Interview

Codemasters talk F1 2010

In the garage with Paul Jeal and Steven Hood

The grid is full, the engines are roaring and it's almost time for the lights to go green on F1 2010. Representing Codemasters' first HD attempt at a Formula One game since they pipped Sony to the license a couple of years ago, F1 2010 has a lot riding on it, with a podium finish required to ensure the racer becomes a champagne-drenched yearly franchise. They clearly have high hopes.

So, with just a few short days before release, we sat down with senior producer Paul Jeal and chief game designer Steven Hood to talk about development, DLC and why F1 2010 will sell more copies than Gran Turismo... on the Xbox 360.

So, you are all done now and preparing to ship the game later this week. Was there anything that didn't quite make the cut? Anything you had to leave out?

Steven Hood: Always...

Paul Jeal: When we came up with the game design, we came up with what we want as F1 fans to be in the ultimate F1 game. So there's so much more that we want to expand on, to be honest.

We obviously spent most of our development effort on the driver's side; the weather, the handling, the A.I, the damage - there's room for improvement with all of them, but I think the biggest room for improvement is in the Live the Life' aspect. That was, rightly so, the secondary focus of this one, you have to get the on-track stuff right before you can even consider doing this.

The multiplayer options as well. Not just in terms of ideas that were left on paper. We had to leave things out that were taken on fairly well through the development cycle. There was stuff that we tried to introduce too late into the development cycle that just didn't work, too many bugs.

It's always difficult when you're working on a game, because you're always mindful of the things that just missed it by a week or two. We haven't deliberately left anything out, we've really, really, tried to squeeze in as much as possible.

You've said that F1 2010 won't have any DLC so that you can bring as much new content to F1 2011 as possible. Is that still the case?

Steven Hood: Absolutely yeah. There's such a short amount of time, as far as we're concerned, development-wise, to get the next game out. We don't really have the resources to be doing DLC as well. It would actually take away from the next game.

One of the things we've been very adamant about is, if we are going to do yearly updates F1 2011 will come out next year, so we don't really want to dilute that. We don't want to update with new tracks and new drivers, we want to put a ton of new features in there as well. If we start doing DLC, which can at times be a bit of a minefield. Plus, some things we want to do at the moment, we might have a few problems licensing-wise.

So if we can't really do the DLC, we wanted to put all of our focus into the next game. That's not to say that we won't update this current game, we may well do that. But not with the traditional DLC sense.

Ok, so what, title updates but definitely no DLC?

Steven Hood: Perhaps.

Ok, so you are committed to annual releases? How long do you have the license for?

Steven Hood: At the moment we've got the license for 2011. I think we're in negotiations about 2012. I personally would love to see Codemasters - if we can keep building on this every year - as a FIFA-type yearly update.

When we set out our ideas for Formula One in the first place, a lot of people said to us, What can you do in Formula One that is original?' There's shitloads of things that we've got ideas for, but it's a case of trying to get as much as you can in 2010 and update that with a bunch of new features in 2011. But I'd love to plan further ahead as well, and build towards the ultimate F1 game.

How much does the license cost?

Paul Jeal: Lots (laughs). That's the thing really. You have to weigh that up with whether there is an appetite for a yearly, which is partly down to us to make sure we give fans a reason to buy the next one.

It's slightly easy with football management games because by then your season has gone so far down the line and there's been so many player moves. You look at next year in F1 and we've got one extra race, there will be a handful of driver moves, but I imagine it would be fairly static. And if you look at 2013, there's all kinds of talk about diesel engines and turbos and all sorts of crazy things.

I think we can definitely plan for the next one and have a few ideas for what we'd like to do with the one after. I certainly think it is something that would work as a yearly franchise and it's something we would very much like to do.

So what pressures does a big, expensive license bring?

Steven Hood: I think the main pressures come from the fact that you have to adhere to all the sponsors and the brands.

At times that can be complicated, because you have to constantly prove yourself throughout development. If you built a Ferrari that was going to be licensed, the sponsors have to be in the right place, on the driver's helmet and the gloves, all this kind of thing has to be perfect.

Because you get more and more fidelity and the systems improve, you can't really get away with saying, There's just not enough texture space on this, you can't see it.'

Things are becoming more realistic. All in all, I think they steer us down the path of authenticity, and we have to work around it.

Paul Jeal: We've got this design that is - how can we get as much of this into the next one as possible? So, in terms of outside pressures, less so. But we're always aware of fans on forums, Steve spends a lot of time talking to fans on forums.

Steven Hood: Sometimes it's quite difficult to justify why you've decided to include one feature over another, when nobody has had the chance to experience that particular feature. But hopefully when the game is out next week, they'll play it and think that it's a good first instalment. This is very much our first step, we're glad to kick things off.

You alluded to the fact that there were features that didn't make it because of the license, what say have they got over the actual gameplay?

Steven Hood: It's not so much the key gameplay modes. But there might be a few bits and pieces. Take for example multiplayer. At the moment we do half the grid, because our online infrastructure doesn't really support 24 at the moment. It might do in the future. But originally we anticipated that with twelve players, anybody could pick any car.

So you could have twelve Ferraris. And that would be great fun. Teammates could be two Ferraris, two McLarens, or whatever. But that's blocked, as far as we're concerned.

Ideally, they want a 24 car grid, where each player has a car from each team. It's those little bits and pieces that players want to be able to see when they are playing the game. They'll just anticipate it was our design decisions to do these things, or limit certain areas. So we have to work around those.

Thankfully, there's only probably two or three of those. In general, I think it's been pretty open. Now when they'll hopefully see the success of this game, then we'll be able to convince them to do it next time. If this game is a success, we'll be able to achieve that.

What about the performance of the vehicles. Do the lesser teams get upset that their cars aren't as good as the others?

Paul Jeal: It's not as difficult as you might imagine, actually, because we're making an accurate simulation of a real sport. So they're very open to the facts like the new teams will be struggling towards the back end of the season.

I think the main thing that you don't want to do is, give ratings or stats the way that football manager games do. Because if you were rating the big teams as 20, 20, 20, 20 and the new teams were getting 5 or 6, then you would be damaging massive companies.

A lot of those systems are there, you just have to keep them under the hood. Fans that understand the sport will recognise that we, at the end of the day, are being authentic. It was pretty much our number one aim to allow people to watch F1 on TV, then replicate what they saw in the game.

You're releasing not too long before Gran Turismo 5 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit...

Steven Hood: Oh, are they coming out this year!?

Yeah, you should try them. They're good! They are different types of games, obviously, but how well do you think you will perform compared to them?

Steven Hood: I've always said that certainly with Gran Turismo, that I'd be the kind of person that would have Formula One and Gran Turismo on the shelf. You've got your road cars, which everybody likes, and everyone likes to modify them and buy their dream car and bolt stuff on to it. That's great.

I think Gran Turismo is the staple diet of all PlayStation owners anyway. But people have always liked to have a Formula One game as well. It's a slightly different experience. We've tried to make it more tactical. So personally, I'd like to have both of them.

Need for Speed is a different...

Paul Jeal: Yeah, I think it's a slightly different thing. Gran Turismo, I perfectly intend to buy it. And no doubt I'll have great fun playing it. But the nature of the cars themselves, the handling and also the strategy elements that F1 brings, is so unique in terms of weather, pit-stops, damage, all that stuff. It's a very different experience than just driving side-by-side, exchanging a bit of paint, y'know?

But how do you anticipate you will compare in terms of sales?

Steven Hood: Well, I think we'll sell more than Gran Turismo on Xbox.

We're trying to build a cross-platform game. They have built up this, almost an automatic purchase for PlayStation. I think even for Gran Turismo now, there's so much talk about it, and it was absolutely fantastic news about it coming out, but I kinda feel they are doing the same game year after year. But people want this in their PlayStation 3 so they're gonna purchase it.

And then there's that word of mouth thing, where somebody that wasn't considering it originally hears all this hype about Gran Turismo and goes, I'm gonna buy it as well then.'

Paul Jeal: I know people that are going to buy a PlayStation 3 for it.

Steven Hood: I think that if we did the same number of years...

Paul Jeal: ...if it was our fifth iteration and we spent four years on it I think we'd have a chance!

Ok. Again, different types of games, but two recent high profile racers, Blur and Split/Second didn't perform amazingly well. Do you think that reflects on the genre as a whole? Does it worry you?

Steven Hood: I mean, I hate criticising other developers, but they almost felt a little too formulaic. I mean, what you always have to remember is that you have new people coming into games all the time. In the case of Blur and Split/Second I think they were very similar to each other, and it hurt their sales.

I think that's one reason why Sony's Formula One series declined over time. People felt like they have the same kind of game every year. And that's why we are trying to do something different with this one. We set ourselves the challenge of, what new themes can we add to it? What differentiates a Formula One game from a normal track racer? We tried to identify those things.

So maybe Blur and Split/Second need to be a little more experimental.

So you don't feel that the racing genre is struggling in any way?

Steven Hood: Not at all. I think the racing genre is something that, if you really get into a racing game, the people that understand what's fantastic about racing games is, you kind of get into that trance, where you're lapping, lap after lap, and you're gaining on somebody, and you push a little bit faster and get a little bit more time, that's entertaining.

The people that don't really like racing games just say, Well, you're just going around the circuit.' But that's actually half the fun because I know where I'm going and I'm getting better times out of the car.

I think those two particular games, I think they crashed at the same time and maybe fell to the ground. They probably made a profit, but they just didn't sell as much as they were expected to.

I don't think their performance is representative of the genre, as a whole. We have very high hopes for F1 2010.

Gentlemen, thank you for your time.

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