Run to the Hills
It’s not often enough that the DiRT team breach the perimeter of Codies HQ as a collective, but when there’s the sights and sounds of a World Rally Championship Stage taking place within driving distance, you know it’s time for a day out. Wales – land of song, home to the mythical King Arthur and birthplace of Tom Jones was our destination – so thermals were donned and asphalt hit as we cracked on with the three hour drive to Wales Rally GB to check out the cream of the crop in action, up close and personal.
You get a truly mesmerising perspective on the action from up there, a real feel for the challenge a driver faces conquering this brutal terrain at speed.
Well, reasonably close. There’s a lot to be said for making your rally camp at a corner in a forest and feeling the rush as cars hurtle past at what feels like touching distance, but instead we ascended the soggy clay path that lead up the hill at Sweet Lamb. And how sweet the view. You get a truly mesmerising perspective on the action from up there, a real feel for the challenge a driver faces conquering this brutal terrain at speed. You can trace each car as it enters the valley below, roars down the slope, hurtles around hairpins, catches air over jumps and splashes through water before charging back up the hill and into the next section. No sooner has one driver carved their own way through this muddy wilderness than another thunders into the complex. You could spend all day up there. So we did.
“Hmmm, we need to make the hills steeper,” I overhear a voice from the back say, thinking aloud above the engine noises reverberating around the valley. “Can’t you just turn it up using sliders like when you’re creating your bloke in Skyrim,” I ask, not earning the team’s universal approval, or perhaps even applause, I’d hoped for what I considered a rather natty solution. Instead, silence, glares, and then mirth.
Apparently, what I’d considered a seemingly superficial change entails significant man hours from across different departments and can have knock on effects on design and the asset delivery pipeline. Yeah. Still, my naivety ensured I had at least done my bit for team morale, as my colleagues very much enjoyed laughing in my face. The day was clearly going to be a one of learning, but not just for me. From Level Designers, to artists, Programmers and Producers, each would be taking something different back home, so back at Codies HQ I had a quick chat with a few of our team and asked them to reflect back on their day.
First up, Audio Coder Justin Andrews…
“It was very interesting from an audio perspective. One of the highlights of the day was for gaining an appreciation of how distant cars interact with the wider environment. We also gained some real insights about how the angle of the car to the listener and the environment affected the sound of the exhaust too. Most of all, the geography of Sweet Lamb was interesting, as you were able to watch a car which was over a mile away and hear how the sounds from the car changed as it travelled past and behind hills and trees. Already, we have a number of ideas which can feedback into the audio reflection and occlusion systems. “
What does Anna Ljungberg, Experienced Programmer have to say?
“I think the thing I found the most interesting was seeing how differently each car and driver took on the complex, for example how differently they took the jumps and corners, especially the water. For example, the WRC cars just powered through and sometimes lost a few pieces of their cars, whereas the national rally entrants were a bit more cautious and some slowed down quite a lot before the water and took it comparatively carefully. ”
You can always take a few more risks when you have a manufacturer picking up the bill I guess.
Finally over to Senior Games Designer, Ross Gowing.
Dealing with the consequences of a crash is something games have strayed away from in recent years and I think players could get a taste for having to limp through the rest of a stage…
“Rally GB reminded me what a fine line each crew treads – the number of cars that came through with bits of bodywork hanging off or missing, and cars that didn’t come through the stage at all due to having crashed earlier in the day; these guys are really pushing to the limit to go as fast as possible, and sometimes it can all go horribly wrong. Dealing with the consequences of a crash is something games have strayed away from in recent years and I think players could get a taste for having to limp through the rest of a stage, rather than just rewinding or hitting restart.”
And what did I learn? Well, I clearly don’t know much about creating hillsides in videogames, but most of all it was really interesting to see how the DiRT guys took in the day. They clearly LOVE their rally, but it wasn’t about just enjoying the sport, more a kind of an impromptu design and development brainstorming session on the top of a rainy hill in Wales. The veterans of the series were giving casual insight to our treasured newbies, and some of those newer hires were raising questions that might not have been asked before.
In the week following, the team was buzzing with new ideas – how do we add this dripping and flicking that comes off all the edges of the bodywork as a mud effect? Who was the man that looked like Doctor Who on the hillside? How do we create a set of photographers that act realistically at the side of the road? Were part of the team really almost killed by a sheep on the way home?
And of course, how do we make the hills steeper?