DiRT Showdown Interview With Mike Chapman
Following on from our hands-on time with DiRT Showdown, and the first viewing of the social experience RaceNet, courtesy of the lovely people at Codemasters, we had the opportunity to chat to Mike Chapman, Senior Designer for the game.
Looking back at some of your previous titles such as GRID, Formula 1 and obviously the previous DiRT games you’ve always liked to make much more of an event with the in between race parts, like the trailer in DiRT and paddock in F1 etc. Was it an easy choice to move away from that?
Well we’d made that choice already with DiRT 3. There were obviously fans and detractors of what we’d done certainly with DiRT 2 with this kind of 3D festival…
It was almost kind of a redesign of a traditional menu system.
… Absolutely, kind of like a festival atmosphere, but the downside of that was kind of the time it took to get into a race. So certainly with Showdown our main focus was to strip out a lot of the slow tutorials and a lot of the voice over that you typically get in the front end, and make it about getting to the race as fast as possible. We really wanted to make it like ‘yes I’m in pro, I’m in San Fran, lets go’. It still looks really slick, really polished with the nice visuals but the focus is about getting people into the race.
There’s a lot of new modes in Showdown which, with the exception of the Destruction Derby type events, don’t necessarily exist in the real world. You must have a white board half a mile long full of ideas for events?
You’re not far wrong actually, the game is kind of grounded in reality but we’ve taken certian liberties. From the get go we really wanted to focus on fun so the sky’s the limit really. We don’t want to be constrained by any sort of official motor sports, and that was very much at the heart of what we wanted to do with Showdown.
You’ve split the events in half almost with a mix of real and fictional cars, which to be fair I don’t think anybody would ever question, they all just look like real world cars…
Yeah it’s inconsequential really and people will see cars like the hearse and recognise them from the real world example that its based on, so I don’t think it’s an issue.
One of the reasons that you’d given earlier as to why you have the two different sets of cars was the licensing thing – that must be the plague of any racing studio where the manufacturers don’t want their cars getting smashed up, even virtually. Being honest I can’t tell the difference between the two damage models and you can bash the hell out both car types a lot. You’d have to be really really picky to be able to tell… What is the difference?
Well if you look at the demolition and race vehicles you can push the damage that little bit further, where as with the Hoonigan cars you can crush them up to the engine block. They don’t want to see a sports version of their road cars completely smashed to bits, so by taking a real word example and kind of fictionalising them it gives us a much more leeway.
Something that I’ve not noticed yet in Showdown that’s pretty much a staple of all your games this gen, and pretty much all racing games now thanks to you is Flashback. Where’s it gone?
It is still in the game.
Not like it has been previously though…
No, no and thats deliberately so. We’ve Flashback in the modes where typically the events take place on your own, and if its about precision driving like the Hoonigan events you’ve got the Flashback system, but in many of the other demolition events we wanted it to be more a case of ‘you’ve span out, use your boost and get back in the race’. We felt like the demolition type events were actually hindered by Flashback; we don’t want you to rewind and undo that damage, we want you to race with that damage.
So which out of all of those new events in the game are you personally and as a studio hoping will be the big ones that catch on online?
Generally speaking we’re hoping the king of events turns out to be Rampage; it’s death match in cars essentially, and we’re hoping that really resonates with players. Personally speaking I’m really hoping Knockout is enjoyed as much as we enjoy it internally and I hope people really appreciate that. The fun there online is pretty much endless. In single player the mode is great fun and the A.I. is near perfect, but in a multiplayer environment online it comes to life.
The Battersea power station Joyride mode is back and there’s a new area to tool around in too. It’s been refined and is now more directed if you want it to be, while still reaming as open as before – is that based on the feedback from DiRT 3?
Yeah, so at the end of DiRT 3, well the end of every game, we go though some data mining and look at what modes people are playing the most, Joyride was nice for people to just go in and mess around, without the pressure of a time limit, get to grips with the handling and just kind of experiment with the cars. We felt that some players found it a little bit too freeform, so we’ve added a little bit more handholding and as you say you still can go off and compete the missions in any order you like, but if you want to follow that directed path you can too. It’ll hopefully take out that frustration when your missing one mission that you cant find and have a bit more of a flow to it.
Something that I think is fairly safe to say about you guys is that you are on a very short list of studios that I think gamers really love, in the same way that gamers love studios like Bungie, where as although people buy their games in droves you’ll never hear somebody say how they love Activision. It’s as if you guys have a soul. Is that a feeling from your community you guys have been trying to grow, or has it just kind of happened and you’re now hoping to build on it with RaceNet?
Well we love the fact that our brand is almost a prestige. We’ve now said that all our racing games are going to come under this umbrella of Codemasters Racing, and the thought behind that is if you see that logo on the box we want players to know what they are in for. If they’ve enjoyed one of our previous games we want them to know what to expect, and that what they are buying is going to be really high quality. That good will is something we don’t take lightly, and we really want to look after that to bring them into the fold, and give them what they want with things like RaceNet or the way we’ve now split the DiRT series.