The future of F1 videogames - exclusive with Codemasters Rod Cousens 30 May 2008
Earlier this month Codemasters secured the exclusive rights to produce Formula One videogames in an agreement that will see the company develop a new generation of the multi-million selling franchise across multiple platforms. We caught up with Codemasters CEO Rod Cousens to discover a little of what the future holds for the millions of would-be Formula One drivers eager to take on the likes of Raikkonen and Hamilton
Q: Congratulations on securing the Formula One rights. Why do you think Codemasters were successful?
Rod Cousens: Codemasters has a history in racing, particularly in the fields of rallying, with Colin McRae, and TOCA (touring cars), with Race Driver. As the company has grown up weve tried to broaden those franchises to have a more global appeal and started to reposition them - as DiRT, where the last release got an unheard of 40 percent of sales from the US, and GRID, which goes out at the end of this month. So with our roots in motorsport, we believe we are the home of racing and we felt that Formula One would make a marvellous fit. The best case we could make to Formula One was in the quality of our games - we may not be the biggest, but I do think we are the best.
Q: The first game will be released next year. Talk us briefly through the development process that will be taking place over the coming months?
RC: It depends partly on format - portables are a lot easier as they dont have such a rich graphical experience - but on dedicated consoles and PCs the way we write stems from what we call an engine, which for us is Codemasters EGO Engine. This is what drives DiRT and GRID, so its pedigree on next-generation systems such as PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 is already proven. The Formula One games will have the benefit of this. It typically takes us two years to develop such a game, but a lot of the assets have already been created - we have a number of the tracks because they already exist in GRID, and we have the basics of the car dynamics and handling.
Then theres the issue of which format when - clearly well be targeting formats where theres been no Formula One experience for a number of years, and the Nintendo Wii, the fastest-selling hardware console in the world today, where the plan is to use the controller like a steering wheel. Well go through a parallel development process on that, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. The artwork involved will be intense and a lot of that will be done overseas to make sure were up to speed.
Q: What lessons have you learnt from developing previous driving games and how will they help you with the Formula One project?
RC: The real context of racing is to make it an absolute adrenalin rush for the consumer when they are playing, a real fix. The way we look at it now is akin to a TV broadcast. For example, if you look at the way rallying was traditionally broadcast on television and compare it to the way extreme sports are now televised in the US, with the use of the amazing camera angles, the overhead shots, the commentators - similarly, we want to make Formula One gaming incredibly exciting. We want that top-down, wheel-to-wheel racing experience that nothing else can give - weve got to get that to the consumer and we believe we can do it
Q: Presumably you will be working closely not just with Formula One Management, but also with the Formula One teams, the circuits etc?
RC: What we want to do is forge a very close relationship with the teams and to be what the Americans would describe as joined at the hip. If this game is to be authentic we will want to get very close to the teams in all sorts of areas, recognise the integrity of what they have and hopefully replicate that in the game - we wont let them down.
Q: What new features can we expect to see on the game?
RC: What were trying to achieve here is to take Formula One gaming around the world and in terms of the technological aspect, thats largely related to online developments. Another thing is car damage, or as we call it, deformation. This is a real racing experience and we all know what people want (and expect) - if there is a collision and that car spins off the track, through the gravel, into the tyres, they want to see that actually happening. Its a big consumer buzz and so well put things in like that and give it a different perspective.
Q: Some F1 games of the past have been rather hard for the beginner to get to grips with - perhaps understandable, given how hard it is to drive a Formula One car. How will you cater for both ends of the spectrum - the novice player at one end and the hardened petrol-head at the other?
RC: Yes, simulation versus arcade. Codemasters history in TOCA Race Driver has been very heavily weighted towards simulation, appealing to the real hardcore fan - be they V8 supporters in Australia, DTM fans in Germany etc, we have always recognised international traits. But if you want to take the game to an even wider audience, particularly the United States (for us the largest gaming market in the world), then you have to appeal to a mass audience and so we blend the simulation with an awful lot of arcade elements too.
The issue people have today is time. This is time-based entertainment and the one thing we all know is that time is constrained. People want to be able to pick up a game, do whatever you do very quickly, post their times up on a leader board and then go off and misbehave elsewhere. We want to be able to offer both things within the game - simulation for the hardcore gamers, but also an arcade experience that you can truly pick up and play. I believe weve balanced that in GRID and I believe were going to balance it in Formula One.
Q: So the online element will be an increasingly important part of the game, helping in effect to reinforce the global Formula One community?
RC: Today, if its interactive entertainment then it goes online. It may take five years around the world because of broadband penetration, but ultimately online is it and hopefully we can be an integral part of Formula One as they branch out and open up new markets. In theory the game could almost become quasi-TV. For example, you could speak to drivers during practice and ask them, how are the tyres, how is the suspension? They may not give much away, as they have to race, but its all part of the compelling experience that you could replicate in the game - and with every extra piece of information the player can adjust his or her racing experience accordingly. Virtual F1!
Q: An increasing number of gamers are playing on High Definition displays - what challenges and opportunities does that give you as game developers?
RC: We are in the HD era and visualisation - particularly with identifiable aspects such as drivers, teams etc - is one of the challenges facing in broadcast media today, in that it also creates a lot of flaws. Its down to minute particles. We can even differentiate different types of paint that are used on the car, so its that defined and obviously visual flaws are very evident if you dont get it right. Those are the challenges - its very art intensive and what we want to do is make sure its faithfully replicated and it appears almost as a glass-like vision before you. Thats what were trying to do.