Here’s the second part of my interview with the men behind the new official Formula 1 game.
They explained how F1 Fanatic played a role in the creation of “F1 2010″, why Anthony Davidson told them “rFactor” isn’t realistic enough, and what they’ve got planned for “F1 2011″.
F1F: One of the things I noticed playing the game just now is how detailed the handling model is – for example, you can really feel the difference between the option and the prime tyre. A lot of work seems to have gone into that.
Steve Hood, senior game designer: It’s one of the things we were really eager to get it to differentiate ourselves from other racing games.
If you play a “Gran Turismo” or “Forza” people are doing those three-lap races where they’re kind of sprint events. But one of the things you always find in Formula 1 is that drivers have got different styles. We always use Hamilton and Button as a comparison.
Button always seems to maintain a really good pace throughout the race, he’s under the radar in many races and he picks up towards the end because he’s maintained his car. We want to do that in the game as well.
So, for example, you can pick the prime tyres at the start of the race when everybody’s going for options so you’ll be faster at the end. Trying to extract those cool things in Formula 1 and making a game-play element out of them is important.
If you know about Formula 1 and watch it on TV and you know about the difference between the tyres, you can create your own strategies and that can give you an advantage.
Paul Jeal, senior game producer: Lots of work has gone into tyres in terms of their temperature ranges. We’ve got a lot of data from Bridgestone on their grip value and their fall-off and their life.
I think we’ve probably made a little bit more of a difference between the options and the primes – because I was hoping their was going to be more of a difference in real life.
F1F: So there aren’t drivers doing race distances on soft tyres like Vettel did on Sunday?
PJ: Yeah, absolutely, doing the entire race is crazy!
It’s the same with the cars as well we spent a lot of time on the base model of the car handling to get that as good as possible. But then we want subtle differences between all the cars which is nice to get.
I think when Steve and Anthony [Davidson] were in one day driving at Monaco and they drove the Red Bull, and then the Lotus and the HRT, and there was about a five-and-a-half second difference between them. And that was really pleasing.
And the cars’ behaviour is slightly different. Some guys prefer the Red Bull, some guys prefer the McLaren, the Renault seems to have a really nice feel – it’s a good all-rounder.
SH: I really like the Force India, for example. When you know the different car strengths for the different circuits, that’s quite good online as well.
I was playing with some guys the other night and they were only running with the higher teams’ cars. But then one of them had to go in a Sauber and you could hear him moaning over the headset saying he couldn’t get the car to turn into the corner and how it was under-steering everywhere and he had to use the front wing flap to get it to turn in.
Stuff like that is cool. And you end up modifying your driving style to get the most out of a car.
F1F: How far have you been able to go with the damage model, and are you restricted by a need not to make the sport look unsafe?
SH: We certainly had grand plans for the damage model. I don’t think we’ve quite pulled it off with the first one.
It can be extremely complicated and extremely detailed. We’ve got the scope for doing that in 2011.
Certainly one of the things that we’re not allowed to do is promote the fact that the cars can be destroyed: say, gouging a hole in the side so you can see the radiator and go down to the shell of the car. We’re not really allowed to promote that.
Sometimes it’s a bit frustrating because people are interested in the damage model and we want to put all this stuff out there. But we haven’t developed it as much in 2010 as much as we would have liked to. So I think that’s certainly something we’re going to be building for 2011.
PJ: It’s quite a delicate conversation, actually. Around the time we went in to see them about it there’d been some wheels coming off and there’d been a death in one of the junior formulae [Henry Surtees in Formula Two]. It’s a quite difficult subject to approach.
And also you’ve got the fact that it is a game and you don’t want your rear wing to get smashed quite as easily as they do in real life because that’s race over.
One of the things we were working on which didn’t quite make it into this game was reliability gremlins creeping in – maybe you get stuck in gear, maybe you lose a cylinder and have to drive defensively.
We’ve still got that in terms tyre strategies and maybe you dial your revs down. The AI do it as well – so, say Hamilton’s got a 20-second lead, he’s going to ease off. Which makes it better from a gaming point of view because he’s not racing off into the sunset. But also it’s what he actually would do in real life to conserve his engine – until you get within ten seconds of him or so, then he’s going to speed up again.
SH: All the damage aspects feed back into the physics engine. For example if you damage a front wing endplate or something you’ll have slightly less front downforce.
I think the casual player won’t actually notice that. But if you’re really consistent and doing lap times within a couple of tenths of each other then you’ll notice that difference.
And it plays on your mind, you worry about it. You think “how far can I push it now” and “do I need to compensate by turning the front wing up?” That sounds massively geeky but I love it!
F1F: What kind of input has Anthony Davidson had – where has he stepped in and said “you need to change this”?
PJ: He’s been brilliant as far as I’m concerned. Not only is he a gamer – he plays racing games all the time – he’s driven the cars and many of the circuits.
He’s able to say to us “you know such-and-such that happens in this game, they’ve got that completely wrong, and everybody thinks that’s really hardcore”.
He helps up massively because when we’re working on something he can say “I can feel this happening in the car now” and we might say “oh, we didn’t think that would come through” and then we can tweak it further.
He’s a great person to bounce ideas off, he’ll come in every couple of weeks and point us in the right direction. When we asking “should it be as easy as this or as difficult as that?” we can get a definitive answer from him. We don’t have to constantly research things or make second guesses, we can just ask him.
SH: That’s the thing with the public perception with games like “rFactor” – because they’re hard to play, everyone perceives that it’s an accurate simulation.
But if you speak to Ant, the F1 cars in “rFactor” are more difficult to drive than they are in real life. So he was keen to help us get an authentic experience.
We would never have got to the level of car handling we’re at if it wasn’t for Ant. But the thing that excites me the most is that for a large part of this project a lot of the car handling stuff was being totally rewritten from Grid. So at that time we weren’t maximising Ant’s potential.
But now it’s all there and operational we’ve had great benefits since February or March where it’s started to come together. Ant would be in every other week, spending all day saying “change this, change that, do this, do that”, getting the set-up right, getting all those kinds of things.
We have to evolve everything forward for the next one ["F1 2011"] and then we can make some pretty big gains relatively easily next time because we won’t have to re-write huge modules.
F1F: One of the great things I noticed playing it just now, which I hadn’t experienced in an F1 game before, is how difficult it is to see where you’re going at Monaco.
SH: Yeah – with Monaco you have to get into this rhythm where you know what’s coming exactly where you are. Because otherwise you just don’t get the lap times.
You can see how the drivers have to lean on it around the track just to get a time out of it.
Very early on in one of the versions we had I remember Ant driving around using the cockpit view. There’s some little rumble strips against some of the barriers just to remind you you’re getting close to the barrier and he rode those on every lap – it’s really annoying, actually, that he was able to do that first time out!
PJ: He did a lot of work with us on developing the cockpit angles. In the end raised them marginally for game-play purposes because when you see how low they really are it’s hard to play like that.
On a lot of the stuff he would tell us “No, stuff doesn’t come at you as fast as that”. People’s perception is that at 215mph at Monza everything’s come at you like you’re in a rocketship. Even at Monaco now he still thinks it’s a fraction too fast.
SH: I certainly think that the drivers become accustomed to the speed and we wanted to get the player accustomed to the speed as well so they’ve got time to concentrate. They can think about what they’re going to do tactically, how the car is performing, what the other guy is doing, is the weather changing and so on.
I want them to be thinking about that so that you can play out these stories during the race. It’s not just about doing the qualifiyng laps in the race.
PJ: It’s about consistency, really.
One of the things I like about your website in particular is you do lap time comparisons. That helped us with the artificial intelligence.
I think it was Kimi Räikkönen I was looking at whose lap times at the start were just bang, bang, bang consistent right up until his pit stop.
We compared that with one of the rookies and he took maybe six or seven laps to get up to speed and in those few laps he lost 15 seconds or so.
We’ve seen Anthony play it, we’ve seen Lewis Hamilton, Adrian Sutil and Sebastien Buemi play it, and they just get in and they’re hypnotic with their rhythm. Ant did six or seven laps within a tenth of a second of each other around one track and you just watch them thinking “that’s it, we’ve got it”.
F1F: OK last question: the radio voice. Is it Rob Smedley?
PJ: No, it’s not…
F1F: Really? It sounds an awful lot like him.
SH: No but he does sound like him.
When we were looking at it we didn’t want to do TV style-commentary we wanted to do engineer-style commentary.
We wondered if we should do a Pat Symonds-type, quite technical voice [this is accompanied by an impressively authentic "OK, Fernando" delivered in Symond's distinctive accent] or should we have someone’s who’s like your best mate – and we went for that.
F1F: But he doesn’t call you ‘baby’ at any point?
PJ: No, he doesn’t call you baby! We were dying to get something about the white visor in there but we decided against it.
F1 Fanatic will have a detailed, multi-format review of “F1 2010″ early next week. In the meantime, please post any questions you have about the game in the comments and I’ll try to answer them there or in the review.
Read the first part of the interview here: “F1 2010″: The Formula 1 game made by F1 fanatics (Part 1)
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“F1 2010″ by Codemasters