F1 2017 is about to head out onto the tracks once again.
For a series that’s been around the tracks for several years now, F1 2017 is still learning from its past. With improvements to the dynamic weather system, mechanical enhancements, and bringing back classic cars are just some of the innovations developers Codemasters Birmingham have brought to the tracks.
We had a chance to talk with Creative Director Lee Mather to answer some of our most intriguing questions regarding the next big entry in the long running series.
F1 2016 was a huge critical and commercial success for the studio. How are you planning on upping the ante and besting yourself this year with F1 2017?
The good thing about F1 2016 being such a success is that we’ve got such a strong platform to build on for F1 2017. We got a lot of good feedback from the community, great feedback from the reviews. And we saw people really enjoyed the areas of the game that they find the most immersive, or the most exciting to play. So we knew the career was where everybody spent all their time, where they did all their gameplay. The first thing we did was to make that bigger and better, add even more to it. First, we wanted to improve on the R&D system in the game, that’s a major component to the sport, a major component to the game. So as of last year we took practice programmers and our research and development points, we got in some additional practice programmer to teach the player about other elements of the sport.
There’s learning on how to save fuel, and those points can then be spent on upgrading the car. And a big change to the R&D system here is that the old system was very linear, so we added some RPG stats so the player can upgrade. You also have to take into consideration that some of those upgrades might be unreliable. There are core competencies. Core competencies are areas which don’t directly impact on the performance of the car, but they do impact your ability to upgrade the car in different ways. You can speed up the development, have more reliable parts delivered so they feel less often. Or we can even have simultaneous parts delivered at the same time, so you can work on multiple times.
Last year we didn’t do gearbox engine management. It’s a new part of the series. Engine and gearbox management will have a finite number per season, there’s penalty attached to changing them. The components of the engine will let you change several parts of the engine. You will get penalized if you do it during the wrong part of the season. So you’ve got that question of, “I’m about to enter a race. My engines partially worn out. Is it going to make it to the end?” Do you take the risk, do you change the part and take a small penalty and try and just go for the points, or do you risk it and go for the points and hope you don’t blow the engine? It’s another great consideration for the player to have. It’s not just the on track stuff. It’s setting themselves up for that. They’ve got to consider how to upgrade the car, and how they manage the wear over the course of the season.
"Last year we didn’t do gearbox engine management. It’s a new part of the series. Engine and gearbox management will have a finite number per season, there’s penalty attached to changing them."
What prompted the decision to include classic cars in F1 2017 again? Will they be included in all modes, or is their implementation going to be limited?
We loved doing them in F1 2013. We wanted to do them again. We wanted them to be bigger and better. But we really wanted to integrate them differently into the game. So one of the key considerations was: how can we make the career mode contain classic cars? And what we decided to do was have invitational events throughout the season. People are very used to the career structure in Formula 1, and we thought it would be really nice to punctuate these little events along the way. In the UK we have a thing called the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and the Goodwood Festival Revival, where people arrive and they take their million dollar cars, and there are $25 million Ferrari, classic Ferraris, and they have famous people raise them.
We wanted to do something along those lines. So the way it works in Formula One is we’re bringing a new character to the game. He’s a multimillionaire and he owns 12 Formula One cars from the iconic’s or classic cars, and he invites you to drive these cars during certain times of the year, during different styles of events. It’s not just straight races all the time, it could be a pursuit where are you start in a really fast Formula One car; the guys in front are in slower cars and you’ve got to chase them down. So that’s a really cool one. We’ve also got an overtake challenge where you’ve got to overtake the cars as quickly as possible. And also a checkpoint challenge…can you get to the next checkpoint before time runs out? Also, it’s a team game. It can be you and your teammate, but when you’re in the classics we wanted to break that tension. It allows us to do things like class based racing as well. So we also do class racing that’s C1 and C2 classic cars, super fast ones, not so fast ones. So you can have them racing together on the same track. So you can have a full grid of 20 classic cars all racing together, all with different performances.
How did you select which classic cars would be in F1 2017? How many eras are represented?
I really thought this was going to be a really hard thing to do. Because we’ve all got our favorites-everyone has their own favorite Formula One cars. We’ve got a lot of Formula One fans on the team. We’ve got a Italian guy, so he wants Ferraris. He’s very passionate about that sort of thing. We put a list together between four or five of us, and then we distilled it down, and we argued about it for a while. And we looked at images as well, just to rekindle that memory of what the car was like. We look to the audio to see which ones work particularly special.
We did all those things to essentially come to a conclusion. We all loved the same cars, believe it or not. So era wise we cover 1988-the oldest car in the game being an MP4/4 that can be played with the clutch and the gated shifter – so that’s really immersive. And the youngest car in the game is the Redbull RB6 – their first championship winning car from 2010. We’ve got a range of cars from 2002 Ferrari, 2004 Ferrari, 2007 Ferrari, which was the quickest Formula One car of all time until this year; where the new 2017 cars are actually quicker. We’ve also announced the Williams W14B. And last we’ve got the V12 Ferrari in there as well. It’s the absolute visceral V12 experience. So we’ve got a really good range, and we’re going to add some more to that as well.
We haven’t announced all of the cars yet. To mix up the gameplay, and give you something different we’ve got some short circuit variance in there as well. So you drive them on different circuits. So we’ve already announced we’ve got a short version Texas, and the short version of Bahrain. And again it’s something different from the norm.
"Obviously this year there was a big change in the rules: the cars are heavier, the cars are wider, the tires are much larger as well. We have all the technical regulations to work from the start."
In a game like F1 2017, authenticity is obviously paramount. What are some of the ways you are ensuring that the game can provide players the authentic F1 experience?
Obviously this year there was a big change in the rules: the cars are heavier, the cars are wider, the tires are much larger as well. We have all the technical regulations to work from the start. So we start there. Then we start looking at the lap times that are achieved, Watch all the TV footage, we get all the data down to see exactly how the driver times a lap. It’s not just a case of say we need to achieve a lap time of one minute 30 seconds. It’s how it is achieved. Is it achieved because the car brakes faster, or is it because the car corners very fast, or is it achieved because it’s faster in a straight line? We balance the cars so they achieve the lap times realistically.
We also, this year, sent one of our handling designers to the Barcelona test. He stood at the side of the track, he looked at how the cars moved around, how they break, how they accelerated. And he came back and he said, “I didn’t realize some of the cars did this. I didn’t realize this is how this is happening.” And I gave him more insight even further into, not just the numbers, but the actual physics and physical movements of the car. The more touchy-feely aspects of the game. We further enhanced force feedback. So every little nuance you feel is more noticeable. You can feel the track surface as well. You can feel all of those little pops coming through. It’s all these things to get the player really close to the feel of the car. Because without the feel you can’t control the car quite effectively.
Which is your favorite track in the game?
Possibly Canada. I really enjoy Canada.
This year is packed with great racing games- we’re getting Project CARS 2, Forza Motorsport 6, Gran Turismo Sport, we just got Wipeout, Mario Kart, and your very own DiRT 4. How do you feel about F1‘s chances of standing out in such a competitive year?
I think it’s awesome that there are so many coming out this year. It’s great for me because I love racing games. So I think the biggest thing that sets F1 2017 apart from all the rest is that it’s an official game of an official season. So we’re not just a racing game, we’re a sports title as well. We replicate the world of Formula One. We replicate the locations, all the official tracks, we have all the official cars, we have all the official drivers. And beyond that we have the off-track stuff as well. We got locations and characters, and this is what people see in the world of Formula One. We give them not just a racing game, we give them full representation of the sport. That’s what really sets Formula One apart from other racing games.
Have there been any updates to the dynamic weather systems in F1 2017?
We’ve had a really strong dynamic weather system since 2010. I think we were one of the pioneers of dynamic weather in racing games. And that’s a system which we’ve continued to build upon year after year. And this year is something we’ve had from our beta testers that they’ve been talking to us about. They were playing the game so much they were beginning to predict the weather. They knew when a certain state and where it started to go to next, and they were starting to work that out. So we wanted to do something about that. So there’s a lot more of a random element to transitional phases of weather. So that really keeps it fresh and exciting. And what’s different is that it has impact on the tires. It makes for a very dynamic experience.
"We are currently discussing the Switch. Whether it will be a similar version to this or or something different, like what we released on Wii in 2009. It might be a slightly different for a slightly different audience."
Do you have any plans to support PSVR in F1 2017?
At the moment it’s on our radar, it’s not something we’ve got planned in this version of the game just yet.
Do you have any plans to bring over the unlimited tracks feature from Dirt 4? Although it could cause licensing issues, do you think this is something you can include?
So being a fully licensed sports title, we replicate what happens in real sports. So that’s a no.
Will there be any Xbox One X enhancements for F1 2017?
We are already running on Xbox One X over in the Microsoft stand. So that’s here this year already. It’s already running at 4K/60 frames per second with HDR enabled. It’s still early days with that build, we’ve already started to turn up some of the features. We’re going to see how far we can get to being close to a high spec PC. We’ve increased the fidelity of the mirrors, so they run a higher frame rate and higher detail. Shadows can be better. Reflections can be better. See, it’s still early days for that one. But we are already running on it, and it’s here at the show.
Is all of that possible on the PS4 Pro?
The vast majority of it is, as far as I can see. But that’s one for the technical guys to answer.
Do you have any plans to bring the game to the Nintendo Switch?
We are currently discussing the Switch. Whether it will be a similar version to this or or something different, like what we released on Wii in 2009. It might be a slightly different for a slightly different audience. Again, it’s something we are in discussions about. For the moment there isn’t anything planned but that might change as things regularly do.