed into post-launch and have that input into what’s going into the game, as well as pre-launch with the community.
Ross: Yeah, and in terms of features for the game we have our ears to the ground in terms of what the community actually want, so if there’s big demand for a feature or an adjustment, we can absolutely respond to that and get it out there post-launch.
TSA: Finally, along these lines, VR?
Ross: It’s another demand-based question, really. Obviously it’s a significant undertaking. We’re super proud of what we achieved with VR in the first Dirt Rally, but yeah, it comes down to what players want. Do they want us to use our time doing that, or do they want other game features? We’ll listen to what they say.
TSA: I think that, especially on consoles, that’s something people do want because there is a surprising lack of VR racing games on PSVR. I want it anyway!
Ross: I’ll mark that down as one vote for yes. [laughs]
Thanks to GUY and Jon for chatting to us about Dirt Rally 2.0. You can catch our hands on impressions here. The game is heading for release on PS4, Xbox One and PC on 26th February 2019.