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Richard Burns Rally developer diary: Part three

Continuing our exclusive series of diaries written by developers Warthog throughout the making of Richard Burns Rally, here's part three from creative director, Dennis Gustafsson, who brings us up to speed with the AI drivers and Pace Notes...

This month I'd like to talk about the season and the AI drivers. As this is what I am currently fine-tuning. The AI drivers are the computer-controlled competitors that the player is pitted against in the rally season. On our travels across the globe gathering reference material we talked to a great many individuals involved in the rally events - organizers to marshals to drivers, mechanics, sponsors, photographers, spectators and locals. And though rally is a sport generally geared towards cars and technology, the sport is really 'driven' by people.

I remember in particular Possum Bourne. (Who was tragically lost to us in April last year.) Possum kindly took time to make sketches and comments on all our Canberra stage maps, relaying to us the details about hazards, difficulties and spots of interest on the stages he had just driven. One stage, East West, had half of the drivers crashing on it - it was crazy. It is a pretty tough drive in the game too - but that was how it was - so don't complain when you play it. You just have to bite the bullet and try to scrape through just like those gutsy rally drivers did.

We had many good chats with Possum's mechanics as well, they were really into rally games and had a lot of thoughts and requests for the game (a fair few of them ticked off as implemented). Really nice guys all round; it felt really good seeing them celebrate their victory at the end of that event. (Possum won!)

Rally drivers are very strong individuals with strong personalities, and we desperately wanted to translate this into the game. We wanted the players to be able to learn the temperament and abilities of their competitors and see their AI opponents driving styles reflected in their rally results as the season progressed. To incorporate this we designed a detailed system that would put many RPGs to shame; it really brings the AI drivers and co-drivers to life.

Just as the different team cars have different technical specs, each team driver has their own driving skill, driving style and personal attributes. Drivers also have different physical stats - weaker drivers may start to tire on longer stages and be more affected by the rough and tumble of accidents. An AI driver's performance is also greatly determined by his temperament.

Perfectionist drivers never drive beyond their ability; they make few mistakes and are very consistent, tending to score high on championship points but not necessarily winning rallies. Richard Burns is the typical perfectionist driver. A perfectionist will almost always listen to the advice of his manager. Mr Burns's style has of course influenced the game a whole lot - players with good risk management skills stand the best chance of winning the season.

Aggressive drivers tend to drive on the very edge of their ability, sometimes sacrificing safety for speed. Aggressive drivers win rallies, but also tend to have accidents making them liable to be forced out after a crash, thereby loosing out on valuable championship points. Aggressive drivers tend to sometimes oversee the advice given to him by the team manager. We would rate Marcus Gronholm as an aggressive driver.

Reckless drivers go as fast as they can and to hell with the risks. Reckless drivers can perform spectacular results, on both sides of the scales; excellent stage times or impressive crashes. Reckless drivers may break record stage times, but rarely win championships. We would place Colin McCrae in this category of drivers.

Defensive drivers mostly keep well within the limit of their ability, thereby minimising the risk for crashing. Defensive drivers focus on gathering championship points and may well win entire seasons as other more aggressive drivers start suffering crashes as the pressure rises at the end of the season. Defensive drivers are generally the least experienced drivers in the season.

Drivers can also become passive during a rally. Passive is not a natural state for a rally driver as a passive driver would not be very competitive. However in Richard Burns Rally drivers may become passive due to injury or on orders from their team manager. Passive drivers are very careful, always sacrificing speed for safety.

Just as in life, some drivers are better on gravel surfaces others more proficient on Tarmac or snow. Most drivers suffer in the wet and the mud. Many factors are taken into account computing AI drivers' stage results. Drivers run risks of having accidents just as the player does, everything from misjudging a cut, loosing concentration to rolling down a hill and totalling the car. Drivers and co-drivers may also be chocked or injured, suffering performance penalties that may (depending on the severity of the accident) affect them on a stage, even up to several rallies.

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