The eagerly-anticipated official F1 game by Codemasters goes on sale next week.
I played the finished version of the game for the first time yesterday and talked to two of the game’s designers – and self-confessed F1 fans – about what’s gone into the first new F1 game for major formats in four years.
F1 Fanatic: This is your first F1 game. How big a deal is it for Codemasters to have the official F1 licence?
Paul Jeal, senior game producer: I think it’s massive for Codemasters, to be honest. And it’s massive for us as well, we both joined Codemasters specifically to work on an F1 game.
We’ve worked on Formula 1 games before and, for various reasons, weren’t quite able to influence those projects enough so when Codemasters got the licence we sought them out. I joined in August 2008 which was about a month after they signed the licence.
So a lot of the high-level design ideas that people either love or hate are probably down to me!
Steve [Hood, senior game designer] came on board in early 2009. We’re both F1 fans so we weren’t really looking back to previous F1 games we just know what’s missing in those games and what the fans are going to want so it’s key to use to get as many of those in as possible.
Steve Hood: I’ve always felt that, certainly in the past few years, F1 games have been made by people that were just tasked with getting an F1 game out. Whereas Paul and I – we love watching Formula 1 and we understand the things that I love about Formula 1 and why people get into it. Like the tactics or what makes a good pit stop or even why it’s important to be able to conserve fuel.
Down on paper, they sound like terrible game mechanics. But I think it’s quite cool. So we’ve tried to put that stuff together in this game as well and give it a new approach. We always say “reinvent Formula 1”, in terms of games anyway. But I don’t think anybody’s done it justice for a long time. I’m certainly not saying we’ve done that in out first iteration. But that’s out intention and that’s where we’re going.
F1F: So which F1 titles have you worked on before?
PJ: My first job in the industry was a tester on Geoff Crammond’s “Grand Prix 3” which I still consider to be one of my most favourite games.
I loved it and obviously it gave me a great overview of the gaming industry as a whole and how games are made. I think sometimes the testing role is perceived to be really good fun but I think my first job was to bounce into every barrier on every track.
F1F: I’ve just been doing that…
PJ: But then, towards the end of the project people would ask, “OK, who wants to do a full season, 100% race distance?” and I was like, “Yeah, I do!” I loved it.
Obviously I’ve worked on various different games since then but I always wanted to come back to work on an F1 game.
SH: I worked on Sony’s original series when it moved over to the Playtstation 2 in 2001. We were re-doing a Geoff Crammond game, a stock car kind of game, and then they said, “we’ve got the licence for Formula 1 now, so now it’s a Formula 1 game, and it’s got to be out next year!”
That was very early on in my career and now I feel, certainly with the people we’ve got here now, we’re able to do more justice to it, and certainly with the new machines as well.
SH: Primarily it’s because you can’t get all the licences signed off. The teams don’t unveil the cars until very late on and we need to build the tracks and build the cars.
PJ: If you look at when F1 games have come out historically, it’s either been after the season has finished or close to the end of the season.
It was a difficult decision for the company to not release a next-generation version in 2009 but it was absolutely the right decision because it had to come out of the box and smash the ball out of the park and be really, really good.
When we were looking at the release date originally we had to choose between June and September but a June release would have meant using 2009 season data. And that meant there would have been Brawn, and not having the three new teams and not having Schumacher.
Things change so fast in Formula 1 so it was quite an easy decision and we decided to go for the earliest we could do a 2010 release.
SH: We really wanted that new stuff with the new teams. And with Michael Schumacher being back in, because Paul’s a massive fan of him!
But all that stuff helped make it a more exciting season. Everyone was looking forward to it. Schumacher might not have done particularly well this season but he’s still a massive pull and it’s great to get him back in the game.
PJ: It’s got its problems, for example pit stops. We developed that very early in 2009, then we heard refuelling may be going. So we were checking F1 Fanatic and other websites daily to see if it had changed.
SH: Every now and then an email would come around from someone with a link to a website saying “Oh, that’s banned now, and this is coming back in” when we’ve already done four weeks of work on it.
PJ: We wanted all the cars to come in at once if the weather changed, and all the pit crews to come out, and we had to start work on that early otherwise it was never going to happen. We got to a stage where we had to lock it off until the rules were finalised.
Then we discovered our eight-second pit stops would have to come down to possibly as low as two-and-a-half or three seconds, or whatever it was going to be. So that was quite a lot of work in itself.
When we get data from the teams sometimes you’re luck enough to see it in January or February of that year. But what they actually put out on the tracks in testing compared to this point in the season is quite different.
You can imagine doing the game before 2009, if you could do it before the start of the season, no-one would have had the Brawn as a runaway championship leader. So then you’ve got to do DLC (download-able content) and patches to get the game back up to scratch.
We’d love to get it out earlier in the season but I think there’s some benefits to being this late in the day especially with a season like we’ve got this year.
F1F: You mention download-able content and patches – are there any plans for that with F1 2010? Obviously there’s already been a couple of driver changes.
SH: Not for 2010 I would imagine. Our game is very specifically set to start before the 2010 season so it’s not an accurate representation of where the season is now.
We want our players to experience the races as close as they are to real life so the Red Bulls are advanced at the beginning, McLaren are going to come on strong on the faster circuits, you’ll see teams like Renault coming to the fore. But it’ll be different for every player as well because where they finish determines their performance upgrades as well.
So the game starts off in March 2010 and then takes its own path.
F1F: In terms of the licence, you’re limited to doing just one season at a time, is that right?
PJ: Yes, you’re limited to the contest of that specific season.
Obviously there’s a lot of call for classic cars, classic seasons – that’s not specifically part of the licence that we’ve got. That’s not to say we can’t do it in the future.
F1F: If you look at something like the Football Manager series of games, a part of its appeal is being able to play across multiple seasons. But it seems that’s something you can’t have in an F1 game?
SH: Well, we’re hopefully going to change that a little bit. There’s certain things you have to do, that’s why we’ve tried to put as much into this game as we can with thee “Live the life” be-the-driver-type elements.
But for every yearly series you have to give players a reason to want to buy the next one. I think it’s not enough to just have the India track in for next year and a couple of driver moves. We’re going to have to move our car handling forward, our AI and our damage model.
Then we’re going to have to look at some other elements of the driving experience such as the safety car, formation lap, whatever. Lots of ideas for moving the “Live the life” stuff forward and expand the multi-player to make it an essential yearly purchase.
F1F: So in the game there’s 12 different cars and 19 tracks. Is there anything else the player can unlock?
SH: We don’t really do the ‘unlocks’. One of the things we’d love players to be able to unlock is classic drivers or classic cars. But it’s quite a lot of effort to get that in. We did use more time than we had available with the game as it is.
But the ‘unlocks’ come through in the sense that when you’re playing in career mode the team work on developing the car so you get unlocks for that over time. For example a new undertray, new brake ducts, these kind of bits and pieces that improve the performance of the car.
There’ll be highs and lows throughout the season. One of the other teams may pick up and suddenly they’re going faster than you and you’re struggling. The next season, you’re at the team’s home race, say, and they bring a big upgrade package and you’re ahead again.
F1F: What are the most difficult things to get right in a game like this?
SH: The biggest thing is the speed of the cars – and it always has been. Because if you play a touring car game, for example, you’ve got a lot more time for the player to adjust the car in a corner.
When you’re racing at Formula 1 speeds one of the things that people are able to research now is the lap times of the circuits and the speeds that the drivers can do. And then they’ll know if they’re going 3mph too fast down a straight or three tenths off the lap time.
So just getting the lap times right means that you’re going so quickly around some of the corners the player needs to know the circuit and position the car perfectly. And he’s then got to get into that rhythm of applying the throttle gradually, braking hard and then easing off so you don’t lock up, getting those things in there is extremely difficult.
Then lay on top of that the fact that you’ve got 23 other cars around all doing the same thing. And they’re open-wheelers so you get wheels interlocking, you can’t just rub along the other cars, that’s always the biggest challenge for me.
JL: All the components are linked as well. For example you want to get the next car handling update in their because it’s better for the player, but then you’ve got to re-train the AI in terms of their behaviour, and you’ve got to test it across all the tracks.
In the second part of the interview Paul and Steve talk about Anthony Davidson’s role in developing the game and how they tried to make the cars’ handling and damage models as realistic as possible. Don’t miss part two tomorrow.
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“F1 2010” by Codemasters