Digital Foundry: Let's move over to PC for a moment and talk DiRT 2. What's the core objective from a technical perspective you wished to achieve?
Bryan Marshall: We wanted to show that the PC version could also be a technical showpiece for us and our partners. I said earlier that we had a long console heritage for optimising and getting the most of the machines. That means when we come to do a PC version we are already in very good shape on the performance and memory front. I think PC developers struggle a lot more if moving from console to PC. It also helps that we have plenty of PC experience too of course.
By delaying the PC version later than the other platforms we could be the first AAA DirectX11 game, we were at the Windows 7 launch and were the first to use Games for Windows Live 3.1. We are also optimised to run on the very latest Intel i7 quad-core machines. We wanted to put a technical stake in the ground with DiRT 2 PC and I think we've done that.
Digital Foundry: Performance-wise, what sort of PC spec are you realistically looking at to match console performance? What would you consider to be the best, cost-efficient CPU/GPU combo that will run DiRT2 beautifully at say, 1280x1024 and 1920x1080 at 60 frames?
Bryan Marshall: DiRT2 is very scalable and all the graphics settings can be changed in real time from the in game options menu. This allows the gamer to tune their settings to get the performance-versus-quality balance that they want.
We have grouped our graphics settings into Ultra Low, Low, Medium, High and Ultra. We have pitched medium at about the quality level that the consoles run at. Any DirectX 10-class hardware will run this setting without a problem. Low is more for the slower DirectX 9-class hardware and Ultra Low is aimed at integrated graphics and laptop GPUs. High and Ultra are more for the higher end GPUs but offer exceptional image quality and detail.
CPU-wise, gamers should try to match their CPU to their GPU. Running on Medium settings, a dual-core CPU should be fine. However, running on High or Ultra a quad core is recommended if you want to be sure you aren’t CPU bound.
Digital Foundry: PC ports of console titles are often limited to console texture quality and geometry levels. The perception seems to be that today's entry-level gaming rigs have enough horsepower to replicate the console experience. With DiRT 2, is there any 'gravy' for the high-end user over and above more frames and higher resolution?
Bryan Marshall: Absolutely, and it all comes back to that attention-to-detail factor again. Hardware tesselation techniques on crowds, flags and water simulations, combined with enhanced post-processing all adds up to a more convincing and engrossing environment on DX11 than any of the other platforms.
Digital Foundry: Over and above the additional bling, does DX11 offer any performance optimisations through the use of the new APIs?
Bryan Marshall: Probably the most promising optimisation is going to be through the use of the multi-threaded aspect of the graphics command pipeline. It'll allow developers to build up commands in parallel and farm those out to the multi-cores of the future CPUs.
Digital Foundry: Can you talk to us in more depth from a technical perspective about the process of collaborating with AMD for the DirectX 11 support in DiRT 2?
Bryan Marshall: We started out on this whole process with AMD and it's been great for both of us. Both AMD and Microsoft provided technical knowledge very early on to support our efforts, with engineers coming on site to work with our guys. They pointed out where bottlenecks might occur and how we should use the new API to best effect.
Digital Foundry: To what extent has the potential of DX10 and going forward DX11 been held back by the continuing popularity of Windows XP and DX9? If you were unfettered by requiring support for previous DX iterations, would we be seeing different, better-looking games?
Bryan Marshall: I'm not so sure. We personally waited until DX11 was available to make the jump and stayed with DX9. DX9 was a bit like a mature console we discussed earlier. Developers just learn to get more and more out of these things as time goes on so quality only goes up. However, DX11 is a significant enough jump to say it's now definitely worth doing.
Digital Foundry: Would it be fair to see that AMD's triple-screen EyeFinity support and NVIDIA's stereo 3D are attempts to justify the existence of GPUs that are simply way too powerful for the vast majority of games being released?
Bryan Marshall: In the games industry we're always looking to push the immersive experience. These technologies are just the next wave of doing that. Besides, we've got a few more years yet of filling the GPU with full radiosity calculations and ray-tracing still to come.
Digital Foundry: Moving forward, Codemaster procured the prestigious F1 licence and I'm assuming that EGO will be deployed for this product: are you able to tell us anything about any new directions you're going to need the engine in order to produce the game you want to make?
Bryan Marshall: I can't say much about F1 at the moment, but suffice to say we'd like to think the quality and cutting edge nature of F1 engineering is reflected in the way the game is being engineered. Think of it as the F1 of racing games! Much more to come on F1 2010 soon.
Many thanks to Bryan Marshall for his time and to Codemasters UK for helping set up the interview. Colin McRae: DiRT 2 is out now on PC and will be the subject of a future Tech Comparison feature.