Gamescom: F1 2011 Interview - Part 1

By Matt Bailey

Part 1 | Part 2

After years of being in the wilderness, the F1 licence was returned to videogaming in full force last year with Codemasters' F1 2010. We regarded it highly, and it made one of our Top Games of 2010 lists. It even won the BAFTA for Best Sports Game, beating the likes of FIFA 11 and Gran Turismo 5, despite being only the first iteration of what they hope will be a long-running series.

So there's a lot to prove for development studios Codemasters Birmingham with this year's edition, F1 2011, and they brought the game along to Cologne to show off the latest version at Gamescom. There have been a lot of questions from fans about what would be in this year's version, and what had changed from last year, as well as a long-running question regarding the safety car which was revealed on Day 1 of the show. In order to answer some of those fan questions Matt Bailey and Andy Daniel sat down with Codemasters' Steve Hood, Chief Game Designer, and Paul Jeal, Senior Producer on F1 2011. The interview actually ran for more than double the length of time that was planned, so we've allowed it to spill across two articles. This is Part 1 and Part 2 will be available on the site later this week.

This should be familiar to anyone who was watching at the weekend

This should be familiar to anyone who was watching at the weekend

AAG: First of all, congratulations on the BAFTA for F1 2010, but moving on to F1 2011, what new features are you most excited about?

SH: The biggest thing for us is that we get the chance to really push forward, because [F1 2010] was about trying to make the original splash, make F1 cool again, get everyone on board and say it can be a really great game, and I think we've managed to prove that last year. But that's our foundation, and we've done our first game and now we've got our second game coming out this year. It's great as developers to sit down and go "Right, instead of just getting the basics right, wouldn't it be really cool to do co-op, split-screen, 24 cars on the grid in multiplayer, different options on strategy, the Pirelli tires..." and working on the cinematics to get the visual side of the game right.

PJ: You can see that in multiplayer which has had a lot of focus. The car handling has moved forward with a new system so you can really feel the difference, there's the difference in the tyres this year, there's KERS, there's DRS, or whether it's multiplayer where you're able to do long races now - 50% distance just flies by. We know us guys in the office consider ourselves pretty good, and we can do 2 stops, 4 stops, primes, options, dialing up, dialing down, and then by the end of the race there's 10 seconds separating us, and we have people going "I would have won if I wasn't held up by arcade boy at the beginning", or "I made the wrong strategy call".

SH: That's the big difference for us, we were never going up against games like Forza where online consists of 3 lap sprints. For us that's what you do in qualifying; the race is a different pace and you got those stories such as "I could have got there, but I did this, this and this". You don't really get that in other racing games.

PJ: It's the tyres this year as well, because they make such a difference, particularly the options as they have those golden laps. Sometimes just teetering round isn't the best. You pit to get a new set of options and you're going "fastest lap, fastest lap, fastest lap" and everyone can see your name and your time come up and you're gaining 3 or 4 seconds a lap on them. I've lost many a race by trying to be a Perez rather than a Hamilton! It's kind of the thinking man's racing game, you think "I'm in this position, how am I going to overtake the guy in front?".

SH: It's not always about being the fastest guy as well. So even if you're not in the best car we have multiplayer objectives now so if you are this rank in this car on this track you're not expected to win. We want people to go "I'm going to go for HRT or Virgin". We're not going to be like other races game where if you fail they say "You're a rubbish driver"; [in F1 2011] it can all be seen in context; you've taken all that risk to go for HRT.

I think the thing for us as well is that last year it was only in the closing weeks that we could go "This seems to be the game we've ended up with", but it seemed to work out. The difference this year is that we've been playing [F1 2011] since Day 1 and as we put these new features on we've been trying them. We couldn't have done, for example, the Pirelli tyres last year, but this year it's been easy because we can try it out in the races. The real difference for us is having people come up with excuses going "We've got this new feature, can we test it out?". And in multiplayer we have people arguing saying the tyres don't feel right, this needs to be corrected, and we can quickly make changes and try it out again.

PJ: I remember last year we had 100% distance races and people were reluctant, but now even with 16 players you can't get in. And we're saying "Really? Are you going to stay for 2 hours after work to do this?!"

SH: I suspect we will be playing this when it comes out!

PJ: And probably getting beaten really quickly!

Even in the wet the Virgin will struggle to compete

Even in the wet the Virgin will struggle to compete

AAG: You've got KERS in this year; is it there for all the teams or just the teams that have KERS, and is it the same power across all the teams?

SH: Just the teams have KERS [will have KERS in the game]. It is the same power across all the teams, but the teams are different in terms of the weight of the car and the aerodynamics. It's the same system but the differences mean that KERS, DRS, etc. won't give the same performance on a lap, so we have those differentiators. I think compared to last year you can tell those differences in each car.

PJ: Someone asked me if you painted all the cars grey could you tell which one was which and I think for almost all of them you could. The McLaren and the Mercedes are faster in a straight line, the Ferraris are a bit more aggressive in the oversteer, and the Red Bull obviously sticks like a train. You can definitely tell when you're in the HRT!

AAG: You weren't tempted to have a KERS system like the one in the Red Bull where it breaks down now and then?

SH: Yeah, we've got that.

PJ: We like the little temporary failures [such as a failure of KERS for a few laps], as they're the things that keep you on your toes.

SH: It depends on your driving style, how you've been treating your car. Because lots of people have been saying to us "Well, I've got the lead, so where's my failure?", and we don't do any of that. It's not random.

PJ: You get lots of feedback from your engineers, such as your engine's too hot and you need to dial it down a bit, short shift, because if you keep going you're eventually going to have an engine blowout.

This must be Silverstone

This must be Silverstone

AAG: You've also got DRS this year, how are you making it clear where the DRS zone is available?

SH: There's lots of detail like that on your steering wheel, it's not just your speed on there. DRS is just like it is on TV with an icon in the corner which goes green when it's available and flashes when it's in use. It takes a while to get used to things like DRS and when it's best to use them.

PJ: It's cool in qualifying as well because you know to get that pole lap you need to use it just about everywhere, so you do a banker safe one and then you do another with DRS.

AAG: How are you dealing with the DRS zones which haven't been announced yet?

PJ: Good guesswork! It's quite funny actually, we talk to the talk to the FIA and said "Surely you have this planned for every track", and they say "Not really, we see how things go". So we've been suggesting where we think [the zones] should go, and we think they've actually used a few! The only thing that caught us out was double DRS when that was first used. And we think in the end we'll be there or there abouts.

Are you a Perez or a Hamilton?

Are you a Perez or a Hamilton?

AAG: You've recently announced the safety car is going to be in F1 2011. You previously announced it wasn't going to be in there, so what changed your mind?

SH: I don't think we said it definitely wasn't going to be there. We've been quiet on it for a little while because a lot of it comes down to licencing.

PJ: [The safety car] doesn't actually come as part of the F1 2011 agreement, so need to see whether FOM [Formula One Management] wanted to do it, if Mercedes were happy for us to do it, and AMG need a say in it as well, so it took a little bit longer than we would have liked.

SH: It's about us trying to refine these things until they're happy with them, and it just so happened that everything came together for Gamescom.

PJ: It came together literally a week ago. That's how up in the air it was.

AAG: Obviously you need to balance simulation and accessibility, so how do you achieve this for things such as the safety car and team orders? Things you might consider but can't do because it doesn't really work for everyone?

SH: Well, as you know there's loads of really cool hardcore things you could include, and what we end up doing is watching the races and see what sort of things the commentators are discussing and what people are texting about, and have discussions about whether those things would be interesting to include. Could we explain that to people? Will they be fair?

Safety car is slightly different because originally we were going "Yes we'd like to do it, but it's not a priority for us for 2011" as we'd have to build it from scratch. And we've had people asking if we're going to have an option for automatic DRS, and we want to do that, but we don't know whether you want it on just because it's available, so we're not looking to do it just yet. We want people to be able to start off with the basics, and then turn stuff on and build it up.

PJ: That's the key, people who are a little bit more casual have laptimes which are all over the place, and things like KERS and DRS don't matter to them because they only give you tenths. But if you've got people of equal ability and there's only three-tenths between you then you're trying to use everything to gain an advantage.

Maybe you can make a success of Williams in 2011

Maybe you can make a success of Williams in 2011

AAG: What about team orders in the future?

SH: Possibly, I think it could be quite good in multiplayer. We're trying now to create a full multiplayer experience, where we've massively improved the AI and so you can play these long races and experience the same sensation with regards to strategy whether you're playing with the AI or with other players. I think it's important to do that as we're trying to merge singleplayer and multiplayer; you now have the AI racing alongside you online, particularly with the co-op campaign.

AAG: With regard to tracks drying out, I think last year it was hard to find the line, is that something address in F1 2011?

SH: We got a lot of e-mails from people telling us about their experiences, how they did something at Spa, or found their way in the wet. You can now definitely see the drying line this year. We tried to match it closely to what you would be able to see, and we've improved the feel as well as the looks.

AAG: What about fuel strategy?

SH: Two of most important things are fuel and tyres in terms of choosing strategies. We have this little thing we call the Strategy Swipe now that let's you know if you pit now where you're going to come back out so you can decide if you're going to lose out to the guy who is behind you. We have that now so that you're not driving blind. For the fuel it starts out optimal but if you really push you can see it dropping to minus 1 lap, minus 2 laps, and you know you need to start conserving it. And then when you've saved it you have some fuel in the bank for later.

PJ: When we've been doing multiplayer races over half of them have been down to people dialling down at the end while in the lead, and you know you've been saving up, and you're on the options, and you're just hooked up.

SH: As you get in the races now where the teams get delayed messages where they find out what the other teams are doing, we do the same thing. So if a driver has been informed that he needs to dial down to save his fuel, that gets relayed to you. So now you know you can get him in the final few laps.

Our intereview with Steve Hood and Paul Jeal is continued in Part 2.

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