Exclusive Q&A with F1 2010s Chief Games Designer 13 Aug 2010
Creating the ultimate Formula One gaming experience is not the work of a moment. The list of elements that has to be faithfully recreated is endless, ranging from the cars handling and set-up, to weather changes and varying grip levels, right through to things like paddock atmosphere and rival teams competing for your services. Stephen Hood, chief games designer for F1 2010, tells Formula1.com how Codemasters® have brought everything together
Q: How long has it taken to put the game together, how many people have worked on the project and what has been the biggest challenge?
Stephen Hood: Weve been working on the games design and production for over 18 months, beginning early 2009. The number of people working on F1 2010 has changed throughout the various stages of the games development but at its peak we had 104 people based in our game studio in Birmingham with support from different departments at our headquarters in Warwickshire, so it is a very big operation.
The biggest challenge has to be meeting the expectations of the fans. The people that follow F1 are extremely knowledgeable about their sport and want as authentic a recreation of everything they see on a Grand Prix weekend as possible, while at the same time we are trying to make the game accessible to everyone so that someone new to racing games can enjoy playing F1 2010 as much as someone who is a hardcore online racer.
Q: Where do you start when you begin creating a game of this scope?
SH: The first step is the game design. We set out to design the best F1 game ever, regardless of time and budget constraints. This includes things like the dynamic weather system, active track technology and the Live the Life aspects of the game. We then evaluate the design with an eye on what is actually feasible within the production deadlines. Its amazing just how much of that dream design we have managed to pack into F1 2010.
Q: Everything is so realistic. How do you go about recreating circuits? Where do you get the data from and how do you use it?
SH: Getting the circuits right is absolutely vital to the success of an F1 game as the fans are so knowledgeable. The first stage in recreating them is to collect as much reference material as possible. This includes the CAD drawings for the actual design and layout of the track and thousands of photographs. We have a photographer who literally walks the track, stopping every few metres to take photos front, right, back and left which builds up a huge library of images. We then import that into our design tools to create an asset pack where the relevant images are matched up to that section of track.
Its then a case of replacing the photography with actual game assets and ensuring that the trees, advertising boards, run off areas etc are all in the correct place. We also work on the topography and skyline of the surrounding area so that it feels like the track is part of a wider world rather than an isolated game area.
Once it is imported into the game we then run comparisons with real life on-board footage to check that everything looks as realistic as possible.
Q: Was it especially difficult to visualise the Korean track, which is not even complete yet?
SH: Obviously not being able to visit the Korean track to take reference photography or use previous onboard laps as an illustration presents its own challenges. We have been very fortunate to be able to work with the people that designed the track, using the same CAD data that is being used to build the actual circuit to ensure it is as authentic as possible.
The fact that people will be able to race around Korea in-game before the race itself has taken place is exciting.
Q: Formula One is much more than a race on Sunday. How can players immerse themselves in a complete race weekend?
SH: In previous racing games, not just F1, you almost feel as if you are playing as the car rather than the driver, but in F1 2010 we want you to feel like a hero F1 driver. We have this mantra of Be the Driver, Live the Life. Be the Driver is everything you would expect from an F1 game: practice, qualifying, race, championship, career, time trials and multiplayer, but all from the drivers perspective. You will interact directly with your race engineer to talk about car set-up, whats happening on track, the changing weather, where your team mate is placed all of the things that you hear on a pit radio throughout a race weekend.
Live the Life takes you behind the scenes of F1 putting you in a drivers racing boots immediately after a session in the Paddock. The Paddock area acts as a feedback mechanism for how you are performing. As you become more famous there will be more people hanging around looking for a share of your time. This is particularly true of the press who are always looking for their next big scoop.
We have two different types of press in F1 2010. There is the formal press conference, similar to that you will see on TV after qualifying or the race, where the top three are asked for their opinions. This is generally a positive session as you are either near the front of the grid or on the podium. The more searching questions will come from the impromptu media who hang around in the Paddock. They will be asking you why you did particularly well or badly in a given session and quiz you about a potential move to a rival team. The answers you give in these interviews will have an effect on your career and the way you are seen in the world of F1.
Q: How much contact is there between yourselves and the Formula One teams? Have any drivers played the game yet? Have they given any feedback?
SH: We are very fortunate to have such a strong relationship with all the teams and their input and feedback has been invaluable.
One of the most valuable additions to our team has been that of Anthony Davidson (former Super Aguri, BAR and Honda driver). Ant has acted as a consultant throughout the project, working on the car handling to make it as authentic as possible and also feeding us information about the drivers perspective of the race weekend. His feedback on the tracks has also been a great help as he has driven these circuits so knows where the bumps are and which kerbs are particularly high. Its these kind of details that add that extra level of authenticity to the game that we think the fans will really enjoy.
We will also be working with several drivers in the build up to the release.
Q: Can players experience the drama of pit stops?
SH: Absolutely! You will get those moments of tension in the pits when you need that perfect stop in order to maintain a lead or maybe steal a place.
We knew we had to get pit stops right as it is such an important factor in a successful race. Everything you see in the pits and garage area has been motion captured using a team of actual F1 mechanics and looks amazingly realistic.
Each teams pit crew resides in the garage so when you come into the pits you will see some of the other teams waiting in the garage watching the screens while others may be mid-stop and others rushing out to meet their incoming car. We have over 200 characters in the pit lane and it is possible for all 12 teams to be in the pit lane at the same time working on one of their cars while the other one queues behind. That has never been possible in a previous F1 game.
Q: Can users change the balance and set-up of the car? Can they adjust the front wing and even use F-ducts?
SH: There are several layers to the car set-up. When you arrive at a given circuit your car will already have a good base set-up for that circuit. The key is to adapt that to suit your particular driving style. For example, maybe you are an aggressive diver who wants oversteer. There are two ways to do this: you can either talk to your race engineer and get him to adjust the settings to suit you, or you can go into the car monitor and adjust the settings yourself.
There are also settings that you can change on the fly whilst out on track. You can adjust the front wing and dial your engine up and down using the D-Pad as you drive. This will be key to getting the most out of your car or saving your engine for a later day.
With regard to the F-duct, you cannot actually operate it yourself but the game knows which cars have the device and the effect it will have on the car. Therefore if you are in the McLaren for example, you will get less drag and more speed on the straights.
Q: Is the game designed to be played alone or can more than one player enjoy the game at the same time? Similarly is it as fun to play as a casual gamer as it is an enthusiast?
SH: There is a full online multiplayer-experience available as well the single-player game. We support a maximum of 12 players online and you are able to race in a way that suits you. For example if you want to do qualifying followed by a full length race with damage, dynamic weather and all of the rules then you can set that up. Alternatively, if you want a casual three lap blast in the sun around your home track then that is simple to arrange.
It is those kind of levels of customisation that make the game accessible to hardcore and casual players alike. More experienced players are more likely to do full length race weekends with no driver aids while more casual players will want shorter races that are much more pick up and play. You can introduce driver aids such as Brake Assist, ABS, Traction Control and Racing Line to make the game more accessible.
Q: How will you reflect the changeable weather conditions that so often affect Grands Prix?
SH: Dynamic weather was right at the top of our wish list and we are confident that we have the most comprehensive and impressive weather system ever seen in a racing game. The weather system is linked into the tracks geography and is changeable not only through a race weekend but also within an individual session meaning that you will get those sudden changes in conditions that can make races so dramatic.
You will also have those split-second decisions to make, for example: will you be the first person to gamble during a wet race and go onto a dry tyre compound because the conditions are improving? The kind of decision that can make or break your race weekend or season!
Q: In Formula One racing, tyres and grip levels make a real difference to performance. Will the game reflect this?
SH: We have the real-world information about the tyres and this has been authentically recreated in the game. This is everything from their optimum working temperatures to how much water a full wet tyre will displace compared to the intermediate compound. Its an impressive system and good management of your tyres will be crucial to getting race wins at the higher levels of the game.
Q: The way a game looks is of course vital, but so too is how a game sounds. How have you recreated the sounds of a race?
SH: Again we used our relationships with the teams to visit the pre-season test sessions and capture the audio from the actual engines.
One of the main things we noticed was how the sound bounces around the track environment meaning that one car can sound like a number of cars out on track. With this in mind we have created a system in game that will bounce the sound of the cars against the environment and back to the car. This is also affected by what it is bouncing off, for example car noise bouncing off a building in the distance will sound very different to when you go under a bridge.
Q: Will new versions of the game be released every year? What innovations are in store? Are you excited about the return of KERS?
SH: We have a lot of things up our sleeve for future versions of the game and design work has already begun on F1 2011. One thing I will say is that KERS is something that really excites us. The idea of a turbo boost is video game gold so were looking forward to seeing what we can do with it.
However, at the minute we are concentrating on making F1 2010 the best Formula One game ever!
Note: F1 2010 launches on September 24 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, and is available to pre-order now from the F1 Store at Formula1.com. You can keep up to date with all the latest developments on F1 2010 on the games official website, www.formula1-game.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/formula1game.