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F1 2011 Interview – Part 1

8 Jul 2011  by   Paul Younger
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With the British Grand Prix just around the corner, what better time to drop in on Codemasters and chat with them about F1 2011, the upcoming sequel to the best selling Formula 1 title of all time.
Part two of this interview with F1 2011’s lead game designer, Stephen Hood, will be published tomorrow (Saturday 9th), giving you enough time to digest the new info on the game before Sunday’s big race. C’mon, Jenson!
IncGamers: From your perspective, what needed improving about F1 2010?
Stephen Hood: Everything. We’re Formula 1 fanatics and what we didn’t want to do was just push out a quick update. When Paul (Paul Hood, F1 2010/F1 2011 executive producer) and I joined the F1 team we were always thinking about what we wanted to put into the series over time and there’s always too much to put into a single game straightaway. People always think that you’re holding things back but the reality is that we’re always trying to cram in as much as possible.
The biggest thing was refining what we already had in all areas of F1 2010. For example, we knew there were deficiencies in the handling and we’ve taken a huge step with that this year. Multiplayer for F1 2010 was a bit weak, a bit of a token effort, as we were so caught up with producing career mode. Now though I can go home and play co-op with a friend, drive for Virgin and try to improve them by the end of the season. We’re trying to remove any disparity between what you experience in single player and what you experience in multiplayer.

IG: Does a yearly release cycle provide enough time to significantly move things on with each game?
SH: There’s never enough time, just ask Polyphony Digital (developers of Gran Turismo). People see a yearly release cycle as 12 months but we actually only get about seven or eight months when you take into account QA testing and submission procedures. It’s a challenge but we knew it would be a challenge before we started which is why we spent longer on the initial product. Originally we were looking at a target of getting a next-gen F1 game out in 2009. That longer development time gave us a great foundation with F1 2010.
Very early on we know we wanted to improve F1 2011’s penalty system, which is something we weren’t too sure how it was going to work in 2010. We were able to modify penalties in 2011 during the development which is something we couldn’t do in 2010 because so many bits were coming together at the last minute. So, no, it’s never enough time but I’m confident in saying that the time we have had has been enough to rectify issues with the last game and allowed us to add a whole new bunch of features. Over time that productivity may tail off as the team get utterly destroyed by the schedule but we’re still working hard at the moment.
IG: With KERS, DRS and the new tyre/fuel regulations there’s a lot more for the A.I. to think about, how big of a jump have you made in that area?
SH: It’s a big jump. The biggest thing for us was that when the A.I. in F1 2010 would try and overtake they would weave across the track a lot because they couldn’t think about where they needed to be on the track after they’d gotten past you (i.e. should they return to racing line straightaway or not?) Now they can come towards you and already be thinking about where the space is and whether or not it’s worth overtaking at that moment.

IG: How well are different driver’s personalities reflected? Hamilton and Kobayashi are aggressive in real-life, for example…
SH: Because the drivers are looking at the available overtaking gaps and the gaps between cars in front of them.., Kobayashi, for example, he might attack a small opening whereas somebody a little more conservative like Buemi will look for a larger gap before overtaking.
There’s also things like the top teams using the prime harder tyre in the first qualifying section because they’re confident of progressing to the next round. We’re replicating those kinds of things that people rightly expect to see in the game.
IG: When it comes to replicating real-life and making things realistic, how far do you take that in order to please fans but not alienate everyone else entirely?
SH: This may sound a bit selfish but we predominantly tend to design the game for ourselves. We think that we represent the target audience fairly well and all too often developers tend to think – or are pushed by marketing teams to think – that they’re making games for massive faceless groups of people. Invariably you can’t ask those massive groups what they want and if you do they’ll never agree with each other.
You see it on forums all the time where one person will say “I want this feature!” and someone else will instantly reply with “I don’t!” More often than not it’s about thinking whether or not players will know about something, whether they’ll have seen it on TV or heard about something on the radio and, if they have, we probably want to integrate that into the game.
A hardcore element is being able to turn your fuel mixture up or down to alter the performance of your car. Try and pitch that to the internal marketing team and they’ll tell you that it’s pointless and it sounds rubbish. You’ll often hear commentators talk about drivers running their engine fast or saving it for later in the race/qualifying.., for us it’s about understanding these magic moments of F1 racing and bringing them into the game. It makes things feel more involving if you can create a sense that that your car is your car and you need to take care of it and think about what you’re doing to it.

IG: Explain a little bit about how ‘multiplayer objectives’ work in online races.
SH: In most racing games everyone is dumped into a lobby regardless of experience, skill or what car they’re driving and everybody is charged with finishing first. Obviously that’s impossible, especially when F1 2011 has 24 cars online, 16 of them human players. Now, if I join a lobby where you’re a Ferrari and I’m a Lotus and you’re experienced and I’m not, the game will take that into account and give you your own objective – perhaps it’ll decide that your target is to finish fifteenth.
If I hit that or overachieve on that I’ll get more XP and I’ll rank up more quickly. It means that you can have competitive races in lobbies with players of varying skill levels rather than spend all your time searching for lobbies with players of your exact same level.
IG: Has the Bahrain GP made it into the game?
SH: We were planning on putting the track in as maybe a time trial or time attack venue but we can’t have it because the circuit doesn’t have any sponsors. No sponsors mean we can’t get it approved which is a shame because I was looking forward to driving around the new layout that they’ve built this year.   
Read the concluding part of this interview here.

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