The racing genre is as clogged as a dirty exhaust pipe, with myriad generic titles releasing every year. With DiRT Showdown, developer Codemasters mans the wheel to innovate in ways that set the franchise apart from both other racing titles and their own previous installments in the series.
According to Senior Games Designer Mike Chapman, Codemasters has been considering the changes for a few years now. “ DiRT Showdown is really giving us a chance to explore these new areas,” he said.
While the classic DiRT formula of racing all over the world in venues from Michigan to Tokyo remains intact, the development team has increased the tempo of multiplayer matches and community interaction alike. In a day and age where standalone player hubs for player careers are becoming more prevalent (Halo Waypoint, Call of Duty Elite, Ghost Recon Network, etc.), Codemasters is entering the fray firing on all pistons.
The most interesting addition to the series is RaceNet, a social tracking service that records player stats and earned experience, essentially enticing gamers to play Showdown more. This integrated system could be a home run for the DiRT franchise, especially considering the fact that new challenges will be instituted every week, along with individual and community challenges that will reward players with cash for new vehicles and upgrades. Don’t be fooled into thinking RaceNet is confined solely to Showdown though.
“RaceNet is in an early stage, and will grow with every Codemasters racing game that comes out,” said Iain Smith, Associate Producer. “It doesn’t end a month after you’ve bought Showdown, the experience goes on and on. It really extends what we’re doing in the multiplayer space, and allows players to get more out of the $60 experience.”
RaceNet aside, the game is making the multiplayer aspect just downright more fun. New game modes are being implemented which will really drive home the feeling of an action sports racing game.
Smash & Grab is a game mode that closely resembles Oddball from Halo. Two teams are pitted against each other and must hold on to a neutral flag for as long as possible to accrue points. However, the intensity of Smash & Grab far outweighs that of Oddball, with collisions transferring the flag from the carrier to the attacker. Subsequently, attackers must haul a** out of there to maintain possession of the flag. This is where memorizing and utilizing the course design comes in handy.
“There’s so much in-depth play testing that goes on with tracks,” Chapman said. “ We want to make sure that each arena is fun. There are specific maps for each game mode, and the gameplay is very much the most important thing when considering each track.”
Other game modes being implemented in Showdown are sure to extend the longevity of the game’s multiplayer experience. Head to Head mode pits two players against each other in gymkhana courses in which specific maneuvers must be used in order to win. Expect to drift, jump, spin and avoid myriad obstacles on the way to the finish line. For players who want to sit back, relax, perform stunts and complete challenges on their own, the Hoonigan events will drop them into a free roaming course where freedom is the name of the game.
Codemasters is leaving no stone unturned, once again calling on the expertise of professional rally driver Ken block to validate the DiRT experience. When it comes to the Hoonigan gymkhana rally cars, Block has given advice on the handling of the vehicles, as well as the individual mechanics overall.
“We’ve spent a lot of time working with Ken,” said Smith.” He’s been involved since the very start of the project in terms of how the player involvement feels overall.”
With all of the changes to the DiRT formula being implemented, the development team is planning on paying close attention to community feedback in order to further extend the life of the product.
“We’re closely monitoring community feedback, and looking for new ways to utilize the data we receive from it,” said Smith. “We want to use it to make something even more interesting, and to make sure that the player continuously picks up the game.”
The amount of attention Codemasters is paying to data and feedback is already evident from their time with the demo. “In the demo alone, we’ve nearly already reached the two million wrecked car mark,” said Chapman. “And enough fuel to go to the moon and back five times, all kinds of cool little stuff that will be recorded on [RaceNet].”
The amount of attention that Codemasters is paying to the minutiae of their newest racing game and the community as a whole can only make their improvements better, which is saying something considering the amount of overhaul that is already underway for the franchise. The release of DiRT Showdown in late May will show just how well their fascinating new ideas have been implemented.