Gamescom: F1 2011 Interview - Part 2
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 2, and Part 1 is available here
AAG: The 2011 season so far has been an amazing spectacle, even if Vettel keeps winning, with increased TV audiences - do you think this will translate to great sales for the game?
SH: We're hoping!
PJ: We think so; it's questionable at the moment whether F1 is a franchise that people are going to buy year-on-year. We don't see any reason why that wouldn't be, and it's key for us that it's not just an update; we've got the FIFA model of year-on-year adding new features.
AAG: Do you think it will be affected by what's happening next year with the BBC/Sky deal?
SH: I think that's a wait and see. We always talk about what Sky did for football, and it's not as if ultimately all the Formula One is going to go to Sky, the BBC are still going to show some of it. And there's also that people don't tend to get up to watch the early races, they tend to watch the highlights. So maybe this will be the best of both worlds.
PJ: I think what will happen is that Sky will throw promotions at it, especially now F1 as a sport is on their station. The BBC have done an amazing job but I think now we'll have two broadcasters competing over it. Especially with [the F1 race in] America next year, I think Sky will really help bring America [to the sport]. I think if you look at the viewing figures with the BBC, the peak races are the teatime ones which is going to be roughly when they're going to show their highlights anyway, so it might well be the best of both worlds.
AAG: You've talked before about how you can't have driver changes mid-season due to licensing; are you finding the licence restricting you from things you'd like to do?
SH: I think there's pros and cons, and understandably they're quite defensive about certain things because they're quite protective of this huge entity, and rightly so. And I think sometimes it actually helps us because if we can't get that part, we think how do we be more creative to get past that? Whereas in the past we might have taken a route because it's the easy option, [the licence] does make us step back sometimes. So it is pros and cons, I think.
PJ: It's the money that's in it, really. Whereas in something like football you're used to players moving around teams and it's not a big issue, there's so much money invested in Lewis Hamilton, he's stamped from head to toe in sponsors, and they pay hundreds of millions to Vettel, and the likelihood of McLaren wanting to see Hamilton driving in a Ferrari or Red Bull or something like that... it's difficult. In gamer language it's a little bit difficult to understand why that's such an issue, but you can kind of understand the reasons for it. I think it enables us to have a bit of a clearer idea of what we do, what we put in, etc. Things like classic cars we definitely want to do; I think that's likely to happen. At the moment the licence is year on year so we can't even put '10 content in '11. But we want to do it when it's right; I think Sony a few years ago did a single car in a time trial in Mansell's Williams. For us it's kind of... if you're going to do classic cars then you want to do Senna versus Prost. So I think those avenues are beginning to open up a little bit more. It's going to take a little more time because obviously you need to talk to every man and his dog about what you want to do, why you want to do it.
AAG: It's understandable that you can't have the drivers switch team, but what about drivers coming into a team mid-season, such as Ricciardo at HRT, or Chandok dropping in and out at Team Lotus?
PJ: The way the game's set up is that it's the start of the season, and that's kind of the way the whole licence is set up. We don't choose necessarily to release in September because we think that's a good slot, we choose it because the teams have until the first race of the season to change their cars and then we model it based on that. So the whole production starts off around mid-March and so it's a bit weird if you wanted to do "This happened in June, can you get that in there?". We get it all the time from the teams; someone chalks up a race win and then they go "Can you update our stats?" and we go "No, our stats are locked down!". The game kind of starts off in February 2011, and that's the decision that we've made.
SH: There's a lot that goes into [things such as] creating the character you see in Parc Fermé, which needs to be signed off, and I don't think really [the driver changes] make too much of a difference.
AAG: What about GP2? I guess that's another licensing nightmare!
PJ: Yeah, GP2 is an interesting one. We're not allowed to put it in the same boxed product as F1, so that kind of makes it less appealing. I don't know, maybe there's some way that can happen in the future. I mean, we would love nothing more than perhaps starting your game with a race or two in GP2, how well you do determines how you start you career, and it could all flow quite well. But that's not an option right now. It's a bit of a shame for us because it has a car that's slightly slower, slightly easier to drive, so it would get new players in a little bit easier.
SH: We thought about that kind of a lot last year. One thing different about Formula One is the speed of the car, it doesn't give us balance. I think we're less worried about that this year because the cars are that much easier to drive in terms of being consistent. And it's a weird thing to say because there's a big change this year in terms of the speed going into the corners and knowing when to turn, and when you'll spin off. In this one it's possible to get a feel for the tyres and when you'll have grip, and that really plays out in the race. So we're less worried about GP2.
PJ: For games like Gran Turismo or Forza, they start off and you work you way up in a car that does about 60 [mph]. [In F1] you're not going to start off that slow! There's no cars that handle like F1 cars with those characteristics.
AAG: We've had various people talk to us wanting us to ask you about the things they want to be in F1 2011...
SH: Well, you can cross the safety car off that list!
AAG: Indeed! One item was about penalties going across races, such as grid place drops in the next race.
SH: We do session drops, so if you do something bad in qualifying you'll see grid place drops in the race, but we do it per race.
PJ: We've spent a lot of time balancing the penalties this year to try and be less harsh. Last year it would make a decision straight away. This year it will look at "did you really gain an advantage?". We try and let you let them back a bit more. So I think until that's right... Imagine if you feel harshly done by a penalty and then it's carried through to the next race as well! [Jokingly:] I imagine we'd get bombs in the post!!
SH: We feel as though we do need a relatively strict system because the cars are going so quick and we want you to drive fair. We want to get you away from breaking the rules a little bit, rubbing against the other cars and going "Oh, sorry...". Formula One must be wheels locked, one of you has got to give in without damaging your race. It's a tricky thing for us to do, but I think it's dramatically improved from last year.
AAG: Could we see the A.I. hold grudges? Some of the conflicts between drivers have got quite personal now, so could we see the A.I. remember you in the next race?
SH: No, but if you speak to some people who've played the game recently they'll go "I'm sure that was done deliberately"!
PJ: It happens because certain groups of racers, such as Alonso, Schumacher, Hamilton [are together]. I was in a race yesterday and it was Hamilton and Alonso in front of me and they touched going into a corner because they both go for small gaps, and they're both more aggressive, so they naturally have more of a ding-dong than Massa-Trulli maybe might do.
SH: Lots of developers go "Yeah, we have the drivers' personalities right down to what they have for breakfast..."
PJ: [Jokingly:] Which we do have!
SH: We're not going for all of that. What we're chasing is what kind of gaps they go for, and in F1 2011 it's about really defining those bits, so if, for example, you're running in tenth position and you look behind and see Schumacher you think you've got a fight on, but if you see Trulli you might not. That's the distinction we wanted, and I think we've got that this year by better understanding what we were trying to achieve last year and learning from that.
PJ: They're much more consistent now, so none of those moments where they just lift off and you don't brake and you expect to be ahead. You'll gain on them a few tenths, they'll get away from you, it all depends on tyres and how it's panning out.
SH: We've also got how well the driver is doing in different conditions. One of the big things about F1 2010 was that you could have that visual feel about the track and how the sky looks. So you could see the clouds starting to form, it starts to get darker, and when you're driving around Spa, for example, and you see some of the clouds break you get a feel for what's going to happen in the changing conditions. Some of the drivers are going to perform better than others, so Schumacher is very good in the wet, so is Jenson [Button], and you start to recognise the traits.
SH: Well, we kind of do red flags. If there's a call for the safety car but the safety car can't get around the track - for example, there's been a huge incident and cars are getting in the way - then the session can be red flagged and you'll start from the grid again. We're not doing the weather ones at the moment because of the amount of work to get the safety car working and to get in the red flag, so [we're doing this] instead of us doing the whole lot at once. I was getting daily questions about the safety car - I couldn't wait until we could announce that! Now we're getting "how do I do this", "how do I do that"!
PJ: It's really interesting because people see things in real life and then they instantly want them in the game. But how do you tell players that now it's too wet for you to really get round. Someone might be leading the way and feel hard done by, so really, in all instances, you've got to think "F1 fans might know but more casual players might not" - "how we do communicate this to player"?
AAG: Are you going to be considering bringing F1 to Wii U? Maybe bringing the racing wheel interface to the new controller?
PJ: I don't think we'd ever discount doing any platform; it's just whether it's the right kind of moment. We could be doing so many SKUs [versions for each platform] we could be pulling our hairs out! They've all got to go through licensing for sign off by FOM, so I don't see why not. F1 was successful on the Wii, but whether it's too soon to get a version to Wii U... It's a good thing at Codemasters, we look at whether it's a good fit and go for it.
AAG: Lastly, who do you think will win this season and who do you want to win this season?
PJ: I think Vettel will win.
SH: Yeah, I think Vettel, but Ferrari will be strong with the tyres. I'd actually like to see Button win again. I'd be really pleased because at the start of the season people were saying "Well, he's not going to be the guy who will threaten all season", but what I really like about him is he can start in these low positions and work his way through the field. And that's what I like to choose doing in our races; I'll start on the prime tyres, and they're on options. If I'm keeping up when they start pitting I'll pull away.
PJ: I'd like to see Schumacher get a podium or a win! It's not going to happen, but it would be nice. I like Di Resta he can score some good points, and I think there's a lot of promise there.
Thanks again to Steve Hood and Paul Jeal from Codemasters for answering our questions.