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Next-gen racing starts with Dirt 5


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We speak to development director Robert Karp about how Codemasters is demonstrating the power of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.

On November 6th, Codemasters will release Dirt 5 – actually the eighth title in the series – one of the most anticipated rally racing games to date.

It’s also the first taste of the next generation from the UK developer and publisher, a prime example of the possibilities offered by a whole new standard in gaming. It means that Dirt 5’s development is driven by a brand new approach compared to the work put into Codemasters’ most recent release, F1 2020.

The new devkits change the general workflow, but they also bring new benefits. Development director Robert Karp says, even if they are currently only scratching the surface of what is possible, one of the most obvious perks is the faster speed of the next-gen hardware. Building and deploying times have been vastly reduced, which allows for much faster iteration.

From a gamer’s perspective, the most exciting benefit here is the loading speeds, meaning they can get into the game much faster. The new Xbox and PlayStation also have some neat UX features that, along with the faster loading, will improve the overall experience.

“For Dirt 5, we have been working hard to make an option to play at 120Hz,” says Karp. “For those players with a monitor or TV that can support it, they will feel the smoothness and truly appreciate the speed. When you’re hurtling along at 50 or 100 miles per hour, the road will be your focus and the decrease that these consoles offer for input latency along with 120Hz gives a great experience and something new for console players.”

Driving games are often used as early demonstrations of the power offered by new entertainment systems. More focused than open worlds, for example, they can concentrate more on graphical fidelity and smooth performances. The new Codemasters game will provide a first showcase of what the new consoles are capable of that the previous ones weren’t.

And in the absence of first-party racers like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, Dirt 5 stands to benefit as the only major new racing game available at the launch of the new console cycle. Karp says the team feels honoured by this position, but that doesn’t affect its mission to focus solely on offering the best experience for the players.

Already celebrated as one of the best series for rally fans, the challenge of creating a new Dirt is huge. The studio has a reputation to uphold, which is an added pressure when tackling new hardware for the first time.

“Making games is great, but it’s not easy,” says Karp. “Ensuring the whole team is aligned is really important. Every area of the game is a challenge: from physics to rendering, to online/multiplayer and much more. These are super complicated and highly complex systems, and we are lucky to have an incredibly talented, focused and hardworking team.”

Karp reports that work on the game, as with most of the industry, has been “mostly unaffected” by the coronavirus pandemic, although the shift to working from home has caused some complications. Communication across the team, for example, has been harder, as has syncing large amounts of data across home internet. There have been other logistical issues that have slowed down some people, such as access to relevant hardware when working on so multiple SKUs. And some staff who live alone have found being in lockdown takes its toll on their mental health.

Despite all this, the mood at Codemasters remains positive. The company remains one of the market leaders in the racing genre, and during the first lockdown racing games allowed Codemasters to shine a spotlight on an otherwise blocked sports environment.

“We have seen more players enjoying racing games during this period, and we have seen a significant increase in streaming,” says Karp. “Also, the esports scene has been in the spotlight, which is fantastic.”

Codemasters’ portfolio is an excellent example of balance: they aim for realism but also give back the fun of an arcade experience, making it enjoyable for both serious racing fans and more mainstream gamers alike. This, Karp says, is intentional.

“Our goal is to make our games accessible to as many players as possible regardless of their skill level. If you want a lean-back experience with your friends, Dirt 5 has you covered. If you want the ultimate simulation and to experience what it’s like to drive an F1 car, then we have that for you. Where possible, we will always look to give new players and hardcore sim racers a great experience across all of our titles by giving them control of the assists.”

Simulation racing games have become a major alternative to real motorsport, thanks to the evolution in hardware and software in recent years. With a new generation offering even greater visual fidelity, computational power and potential for realism, how far can the simulation side of racing games go?

“Virtual racing offers so many possibilities than other genres can’t.” says Karp. “I think we will see this become even more popular with bigger events as technology continues to evolve. During lockdown, a lot of people saw competitive virtual racing for the first time, courtesy of the F1 Virtual Grand Prix Series. Fans saw the drivers were as skilled and competitive as they are on a traditional race day. I can see virtual racing increasing in popularity and stand alongside its real-world counterpart.”

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