Moving to rallying from circuit-racing presented Milestone with two significant challenges. The first was to write an entirely new physics engine to house a handling model that could cope with the bumps, surface changes and loose, handbrake-heavy, drifting driving style of rallying. It also needed to satisfy simulation enthusiasts while remaining accessible to casual fans of the sport.
"The fact is that you have to give a model that can be handled by a newbie, while keeping the game fun to play," Zonca says. "We started saying, OK, if I apply this aid I will be prevented from skidding. But one of the most beautiful things in WRC is to drift, skid around corners. So why prevent the player from doing this?
"So for example, even if I apply the stability help, it will be impossible to spin in a corner, but it will still be possible to arrive at the corner, brake, making a Scandinavian flick, making the weight shift from one side to the other, then taking the apex, accelerating, exiting the corner with a powerful drift... It's really important."
It's also looking more and more like a success. At E3, WRC's handling had the right feel, but was often unpredictable. Weeks later in Milan it's taking shape beautifully. I try the game on Finnish dirt, Swedish snow, Jordanian sand and German tarmac, and grip is finely modulated, progressive and surprisingly subtle, with noticeable rather than pronounced surface feedback.
The swishing, graceful slides on snow are particularly delicious and easier to control than some games' representation of power-sliding on tarmac. On a console pad, with some driving aids turned on, it's a surprisingly accessible; on a steering wheel (WRC will support every wheel imaginable) with the aids removed it will bite your hand off. But, crucially - and unlike, say, the difference between such set-ups in Forza 3 - it feels like the same game each time.
Milestone's other, even more daunting challenge was creating the stages themselves. Actual stages being far too long to represent in a game, the team had to craft every one of those 550 kilomtres themselves, trying to capture the characteristics and spirit of the actual stages while making sure they'd work from a gameplay perspective.
"So we analyse with deep research of the real location of the rally, go along the track and take photos to understand the characteristics of the ground, the vegetation, the landscape, what you can see from the road..." says Paglianti. "And then, when we have all these elements, we started to recreate based upon various stages. It's not exactly the same, but they have some links to the real ones. Also we put along the stages the typical elements, for example in Finland there's a very famous jump in the rally and we recreate the shape of that jump."
This, based on 24 stages available to play in Milan, is where Milestone has struck gold. Previously bound to transcribing real-world circuits, the studio has found in the freedom of WRC a real talent for creative and exciting track design.
In Sweden, you thread your car down terrifyingly narrow gullies of packed snow, watching walls of ice slide by as you drift past the apex. Germany offers a tight, urban, tarmac complex winding around a Roman ruin that suddenly opens out into a thrilling high-speed sequence through picturesque woods. Jordan is a hair-raising test of guts, the track a ribbon of loose sand winding along the tops of dunes with precipitous drops on either side.
The only thing more amazing than the sheer number of corners Milestone has created is how many of them are memorable and interesting. WRC's stages are credible, but condensed and dramatised in a way that will really help the game escape accusations of dryness.
There are rough edges here; graphical polish is variable, with Finland's watery autumn sun and muddy forests looking very atmospheric, but the Jordanian and German stages needing a few more passes to come up to scratch. Unforunately, you can't expect Milestone to be able to match the visual pyrotechnics of, say, Codemasters' EGO engine. The sound, however, is already excellent.
But it's how WRC feels in your hands, and the feeling Milestone exhibits for the sport, that really matter; especially so after a five-year wait for the return of true rallying to the videogame form. On those counts, you've every right to be optimistic.
WRC will be released for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 8th October.