Codemasters’ F1 series is in the unique position where it keeps on making improvements year-over-year to deliver increasingly excellent games, which isn’t something that can be said about a lot of annual franchises. It’s no surprise, then, that each new game in the series is something that fans look forward to with giddy anticipation. This year’s entry is making a number of major improvements and trying out new ideas, and that, combined with the fact that this is the series’ debut on next-gen consoles and the first time it’s being published under the EA banner, makes it a very significant instalment. Recently, we had the chance to speak with franchise game director Lee Mather about F1 2021 and its many improvements. You can read our conversation below.
"F1 2021 will take advantage of a number of the next-gen hardware specific features."
As the first game in the series launching for next-gen consoles, how is F1 2021 leveraging the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S’ more powerful hardware to deliver a more authentic experience, especially with last-gen consoles and optimization for them also being considerations?
F1 2021 will take advantage of a number of the next-gen hardware specific features. Raytracing will be utilised in a number of areas of the game such as within the Front End, Photomode and within replays. We’re also adding a Performance Mode option which will allow the game to run above 60fps on compatible hardware.
Players on next-gen platforms will also be able to experience a significant reduction in loading times, allowing them to flow smoothly from session to session.
We’ve also worked on the quality of on-track models and textures, adding a new level of visual fidelity to the next-gen experience.
Braking Point is, of course, one of the headlining new features this year. How did the idea of a story-driven mode first come about for an F1 game?
A fully fledged story mode is something we’ve had on the roadmap for some time. As with most major features, we wanted to wait until we were in a position to do it justice. We dipped our toe in the water in F1 2019 with the story driven F2 Career introduction. That was received incredibly well, with Devon Butler becoming something of a cult character amongst fans. That, along with the fantastic success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive really gave us the confidence to push a story-driven game mode to the next level. It’s also something which the fans have wanted to see for some time. We believe it will appeal to a broad F1 fanbase, injecting more of the excitement away from the track into the fast and frantic on-track experience. Before we started on the feature, we had some broad story ideas, and partnered with a professional writing duo to ensure we hit our goals of creating something with a nuanced, exciting and engaging journey for the player. We think players will really engage with the new characters and find the story a fantastic change of pace for both the series racers and more casual F1 fans.
How long will an average playthrough of Braking Point be?
Playthrough time will obviously be impacted by player skill, but we’re expecting an average player to be able to play through the Braking Point experience in 5-6 hours.
What can you tell us about the two-player Career mode? How much interaction can the two players have here in terms of, say, forming rivalries, or even working toward the same goal?
Two-Player Career is something we’re very excited about this year. We had something similar a while back, but never with this level of engagement and as feature rich. We know a lot of players love the concept of racing either together or against each other in a full F1 season, so that’s what they’ll able to do in Two-Player Career.
There are two ways a player can engage with Two-Player Career: 1. You can partner with a friend and decide to work together on the same team, with a goal of winning the Constructors World Championship as a pairing 2. You can start your journey on separate teams, racing to become Constructors and Drivers World Champion. Through all of this both players will engage with R&D, meet the press and any of the other team-running related elements in the Driver Career.
Rivalry becomes particularly interesting when it’s possible to have your friend as a rival, be that on the same or opposing teams. For players who start their Two-Player Career on opposing teams, it’s also possible that they could end up driving together at the same team at some point, if that’s how the contracts system plays out. We’re excited to see the way people create their own journey in F1, as a pairing.
"A fully fledged story mode is something we’ve had on the roadmap for some time. As with most major features, we wanted to wait until we were in a position to do it justice."
F1 2021 is the first game in the series since EA’s acquisition of Codemasters. Has the deal had any sort of an impact on the game’s development one way or another?
We have a clearly defined roadmap for the F1 series, and that’s something which has really excited the teams at EA. For the F1 team it’s opened up so many great channels of communication and a huge repository of shared knowledge.
What kind of improvements can we expect in the sound department?
Audio plays a huge part in the immersion of an F1 game. Hearing the engine sounds bounce off the walls of Singapore, or echo through the tunnel at Monaco brings the player even closer to the action. F1 2021 will support 3D audio on both PS5 and Xbox Series consoles. We’ll be supporting Dolby Atmos on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S and DTS:X on Xbox Series X/S.
Those improvements, along with the extra processing power of the new hardware also allows for more precise special audio and reflections, again, placing the player more effectively within the environment.
We’ve also broadened the choice of audio experience for the player. Players will be able to choose between a number of Broadcast Experience options, these are: Driver mix, Broadcast mix and Helmet mix, as well as being able to tailor the experience with a custom setting. The drivers helmet mix replicates what an F1 driver hears inside their helmet. We achieved this by taking an impulse response from inside the helmet, and with that and driver feedback created this new mix.
Are there any plans to include a classic mode with classic tracks, cars, and drivers?
Classic cars and tracks will not feature in F1 2021. Collectively the studio evaluates the priorities and new features before starting work on a new title. For F1 2021, we wanted to focus on our exciting new innovations such as Braking Point, two-player Career and Real-Season Start. We are also continuing to innovate My Team with the addition of seven iconic drivers as part of the digital Deluxe Edition. Portimão, Imola, and Jeddah will be individually added into the game post-launch for free as soon as they’re ready, rather than them all releasing at once. The team is working hard to get each track added to the game as soon as possible after launch.
What kind of improvements have you made in the car development side of things?
Vehicle development is and always has been a massive part of the F1 series, so we’ve continued to evolve and grow this area for F1 2021. Instantly players will notice an entirely new presentation to the R&D system, with the previous skill tree style now being replaced by a stronger, more visual appearance. This goes hand-in-hand with another area we’ve made some changes to this year, that being Practice Programmes. The number of Practice Programmes a player will be able to complete has been changed, and we’ve also added a new set of secondary objectives to Practice.
Achieving secondary objectives will allow the player to save money on areas of development by unlocking development boosts. The player can choose to focus on any area of the development, stacking multiple development boosts if they choose to do so. I’m sure some will be pleased to know that there are now multiple heads of R&D, so when moving teams you’ll be greeted by someone new. For players who want to take a break from Practice sessions, we now have a new Quick Practice option, where the player can determine what the team will focus on during the session in a short time management risk vs. reward mini-game. The session will be simulated with the results being presented to the player at the end. Some tasks may have been a success, whilst others may have failed due to the player not allowing enough time for them, for example.
"We have a clearly defined roadmap for the F1 series, and that’s something which has really excited the teams at EA. For the F1 team it’s opened up so many great channels of communication and a huge repository of shared knowledge."
Can you speak about the changes you made in My Team for F1 2021?
Along with the R&D changes which are part of the Driver Career and My Team, we’ve added a new element to give the player a new challenge in My Team. Department Events will challenge the player to make a decision based on something which has happened or is going to happen in relation to your team. It could be something as simple as some software is due to expire, and you need to decide whether you want to pay for a new license, or maybe your teammate has been asked to attend an event, but you’d rather they were working in the simulator. As a player, you have another key element of running an F1 team.
As we’re currently on the subject of My Team, I should also add that we’ve expanded upon the driver stats which we added in F1 2020. All drivers will now have a new Focus statistic. This is more of a measure of their overall race readiness. A driver with a strong Focus stat will have the capacity to perform at their best, performing in line with how they are rated.
For players who purchase the Digital Deluxe version of the game, they’ll also receive 7 iconic Formula 1 drivers who they’ll be able to hire as their teammate in My Team.
One other thing which I think will really excite fans will be the new Expert settings. We’ve opened up more of the game than ever before to allow players to tailor the experience to how they want to play. With the new Expert settings players will be able to make changes to their My Team progression by adjusting things such as R&D speed, the rate at which you earn money, enabling or disabling meet the press, amongst a number of other game tweaking options.
Are there any plans to include features, like TV mode features?
We’re always pushing to move towards replicating the style of the TV broadcast where relevant in a video game. This year we’ll have the latest F1 intro, and F1 and F2 stings as well as matching the TV presentation for the grid run down and post-race results screens. We’ve also added more of the Amazon Web Services elements which are used in the broadcast to give the player live up-to-date information about the race.
"We’re always pushing to move towards replicating the style of the TV broadcast where relevant in a video game."
What frame rate and resolution is the game targeting on PS5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S? Furthermore, will the game have multiple graphical modes?
Players on PS5 and Xbox Series X will have a choice of selecting a ‘Graphics’ or ‘Performance’ mode.
In ‘Graphics’ mode the game will run at:
Xbox Series X: 2160p (4K) at 60FPS
Xbox Series S: 1080p at 60FPS
PlayStation 5: 2160p (4K) at 60FPS
In ‘Performance’ mode the game will run at:
Xbox Series X: 1440p at 120hz (with a compatible screen/setup)
PlayStation 5: 1440p at 120hz (with a compatible screen/setup)
Since the reveal of the PS5 and Xbox Series X’s specs, a lot of comparisons have been made between the speeds of the two consoles’ GPUs, with the PS5 at 10.28 TFLOPS and the Xbox Series X at 12 TFLOPS- but how much of an impact on development do you think that difference will have?
It’s still incredibly early in the lifecycle of the new hardware, and as you know, the more time the teams have with hardware, the more they’re able to really make the most of it. Our main goal was to ensure that no matter which platform you’re playing on, you’ll be getting a fantastic F1 experience. F1 on the previous gen hardware was always something of a looker, and that’s certainly not changed, but we’re sure you’ll also see the gains made on the new tech.
Will you use the PS5’s more unique features, like its haptic feedback or adaptive triggers?
F1 2021 will be making the most of the new resistance triggers on PS5. The additional feedback which they offer will relay to the user exactly what the car is doing beneath them.