The new Formula 1 season has kicked off with a bang, four races in and we have seen all kinds of excitement. There will be more F1 excitement to come later in the year with the release of Codemasters’ new racing game, F1 2010. Here Senior Producer on the title, Paul Jeal talks about the impact of games like Grand Prix 3, the weather effects and much more. Also, new screenies, still with last years liveries mind.
The Reticule – It has been a while since the last official F1 title was released, and even longer since there has been one on the PC, how do you feel about bringing this game to the PC considering the F1 game heritage like Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix series and Grand Prix Legends?
Paul Jeal – As you say there is a strong F1 heritage on PC so we’re both delighted and hugely motivated to be bringing F1 back. My first job in the games industry was actually as a games tester on Grand Prix 3 and it remains one of my favourite games to this day. I think it’s fair to say there used to be a great level of anticipation as the latest F1 game arrived, they were thought of very highly, but they’ve lost their way over the years. There hasn’t really been any progression in terms of building on the existing feature set, or innovation in terms of thinking of what else could add to the overall experience. More than anything developers lost their way with the entry requirements for such games – the driving and racing elements have been poor for many years. Instead we’ve just had a series of updated assets using the same feature sets. Our philosophy from the very beginning has been to not only over-deliver on all the features you’d expect in a F1 game but also to add entirely original features to the mix so that F1 games can once again be talked about in a positive light and return to the head of the pack.
TR – Do you plan for the PC version to support features like Track IR? Are there any other ways in which the PC version will differ from what we will see on the consoles?
PJ – We’re still in the middle of development at the moment so we haven’t locked down a full list of control supports. It’s fair to say though that technology which has already been incorporated into the EGO Engine, such as Track IR, will most likely be supported as well as some selected others. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so we’ve had to put the vast majority of our focus on pure ‘game features’ for F1 2010 in order to ensure that we launch with a bang. Therefore there hasn’t been too much focus on platform specific features. That said, we do have the licence for a number of years so you can expect further features from us, year on year, as opposed to just updated cars, drivers and tracks.
TR – Obviously the EGO engine is very dynamic, as we have seen with the DiRT titles and on GRID, how have you taken in forward for F1 2010?
PJ – Yes, EGO is a fantastic engine and it’s given us a great head start in terms of how quickly we were able to get cars racing around a track, or a multiplayer game up and running. This has allowed us to put a lot of focus on brand new features, such as our active track technology which is basically a dynamic weather system that not only looks incredible but the track simulation knows how much grip or water is laid on the surface, every 30 cm2! It certainly hasn’t always been as straight forward as taking everything that previous games have had however. The target audience for F1 games is very different to that of DiRT or Grid, and as such we have had to re-engineer several elements from the ground up. Most notable of which has been the car physics, with extensive rewrites across the board including extensive aerodynamics work and a completely new tyre simulation model. In addition to this, we’ve had to add carbon fibre as a completely new material in our damage system. Our improvements to EGO have gone beyond the race track though. We have more character animations in F1 2010 than some action games due to the amount of effort we’ve gone to in modelling a fully manned pit lane, where all cars and teams can come out at any time, and also back stage in the paddock where we’ve evolved the DiRT2 front end quite significantly. All of this development work will of course go back into EGO for use in future Codemasters titles.
TR – The weather plays a big role in F1, how detailed are the weather effects in the game and how much do they affect the car handling?
PJ – Yes, absolutely and this was one of the first features which we started working on. The weather effects are incredibly detailed. Visually we have the rain effects, kick up spray around the tyres, rooster tails from the back of cars as they race at high speeds. All of these change depending on the speed the car is travelling. On the track surface itself you can see puddles of water forming. These puddles are then dynamically displaced depending on a number of factors, such as the number of cars which drive over that particular section of track, how fast they are going and what tyres they are on. Full rain tyres will displace more water than intermediates and that is all fully modelled in the game. What this means in pure game terms is, just as in real life, being on the right tyre at the right time is absolutely key. Fully wet or dry tracks are fairly self-explanatory, but there is a grey area in-between where the dynamics of the weather system mean that these strategy calls are critical to the outcome of the race. Our weather system, just as in real life, is somewhat unpredictable and weather can change from dry to wet, or vice versa multiple times in a session. We even have race engineers advising on weather conditions based on their weather radars, but as we saw in Malaysia this year those rain conditions might not ever materialise! The Race Engineer will offer advice but ultimately it’s up to players to decide whether to pit and which tyres they want to use. Even the AI is tied into this system so you might see more competent drivers or drivers outside the points making a tyre gamble to try to gain positions. The Race Engineer will keep you up to date as and when people start pitting for particular tyre types. Maybe they’re onto something, so you always have the opportunity to follow the lead of your rivals.
In terms of how the weather affects the car handling, our remodelled tyre simulation means that each of the tyre compounds (option, prime, intermediate, full rain) have their own operating temperature ranges. This allows us complete flexibility in terms of adjusting how much grip is available in each of the conditions. Final values haven’t yet been locked down but it’s fair to say that from extensive internal testing, and feedback from Anthony Davidson (former F1 driver and Brawn GP Test Driver in 2009), we know the limits whereby we’ve had too much or too little grip. It’s now just a case of fine tuning this for each of the difficulty levels. We don’t quite want it to be 100% accurate to real life, as even the best F1 drivers spin out left, right and centre and have to drive around at very low speeds, but we certainly don’t want to have too much grip in wet conditions either. We’re confident that we’ll get the balance right.
TR – F1 cars are notoriously sensitive to different conditions, how do you plan on providing feedback on this to players? Will cars noticeably lose grip?
PJ – One of the things that Anthony Davidson has been keen to get across in our game is just how twitchy and nervous F1 cars are, especially at low speeds or when they are off the racing line and this is another thing that we’ve put a lot of focus on. Outside of the weather, we have different surface grip values for everything from the track itself, to the sections of Astroturf, grass, gravel, sand, and even the painted logos and lines can have individual values that affect the car differently. On the race track itself, the track starts off in a ‘green’ state i.e. it has low levels of grip, especially on dusty street circuits. Over the course of a race weekend, the track rubbers in and so the grip level improves on the racing line. Marbles (little balls of rubber) also form off line, so if you place your car on these then you’ll notice quite a dramatic drop in grip.
In terms of feedback to the player, there are several elements we’ve put into place to inform players of these factors; Force feedback / rumble through the steering wheel / game controller. Audio, in terms of speech from your Race Engineer, as well as tyre squeals, etc. Visuals – you can actually see tyres blistering / graining, or when you have picked up gravel or marbles on your tyres and are therefore experiencing a loss of grip.
TR – How much access have you been given to the pitlane? Anthony Davidson is helping you out, but have other drivers been involved?
PJ – We have a great relationship with both FOM and all of the Formula One teams, which has enabled us to attend Grand Prix and talk to many other F1 drivers, as well as engineers, strategists, mechanics, etc, from all teams. The insights and information we have managed to get from these discussions have been invaluable and in every case we’ve discussed each point at great length in order to try to get all of those elements into the game. There are a lot of high profile features in the game, but there is also a great level of depth and detail which will keep players immersed in the game for longer. Elements such as the track increasing in grip as sessions progress so that laps posted towards the end of a session are potentially quicker than those at the start, the eight engine limit rule, the number of dials and switches which drivers can adjust on the fly – wing angles, engine revs, etc. All of these have been added into the game off of the back of these discussions.
TR – Has the confusion around entrants to the 2010 season impacted on the development of the game in any way? What about rule changes?
PJ – It’s certainly kept things interesting! We had two choices when we began the project; the safe option of doing 2009 content, whereby there would be no issues of getting reference in time, the rules and performance levels would all be known quantities, etc but crucially players wouldn’t be playing against the same teams and drivers they were watching on TV or reading about in the newspapers, or taking a calculated risk of going for 2010 content and back ending all the riskier areas as late in the project as we could, which is ultimately what we chose to do. It’s certainly been a production challenge but it’s one that I think we’ve managed to pull off successfully. The downside of including 2010 content however, is that inevitably it leads to the game coming out much later in the year than everyone would ideally like as, contrary to popular belief, we don’t get to see the 2010 cars much earlier than the rest of the world. Teams are making design changes and modifications throughout the winter period until the first race, and beyond! Once we have the reference we still need to build the cars, adjust handling models, the AI, as well as getting everything signed off and approved. Therefore the game is literally scheduled for release as soon as physically possible.
TR – The career mode is a big part of the game, will players really be able to take a Lotus to the front of the grid?
PJ – Career Mode is the biggest feature of the game. It isn’t just a few UI screens piecing together a series of races. We wanted to create a much more immersive and engaging experience than that. Players are interviewed at the start of the game and based on their answers their game is pre-set in terms of difficulty, driving aids, career length, start team, etc. Each team has a different level of expectation. It’s not just about winning. One of the things which has been annoying with previous F1 games, is that you could easily win in pretty much any car on the grid. In F1 2010 there are different ‘classes’ of cars which you are competing against rather than trying to beat the entire field, all of the time. The first goal in a team is to beat your team mate and become the team’s number one. Once you’ve achieved that you then have an influence over the upgrade path of the car. Cars do not stay the same in terms of performance from race one to race 19 and that includes the AI cars as well. Your rivals on track will vary depending on results. Having an influence over the upgrade path includes being able to stop development altogether and concentrate on R&D for next years car in the hope that will move you up a class. This adds several interesting angles to the game. Some players will hop up the career ladder and join the more prestige teams on the grid. Others will want to take someone like Williams or Lotus back to the top, which is possible over a longer career (career mode extends from three, five or seven seasons). The first race of a new season is always fascinating in real life as no-one is quite sure what the pecking order is going to be and this is reflected in our game, for the first time.
TR – Will people be able to play out a whole season with a friend online? Or will multiplayer action be limited to single race events?
PJ – Mutliplayer plans are still being finalised but there are a series of quick play modes, which will be single races, as well as a custom mode whereby there is a visible host who sets up all the options, including being able to race an entire season online
TR – Thanks Paul!