• Mik

Having become more accessible at a consumer level and adopted by an ever broadening audience, virtual photography has indubitably established itself as an art form and as an important part of the gaming industry. By presenting real creative outlets for gamers, photo modes arguably offer one of the best ways for game studios, publishers and players to engage in the same space, and so it is especially pleasing to see some studios starting to establish a photo mode heritage.


One such studio would be racing specialists Codemasters, who are now starting to evolve their photo mode across several iterations and are finding meaningful ways through which to interact with their more creative players. It is a pleasure then, to be able to chat with the team behind the likes of ONRUSH and DiRT 5, and to get some insights from Art Director Amrish Wadekar, and Senior Programmer Stuart McKie, about their views on photo modes and how they approach implementing them.

His teacher gave him extra marks!

I’d like to start off with a little bit about the community side of things... In this digital age, how important is it for a studio or publisher to be able to engage with their player base?


Developing a game like DiRT 5 is an exciting journey for the studio and all involved that takes multiple years to create. It’s great to be able to share our excitement with the fans and build up the anticipation throughout development.


Also, regular engagement with the community gives us extremely important feedback and insights into how we can improve the game. For example with DiRT 5, our constant interactions with our community helped us realise very early on that the photo mode was a major positive for players, and so we’ve looked to create social activities that encourage everyone to use this mode even more.


- Amrish Wadekar – Art Director -

- BAJA BEETLE // DIRT 5 -


Would you say then, that virtual photography is an interesting way for players to interact with you through their own creativity?


Photo mode is great way to be creative and test your photography skills. Practically anyone can have a go at using the auto mode with filters, toying around to their heart’s content, but the manual options are an excellent introduction in understanding composition, lighting, and workings of a camera.


A DiRT 5 player recently got in touch to tell us he used the game’s photo mode in a photography class at school to explain some photography techniques to other students his teacher gave him extra marks! It’s stories like that that make me think it’s definitely feasible for someone to start out their career using photo mode.


- Amrish Wadekar – Art Director -


I love hearing little stories like that, such great initiative! Speaking of which, it’s excellent to see community shots being highlighted on the DiRT 5 online loading screens, how did the decision to do that come about?


The decision to add community-taken shots in some of DiRT 5’s loading screens was influenced by a couple of things. Our studio includes a few members of the team who worked on DRIVECLUB, where a similar feature was added, so some inspiration was taken from that. But it was really the constant stream of amazing shots we’ve been seeing from the DiRT 5 community that drove the decision. We knew we had to represent the community and show their creativity in the actual game, and this was the best way to achieve that.

- COMMUNITY SHOTS // DIRT 5 -


We’re currently gathering more photo mode shots from players to add to the game in a future update, and we’re seeing new players send their shots to us all the time. Activities like this really help us reach a wider audience – even folks who haven’t played racing games before, but love to use in-game photo mode tools, have been really getting into DiRT 5.


- Amrish Wadekar – Art Director -

I can see that the DiRT 5 photo mode carries over a number of features from ONRUSH, which itself has visible Driveclub DNA, is the Codemasters team proud to be establishing that photo mode heritage?


Photo mode is a feature that has not only been an integral part in recent games, but also a feature that the Codemasters Cheshire studio is very proud of, and one we are always looking at making it better for our players. We first implemented photo mode in ONRUSH a couple of years ago and the valuable feedback we received from our community over the years has helped us enhance and improve the functionality in DiRT 5. We’ve overhauled the user interface, added new features, and made the layout accessible for players of varying levels of photography knowledge to make the most of.


We’ve found photo mode to be a perfect tool that allows us to not only engage with players but also giving them creative control over sharing the special moments they capture in-game.


- Amrish Wadekar – Art Director -

- RAPID PATINA // ONRUSH -


The spot light was a new addition for DiRT 5, while ONRUSH’s innovative 20 second replay cache didn’t make the jump; what are the challenges around implementing features like those in a new game / photo mode?


New tech must be justified in the context of the game. Specifically for ONRUSH, the Replay system added to the action-fuelled mania, allowing the user to relive & appreciate those last few moments. In the context of DiRT 5 however, the resources spent on recording / storing that replay were better spent in ways that made sense to the DiRT experience, like the 120hz mode, or custom liveries.


The photo mode spotlight came about because I like taking photos too! I wanted to make a scene with some backlit smoke, and there weren’t any conveniently placed lights in the track to pull the shot off. Implementing it was straightforward, you start by thinking about the goal: the light needs to be positionable, have some colour control, and some further controls for brightness.

It is most satisfying & rewarding for us to see players actively engage with the in-game features and produce some great UGC...

Then you consider the issues. In this case UX is the main issue, can the player have a good time while they are using this, or is going to cause frustration? So you go to the design and UI teams and show them your idea and say "Here’s this light I’ve made, it’s got some sliders for the player, how can we make this useable?", and with a bit of experimenting and refinement you've got yourself a shippable feature.


- Stuart McKie – Senior Programmer -


One of the most important tools you have for emphasising movement and speed is motion blur, can you give some insight into how that is processed within the photo mode?


Since in photo mode we don't need images to be generated at interactive frame rates we can develop an image much in the same way that a real camera works. We accumulate hundreds of frames of data to simulate the continuous exposure you would get when developing an image on film or a camera's sensor. Whilst also interpolating the positions of any moving objects from their previous to current locations. You can even set the camera up to track a moving vehicle, which will blur the background but keep the vehicle in focus. This same technique also allows us to generate depth of field effects by jittering the camera position around during the accumulation step.


- Amrish Wadekar – Art Director -


- IMAGE // ATTRIBUTION -

As photo modes continue to grow, do you keep an eye on what other studios are doing, and is there any one feature that you’d like to emulate?


Photo mode is a feature we at the Cheshire studio are extremely proud of and are constantly looking at ways to improve it for our games. Over the last few years, plenty of games have implemented this feature and titles like Horizon Zero Dawn and Ghost of Tsushima stand out in particular.


Going forward I would like to see the players having even more control over the content in the image they capture and not only the look and style. We are always looking at what the competition is doing but, then again, we have to make sure any feature we implement in game is best suited and justified for our product and players.


- Amrish Wadekar – Art Director -


On the subject of competition, both DiRT 5 & the DiRT community team were nominated for The VP Awards last year, including Best Photo Mode, how much would you like to turn that into a win in the future?


It is most satisfying and rewarding for us to see players actively engage with the in-game features and produce some great UGC. In the future we will continue to take on player feedback and look at ways to further develop ‘Photo Mode’. Recognition in the form of awards for all the hard work our teams put into creating our games would be great.


- Amrish Wadekar – Art Director -

- NOMINEES // THE VP AWARDS 2020 -


Taking this full circle and back to the origins of capture art; when creating promotional images and material for a game, do the teams at Codemasters use the same photo mode tools that are available to players?


Most definitely, we use the exact same photo mode feature that is available in the retail version of DiRT 5 to capture all the screenshots that we put out. Throughout the DiRT 5 campaign we have relied on photo mode to efficiently produce great in-game promotional content that would have otherwise been a time-consuming process.


Players tend to prefer in-game shots to see how the game truly looks in action as opposed to pre-rendered or CG images that may not offer the same authenticity. I find the feature itself gives us all the control and options at a button press, capturing and processing quality images that show the game at its best.


- Amrish Wadekar – Art Director -


That has been really fascinating stuff, is there anything else that you would like to add?


Just a simple thank you to all DiRT 5 players who have taken the time to create amazing shots with the game’s photo mode tools. We’re seeing them come through every day, and internally we are constantly sharing around some of the best images all the time. To see players making full use of the tools we’ve created, and enjoying themselves whilst doing so, is brilliant.


- Amrish Wadekar – Art Director -


All that is left then is for me to say thank you to Amrish & Stuart for giving us these wonderful insights, and to Social & Communications Manager James Bralant for helping to make this happen. I hope you have all enjoyed learning a little more about what goes into developing a photo mode, as well as how its role in the industry continues to grow. If you'd like to know more, be sure to check out my full DiRT 5 photo mode review for all the details.


Until next time...

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