Friday, May 18, 2012

Preview: DiRT Showdown

DiRT Showdown is the “new dive in and drive” adrenaline rush of speed, style and destruction from the creators of the multi-award winning DiRT series.

There are three broad categories to DiRT Showdown’s stunning world of action-sport racing. Players will use nitrous to blast past rivals and negotiate courses filled with ramps, multiple routes and obstacles in racing events. Gaming’s most advanced damage engine is pushed to its limits in demolition derby events, where players smash and crash their way to victory in jaw-dropping, bone-jarring style. Finally, in Hoonigan events gamers can demonstrate their freestyle driving skill in huge free-roaming stunt parks with new accessible controls.

DiRT Showdown is Codemasters’ most connected game ever - split-screen multiplayer, eight player online racing, on and off-line quick-fire party games, and YouTube integration all come as standard. Players can also issue new ‘Showdown Challenges’ to compete with friends in on and off-line modes.

Players jump into a new world of arcade racing with pick up and play controls, speeding, tricking and smashing their way to ‘Showdown’ finals to compete against rivals in front of thousands of fans in a vibrant festival atmosphere.

In the career mode, globe-trotting Showdown players will travel from Miami to San Francisco, London to Tokyo and other famous locations earning the adulation of the crowd at hyper-energised, frenzied, unsanctioned race events. Over 50 different events across four championships challenge gamers in a variety of conditions – sun, snow, and rain - through the day and under the floodlights at night.

With an exciting mix of licensed and bespoke cars and powered by the EGO Game Technology Platform for phenomenal graphical performance and stunning damage, DiRT Showdown could well be the new standard for arcade driving delirium.

Codemasters’ Iain Smith, Associate Producer, and Mike Chapman, Senior Games Designer explain how this was achieved.

How does Showdown move the series forward?

IS - Whilst the game is grounded in reality and still has all of those key DiRT traits, Showdown actually contains lots of fundamentally new content. From the inclusion of the more aggressive destruction derby content such as 8-ball races and Rampage events to the inclusion of obstacles, split-routes and nitrous boost to the standard racing events. The whole complexion is quite different.

MC - As Iain has mentioned, DiRT Showdown will be offering something new in the series. From a game play perspective we’ve tried to really focus in on what will give players the most enjoyable experience. From the choice of vehicles, the overhauled handling model, the variety of modes, the inclusive multiplayer options and arguably even the music selection, we’ve endeavoured to put ‘fun’ at the very forefront of the game.

How did you involve the feedback of real drivers?
IS - We’ve made big improvements to how Gymkhana works, so much so that we’re rebranding that part of the game to Hoonigan Gymkhana to tie in with Ken Block’s lifestyle brand. To make sure we got that right, Ken was obviously involved in the development. We’ve made the various tricks; donuts, drifts, jumps and so on a little more intuitive for the player to pull off. In particular, our physics programmers have worked on a new ‘auto aim’ for donuts, which works fantastically well. It’s a real ‘play it to appreciate it’ mechanic.

How have you made everything more realistic?
MC - Since we were keen for DiRT Showdown to feature its own unique look and feel, we approached both the vehicles and tracks with this direction in mind. We’ve made huge improvements to our vehicle damage model to reflect the more destruction focused game play as well as offering a more pick up and play feel to the handling. In terms of our tracks and general visuals, it was important for us to really define the DiRT Showdown experience in terms of a festival atmosphere. Detailed skylines with fireworks, lasers, hot air balloons and flame bursts really make this game stand out of the crowd. Visuals aside, we’re also confident that our tracks offer an exciting game play experience too and our eclectic selection of vehicles certainly look fantastic but more importantly, they feel great to drive as well.

Has the garage of cars increased and how?
IS - We’ve included some of the most varied vehicle types ever in the DiRT series in DiRT Showdown. You’ll have licensed Hoonigan gymkhana vehicles to drift, donut and trick in, such as the Ford Fiesta HFHV and the Mini Gymkhana. These sit alongside our Race cars, which range from the Beliveau Gasser lowrider to the ultra-fast Lombardi 336LM. Finally, the most outlandish vehicle class is the Demolition class. There’s everything from an event-ready hearse to pickup trucks and tiny European hatchbacks. The choices of liveries and upgrade options are just as diverse – there’s definitely something for every kind of player out there.

What is the new accessible handling system?
IS – Fundamentally, the game is operating on an improved physics model from the same engine we used for DiRT3’s realistic rally handling. However, we’ve intentionally worked on this handling model a lot – focus testing, tweaking, making changes and testing again - to ensure that we have a handling model that allows players to get to grips with the game more quickly. We feel that there’s longevity for those fans who already know how to handle a DiRT game in the more rowdy, fast vehicles, but we wanted to make sure that less familiar gamers could also get into DiRT Showdown. For example, in the HOONIGAN gymkhana areas of the game, we’ve added a simple mechanic that allows players to aim their drifts more easily.

What's behind the launch of Codemasters Racing?
IS - Over the years the studio has built up a heritage and reputation for delivering really great racing titles. Now, with such diverse and strong teams within the company and the bandwidth to explore numerous new avenues within the genre, it made sense for us to make it our complete focus.

Will this label incorporate F1?
IS - Yes. All of our forthcoming games will be published on the Codemasters Racing label.

What is RaceNet and what will it mean for gamers?
MC - We envisaged RaceNet as an online hub for all Codemasters Racing fans that would encourage and support the sense of a wider community between players. One of the key goals was to offer unique and compelling content through RaceNet that would extend and add to the experience of our games. Players should expect a whole range of exciting features that are tailored for each individual release, all presented in a visually striking and highly polished style. It’s also important to mention that RaceNet is a free service and so will be adding real value to Codemasters Racing titles and more ways for players to enjoy their games.

How long was development?
IS - We began work on the title a little before we released DiRT3, sometime early in 2011. And whilst we usually bring people on and off of projects depending on the necessity to have them working on things, the main team for Showdown is around sixty to seventy developers.

What were the greatest development challenges?
IS - Some things were completely new, for example, the Racing Studio here in Southam were accustomed to programming circuit or rally-stage AI, never anything like the seek and destroy AI seen in the destruction modes - so that was a new challenge. We had to think about how AI drivers should plan attacks, avoid and defend and use the space in the arena, this type of thing. Getting that to the high quality level we did was a really big achievement.

MC - We knew at the start of development that we wanted to make DiRT Showdown the complete package. From our career mode, our expansive multiplayer options, our player challenges and all the connectivity through our new RaceNet service, we definitely faced a significant challenge in achieving it all with the same commitment to quality that the studio is known for. Thankfully, I’m happy to say that not only did we meet this goal; we all had such a great time in the process.

What are you most proud of?
IS - I really like the overall vibe of the game, although that’s a slightly intangible thing to say I’m proud of, it’s really the culmination of everything that went into making DiRT Showdown feel right. It’s a much more brash, over-the-top game. The combination of tongue-in-cheek liveries, wild car designs, more edgy, high-tempo music tracks and everything that went into presenting that outlandish, action-sports, festival or carnival atmosphere is really amazing.

MC – I’m extremely proud of the sheer variety that features in the game. We have a whole host of fun game types that not only offer an exciting experience when playing through the career mode, but also offer a compelling multiplayer experience when playing in split screen or online.

Will there be future DLC?
MC - We can’t rule anything out but we certainly have nothing planned for the time being. Indeed, we’re confident that the game already offers a significant amount of variety with all of our numerous game types and styles. Our plan is to offer a great deal of longevity through our RaceNet events, where players can unlock in-game rewards for taking part in weekly community events. We also expect our player challenges to be especially popular. These challenges allow players to send their best and times and scores to friends and therefore encourage a sense of active competition.

Will you launch a global Dirt challenge online?
MC - Players will definitely be seeing all kinds of global challenges through RaceNet after DiRT Showdown launches. In fact, we’ll be adding new DiRT Showdown features to RaceNet in the months following release so it’s definitely the place to go to look for the best competition.

*This article appears in the June issue of Charged Middle East.