Love them or loathe them, one of the most discussed staples of any EA Sports game is the skill ratings used to quantify the ability of athletes. However, for the first iteration at least, EA WRC won’t have driver skill ratings for the licensed teams.
Apparently, not only is it a headache for the development team to split hairs between similar racers, but reducing a person’s life’s work down to a number also tends to upset some of the most competitive people on the planet.
“[Driver ratings are] something Jon [Armstrong, Codemasters game designer and JWRC driver] and the rest of the design team have looked at, talked about, and asked ‘how can we do this as fairly as possible, how can we do this as meaningfully as possible?’ But in the first game we’re not going to have numbers on drivers,” Ross Gowing, Codemasters senior creative director, told VG247.
“We will look at that a bit further down the line. We’re in a period at the moment of making sure our relationships with all of the WRC drivers and teams are off to the best possible start and we thought trying to score them might not play into that perfectly in the first year.”
But while you won’t be able to discern between an arbitrary-seeming “81” given to Elfyn Evans against a just as arbitrary but infinitely superior “82” given to someone else, that doesn’t mean that the AI-controlled drivers will perform as identical robots.
Despite not racing wheel-to-wheel with other competitors in rally, Codemasters has tried to lean on data to express the distinct preferences and proficiencies of each driver, with past performances on different types of stages informing the kinds of times players will see in-game.
“A great example in the back-end is that drivers have certain attributes for certain rallies or surface types that mean they will be slightly better on one surface than they will be on others,” Armstrong explained.
“We collect all the data to support this, so it’s a true representation of the drivers in real life. So Sebastien Ogier is the king of Monte Carlo, the first rally in the Championship, so you’ll tend to see him at the front of the field. Whereas in another event like Estonia you could see him be slightly slower with probably Kalle Rovanpera being the favourite.
“It will represent what you see in the real world very closely and I think that’s something players will appreciate because it immerses you further into the experience.”
However, just because Rovanpera won the Championship in 2022 doesn’t mean he’s going to win every time. As well as speed through stages, Codemasters has also tried to incorporate drivers’ experience of different types of conditions and even luck with technical problems into the mix as well.
“Because WRC has such an incredible variety of locations, with different mindsets and skill sets required at each one, you do see people outperform their own expectations,” Gowing said. “We use Finland as an example, way back in history Walter Rohrl refused to drive there because you had to commit to flying through the air so much, the amount of jumps in Finland is frankly terrifying.
“I think you see some other drivers take their foot off the accelerator in Finland to stay on the ground more. Then you’ve got some guys who relish that flat out approach and perform a lot better in Finland. Then you split that with drivers who are used to driving in Sweden and know what a snowbank will do to you if you hit it. Some guys are far more adept at avoiding snowbank collisions than others.
“It’s about all of these different little behaviours and feeding the data into the AI system. And some drivers just seem to have bad luck with little mishaps and mechanical difficulties more often than others – that’s all fed into the chance of them encountering damages that affect their times in-game. There’s a lot of stuff rather than just outright speed. To try and make it feel organic with high-performing drivers you won’t always see one finishing in front of the other, there is an ebb and flow to how drivers of similar abilities perform in-game.”
EA WRC is out on November 3rd, 2023 on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, and is now developed using Unreal Engine 5 instead of Codemaster’s propietary Ego engine.