Interview: Paul Coleman at the DiRT Rally showcase

DiRT Rally released today and I was lucky enough to be in South bank, London, where they held a launch event to celebrate this brilliant Rally game. The square at the South bank centre was covered with Rally cars from the Subaru Impreza to the classic Audi Quattro it was a good collection.

As well as the awesome Rally icons, they had consoles running the game for anyone to play and a simulator running a time-trial stage. The simulator had a 280 degree surround screen and a hydraulic chair fitted with racing seat, pedals and a flappy-paddle gearbox. For the quickest time of the day the prize was a Crazykart in DiRT Rally livery. It was all pretty cool and the game looked stunning, especially on the surround screen, I watched someone sit down to have their turn, taking in the game stage as they made a strong run on the time-trial… until he clipped a tree on a jump and flipped into the woods, game over buddy.

This chap had a flying start, so flying in fact a trip to the tree's ended his run.

This chap had a flying start, so flying in fact a trip to the tree’s ended his run.

I happened to get lucky and the Chief games designer, Paul Coleman, was on hand. He had a bit of time and we had a chat, turns out he is very interesting bloke. Not only has he led a team to release a brilliant game but he happens to actually co-drive Rally cars too. As anyone who plays FORZA knows, personal experience goes a long way when making a realistic driving game. So, as per the norm with my little chats I have laid it out below for you to scan over, Ignore my waffle, it’s Paul who has the interesting things to say.

TiX – Hey Paul, we are here at South bank, you’ve got the game out now, must feel pretty good to see it finished?

Paul – Yeah, its been a long road. We started in 2012 to get the prototype out and then into early access and stuff in early ’15 and then went from there. But in terms of it as a notion floating through my head, it’s what I got into the games industry to do, to make the best Rally game ever made and I genuinely think we’ve achieved that with DiRT Rally, although as a perfectionist there is plenty more I’d like to do in the future! but, yeah, I feel like I’ve finally made that game that I’d set out to make, so yeah. It’s been a long road but we have done some pretty ground breaking stuff with the way we simulate the cars and it’s laid a pretty good foundation for the future.

TiX – A career passion achieved, can I ask what’s so ground breaking about it in comparison to any other Rally game I’ve played?

Paul – so I think the key difference is the way we have simulated the surface, a lot of other racing games out there, they don’t need to worry about the surfaces at all and when you look at competitors out there they have quite a primitive approach to the surface simulation. We’ve actually studied a lot of university papers on fluid dynamics and then simplified that down to something that will run in real time on consoles, but ultimately we simulate the way the tyre cuts into the surface, when you spin the wheels or when you slide the car, and then find the grip underneath. That’s why you see Rally drivers throw the car around, it’s to find that grip under the surface. So there are hundreds of surfaces you get in Rally stages around the world and we can get a very close rendition of what those surfaces are like to drive on. Then we’ve done all the extra stuff required to simulate the car on top of that. You know, for a Rally game it’s very important to get the surface right and that’s why, I think, that we ‘feel’ different to other Rally games out there.

TiX – Very impressive, I had no idea that you went into so much level of research. I’ve been a long time Rally fan and Rally game fan, Colin McRae was my first. . .

(Paul – Yeah, me too)

TiX – … And I’ve always been a fan of the DiRT games, but what I loved most was the straight Rally, not the Rallycross, but the straight Rally, after the last title did you want to make this a pure Rally game?

Paul – Well, no, what we wanted to do was focus on the authentic side of the sport, but Rally sport in general, and Rally is obviously the primary aspect of that. We know a lot of our fans spend their time playing that, we knew that from the telemetry we got out of our previous games, but the way that we represented Rallycross was quite fictional in our previous games. That’s why it was really important for us to work with the FIA world Rally Cross Championship. To get the authentic side of the sport across, So, the circuits we have now are real circuits, the cars that we have now are real cars, there’s noting made up about it. it’s why we went to Pikes Peak for hill climb, which had traditionally been trailblazer in DiRT series because, again, that’s the authentic rendition of that form of the sport. I guess, I would have probably made a full on Rally game with nothing else in there but I think it was important to have that extra colour in there to make a more rounded experience. If we had given players just Rally, Rally, Rally it might have felt pretty channelled.

TiX – Now I spotted Liam Doran’s car outside as well as a few others, where you working with him on the game from a drivers perspective?

Paul – So, Liam has worked with us in the past, we started working with him on DiRT 2 actually, and that came about from working getting his dad’s cars into the game, his dad said ‘well, my son is just starting out in the sport but he could be in it’ then he won his first x-games gold medal and in DiRT 3 we worked with him more heavily. He then helped give us some feedback on the very early prototype work. The majority of the prototyping we did was with our new simulation programmers and we had John Tucker, the guy that drives the Rally car that I co-drive in, he came in and worked as a project manager for us for a year. So, we had that constant bouncing between prototype to test driver and back. That’s how we arrived at what we have now. Since then we have had validation with other drivers, like Liam and Kevin Abbring from Hyundai WRC try our game and really enjoy it. There are a number of drivers out there using DiRT Rally in the off season and that’s what really validates what we did with John in the studio. It’s that sense that these guys actually appreciate what we’ve done to the point they are willing to use it as a training tool.

TiX – Er, couldn’t help but notice you dropped in that you co-drive a Rally car? that’s pretty cool. is that where the need to create the best ever Rally game comes from? did you want to capture what you feel when you’re in the car?

Paul – I’ve been making Rally games since 2003 and was doing it as an armchair enthusiast, someone who loved the sport but it was always from the spectators angle then in 2011 I Got the opportunity to co-drive in a Rally car for real. It was quite an amateur spec but it was still a Subaru Impreza so it was quick. The forces you feel in the car, the preparation you have to do before an event, doing the fuel charts and map prep and all of that kind of stuff, the chats in the bar after with the other drivers who ‘could’ve won’ if it wasn’t for that pesky whatever. The first hand experience of the sport. it opened my eyes to stuff we hadn’t been doing in previous games that was very simple for us to do, lots of little things and then things we had been doing in previous games that was completely superfluous to the authenticity of the sport. So, I had this role as lead game designer where I was making decisions as to what was important in the game and what wasn’t and I could bring in my first hand experience and fuse it with our work. so I could represent it not just from the gaming perspective but from the sport perspective as well and it made a huge difference. There are a few things that I take for granted now but actually were key in making DiRT Rally differential from what we did before. So yeah, in short it did have a real impact on what we where doing.

TiX – Very cool to see someone very involved in both sides of this project not general practice is it?

Paul – No, I think the only other is Gran Turismo, he goes out and drives all the cars, but not anything from the Rally genre. It’s weird, as a games designer I already have a cool job.

TiX – yes, you do…

Paul – then I get back to my desk after a weekend of Rally and i’m like ‘aw man, i’m bored’. A reality check can be needed.

TiX – Well, your game is out today so time to relax or is it time do some more driving?

Paul – well, interestingly one of community members has just started Rally driving based on having played the game in early access, so I reached out to him and said if you need a co-driver then let me know. He came back and said ‘yeah, that would be really cool’ so I’m actually going to start co-driving for him. It’s been a community driven game through early access and the passion and drive they have shown us, to open their hearts and minds to us and we have really listened this time and I think that’s shown in the way the game has been received. We used to get great critic scores but the player score lagged behind a bit and that never sat right with me, but now we have a user score that’s equal to, if not better, than our metacritic score.

wonder if he won in the ended?

wonder if he won in the end

I said my thanks and wandered off back through the showcase towards the tube, stopping to look again at the simulator with the almost endless queue of people waiting patiently for that ultimate Rally experience. As I went through the crowds it struck me that I had just met a driven individual, clearly very passionate about his hobby and it shows in the work from Codemasters. DiRT Rally is available now from the xbox store and retailers, I give it a strong recommendation after playing today and will be buying a copy for myself – especially after checking out what our own Rich Berry had to say on it in his review.

Happy gaming everyone

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