After years of annual iterations, in 2006 the Codemasters team finally took a year out from Colin McRae. Only for, this year, to burst back onto the scene with Colin McRae: DiRT. Complete with gorgeous new engine, new racing disciplines and a distinctly American twist, the new title was a breath of fresh air for the series.
We gathered together lead environment artist Peter Ridgway, principle audio lead Stafford Bawler, producer Alex Grimbley and lead programmer Adam Askew to discuss what tinkering and fine-tuning they've done to the series...
A Clean Start
Grimbley: It had been a while since the last version had been out, so there was a couple of years break. In the meantime, we developed Neon, which is basically our new engine for running the game.
It was really an opportunity to take a bit of a breather, take a step back
from doing year-to-year iterations and just think: "What can we do to freshen it up a bit?" Sales had been dropping off with the franchise towards the latter versions, so we wanted to inject some freshness and create a bit of a spark so that people picked up on it. Plus, by doing so, it was also a lot more fun to work on.
We wanted to try and get across to the players out there that the game had changed and it wasn't just about rallying. DiRT seemed to capture that, that the game covered other areas of motorsport. Although there were some amusing alternatives which we unfortunately can't reveal here!
McRae Of Sunshine
Grimbley: Throughout the development process, Colin visited the studio probably once a month. He still had a big say over the cars in particular. He's a gamer himself, so he knows how the cars should handle in-game.
Also, with his wealth of experience and the unbelievable amount of cars that he's driven in the real-world, he can give feedback directly on handling and say: "No, that car doesn't feel anything like that. It's far too heavy or far too light." He also advised us on little things like what does a driver does in a crash, how he braces himself, how he changes gear and all that kind of thing.
Grimbley: The TOCA series and the McRae series have been hugely popular in Europe. The only missing piece of the jigsaw has been the States, so we wanted to try and address that. Travis Pastrana is pretty high-profile over there from his motocross and people are aware that he's moving over to rallying so they're thinking, 'What's this rallying that Travis is doing? Oh look, there's a rally game out there. Fantastic.'
So we approached him. Because of his rallying experience and move from motocross, we thought: 'Cool guy, young and he's got the right attitude.' He saw what we were trying to do with the brand and thought it was a good idea. We did have some other people lined up to narrate for different versions, but Travis was the guy who came across best. We know that it didn't go down that well with some areas of the market, but the majority of people seem to have understood our decision and accepted it.
Getting Up To Speed
Grimbley: We've taken the whole team to various track-days where they've had experience of driving cars right from Caterhams and Porsche 911s to single-seaters. On top of that, we send our design and handling/physics teams out to various rally schools.
Obviously, being in the Midlands, there's loads of different companies round here such as Prodrive. They handle cars on skid pans and all that stuff. Also, people have been driven round by Colin on some forest stages. That was up in Scotland a while ago - Colin was testing his Escort out and they got to sit in the co-driver's seat.