Develop speaks to Codemasters' chief game designer about developing the game for VR

Bringing Dirt Rally to VR: Interview with Paul Coleman

Dirt Rally was released last April on consoles after a successful PC release in late 2015. The formerly early access title became a surprise hit with Codemasters returning to a more pure rally simulation. The EGO engine helped to make an increidbly challenging experience which critics often refer to as ‘the Dark Souls of racing games’.

So what do Codemasters do? They made it even harder and more petrifying by putting the game in to virtual reality. After an initial release on Oculus Rift headsets in 2016, the game has come to PSVR as an additional download. Develop spoke to Dirt Rally’s chief games designer, and real life rally co-driver, Paul Coleman about converting the game to a VR perspective.

This is the second VR platform that Dirt Rally has come to. Were there many differences in developing for those platforms?

There were some clear differences in the hardware. With a PC you can throw more money at your setup to get better performance where on PlayStation 4 things are much more clearly defined. This meant that we knew exactly what we had to do to achieve the performance required for the best PSVR experience possible. It has been a challenge but with the introduction of PS4 Pro we have been able to maximise the potential of PSVR and get an experience that we are confident is the best it can be.

Motion sickness is obviously a big worry for games with fast, violent motion. How have your experiences been in combating this?

I’m not the best when it comes to motion sickness. When I started out as a co driver I used to get horribly sick but it is something that I have got used to over time. I’ve had a similar experience with all VR platforms but I have found that the more you play the more you can get used to the experience. We have worked with Sony and Oculus to minimise the impact of motion sickness and they have offered some very good advice and technical guidelines. Naturally some people cope much better with VR from the moment they put a headset on but from my personal experience I think as long as you take things easy and get acclimated gradually you’ll find that you can enjoy the experience for more sustained play sessions.

You are a rally co-driver in real life. How does the experience in the headset compare?

I’ve competed in a decent variety of rally events around the UK. The experience in the headset brings you much closer to what it is like to actually sit inside the car. You get a much better sense of speed as well as gaining a new perspective on just how much gradient there is in the stages in Dirt Rally. That coupled with being able to look at the apex of the corner you are sliding around makes a huge difference and really adds a new level of immersion to the whole experience.

The PSVR has a lower visual fidelity and a big focus on a smoother frame rate. Has this been any easier to develop for the platform with its limitations and fixed setups, compared to differing PC platforms.

As we found when we originally took Dirt Rally from PC to console there were some real benefits from the fixed hardware setups you get on console but it also meant that we weren’t able to throw caution to the wind with the density of our environments and effects. We had already got plenty of experience making the game work on VR so we had a bit of a head start there, but then there was a bunch of Sony guidelines that are more rigid than anything we have had to do for PC so it all balanced out in the end.

Is there anything about the game where you said ‘we can’t do that in VR, that’s too crazy’?

Hah, the fact that you get to drive a rally car down some of the most technical roads in the world is crazy enough in VR.

Now that you’ve developed for VR, is this something you’re on board with and would continue to do, going forward?

I think VR is such a good fit for racing games because of the way that you are sat in a fixed position with the steering wheel in front of you means that it is something we will be looking to develop and improve upon. I’m certainly on board with it as it is so perfect for loose surface racing. If you are going fast enough in Dirt Rally you should spend a decent amount of time looking out of the side window as you slide around a corner and that is something that VR really helps with.

Dirt Rally is currently available on PC, Xbox One and PS4. The PSVR addition has not yet been released.

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