How Kylotonn are embracing change with WRC 7

A lot of the focus on motorsport rule changes has been around Formula One this year. But the World Rally Championship has arguably seen the most changes in any motorsport. Not only has the ruleset changed to make the current cars the most powerful in nearly 30 years, but the most dominant manufacturer, VW, pulled out of the sport at the end of last year. This has left the WRC 2017 season to be one of the most open and exciting in years.

WRC 7 by Kylotonn Studios is the third game from the studio and it is keen to build on the work of WRC 5 and 6. “This is a precious experience for the studio and we took the opportunity to use community feedback regarding the previous versions,” says Alain Jarniou, game director for WRC 7. “Combining this information and our will to improve the game in the most significant way, we decided to mainly focus on the core gameplay and the enhancement of the rally experience.”

We designed every country with three fundamental ideas in mind: Make it recognisable, make it unique, and tell a story about it. Yes, in a racing game!

Alain Jarniou, game director, WRC 7

Working on a yearly release doesn’t give you much time to make wholesale changes for a franchise but Kylotonn has been subtly improving the technology behind the game, such as its Kt Engine. “Unlike third-party engines, we make it evolve specifically for our needs,” says Jarniou. “We internally developed several racing games in parallel, with specific features. The good thing about that is that all of our games benefit of those evolutions. One good example is the system developed for Flatout 4 deformations. This has been used for the WRC series, in a more subtle way."

But how do you prioritise what you need to improve on a game when you have that limited time frame? “This is really driven by every project design,” says Jarniou. “On the top of what needs to be improved to keep the core engine in line with the market standards, we focus on features that really make sense for the specificities of our racing games. For WRC 7, that was about car physics (engine and tools), lighting, landscape rendering and roads.

“We’re an experienced team who have been working on the series since WRC 5. We have a very good knowledge of the tools, licence and engine capabilities. Working with new teammates, some of them from the Flatout development team brings a fresh look on the series. The combination of both points of view and a clear overall vision creates the best conditions to focus on the right features.”

This will be shown in the way that the studio has rewritten elements of the game to reflect the rule changes in the formula. “This year’s season introduces a new generation of cars,” says Jarniou. “they are more aggressive by design, more powerful and more agile, which is a great opportunity for us to provide unique and new car physics.

"The new cars deserve an adapted and more realistic level design. All the stages have been redefined for a more intense driving experience. Roads are bumpier, barriers are closer and more dangerous. Every aspect of the 13 host countries and their visuals, like vegetation, roads, landscapes and lighting, has been redone for a more immersive feeling.”

Some of the big features of WRC 7 are the variety of stages. While the game cannot hope to replicate the real WRC down to every single stage, it can evoke a sense of the real-life counterpart. One of the ways this has happened is with the length of the stages including the new epic stages that really give you a window to how a stage looks. So how do Kylotonn approach this?

“We designed every country with three fundamental ideas in mind, says Jarniou. “Make it recognisable, make it unique, and tell a story about it. Yes, in a racing game! With that in mind, level designers and Level builders worked closely together. References, from the internet and from official assets, are our ‘everyday best friends’.

“Every designer or artist is working with the tools on one screen and videos/photos of the stage on the second screen. If we want to immerse the player, our team needs to be immersed while creating the game. It’s mandatory. How did we know if we succeed? When Rally drivers and WRC engineers we’re working with told us they really feel like they are in the actual country.”

The changes in cars and rules are another part of the WRC release this year that needed real-life consultation, made no less difficult by one team leaving the sport entirely. “VW’s withdrawal was a big surprise for everyone. But, on the other hand, we saw Toyota coming back in the competition. Bad news and good news make the game even more interesting. That’s the evolution of the competition and it gives even more for WRC 7. It’s not a simple add-on of WRC 6 like some people have suggested.

“New teams, new regulations mean totally new cars, in terms of look but also in terms of physics. It’s brilliant. The challenge was big but very exciting at the same time. Enhancing the rally experience by pushing the game as close as possible to the real rally experience was our main focus on WRC 7. It’s a complex alchemy involving cars physics, level design and level building.

You may not have seen it as highly promoted as the usual suspects, but the WRC series is about to enter its third year as a competitive esport. Sponsored by car manufacturer Hyundai, players compete in-game on rally weekends across select stages with the winners battling it out over the course of a season, just as the real WRC will. “Esports has been an important part of the game since WRC 5 when Kylotonn started working on the series,” says Jarniou. "The first season had a great success taking into account the genre and the unique format we choose.

“For the first year, based on 2016 season, we’ve got great stories about the competitors, extraordinary moments. With the experience of the previous year, we make the format evolve, by observing and learning. For WRC 7, we’ll use the epic stages, which will bring a very intense rally experience, as a core challenge in the esports competition. We think this is the right format for it and it will give a great and well-balanced challenge for our best players.

It will have to compete in a very crowded space. Rally has been high on this years racing agenda as has Rallycross. Other games are also looking at esports with Project Cars 2 returning to ESL, GT Sport having an actual FIA sanctioned league and Formula One officially endorsing an esports league too. "This year is definitely a racing games year," says Jarniou. "With WRC 7 we believe we’ve pushed the driving experience further than ever for the series, according to the new WRC season regulations. The game is very challenging and addictive, the changes for this year make it very enjoyable and unique on the market."

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