It’s been years since we had a true DiRT racing game – six, in fact. Now though British studio Codemasters is reviving the series for another off-road outing on a whole new generation of consoles, and even letting you design your own stages with a powerful new track editor, Your Stage.
DiRT 4 hits PC, PS4 and Xbox One consoles in June, so to find out more, we caught up with the game’s chief designer, Paul Coleman, to walk us through all the features that separate it from the racing sim competition.
Learn more about…
- special features
- real world tracks
- artificial intelligence
- cooperation with real drivers
- and more
The reason DiRT 4 took so long? Codemasters were brainstorming new ideas. “When we finished working on DiRT 3, the majority of the studio worked on making DiRT Showdown before working on Grid 2 and then Grid Autosport. During that time we had a small team that worked on prototyping new ideas for the DiRT franchise,” explains Coleman.
This skunkworks squad zeroed in on two ideas, explains Coleman, “improvements to our vehicle simulation, and designing a new way of making stages. The vehicle simulation eventually became [spin-off] DiRT Rally and the new way of making stages has become ‘Your Stage’.”
While 2016’s DiRT Rally was Codemasters’ best reviewed game in years, Coleman says that DiRT 4 isn’t so much as a simulation, as a simulation of what you want. “The key difference is that we are allowing players to choose the way they play,” he says.
It’s also more open to newcomers. “DiRT Rally was unforgiving,” Coleman admits. “We knew it was tough but we embraced that level of difficulty and went all in without compromise. For DiRT 4 we want more people to be able to play and enjoy the game.”
The choice between handling style, Gamer or Simulation, is one way Codemasters are trying to make DiRT 4 accessible. Coleman is keen to stress though that you’ll face the same environment, the same realities, in both modes. “The same physics engine sits under both,” he explains. “We’ve put a lot of effort into making sure that both handling styles feel fun and involving.”
Coleman says that to make each track requires a team of researchers to drive each route and take countless measurements “to get a sense of flow from the roads”, while another team tracks down every featured car – there will be more than 50 – to record the audio. Level design teams in the UK and in a satellite office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then go about virtualising the stages and vehicles.
The new Your Stage level editor however presented a different challenge for the team. “The team have been really pushed to get it all working procedurally so that everything knits together seamlessly,” Coleman explains.
With the new mode, Codemasters is using AI to predict the levels you might want to play. “From the perspective of the player you choose the location, the length and the complexity and then hit ‘Generate’,” Coleman explains.
“In the background our algorithms take the landscape and run a stage through it to those parameters. The generation is near instant and you get to see a map of the stage so, if you don’t like what you see you can keep hitting generate until you are happy with the result. You can then choose weather and time of day settings before adding it to your own championship.” You’ll then be able to rate tracks and send them to friends via RaceNet.
The original PS4 and Xbox One are now three and a half years old, and both Sony and Microsoft have upgraded versions either out or on the way. Coleman is confident that the studio will be able to take advantage of the extra horsepower provided by the PS4 Pro.
“We’ve got plenty of experience working with high-end PC hardware so we are confident that we’ll be able to crank up the settings on PS4 Pro,” he says. Though Microsoft’s answer, codenamed Scorpio, is not due out until the end of the year, the team will be looking to adapt the game for it too. “With Scorpio it should be a similar deal – but because Scorpio is shipping a while after we are releasing DiRT 4, I can’t make any promises at this stage.“
Codemasters have had a storied history working with top drivers – the long partnership with Colin McRae for instance. That’s continued with DiRT 4, Coleman reveals.
“Much of the underlying work for our vehicle simulation is born out of the work we did on DiRT Rally. We started that by working closely with rally drivers. To make absolutely sure that what we had was right we enlisted the help of [pro drivers] Kris Meeke and Petter Solberg to give us feedback on how the cars felt. Both of them came into the studio and worked closely with our simulation team.”
Coleman is quick to add though that the real testers have been gamers themselves, however. “Since the launch of DiRT Rally we’ve had millions of players take that prototype and then drive it for billions of miles, so DiRT 4 is where we’ve taken their feedback and built on the simulation even further.”
While DiRT 4’s Joyride mode will let players tear it up on an off-road obstacle course, it’s the Land Rush mode, based on American Shortcourse racing, that has us most excited.
You and up to seven opponents online will be able to get behind the wheel of 900bhp V8 engined four-wheel drive monsters and thrash it out in a desperate race to the finish line.
“The purpose-built circuits have been designed by our level designers with the types of big jumps, banks and turns that you’d expect to see in the real thing,” Coleman says. “The circuits make for some really intense action.”