We've spoken to a few sports stars in our time, in various guises, trying to sell their latest game, but very few are as informed, or as friendly, as Rally legend Cody Crocker. We spoke in-depth to Cody about his love of racing games, his aborted game development career, and the art of creating the perfect steering wheel set up.
‘These computer games are so realistic nowadays’. ‘The graphics keep getting better every year’. ‘Me kids love it’.
These are the kind of cookie cutter quotes we’ve come to expect when interviewing a sports star about a game they’re endorsing - so when our Namco Bandai rep asked us if we wanted to interview Australian Rally star Cody Crocker, we were understandably reluctant. Sure, he seems like a lovely chap and, sure, he's an undisputed legend of the sport – but could he really tell us anything of interest about Dirt 3?
Well... yes. It turns out he could. Big time.
“I’m a complete computer nerd,” begins Cody Crocker. “I’m a complete dork.”
Initially, we were cynical. This is Cody Crocker – the winner of seven racing titles in the last seven years, the most successful driver in the history of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship - a pretty big deal. To be perfectly honest, we had a hard time believing this ‘nerd’ claim of his.
“No, seriously,” he claims, sensing our cynicism. “I actually did computer science at uni whilst making my way in the rally world, so rally video games are pretty much the perfect combination for me!”
Cody Crocker is the Australian ambassador for DiRT 3, a game steadfast in its attempt to bring rallying back to the forefront of the franchise. In that sense Crocker is the perfect representative - but it’s his substantial, and lengthy, relationship with video gaming that makes him such an incredible person to talk to about the latest entry into the DiRT franchise.
“I’ve always loved playing proper rally games,” says Cody, “first I was on PC and now I’m onto the PS3 - so that’s great. I’ve spend more time on DiRT 2 than any other game and that says a lot. I try almost every game that comes out, but I always go back to DiRT. So to build on that with DiRT 3 is going to fantastic.”
Video games and rallying have always been twin passions for Cody - to the point where, during his early coding days, he actually attempted to create his own rally game.
“I wanted to marry the two,” laughs Cody. “Me and some mates actually started developing some really primitive racing games – I actually got it to the point where I had two squares driving around the screen and I could control it with my steering wheel on the PC! And that was when some of the early PC games were starting to come out – I realised these guys could do a much better job than I could so I gave up!”
Nowadays Cody focuses his industrious gaming spirit on his set-up.
“Over my gaming career I’ve probably built about ten iterations of a gaming steering wheel cockpit, starting all the way back to the PC, where I used sewing machine pedals! A mate of mine had an old steering wheel which we managed to build into an old unit, and we were actually using rubber bands to hook it all up so it would work!”
We laugh in disbelief.
“I’m serious! This is the devotion we had to making this work! That was when a lot of top racing games were coming out – Indianapolis 500. That was one of the best. Those sort of games we’d just play and play and play!
“I’ve still got a bunch of mates I play with, and they’ve all built their own set ups as well with their steering wheels.”
Nowadays, of course, Cody hardly needs to spend his time rigging up sewing machine pedals and elastic bands, but he’s still proud of his gear - and he’s not above employing a MacGyver-esque resourcefulness in order to create the perfect set-up.
“I buy the steering wheels and pedals now of course,” begins Cody, “because there’s no way you could create one on your own for the price they go for nowadays - but a while back I bought a seat from Office Works for 30 bucks, ripped the bottom off of it, stuck it onto some wood, and locked it in – it only takes a couple of minutes to assemble.”
Now, to the chagrin of his wife, his self-created contraption sits tucked away in the corner of his living room.
“She tolerates it,” laughs Cody, “because she has to! She doesn’t have a choice! She goes upstairs to bed, and I’ll just stay in the lounge for a couple of hours! She can’t stop me playing – she knew from the start I was always rallying or gaming when I met her, and I don’t think she minds.”
According to Cody, using a steering wheel is essential to get the full racing experience – especially when it comes to feedback from the cars.
“Once it’s set up right you can really represent the balance and the physics of the car,” claims Cody, “to the point where you’re using the pedals in the same way I’m doing in a rally car, and balancing the steering the same way as I’m doing in a rally car – I think that’s pretty cool.
“There are those moments, especially on the Audi Quattro on one of the Finland stages, where it just feels awesome. It’s an amazing feeling – you’ll be throwing yourself into the corner at 200km/h and actually feeling what that car is doing, and balancing the throttle – that’s really fun.”
Cody uses feedback in the game in a remarkably similar way to how he uses it in real-life rallying, which is one of the reasons why he takes the time to get his own set-up pitch perfect.
"Once you get used to the wheel you can drive a lot better,” claims Cody. “I was playing online and getting absolutely smashed – that’s when I realised I needed to get the wheel out again! I didn’t quite want to invest in the G27, but as long as you can get the feedback right, that’s the important thing.
“You use all of those things in the car - for example, when you’re turning into a corner in a rally car, if the steering wheel gets a bit lighter you know you’ve lost grip on the road and you feel that through the wheel as well as the car. All those little things work and the great thing about steering wheels in games is when they give you that feedback. Some games allow you to feel the ripple strips – that’s amazing because that’s exactly what you feel when you’re driving."
Realism in video games is obviously important to Cody Crocker – would he ever consider hopping into his racing suit and busting out a rally in full gear, in the comfort of his own home?
“To give you the short answer, he begins, laughing, “no.
“To give you the long answer - no!”