E3 2009 Feature

DiRT 2 E3 09 Interview

On the E3 show floor, we ventured over to Codemasters’ booth to check out DiRT 2. After we went hands-on with the game, we spoke to Matt Horsman, the game’s Chief Designer, to learn more. Check out the interview below.

PSU: We’re here with Matt Horsman, the Chief Games Designer on DiRT 2. Matt, can you introduce us to the game?

Matt Horsman: For DiRT 2, we really want the players not just to feel that it’s a racing game, but that in DiRT 2 you are a real driver and you have the lifestyle of a real driver. So in DiRT 2, you have a world tour, which includes locations from around the world such as Baja, California; L.A.; Japan; London; China; and more. When you travel to these world locations, you meet real people like Travis Pastrana, Kevin Block, and Dave Mirra. When they know you, they’ll ring you on your phone and they’ll invite you to new locations and challenges… it makes the whole game feel like you are in the middle of this whole racing community, really. Like, after a race they’ll ring you up and go, "Hey, cool win," and if during the race you hit Kevin Block, he’ll go "Hey, what are you doing?!" So as part of the game, you feel like you really are on tour with these superstars.


PSU: What gameplay enhancements have you made since the development of the first game?

Horsman: Gameplay-wise, we really listened to our fanbase. We did a lot of research and focus tests after DiRT 1, and the things that came back the most were issues with the car-handling model. People weren’t too happy about that — the brakes were too strong. We also had a lack of car-on-car online, so those are the two main things we fixed for DiRT 2. We’ve redone our car-handling model from scratch, so it’s all based on real, proper physics — there’s no fudges in there. We’ve made the handling quite accessible in that it’s more natural than DiRT 1, so if you know how to drive a car in real life then DiRT 2 should be quite easy. It can be like a grip racer where you’re braking early, creating nice, clean lines, or you can go all ‘Ken Block-style’ and get the back end out, use weight shift, and rip around the hairpin corners. Also, every single game type and mode is fully playable online in DiRT 2, so that’s all good.

PSU: And how many players are supported?

Horsman: We’ve got eight players on DiRT 2. In our previous title that came out last year, Grid, we actually had up to 20, but we found on our short-course tracks that 20 was too much. You know, it’s just like driving around here in L.A. — traffic jam crazy. So, we reduced it to eight which means everyone can speak at once, you don’t have to wait ages to get 20 guys in there to race… it’s just a nice, easier number overall.


PSU: Regarding the presentation of the title, it looked quite nice on the 360 build I just played. First of all, what visual improvements have you made over the course of development, and will it be (essentially) identical on PS3 and 360?

Horsman: This is our third racing title on the current consoles, because we did DiRT 1, then we did Grid, and now we’re doing DiRT 2, so basically the whole engine has been evolving and improving. For example, in DiRT 2 we have a deferred lighting system, which means on the tracks that are set in night we’re going to have up to 100 light sources of all different colors. On Grid, we had just one — the sun, and that was it. We’ve got visual enhancements everywhere now, really; we’ve got reflection maps on the bonnet, the fidelity of the tracks is double what we had in Grid, the cars models have twice as many poly[gon]s now, so when you accidentally have a crash the damage deformation is even more accurate. That’s the main sort of stuff we’ve done since the first one.

When it comes to the 360 and PlayStation, they are identical, game-wise. For PlayStation we have that new screen-capture feature, so that’s included. But they are visually identical. I think anti-aliasing is slightly less on PlayStation — that’s the hardware — but looks-wise, they are pretty much the same.


PSU: Were you influenced at all by the success of games like MotorStorm? While there are obviously still simulation aspectsin DiRT 2, it does have more of an arcade feel than DiRT 1. So did you take inspiration from other games, or primarily your fans?

Horsman: Well, our main source of inspiration of course is our fans. As I said, we did a lot of research and we got a lot of feedback after DiRT 1, so we’ve made improvements on the car-handling model and online. We were also inspired by real-life. The off-road racing world has changed in the past three or four years, since the start of DiRT 1. So we generally took that new type of ‘X-Games’ racing and the quality of the presentation that you get in American off-road racing as our inspiration. We’ve treated the whole of DiRT 2 as having an extreme sports vibe. We do love playing the other games, so we’ve all played MotorStorm and Forza and all these type of games, but we generally do that for fun, so, yeah, that’s it really (laughs).


PSU: So, before we go, do you have any last comments for fans of DiRT 1, and for perhaps people who never played the original and might want to try your new game?

Horsman: If you want to get a feel for the series, you can download the DiRT 1 demo on the PlayStation Network. If not, I’m sure we’ll have a demo around early September on PSN, and I think there’s actually a video on PSN of when they did a tour around the studio, so if you want to see more of the actual racing action, you can check that out.

PSU: Alright, thank you very much.

Thanks again to Matt Horsman for speaking with us. A full DiRT 2 preview is coming soon.