There are a lot of racers out in the next few months, aren't there? There's Xbox 360 exclusive Forza 3, PSPGo! launch titles Gran Turismo and MotorStorm: Arctic Edge, Need for Speed: Shift and Bizarre Creations' Blur. But let's not forget Codemasters' Colin McRae: Dirt 2. At a recent showcase event in London, we sat down with game design manager Ralph Fulton to find out why Dirt 2 will stand out from the racer crowd, and what Colin McRae himself would have thought of the game.
VideoGamer.com: Dirt 2 is the culmination of a decision made four years ago on where to take the Colin McRae franchise. From what I've seen that seems to mean there is an extreme sports festival atmosphere influence. Is there a danger that there will be some traditionalist rally fans who played the series back in the day and might feel alienated by this new direction, or is the game still for them?
Ralph Fulton: Well I would always argue that this is a game which is still for them. It's still a game which, a large part of it is still rally content. It's got other stuff as well but I don't think that's sacrilegious. I think you'd have to be a pretty hardcore rally purist not to appreciate that there is a lot of connections between the different types of sport and the way we presented it.
I think what we're doing is basically reflecting the way rally is going. Rally is a burgeoning sport in America and it's been popularised by the guys who are in this game. I think this is a totally legitimate way of taking rally. There will be people who don't like it, but I think there will more that do.
VideoGamer.com: Is there a chance the next Dirt game might not have Colin McRae's name attached to it?
RF: We'll have to see.
VideoGamer.com: The PC version will support DirectX 11. What extra features will PC gamers notice?
RF: Without going into a graphical feature list, which I'm probably not best equipped to do at the moment, I can say that you will really see the superiority of DX11 in terms of the graphical fidelity it offers. And that was a decision we took, to delay the PC version, to take advantage of DX11, purely because we weighed it up and said, look, what it allows us to do is make the best-looking racing game that has ever existed. Not just of the year or on PC, but has ever existed, because we were the first with an already cutting-edge game to take advantage of this technology, so it would definitely be worth putting it back.
VideoGamer.com: What's your personal view on EA's decision to split the Need for Speed brand into three separate directions? Shift is the sim, there's an online racer (World Online) and an arcade racer (Nitro). Is that something you could ever see working for the Dirt brand, or will it always be a single catch them all game?
RF: I can't really comment too much on what other companies do, but from our point of view, we really believe that a brand survives and prospers through having focus, so customers understand what they're getting from a game. That's important in building a brand and sustaining it. You can infer from that what I think, probably.
One thing I would say about Shift as part of the GRID team is, we're obviously quite flattered.
VideoGamer.com: As a game developer, what's your take on the hype surrounding Natal and Sony's wand? Microsoft showed a racing game being used with Natal at E3, where players were turning an imaginary steering wheel. For me, I need feedback while playing racing games.
RF: I totally agree with you. I think both of those different products, Natal and Sony's counterpart, interestingly, they're both very different technologies. The things they will offer to games will be quite different. They were vaunted as being in competition, but I don't think they are.
In terms of racing games, I agree with you. I think the complexity of control for a racing game, certainly for a core racing game like ours, requires a controller. Like you say, it requires feedback, and I don't think waving your hands around and pretending you're steering a car offers you the precision or the feedback that racing games require.
That's not to say that I don't think you could do some really cool things, particularly with Natal, which can function as additional control over and above the controller in racing games. But I certainly don't ever see it replacing the wheel or the controller as the principle controller method.
VideoGamer.com: Have you had any thoughts on what those extra things might be?
RF: None to speak of, really. But I think when everybody, whether they're a game developer or not, saw the Natal announcement in particular at E3 - and I think more Natal because it's sufficiently different from what had gone before, and maybe Sony's controller isn't - your mind just automatically starts coming out with things that you could do. And as a developer I'm really looking forward to getting the kit in so we can start thinking about amazingly cool ways to utilise it in our games.
VideoGamer.com: What do you think Colin McRae would say after seeing the game? What was he like to work with? Was he someone who was unafraid to point out flaws?
RF: Oh absolutely. I imagine, I don't know for sure, I imagine some licenses like that where there's a name on the box, they don't maybe have as much to do with the game's development as you'd expect, or maybe think. Colin was really hands on. When he came he would sit in the office for hours, into the evening, just tweaking car handling, criticising. He was quite vocal in his criticisms. And I'm sure, being a perfectionist, he would have things to say about our game. But I think fundamentally, he would approve of what we've done. We took our lead from him, not just before he tragically died, but the wheels were set in motion for the Dirt franchise while he was still alive. We took our lead in terms of content, in terms of the events we're presenting, from what he did and what he loved. I think in that sense he'd approve. I hope he would.
VideoGamer.com: You mentioned in your presentation that Dirt 2 endured a "difficult development". Is that purely a time consideration? I assume it hasn't had a bearing on the quality of the game. What does "difficult development" mean in terms of the team?
RF: I was referring pretty much solely to the amount of time we've had to make this game. 15 months is not a long time to make a triple-A racing game. I think if you compare it to other racing games out there you'll see it's a relatively short space of time. It certainly hasn't impacted on quality. I think the difficulty comes from our insistence on very, very high quality standards. Internally we have an enormously high quality bar that we always insist that we meet. What that's meant unfortunately over the last couple of months is the team's been working incredibly hard. That's down to their determination to be the best. I think man for man we have the best racing team in the world bar none, at Codemasters Racing Studio. You can absolutely quote me on that. It's down to their dedication, their determination to be the best, their incredible capacity for hard work, and also their ludicrous skill at what they're doing. These guys have been doing this year on year for many years now, and I think they're the best in the business at it.
But whenever you have a bunch of passionate, creative people working on something, they will not rest until they've made it the best they possibly can. Sometimes that means working a lot of extra hours. We've got a team who are absolutely ready for a well-deserved holiday, but they can do that knowing they've produced a great racing game.
VideoGamer.com: There are quite a few racing games coming out this year at round about the same time. I guess you would say this, but from what you've seen of the other titles, is Dirt 2 the best racing game coming out in 2009?
RF: I probably would say yeah it is!
VideoGamer.com: I was gunning for why?
RF: You know what, I don't want to get into why we're better than other racing games because naturally you will infer from that what I think about other racing games, and that's not why I'm here today. I'm here to talk about Dirt 2. I think what we've succeeded in doing is what we set out today to do and make the most relevant, exciting fun to play off-road racing game there has ever been. And I think it stands on its own merits, when it comes out. I think it's going to jump off the shelf. I think the videos do it justice because it's a great-looking game. I'm delighted we're going to be able to get it out there and allow people to make that decision.
DIRT 2 is due for release on Xbox 360 and PS3 on September 11. A PC version will follow with DirectX 11 support.