Dirt 5 – Playgrounds Mode Preview

Codemasters calls Dirt 5’s Playgrounds Mode the game’s “most exciting new feature.” Playgrounds allows players to build, design and create their very own tracks, challenges and events which can be shared online for other players to attempt. User-generated content isn’t an altogether new concept, but it’s new for Dirt and it’s certainly going to provide players with tonnes more game to play.

At launch, three modes and arenas will be available for players; Gymkhana, Smash Attack and Gate Crasher. The arenas are located in Arizona or the Cape Town Stadium and there are a number of sizes available to best accommodate players’ creations.

Having explored Dirt 5’s Playgrounds Mode in this preview build, it’s really easy to see just how much content is going to be created. Judging by the creativity and talent of players in other games, Super Mario Maker, for example, it’s incredibly exciting to imagine what players are going to come up with.

Dirt 5 Playgrounds Mode

Speaking with Development Director Robert Karp, I learned the idea for Playgrounds came from one of Codemasters’ Senior VPs. “I think we’ve ended up making something slightly different to what he originally had in his head,” he explains, “He wanted an area where you could muck about, put some things down and drive around. That was it.

“We’ve taken that initial idea and pushed it forward and made it into a slightly different thing.”

After playing Playgrounds, that initial idea is still in there. You really can just muck around, put some objects down and drive if you want, but that’s like taking a supercar to the shops to pick up milk. Creating events in Dirt 5’s Playgrounds mode is incredibly easy, intuitive and really satisfying. I attempted to make some Gymkhana tracks and a Smash Attack before I settled on creating A Gate Crasher.

In Gymkhana, the goal is to perform the most tricks and combos within the time limit. Making a well designed Gymkhana track proved beyond my capabilities, something which Karp shares. “I’ve been told by the team that I’m not allowed to publish any stuff on there,” he begins explaining before James Witcomb, Lead Playgrounds Designer, interjected, “Because we want people to have a good impression of it.”

Witcombe, the Designer on Playgrounds tells me that building the mode and getting it to work as intended, took a lot of trial and error. Players can do more than just place objects on the ground to create a track in Playgrounds. They’re able to use platforms and objects to create verticality so tracks can be built up into the air which creates all manner of gameplay potential. The verticality in Playgrounds is something I toyed around with during my hands-on time and I found you can create a platform, build up onto it and then remove it to leave your creation floating in the air. Whether you can build an entire tack using this method, remains to be seen but even that simple fact will enable the most talented of creators to get to work on some fantastic stuff.

The Playgrounds moniker is apt for this mode because it feels removed from the realism of the Career and other modes. Playing in Playgrounds feels like you’ve taken your best Hot Wheels to the sandpit, built a ridiculous track with ramps, jumps, loops and pools of water and just gone ham on having fun. That’s at the core of Playgrounds, the freedom to say “to hell with it” and just have a good time experimenting without many restrictions.

Thinking back to other mapmakers, track builders and the like, I ask Karp and Witcomb about the inclusion of Playgrounds mode now and why they think there’s been a bit of a resurgence in user-generated content. Karp attributes their absence in the early days of the previous generation to the ability to share content, the online community and the requirements to moderate and store the creations. “In the PS2 days, it was relatively easy because you didn’t have to worry about people sharing their creations with other people. You could go make something cool you could play on it in your house,” he said.

“There’s a lot more diligence required now and I think when online probably first came around people probably veered away from it because of the complications, but you know, maybe the last 10 years with LittleBigPlanet and games like that people have realised, ‘OK, we can do this now.'”

Smash Attack allows players to create a timed event where racers need to smash into inflatable objects and get the best score, by hitting the most before time runs out. Gate Crasher is a checkpoint race to set the best time. While each of these modes (and Gymkhana) have very specific requirements and objectives, the freedom within those constraints is wide.

After selecting an arena in Playgrounds, you’re presented with a blank canvas and a huge number of toys and are given free rein. Even the devs enjoy the freedom of Playgrounds, with Karp explaining how Friday afternoons have become Playgrounds time around the office. “We’ll say, ‘everyone stop working, we want everyone making Playgrounds,'” he tells me. “We get feedback on the building and then spend the afternoon playing them. The variety of Playgrounds is astounding.”

However, players shouldn’t expect to be able to build anything resembling the tracks in Dirt 5‘s career mode. Those have been built by the devs specifically for Dirt 5 and are bespoke. Using the tools in Playgrounds won’t get players anywhere close. Karp says, “The team’s focus is very much on tracks, races and time trials, whereas Playgrounds is Gymkhana, Gatecrasher and Smash Attack.” These are fundamentally different types of racing and driving experiences so it makes sense that the editor wouldn’t be so detailed.

It’s also a matter of memory, though Karp tells me Codemasters has done some clever things in order to give players more memory than they’ll need.

There is a memory bar which will tell you how much memory you’ve used and that fills up, but it doesn’t fill up in a kind of ordinary way. For example, the blue freights, if you put that down and then you fill-up the playground with that, it’s not the same as using one of every different type of object in terms of the memory usage, because we’re able to instance some of the memory usage. It means that you can have a wide variety and that means that you can create really interesting and different stuff. 

At launch, players will be able to use around 200 objects and items to create their tracks and events but they’ll only be able to share them within their console or platform family. Dirt 5 Playgrounds created on PS4 will be playable on PS4 and PS5 and the same goes for Xbox One and Series X. The reasoning behind segregating these communities comes down to moderation and reporting abuse. Karp explains that moderation on one platform is difficult enough and the added complexity of cross-platform makes it untenable.

On the subject of moderation, I asked Witcomb and Karp if the team had taken bets on how long before a player creates a penis in Playgrounds. “Probably the first hour,” Karp laughs.

A lot of the conversations we’ve had internally when talking about Playgrounds and why we need moderation tools and why we need someone to manage it is because often the conversation comes up about ‘the penis’.

What was unexpected was how Karp elaborated on the issues of moderation, especially when it comes to gamers’ love of creating phalluses. He explained that because of all the work that needs to go into moderation and preventing players from creating inappropriate material, the team don’t have the time or resources to work on getting cross-platform up and running for Playgrounds.

“That’s one of the reasons why we couldn’t do all the actual work, which we would have loved to have done for cross-platform, for Playgrounds,” Karp tells me. “We just decided that we didn’t have the time with Dirt 5 because we knew straight away people on Xbox and PlayStation and PC would be making penises left, right and centre. 

“You know that’s going to give us moderation problems.”

While I didn’t want to add to the moderation problems for Dirt 5, I couldn’t resist creating my very own penis track, because I am a child, of course.

Dirt 5’s Playgrounds Mode is easy to use, intuitive and a hugely enjoyable once you get into it. People who play Dirt 5 are going to benefit greatly from the deluge of additional content this will bring and content creators are going to be able to stretch their creative muscles with an all-new set of tools.

Here’s hoping everyone is more mature than me and builds intricate, interesting and unique content. Codemasters has certainly provided the means.

Thanks to Robert Karp and James Witcomb.

Dirt 5 will be available on October 16, 2020.

Playgrounds was previewed on PC using a digital code provided by the publisher.

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Leo Stevensonhttps://powerup-gaming.com/
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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