Digging in a Little Deeper into the DiRT

I talked in depth with Paul about what DiRT Rally brings to the genre

Over the past few weeks I have had the chance to play the early access "DiRT Rally" title from Codemasters.  This is a much more simulation based title that is currently PC only, which is a big switch for Codemasters and how they usually release their premier racing offerings.  I was able to get a hold of Paul Coleman from Codemasters and set up a written interview with him.  Paul's answers will be in italics.

Who are you, what do you do at Codemasters, and what do you do in your spare time away from the virtual wheel?

Hi my name is Paul Coleman and I am the Chief Games Designer on DiRT Rally. I’m responsible for making sure that the game is the most authentic representation of the sport it can be, I’m essentially representing the player in the studio. In my spare time I enjoy going on road trips with my family in our 1M Coupe. I’ve been co-driving in real world rally events for the last three years and I’ve used that experience to write and voice the co-driver calls in game.

If there is one area that DiRT has really excelled at is keeping frame rate consistent throughout multiple environments.  Many games, especially those using cutting edge rendering techniques, often have dramatic frame rate drops at times.  How do you get around this while still creating a very impressive looking game?

The engine that DiRT Rally has been built on has been constantly iterated on over the years and we have always been looking at ways of improving the look of the game while maintaining decent performance. That together with the fact that we work closely with GPU manufacturers on each project ensures that we stay current. We also have very strict performance monitoring systems that have come from optimising games for console. These systems have proved very useful when building DiRT Rally even though the game is exclusively on PC.

How do you balance out different controller use cases?  While many hard core racers use a wheel, I have seen very competitive racing from people using handheld controllers as well as keyboards.  Do you handicap/help those particular implementations so as not to make it overly frustrating to those users?  I ask due to the difference in degrees of precision that a gamepad has vs. a wheel that can rotate 900 degrees.

Again this comes back to the fact that we have traditionally developed for console where the primary input device is a handheld controller. This is an area that other sims don’t usually have to worry about but for us it was second nature. There are systems that we have that add a layer between the handheld controller or keyboard and the game which help those guys but the wheel is without a doubt the best way to experience DiRT Rally as it is a direct input.

What has been done with the incoming Force Feedback patch as compared to what was initially implemented?  How does this implementation affect things like CPU resources vs. the old?  Memory footprint?  New hooks into the physics engine?

I’m starting to sound like a bit of a stuck record here but the way we had implemented the FFB at launch was a legacy system that we had been using for our console games. This is an example where that legacy system was not up to the standard that people expected with a PC simulation game and we had a lot of feedback telling us that that is the case. In a nutshell:

As a result the Force Feedback system has been re-written. Forces are now separated into force and friction to make better use of device API and this removes the inverted feeling that some users were experiencing. FFB sampling has been improved as part of the re-write and this supported by both controller and wheel devices.This coupled with more options to refine your setup and a calibration wizard means that this should give the fans the experience they have been asking for.

What are you doing to further improve the Eyefinity and Surround experiences?  I notice that in some cars with the “through windshield view sans wheel and hands” that the view is not exceptionally beneficial or accurate.  For example, in a certain Lancia car I feel like I am low-riding my seat and barely peering over the dash.  What adjustments can be made?

We added the dashboard view to allow players to experience the cockpit without having the restricted view. We also added some adjustment to the Field of View but it’s clear that people want more adjustment. We are investigating a bunch of stuff to help with this including allowing players to adjust their seat position.

One thing that really struck me was watching the benchmark with sound turned on.  The switch from viewpoint to viewpoint had a dramatic change in sound position, occlusion, and reverb.  Can you describe what you have done with the sound engine and how important that is to the racing experience?

The most obvious change is from exterior into cabin view. We’re treating the sound as it is treated in real life, the engine and exhaust emit from their respective sources on the car, as do the surface sounds from the ground. We then filter these sounds when in cabin view and apply an impulse response of a rally car. This is a recording of the internal space that the sound moves around in inside the car. Much like the echo in a bathroom, but we can design and control how much echo we need.  We also apply the same principal in exterior locations. We have impulses responses of wooded areas where we can dynamically mix the reverb depending on how many trees are surrounding the vehicle.

Cheating has always been an issue, and DiRT 2 was notorious for the top daily challenges being all cheaters.  What have you done to improve this situation?

We’ve got a number of systems in place to prevent cheaters that we didn’t have back in the day with DiRT2. I’m not going to go into detail with how they work because I wouldn’t want to compromise the work we have done but I am significantly more confident that the times posted are legit. As for corner cutting, this is part of rally but where people are finding extreme shortcuts we are looking at planting trees and shrubs or placing fences to prevent people from exploiting those lines.

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