Continuing our exclusive series of diaries written by developers Warthog throughout the making of Richard Burns Rally, here's part two from creative director, Dennis Gustafsson, who brings us the full low-down on the 'camber slingshot effect'...
As with the driving experience and the rally season, we conducted extensive on-stage searching for the right look for our game, rather than trying to copy the techniques of our competitors. It instantly became apparent that, compared to most current rally games, actual rally stages have a lot of detail to them and that the standard rally road is very much narrower than what is depicted in most rally games today (just take a look at how many cars you can have standing side-by-side on the road in most rally games and you'll soon get the picture). This road-width anomaly greatly reduces the feeling of speed the player gets when driving and would also lessen the need for using proper rally techniques which would, by default, defeat the purpose of making a rally simulation game.
The unnaturally-wide road syndrome also invites players to keep up unrealistically high speeds that will make taking corners very difficult and result in them sliding off the track. Actually, this is a feature in a couple of our US stages that are really wide but they are true-to-life exceptions to the game's generally much narrower rally roads.
As we started to test our first track layouts, we had some trouble getting our car to hug the inside of the corners in a realistic manner. After discussing the car handling with Richard Burns, we realised that what was missing was a higher detail in the modelling of the road surface - most importantly, the camber of the road.
To get a good feel for the natural geometry and width of rally roads, we started investigating and measuring normal Swedish gravel roads, which are basically of the type used for British and Scandinavian rallies. During this field trip we made many interesting insights into the roads that we thought we knew so well. One was the width of the road, and how the corners were generally much wider than the straights, but the biggest one was camber. We were pleased to see that the added camber had the desired effect and impact on the driving experience: having the car travel across the raised surface of the road as you go from side to side and being able to 'slingshot' around the inside of corners using the camber. Thank you, Romans (or whoever thought of it), for making the roads raised in the middle to let the rainwater run off into ditches.
The positive 'camber slingshot' effect, of course, has a downside as well: trying to take a cambered curve on the outside of the camber can just as easily slingshot your car off the stage and into the rough. ('The rough', by the way, is another chapter that we considered long and hard for RBR. Rally cars are really not made to drive outside of the track and in most rallies the rough is really too rough for a rally car to manoeuvre through and the cars that end up outside of the track will simply get stuck and need outside help to get pushed or even towed out. This was also put into the game.)
We got so excited we started to camber all our roads. This proved to be a mistake, however, as when we travelled to each and every rally to gather terrain and texture data, we found that almost half of our rally stages were in fact not cambered. The Arctic stages, for instance, were ploughed flat before each stage. Most of the Australian and USA stages were also fairly flat and the stages through Hokkaido's beautiful wildlife reserves used draining grates to lead the water off. We also found that the insides of corners are commonly 'dug out' after countless farmers have cut the corner with their tractors and machinery over the years.