F1 Online [Interview] – What’s the FI-Aim?

24 May 2012  by   John Robertson

Following our hands-on preview of F1 Online, we sat down with the game’s lead designer, Tom Gledall, to gain further insight the development process and the goals of the project.
Our chat went exactly like this…
IncGamers: How did you decide what to incorporate into F1 Online? You’ve got elements of racing, team management, engineering etc…
Tom Gledall: The concept really came from us wanting to move the F1 license into this new online space. We’ve already got the fully fledged racing games, which are going strong, and we wanted to compliment that. The console game is more about recreating the racing as best we can, so we wanted a different approach with F1 Online and mix some more accessible racing with management and development elements.
We wanted to keep things as accessible as possible, but also provide the depth that we know F1 fans expect. It’s down to you how deep you go into the development and management areas; if you want to read up and learn about the components and the rear/front wings, handling etc then you can do that, otherwise you’re free to skim all that and concentrate on the racing.
IG: Would you go so far as to describe it as an MMO?
TG: That comes up a lot when we chat internally about the game, whether or not it’s an MMO. The way the car is equipped with item slots that can be filled once you’ve researched and earned a new component is reminiscent of an RPG/MMO character setup. And you’re always online and battling against other people going through the same kind of experiences and adventure as you. In that sense I suppose it is an MMO, and an RPG.

IG: How do you rank yourself against other racers?
TG: The licensed side of the game and the custom tracks are separate. The custom tracks will have their own leaderboards, which can be filtered for global rankings, those people on your friends list or by nationality. Hopefully that’ll inspire competition between friends, primarily.
The other way to rank yourself is by the quality of your car. At the start of the game your car isn’t that great compared to a modern F1 car, and you’ll only be competing in events against others with a similar performance level. Developing and improving your car levels it up and gains you entry into higher tiered events, so you can measure your performance by which events you can enter.
IG: Can you set up private championships between friends that want to compete over a season?
TG: That’s something that’s right at the top of our list. Currently you can’t do that and it won’t be ready for when the game first goes live, but it is something we want to do. That’s not a hollow promise, this is an online game and we’re always going to be working on the next features.
There will be regular updates, and it’ll be a matter of weeks after launch when we start adding new features.
IG: When you do add those private elements, how will you make sure to keep the game fair? A lot of online games suffer from level boosting when private matches are allowed, but, on the other hand, making private and public elements completely separate can divide the community.
TG: That’s certainly a problem, but we haven’t finished the design of those elements yet so I can’t say exactly how it will work. You’re right, though, we don’t want to allow any cheating by taking it in turns to win private races or whatever.
It would need to exist away from the rails of the game’s standard progression system, but that being said, it would be a shame if it didn’t feed back into the development of your racing team because you’re still spending time playing the game and putting effort into it. Hopefully we’ll be able to get the best of both worlds.

IG: Is this one of those cases where the hard work only really begins once the game is released and you fight to keep up with community demands, updates and fixes?
TG: Yeah, I suppose so. Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s been a lot of hard work up to this point. It’s very different from other projects I’ve worked on, as I’ve been primarily working on the console side of things. There is a different emphasis on what we need to do to support the game, whereas previously you would get a few weeks off between projects.
We’ve already got ideas of what we’re going to add following launch, but keeping on top of what the players are asking for and working out how to provide it is going to be a big job.
IG: It seems as though the custom grand prix elements are the main part of the game, and the licensed races (due to the rigid licensing rules that prevent alterations to teams/drivers etc) are almost an added extra. Would that be fair to say?
TG: We’re always trying to look at the crossover between the custom and official portions of the game, we started the design of the game by trying to figure out how to blend those two. It’s not possible right now to do that properly, but we do consider that the very next step.
Once you get your car right up to the ‘S’ rank its performance will be right up there with many of the official cars. We see getting all the way up there as the start of your career and the beginning of you battling your way through the field of other high spec cars. Licensing restricts how much we can blend the real world with the fantasy world, but there’s enough flexibility for us to blend the two at some point.
IG: Will it be possible to create a team and join up with a friend to take the two driver positions, or is this a purely solo adventure?
TG: It’s not possible to do that at present, but again, that’s something we’re looking at. Right now we want to get feedback from the community first before we add too many elements, though. We know that each real world F1 team has two drivers, so that would be a natural thing to include… as would the sharing of technologies and the loaning of components for profit between teams.
We hope that social networking elements will provide players with a sense of being in a community with their friends, but we’re trying not to overdo it in any single area – such as Facebook. Hopefully, that will encourage players to play, and play together.

IG: For many ‘hardcore’ gamers, free-to-play games still have a negative stigma associated to them – they’re too shallow, they lack ambition etc. Are you worried that that’s going to be a tough hurdle to overcome?
TG: We do talk about that, and you’re right that it’s a delicate issue for a lot of people right now. Undoubtedly, it’s a good direction for us to go – it’s a very modern direction and we don’t want to be left behind when it comes to new financial models such as micro-transactions.  
Within Codemasters, though, we’ve got a history of this sort of thing. We’ve got people that have worked on Lord of the Rings Online, for example. It’s all about being careful about how you go about things and how you integrate the monetisation. We’ve been careful to design the game so that it’s not possible to pay-to-win and making sure players don’t pay feel like they’re being left behind.
Micro-transactions in F1 Online are more concerned with items that alter the look of your car, or your helmet or the odd item that might save you the odd hour now and again but doesn’t catapult you ahead of the free players. 
IG: And the racing itself… how deep does that go? For instance, does slipstreaming affect your speed, does dirty air, can you do longer races involving pit stops?
TG: Slipstreaming is something we are working on right now. We’ve experimented with it, we’ve got feedback on it, we like it and we will be adding it very soon. Races we’re keeping reasonably short, because we want to begin by making the game as accessible as possible – we don’t want to scare people off with races that last 50 or 60 laps.
Right now we’re also looking at adding qualifying laps, car damage, car tyre, weather conditions and pit stops. All that will come together as we look at the feedback and figure out what people want. There’s no reason why all of those features couldn’t be added in a single update.
Until told otherwise, we’re looking long term – years down the line. We hope it will be seen increasingly as a service rather than a game… that’s the modern, online way of doing things. We’re going to keep working on it as long as it’s out there.  

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