It’s strange to think that the current crop of consoles will be over 18 months old when F1 2015 is released in June, and yet it’s taken this long for the yearly motorsports series to manage to make the leap. On the plus side, this is a game that’s been built from the ground up to focus in on what the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can do, rather than being shackled to the constraints of the last generation.
Our initial impressions went live as the embargo lifted at midnight, but following our hands on time with the game, struggling to keep the car facing in the right direction as we slipped and slid our way around a very wet Singapore street circuit, we were able to sit down and chat with Game Designer Steven Embling about the new game, how it compares to the old and, most importantly, whether or not you can tell your race engineer to pipe down.
TSA: You’re finally getting F1 games onto this generation of consoles, but I think a lot of fans were disappointed that you didn’t manage to do this sooner with F1 2014 or even earlier with 2013. Was that something that you struggled with in the studio, to make that decision and then stay focussed?
Steven Embling: Well, we wanted to enter this new generation of consoles as early as possible, but we wanted to do it right. It’s no good just porting something over, because it wouldn’t have been as good.
Doing it this way, yes it’s taken some time, but it’s enabled us to rebuild from the ground up, wipe the slate clean of everything we’ve done before and make something which will harness the power of these new consoles. That’s what we wanted to do, and that naturally takes time.
TSA: A big part of this is that you’re launching earlier in the year than previously, but I think there’s a lack of clarity about how that’s actually going to work and what that will mean for the game over the course of the year.
Steve: At the moment, what you’ll get when you buy the game is the full 2014 season and the 2015 season. Right now, we haven’t had an awful lot of time to look at each car’s performance [in 2015], and obviously they improve as the season goes on. So you’ll find that Ferrari have just done very well by winning the race in Sepang and Mercedes are always up there, but you’ve got McLaren, who are a long way back from where they’d normally be.
TSA: Oh really? I hadn’t noticed… [laughs]
Steve: Exactly! They’ve got their new partnership with Honda, which has served them well in the early 90s, but at the moment they’re off to a bit of a slow start. We can keep an eye on how they’re doing and how everyone else is doing as the season goes on and then adjust the performance of the cars. With the drivers, you might find that one person is doing a lot better that what we expect and what we’ve seen from the first two or three races.
Obviously, we can only base the 2015 data in the game on what we’ve seen already, but we haven’t got the majority of the season to reference. We always want it to be as accurate for the player as possible, so that’s what the season update allows us to do.
TSA: Should people expect these updates on a monthly basis or every two months, perhaps? I’m just trying to gauge how wide a spread of data you’re going to take each time, given how different tracks will suit different cars and shift performance up and down.
Steve: So, we’ve got one really major one that’s confirmed for […] we’re looking at around a month after release, and then we’ll see what happens after that. […] When it’s the right time, really.
TSA: Another thing from the presentation was that the data and early balance that you have is based off pre-season testing?
Steve: And the first two races…
TSA: Oh? Well, I was about to ask the silly question on whether you’d had to use the crazy camouflage pattern for the Red Bull cars! [laughs]
Steve: [laughs] No. I thought that might come up! The Red Bull obviously, yeah, they had their camouflage pattern, so nobody could copy their awesome aerodynamics…
TSA: Well, I think they were hoping it had awesome aerodynamics to hide!
Steve: That’s what they were hoping. That was the idea, wasn’t it?
But we’ve got the car from Melbourne, and that’s what we’ll ship with, and then any updates to liveries and stuff, we’ll look at putting them into the content updates.
TSA: One thing the most ardent fans will want to know about is obviously the physics and the handling of the cars, and I think maybe the best way to ask that, from my point of view, is which of the previous F1 games it’s most similar to?
Steve: That’s a really good question, but I would say none!
If I had to say the closest one of our previous titles, I’d probably say ’13, but in all truth, it’s quite different to all of them. That’s because we haven’t had the fidelity in the tyre model to do what we’ve now set it up to do.
If you look at ’10, ’11 was an evolution of ’10, ’12 was an evolution of ’11 and so on, so we’ve built on it, we’ve developed it and we’ve done things to hone in on the areas we wanted to improve on. This time around we’ve started from a fresh slate, and that gives us more of a simulation feel than what we’ve been able to achieve with the old technology, which is a major step forward.
We’ve also looked at how the pad controls can be optimised, so that there’s not a clear advantage to using a wheel or a pad; there’s parity for whatever controls you want to use. And where we’ve got so much detail in our handling and physics, it’s meant that we can use that to drive out force feedback. So with force feedback in a wheel, you can pretty much feel every bump in the road, it’s incredible.
TSA: Or every time you bump into a wall in the wet…
Steve: Yeah, yeah. It’s quite a tricky track and one of my least favourite, if I dare say! It’s a tricky one, because there’s a lot of 90º corners on that circuit. There’s not much room for error.
TSA: Yeah, and especially in the wet, as I was playing here. I also like to turn the assists down or off, and I tried that here but struggled to get into the right mindset with throttle control and knowing when the rear tyres are going to spin up. In terms of accessibility, you’ve still got all of the assists, but what was said earlier was that this aimed to be the most accessible F1 game yet. How are you trying to balance that and the hardcore fans?
Steve: Yeah, it’s quite a wide spectrum. The hardcore simulation guys want it to be realistic and they want every single nuance to be reflected accurately, so that’s what we’ve done! But then we’ve obviously got a wide variety of assists that you can use, all the way down to braking assist, and one that’s perhaps even more useful than before is traction control, and it’s off, medium and full settings.
The full setting with the old physics maybe wasn’t quite as useful in achieving the accessibility that we wanted, but this time there’s a stark contrast between full and off. It just feels completely different, but you don’t get that kind of oversteer.
It eases you into it gently, so if you start with assists and turn them off one by one until you’re ready for the full simulation experience, that’s a good way to get there. Personally, I love the simulation aspect, because we’ve never been able to go that in depth before.
TSA: Another slightly mysterious addition is the Pro Season mode, but what exactly does that entail?
Steve: First off, there’s no assists and cockpit view is forced, but then on top of that, it’s also got practice 1, 2 and 3, full qualifying and the full race distance. It’s the entire driver’s experience.
TSA: I’m just trying to contemplate how gruelling that’s going to be!
Steve: It’s not for the faint hearted, that’s for sure! It’s a real challenge.
It’s unlocked from the very start, so you don’t have to complete a season beforehand and can go straight into it, if you’re that way inclined and are feeling brave.
Oh, it’s the hardest difficulty AI, as well.
TSA: Speaking of the AI, what have you done to try and improve in that area? Something that I’ve seen to a certain degree here, and the race conditions [in a wet Singapore track] obviously affected this, but it felt quite easy for me to bottle the AI up behind me…
Steve: Was that here?
TSA: Yeah, though I’m not 100% on which assists were on or off, or what the AI difficulty was set to.
Steve: So, the AI is still very much a work in progress. Obviously, whenever we make any changes to the handling, the AI has to be trained to drive to those new changes at the maximum of their ability. So the AI guys are currently really, really busy on trying to optimise everything in the best possible way.
What we wanted, more than anything, wasn’t just for them to be fast, but for them to drive naturally. So, you could probably tell from the presentation demo, they drove a lot more like a human. They wouldn’t stick to just the racing line, but they would defend their line and – maybe not so apparent at Singapore – we wanted overtaking to be a fluid thing and to happen in a natural way.
We didn’t want them to be robotic, but to keep things feeling as human as possible, because it really does add to the experience.
TSA: Finally, you have a new race engineer and you can talk to them via a microphone, but can you go full Kimi and tell them to shut up and leave you alone?
Steve: [laughs] Uh, I’m not sure how the system’s going to react to certain commands, but it’s a cool new feature because you can ask them for all sorts of race information, like who’s behind you or what tyres you’ll have next.
There’s all sort of things it can tell you and it’s really fantastic to be able to bring that feature in, but yeah, I don’t know about the whole Kimi line. There are certain things you can say that will make him be quiet.
Thanks to Steven for taking the time to answer our questions. You can catch our initial impressions of the game here, but it’s really not all that far from release.