Lead designer Mike Moreton speaks with GamingBolt about the upcoming racer.
Codemasters and the DIRT franchise have incredible cache in the racing genre, and for years, the two have been coming together to deliver some truly top class experiences. With DIRT 5, it seems the series is shifting gears a bit, adopting more of an arcade-driven approach characterized by high-octane action, an actual narrative-driven career mode, and more. Everything that the game’s developers have shown of DIRT 5 so far has looked incredibly promising, and recently, to learn more about the game and what players can expect from it, we reached out to Codemasters with a few of our most burning questions. You can read our conversation with lead designer Mike Moreton below.
"For us DIRT Rally represents “lean in gaming” where concentration is key and focus, practice, and skill are paramount. DiRT 5 is more “lean back gaming.” We want players of all abilities to find fun and engage with our game."
DIRT 5 seems to be taking a much more arcade-focused approach, especially with mechanics such as its extreme weather. Do you feel that’s a style that DIRT as a series lends itself well to, and do you think this is a direction it will continue to head in?
This is the studio’s first crack at making a DIRT franchise game, so we wanted to put our stamp on it. We wanted DIRT 5 to represent a more vibrant and amplified form of racing. We acknowledge that the DIRT and DiRT Rally series’ were once very close and we wanted to create something new. The DiRT Rally team has created an amazing simulation game that showcases the gritty and challenging aspects of rallying. We wanted to create something different, something more mainstream. For us DiRT Rally represents “lean in gaming” where concentration is key and focus, practice, and skill are paramount. DIRT 5 is more “lean back gaming.” We want players of all abilities to find fun and engage with our game. We’re really pleased with our spread of driving aids and options to ensure that even more hardcore players will find some challenges, while more casual players will still be able to have a fantastic experience with the game. Moving forward, we want the DIRT games to continue to develop their own identity and remain distinct from the DiRT Rally franchise
Many of DIRT 5’s developers have previously worked on games such as Onrush and MotorStorm. Is DIRT 5 looking to introduce some flair that hues closely to the experience those games offered?
Onrush and MotorStorm are looked back on with fondness and it’s an honor when people compare us to other titles. When we came up with our take on the DIRT franchise, we looked back through the numbered titles to draw our inspiration from DIRT 2 and DIRT 3. We think they encapsulated everything we felt the franchise was about. From there we formed our own game pillars and built out the systems and features we felt represented those pillars. We all play racing games, so there may be a little DNA from a number of titles. But most important is that we wanted DIRT 5 to have its own identity, to stand as a refreshing take on the DIRT series and a unique game in its own right.
What prompted the decision to feature a narrative-driven campaign in the game?
We really want our game to become part of a world. A lot of racing games are championships that send the player from race to race with the goal to win, because that’s the primary goal for a race. We wanted to add a little bit of spice and context to these races. The best way of adding this context is through narrative. We created a series of races that allows the player to choose what they want to participate in and wound a light narrative through that. We’ve added characters and other racers to cement that idea. We also felt it was important to riff off modern car culture and how that integrates with racing, so we approached the amazing guys at Donut Media with a proposal to create a podcast series that covers our fictional DIRT series. They move the story forward and provide vital context and setting for the races and event types. They guide the player through the different events and races while ensuring that the game remains grounded in its own world.
What do Nolan North, Troy Baker, and their characters bring to the campaign, from a narrative perspective?
It was truly a pleasure getting to work alongside these guys. We gave them a back story and history of their characters, and it was amazing to see them bring these personalities to life. In doing so, they injected additional flair and characterization to the roles based on our provided script, ad-libbing and expanding on what we created. Troy plays AJ, our player’s mentor – he guides players through the Career, toasting their successes and coaching them forwards. Nolan plays Bruno, the antagonist of the game. A new contender in the DIRT series, he’s bullish, bold, and challenges both AJ and the player for the top spot in the DIRT series.
Roughly how long does DIRT 5’s campaign last?
We have 130 events spread over 5 chapters and 20+ sponsors to level up to max, so to 100% the Career will take a really good chunk of time for even the best players. It is possible to not do every event, only playing with some of the sponsors, and still see the closing of the narrative. The player’s choice is key; the Career will provide engaging racing for committed completionists and casual racers alike.
Talk to us about DIRT 5’s track design. The game features various locations from across the world- how does it leverage those locations and all the differences between them in terms of design, challenge, and variety?
We chose the settings for the races in DIRT 5 based on areas we felt encapsulated the vibe and atmosphere we were aiming for with the game. We also wanted different tracks to complement the car classes. For example, a sprint track in Arizona is going to be a completely different challenge for the player over a Pathfinder track. The locations amplify the racing and provide a stunning and different setting. For example, we knew we wanted to have ice racing in the game. That has a set of locations that normally takes place in in the real world. We thought, that’s cool, but what if we raced around the frozen East River in New York; wouldn’t that be interesting? To us, finding that exciting new take on traditional racing was vital when picking locations, landmarks and settings for our races.
Just how dynamic (and dramatic) exactly is DIRT 5’s weather system?
DIRT 5’s weather sees races change from bright sunny mornings to foreboding clouds rolling in, then onto storms, snow or heavy rain. We were keen to ensure that races and the environments raced in were challenging and stunning to look at. During Career we’ve created a series of curated weather timelines to challenge the player. This will see them racing through blizzards, storms and even sandstorms through a variety of seasons and times of day. In doing this, we ensured that the weather was changeable as well. Some races will go from sunny to rainy, while some will see the player race through a sandstorm as it passes over, ending the race in completely different conditions than when they started.
Can you give us a few examples of how DIRT 5 is using the DualSense’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers?
We’re excited about the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers! We’re hoping to use these new systems to simulate the car’s contact with the road. We want players to feel what surface they’re on, and whether the car is in grip with it or out of traction. We also want to use the adaptive triggers to simulate the distinctive judder of ABS brake systems, in order to further enhance the player being able to feel how the car is handling.
"We have 130 events spread over 5 chapters and 20+ sponsors to level up to max, so to 100% the Career will take a really good chunk of time for even the best players."
The Playgrounds mode is one of the most interesting new things DIRT 5 is bringing to the table. How extensive and full-featured can players expect the creating and sharing mechanics in this mode to be? At the same time, how does the mode balance that with accessibility?
We’re proud of our Playgrounds feature and hope that players will really enjoy getting to grips with creating their own content. We’ve made our editor as intuitive as possible and ensured that the process of creating a Playground is as user friendly as possible. We’re excited to see just what challenges our players will come up with as we’ve had a little taste already. We recently ran a limited user test of the mode and the Playgrounds that were created during that time were amazing! They far surpassed anyone on the dev team’s expectations and served up unique slices of gameplay.
We’ve created a system where players can discover new Playgrounds easily and we’re hoping through use of the Discover system and through our own curation of Playgrounds we’ll keep serving up brand new content. Playgrounds for us is equally important, as it can provide bite sized chunks of gameplay that can be adapted for however long a player has to play… Only got 5-10 minutes? Through next gen loading speeds, we’ll be able to have a Playground ready in seconds. The post event flow of Playgrounds will feed players more content based on their likes and dislikes.
What are your plans for DIRT 5’s post-launch support, in terms of adding to the game with additional vehicles, events, and the like?
We’re looking at adding new cars, career events and game modes after launch along with new tracks. We’re also looking to add new objects for Playgrounds and new player sponsors and rewards to earn. Alongside this, we’ve got a number of ideas for new game modes and features to enrich the player experience as we go further past launch. We also really value player feedback, so we’re aiming to take time in each update to incorporate features and quality of life improvements that our players request.
Do you have any plans to add VR support to DIRT 5 down the line?
At the moment we’re not looking to add VR support to DIRT 5. But never say never.
Other than the 120 FPS mode, what other modes can players expect from PS5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S versions?
We’re really excited at the load times the new consoles offer. We want players to be able to jump into the game quickly and the new hardware gives us the opportunity to get the game up and running and into gameplay super-fast. We’re also happy to be able to upgrade a player’s current generation copies for free. It’s great to have a new game to play as soon as you get your new console set up and with DIRT 5 you get that. Obviously with the extra horsepower available to use, we’ll be ensuring that the visuals and gameplay will be as silky smooth as possible.
"At the moment we’re not looking to add VR support to DIRT 5. But never say never."
Faster loading times and higher frame rates asides, it’s a well-known fact that cross-gen development poses problems with game design advancements. How are you ensuring that this is not a problem with DIRT 5, or are you maintaining design parity between the two generations’ versions?
For us it was paramount to give the player the best gameplay possible on the system they purchase the game for. With the ability to upgrade for free that has meant that we’ve ensured that there is design parity between the systems. All the systems you enjoy and love on current gen will be present and correct on next gen, along with some extra boosts from the hardware. We felt it was important to provide the same great experience no matter the console.
Since the reveal of the PS5 and Xbox Series X’s specs, a lot of comparisons have been made between the GPU speeds of the two consoles’ GPUs, with the PS5 at 10.28 teraflops and the Xbox Series X at 12 teraflops- but how much of an impact on development do you think that difference will have?
From development and gameplay perspectives, it doesn’t really have an impact. When it comes to tuning, tweaking and optimizations at the end of a game, it might mean slightly less work for one platform or not.
The PS5 features an incredibly fast SSD with 5.5GB/s raw bandwidth. This is faster than anything that is available out there. How can developers take advantage of this? How does this compare to Series X’s 2.4GB/s raw bandwidth?
I think the first generation of games on new consoles only scratch the surface of what technology can do. At launch we will see super-fast loading speeds but it will take time to really understand what’s possible. As we get more familiar with the technology, I think we are going to see this impacting gameplay and user experience in some great ways.