Senior Games Designer Lee Mather from Codemasters talks about the upcoming racing title.
For the past six years, Codemasters have been winning the licence from FIA to develop the most realistic reincarnation of Formula One. Ever since the series shifted from Electronic Arts to Codemasters, the franchise has been rejuvenated to all new standards. Codemasters have a solid pedigree in racing games with big franchises like DiRT and GRID already under their belt and what they have achieved on almost eight year old hardware is simply phenomenal.
F1 2014 is a new step for franchise as the title will be powered by an all new EGO engine which was developed for the new consoles. Although the game will not be released on new consoles, the latest iteration will act as a benchmark for the next entry in 2015. In order to know how they are going to achieve that, GamingBolt recently got in touch with game’s senior designer Lee Mather. Check out his response below.
Rashid Sayed: Why is F1 2014 not coming out on the PS4 and Xbox One?
Lee Mather: We have a team of people who have been working on new gen for some time now. There have been a few titles announced for new gen that have slipped or failed to meet expectations. Formula 1 is a huge deal to us, so we made the conscious decision to give ourselves enough time to make sure we get it right, both in technical and in gameplay terms. We’re investing a lot of time on the technical side, in fact new gen F1 will be the first title to utilize our all-new EGO engine; we aren’t simply upgrading our current engine, we’re engineering a new future-proof one to take the series forward in the best possible way.
"You can just look to the sport itself to see how different the gameplay is going to be this year. We’ve seen some of the biggest rule changes in the sport’s 60 year history and now we have the new turbocharged power units and new aerodynamics, which combine to place more emphasis on racing skill and control in cars with more explosive power delivery but less downforce than previous seasons."
Rashid Sayed: One of the changes in F1 2014 is to let the player drive any car he wants in career mode. Is there a specific reason behind this decision?
Lee Mather: The decision to allow the player to start their season with any team was made for multiple reasons. Primarily it was done to try and lower the entry level for the less experienced, or time constrained gamer. In the majority of racing games, starting out with a lower spec car is actually an easy way to get used to the game. Slower generally equates to easier, but in F1 all of the cars are blisteringly quick. The teams near the rear of the grid often lose out in stability and cornering performance, because of this we wanted to give everyone the opportunity to drive the best cars from the beginning.
Another key reason was feedback we received from the Codemasters gaming community. We all read the forums regularly and often collate lists of the most requested, liked or disliked areas of the game. Something a lot of people asked for was the ability to start their Career in a top team. Not because they don’t relish the challenge of starting in a less dominant team, but because they couldn’t commit the time to working through multiple Career seasons.
So ultimately it’s all about player choice, allowing the player to enjoy the season how they want to enjoy the season.
Rashid Sayed: Other than that, from a gameplay perspective, what has changed in F1 2014? Is it going to be a totally different experience from last year’s iteration?
Lee Mather: You can just look to the sport itself to see how different the gameplay is going to be this year. We’ve seen some of the biggest rule changes in the sport’s 60 year history and now we have the new turbocharged power units and new aerodynamics, which combine to place more emphasis on racing skill and control in cars with more explosive power delivery but less downforce than previous seasons.
We have the new circuit at the stunning Sochi Autodrom, and the return of Austria’s Spielberg circuit and that’s a classic track with dramatic changes in elevation that we haven’t had in the sport for over 10 years. There’s the return of the drivers’ favoriteHockenheimring we get to experience Bahrain as a night race for the first time.
Rashid Sayed: How are you making sure that users who already have F1 2013 will make the transition to F1 2014?
Lee Mather: We have introduced the new Driver Evaluation Test, which pits players against AI drivers of differing pace. At the end of the test players are rated on their performance and a difficulty and assists level is suggested to them. If you’re not satisfied with the outcome, players can take the test as many times they want until they find the perfect difficulty level for them and take those settings over in to in to Career mode.
Then, in Career, players can choose to race shorter seasons if they prefer, including seven race and 12 race options. Players can also adjust the number of laps to be completed in every race; in effect you could complete a modified F1 season within the time it takes a full race to be broadcast in real life or replicate a full length race in real time.
"Two of the biggest changes this year are the reduction in aero, with the lack of the blown diffusers, and the major changes to the power units. The combination has given us the opportunity to add a lot more movement in to the cars, especially when on throttle."
Rashid Sayed: Tell us about the kind of research you have done to accurately capture Red Bull Ring and the brand-new Sochi Autodrom?
Lee Mather: Modeling the new circuit at Sochi was large undertaking for us, mainly as it didn’t actually exist in real life when we began work on modeling it! However, we’ve experienced this previously with the likes of Korea, India and Texas, so we’re getting particularly good at building new circuits from limited reference material and we’re proud of the end result.
When creating a circuit we start out with CAD data provided by the circuit. We then cross reference this with the data we acquire from multiple mapping companies. We also have a photographer who takes full 360-degree shots at 10 metre intervals around the circuit. This allows us to concentrate on the fine details, such as surface texture changes and drain and rain gully placement for example. Finally we scrutinize any race day footage, picking up on any last minute changes made to the circuit or sponsor board placement and adjust these where possible. From here we liaise with the circuit and FOM to ensure all sponsors and the circuit itself is represented accurately in game.
Rashid Sayed: What kind of improvements have you made to the cars’ handling and aerodynamics this time around?
Lee Mather: Two of the biggest changes this year are the reduction in aero, with the lack of the blown diffusers, and the major changes to the power units. The combination has given us the opportunity to add a lot more movement in to the cars, especially when on throttle. Balancing out the power delivery of the new units and the levels of downforce the car are running has given us plenty to keep us busy.
Rashid Sayed: Can you talk about the multiplayer modes?
Lee Mather: The online component of F1 2014 is split in to 3 defined areas. There’s Quick Match which allows the player to very quickly and easily get in to a race with minimal effort. The predefined race types in this mode start with a short sprint race of 3 laps. Also available are a 7 lap GP and a 25% Race Distance GP. This is the mode for people who want to enjoy shorter online races. The second online Custom mode offers the player the opportunity to set the lobby options up to suit their own race preference.
This is where weather and tire strategy really start to come in to play. It’s also where League gamers can host their weekly tournament races. Finally we have the Co-op Season. This mode allows you to team up with a friend online and work together to take the Formula 1 Constructors Championship whilst fighting for the Drivers Championship. With equal machinery there are no excuses here as to why you’ve been beaten by your friend.
Rashid Sayed: The game will not feature classic content. Will there be something else as a replacement?
Lee Mather: We wanted to make use of the Classic content for a long time; in fact it took us 3 previous titles to finally clear all of the licensing issues and pull together the required assets to allow us to do justice to the classics in F1 2013. We were especially keen to do it last year as the sport hadn’t seen any major changes and we wanted to add a different F1 experience to the gameplay mix.
However, with the changes to the cars, the new tracks and rules this year, we feel the sport’s mixed things up to deliver a really different F1 racing experience in the game over past editions. Saying that, the classic content is something we all thoroughly enjoyed working on though, and would never dismiss doing something similar in the future.
What we have done is to expand the popular Scenario mod with even more exciting and challenging scenarios. It’s perfect for those players who don’t have hours to dedicate to full race weekends, to still enjoy some of the key aspects of Formula 1 in more manageable bite sized chunks. Plus there’s the new Driver Evaluation Test to help players find their perfect difficulty settings.
"The important thing is that it marks a fresh start for us. As mentioned, it’ll be the first title to be powered by an all-new EGO engine; an engine which has been developed with the new generation consoles and the future in mind. The increase in power, memory, storage space and our new engine is allowing us to improve in all areas."
Rashid Sayed: How do you guys feel going up against the likes of Forza Horizon 2, DriveClub, The Crew and Project CARS? All of those games are on new consoles. Is there a feeling that F1 2014, regardless of whether the game is better than its predecessors, faces tough challenges sales wise?
Lee Mather: Thankfully I’m not a sales guy who has to make those predictions! However, as a designer, I can say that it’s a great time for racing gamersand, of course, these titles are spread very differently across the various formats and generations. F1 stands alone as a sport and we’re the only official game, the only way players can get a full F1 experience in gameplay terms. F1 has a massive fan base that’s far more widespread than many realize; it’s huge in Asia, the Emirates and Latin America and we continue to see the game’s popularity grow in those regions every year.
Rashid Sayed: F1 2015 has already been confirmed to be coming next year. I understand you can’t talk about it much but can you let us know from a top level how will you be using the power of the PS4 and Xbox One to deliver one of the most realistic F1 games ever?
Lee Mather: The important thing is that it marks a fresh start for us. As mentioned, it’ll be the first title to be powered by an all-new EGO engine; an engine which has been developed with the new generation consoles and the future in mind. The increase in power, memory, storage space and our new engine is allowing us to improve in all areas. We’ll be going in to more detail about the title in the future but as always we’ll be looking to produce the best Formula 1 gaming experience of all time.
Rashid Sayed: Do you think introducing a new iteration every year decreases the chances of innovation and creativity? I am sure you guys can do more if there is enough development time between each iteration.
Lee Mather: For the past six years, since Codemasters won the F1 licence, we have never stopped working on the next F1 title here in the studio; we have an ongoing passion to create the definitive F1 gaming experience. As each year’s game reaches certain stages in production, some of the guys start looking at what’s ahead while others are completing development of the current title.
So it’s rarely a start/stop project for the team as a whole and we’ve always had a long term plan that is honestly bursting with ideas. However, deciding what makes it in to the game is often dictated by a multitude of issues, each feature is decided on depending on the unique challenges attached to it depending on the season the game is mirroring.