Formula 1 games are those specialist beasts that, like the sport itself, are beloved of a very particular species of racing fan: the hardcore, detail obsessed kind. So, how is Codemasters going to ensure that it retains those while building on a highly prized franchise?
I met and chatted with Stephen Hood of Codemasters, Chief Game Designer for F1 2011
to find out how work is progressing and what lessons have been learned from working on F1 2010
SPOnG: F1 2010
was a huge success, what was the teamís first reaction when Codemasters got the license?
We focussed on what Formula 1 is all about. Many of the team are fans of the sport and whenever anyone asks me Ďwhatís your favourite race?í, I always respond by going back to Monaco 1992 when Mansell was trying to get past Senna. Itís moments like that, itís all about the key to racing is what Formula 1, its soul. A lot of racing games now are focussed on this three lap sprint, which is not what Formula 1 is about.
Thatís what you have in qualifying; whoís the fastest over a single lap. Races in Formula 1 donít have to be about that; itís that longer term goal. So weíre playing with those things that are the key ingredients of Formula 1. These are the tactics, different strategies and tyre compounds.
These are things a lot of people gloss over because they assume that for gamers itís going to be too complicated. We just went with our gut feel of Ďwhat is Formula 1 all about?í.
Now the player can turn off all of these complexities if they want, but if they are watching a race weekend and hear the commentators talking about DRS or the wings you have to have that stuff in the game. But it has to be understandable for the player. Itís why weíve been trying to cram everything in as much as possible.
In the presentation you gave for F1 2011
, you spoke about drivers Ďattackingí one another. That language is very confrontational, is this something youíre trying to bring out more in F1 2011
It goes back to that longer term gain. In most racing games you can change position constantly, Formula 1 is about hunting someone down over a number of laps.
We play on that and in F1 2011
, whatís really important to us is, if one of the good players has to make an early pit stop or has a puncture, when he gets back into the race and heís hunting people down, heís turned his engine up and he doesnít care about his fuel use, he wants to see fastest laps come up on the screen and that way the other players know heís charging up the field.
In real life this is what commentators do, but in F1 2011
weíre trying to give position information from a driverís perspective. I think thatís whatís cool about Formula 1, but for a developer itís extremely difficult to measure. Weíre talking about fractions of a second.
We need consistency over a broad range of player abilities; itís not all about spending 99.9% of your time focussing on driving and attacking each corner. Itís about being able to drive the car competitively, but also having some resource in your mind left over to consider strategy and tactics on what the player should be doing.
Should they undercut someone at a pit-stop, should they turn their engine up, should they be saving their car? All of this stuff is interesting to consider.
There is a limitation on the number of online players in the game, is this due to consoles and could the PC have a full roster of 24 players?
You can say in an ideal world that the PC could have 24 players over a peer to peer connection, but the problem is not the power of the PC, but the variation of the technology everyone is using. This extends to variation in connection quality as well.
At least with consoles, Microsoft and Sony quite rightly put certain restrictions on things in order to make sure that for a large majority of people, the game experience is going to be very good. It can be a lot more hit and miss on the PC because there are less of those restrictions. So on the one hand yes, it would be an ideal world, it would be brilliant on that system, but when everyone from across the world is trying to connect, we canít be sure or guarantee any kind of service.
With Sony and Microsoft on the other hand, we have to work within their restrictions and we just have to become cleverer about how we get around those restrictions. With another yearís development time, we can go for 24 cars online.
Going back to the origins of Formula 1 games, is there anything from the much celebrated Geoff Crammond quartet of F1 simulators you have brought on board with F1 2011
Totally! Loads of things! I got into the industry because I loved playing those games. I remember Formula 1 coming out on the Amiga and everyone was amazed by it. Of course you play it now and youíre struck by the terrible frame rate, but we didnít know any better back then. It also had this steering help in it as well that enabled the player to drive consistently.
Geoff Crammond concentrated on those tenth of a second in lap times, just like we are doing now with F1 2011
. I have always loved those games and the fundamentals Geoff was trying to employ and did so successfully. We have tried to incorporate into this series of games as well.
Just to confirm then, the series is going to be annualised?
Yes, but that does put a lot of pressure on us. Itís a case of having to reinvent the game every year. Thankfully we have a whole stack of things weíre going to put into the Formula 1 series over time and as long as we keep running with the license and keep putting it out every year, I think weíll justify people purchasing it every year.
The final question I have to ask is regarding the save corruption issues of the previous game, which were fixed via a patch after the gameís release. What measures have Codemasters put into place to prevent this from happening with F1 2011
When weíre talking about games becoming ever more complex, it becomes increasingly hard to hunt down these bugs. Time pressures are still there and Iím stunned at how many top flight titles come out with save corruption issues.
The thing is we have to overcome those things; yes the launch of F1 2010
didnít go very smoothly for us and we have addressed it. Various positions changed within the team, some left entirely and we brought new people in.
We looked at ourselves in a very harsh manner and said; ĎWhat do we have to do in order to improve?í We are our own harshest critics, believe me. I apologise for all of the problems people encountered with F1 2010
and I think we have done the right thing by changing personnel to try and improve.
comes out on 23rd September 2011 for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360