F1 2011 is Codemasters Birmingham’s second lap around the F1 racing circuit. We talked with Lee Mather, one of its developers, about this year’s version.
Strategy Informer:You’ve stated that multiplayer has been a big focus for F1 2011. What are the results of this direction?
Lee Mather: One of the biggest things is definitely the co-op Championship. In Formula 1 it’s a big thing to compete in the same race side by side with your teammate. It’s something we’ve always wanted to get in there and we’ve got that ability in this year’s version.
Also, we’ve expanded the grid. We’ve now got up sixteen players online which is a big technical feat to get that many Formula 1 cars driven by players. The split screen also falls under the multiplayer umbrella.
Strategy Informer:A lot of developers these days seem to be leaving out split screen in favour of just online multiplayer. Can you talk about the decision to add that in to this year’s version?
Lee Mather: I think it’s underestimated just how many gamers appreciate it. A lot of younger players come home from school and want to put in a game and race against their friends. I play a lot of online games like Halo and you often see someone sharing a console with two or three friends through split screen.
So there’s still a very big viable market for split screen gaming and it’s something that our fans have called for. The tech was developed for DIRT 3 and we’ve been able to adopt it for F1 2011. It’s gone down really well, I think people have enjoyed it.
Strategy Informer:Yeah, it’s a really good thing to have. One of theories behind the increase in developers leaving it out is to force players to buy a copy of the game each.
Lee Mather: I’m sure there are those in the industry that think along those lines but from a development perspective we always think about what we’ll gain from it – is it a feature really worth implementing, whether its worth spending the time and effort on. It’s not an easy thing to do in a game like F1 but it was certainly worth it in this case.
Strategy Informer: I’m a complete newb when it comes to this type of driving game but I’ve heard the F1 series being described as a blend of arcade and simulation racing. Do you agree with that assessment?
Lee Mather: I think the term “arcade” can be confused with being accessible and sometimes people get them mixed up. We offer a deep simulation experience, especially in 2011 where we’ve moved that on a lot; the tyres will play a bigger part, the KERS, the DRS, the fuel weights - that’s pure simulation.
Referring to the driving model, if you turn all the assists on maybe it does feel slightly more “arcade-y” but it’s pure simulation as far as I’m concerned. How other people perceive how it plays depends on what their history is with racing games. You’ll find people who’ll say something like Forza or Gran Turismo is quite “arcade-y”. You’ll ask them what they’ve played and they’ll say GT Legends, an amazing yet brutally punishing racing game, and they consider that to be pinnacle of simulation. Anything else is a step down to them.
Strategy Informer:You’ve talked about making the single player experience more cinematic. How have you gone about doing that?
Lee Mather: Last year we had the paddock which played a reasonable part in the game and we’ve got David Croft [BBC’s F1 commentator] in there again doing the interviews. We’ve added in cinematics which we did lack last year and it really adds a lot to the atmosphere. It’s a big thing in Formula 1 to see the driver at the end of the race or qualifying getting out of the car. It’s something that people wanted to see in 2010 and we’ve been able to add it in 2011. It adds to the glamour and excitement of F1.
Strategy Informer:Have any real F1 drivers played your games and what did they make of them?
Lee Mather: We’ve had quite a few people from the teams play [F1 2010]; the Lotus and McLaren guys have played it a lot. We know some of the drivers used it to learn circuits. There were certain comments in the press last year about drivers learning the new courses that weren’t available at the time.
Recently, we had an event where Gary Paffett came along - he’s the McLaren test driver – and he played the game in front of a few people. Anthony Davidson [former F1 driver and consultant for Codemasters] is always on hand to give us advice and feedback.
Strategy Informer:I asked someone earlier about the amount of player customisation available for the drivers, cars and teams but was told there will be very little. Is this due to F1 licensing restrictions?
Lee Mather: It’s pretty much part and parcel of the license, there is a limit to how creative you can be with that. We can’t do anything to the cars, they’re locked. You couldn’t go putting your own livery on your car, for example.
Strategy Informer:The game is also coming to the Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita portables at some point. Can you give us anymore details about those versions?
Lee Mather: To be honest, I’ve had very little dealings with either of those versions. They’re not being developed in the Birmingham studio. I’ve only seen them running once or twice in the last few weeks but what I’ve seen of them is very impressive. I was really surprised to see what they’ve been able to achieve on handheld platforms. It’s pretty amazing to see the game you’re used to seeing everyday on Xbox 360 running on a handheld. Very impressive stuff.
Strategy Informer:Finally, and probably most importantly, will Fleetwood Mac’s song “The Chain” be used licensed for the game? If not, why not?
Lee Mather: (Smiles) That’s something we’d all love, isn’t it? I believe it’s not a cheap song to license but that may not be the correct reason that we don’t have it. It’s so iconic but unfortunately only in the UK.
Strategy Informer:True. Other driving games like Forza 4 have licensed the BBC’s Top Gear brand, borrowing the Stig character and their famous race track. Any chance of you licensing the BBC’s Formula 1 coverage and getting “The Chain” as part of the package?
Lee Mather: Again, I don’t know the legal ins-and-outs of these things but for the BBC, being a license fee funded company, it’s tough for them to do tie-ins sometimes due to advertising reasons so I don’t know how those sorts of things pan out. Our licensing manager would probably have many sleepless nights thinking about that one.
Thanks to Lee and the guys from Codemasters for letting us chat with them and check out F1 2011. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to read our hands-on preview of the game.