Interview: Lee Mather On Going Beyond Expectations With F1 2016

It’s the German Grand Prix this weekend and so we’re back with a little more F1 2016 content. There’s a short and surprising (well, maybe not in hndsight) new video of a short race around the Hockenheim circuit, which adds to the written preview and video preview that we had on Monday.

F1 2016’s an interesting game though, given that it’s so ambitious and filled with so many new and returning features compared to last year. We took the opportunity to sit and talk about this with Lee Mather, Principle Game Designer.


TSA: I want to start by asking about last year’s game. I think a lot of people were a little disappointed with the scale and scope of what it was trying to achieve; do you maybe see this game as being an opportunity to set that right?

Lee Mather: We never approached F1 2016 with that in mind. The plan for 16 was to bring out the game that we thought people want to play and the game that we want to make. We never wanted anybody to come out and say, “16’s the game you should’ve made last year.” We want people to look at 16 and think this is way beyond anything they were expecting you to make this year, which is why we’ve put so much effort into building the game we have.

F1 2015 was the ultimate building block, to allow us to spend so much more time adding so many more features to this year’s game.

TSA: It does feel like, especially in the career mode, that you’ve touch on pretty much every single part of the game. Do you feel you’ve managed to get all of the detail and depth in, despite taking on so many different elements?

Lee: Yeah. There’s a lot of nuance to a lot of different areas to the career, so we wanted the player to be able to play in a way that suits them, so you don’t have to start with a top team if you don’t want to, you can start with a bottom team and work their way through.

We wanted to take all those little elements of the sport that people see on the TV and bring them in. It’s a fully licensed game, it’s a big sport to replicate, and we wanted to include all the little bits and pieces that add up to making Formula 1 special when compared to other forms of motorsport.

TSA: One of the things that you’ve done a lot of work with is the practice sessions and making them a lot more interesting, so it’s not just going out and doing a lap time. They kind of act as a tutorial now, I feel, do you think that’s a fair description?

Lee: Yeah, it’s a fine description!

They serve multiple purposes, and practice, as I’ve always said, is 50% of a race weekend. The teams arrive and do so many different things in practice, and we wanted people to do those in the game, without just having to do it off their own back. There’s got to be a good reason why you do it.

So firstly, we’ve got the upgrade structure in the game, so people will go out and earn currency to spend on upgrading the car. We want players to learn how to play the game better and learn how to race a circuit, and that’s why things like the track acclimatisation test are great for rewarding players, but also teaching them how to race a circuit, not just drive it. Then we wanted to be able to take the data that we get from the practice programs and do something really cool with that, so we build bespoke race strategies from it.

All of these things, instead of just thinking that, oh, I’ll just do a bit of practice, go to qualifying and then do the race in an evening, you’ll get home and think, you know what? I’m going to go and do a few practice programmes, get some upgrades, and you’ve achieved a lot in that time.

TSA: Doing practice sessions are still going to be for quite dedicated F1 fans, though. How difficult is it to cater to that side of the audience as well as the people that just want to hop in and do quick three lap races?

Lee: The game scales, so obviously if you want to do a short race and short qualifying, we scale the practice as well. Whatever you do in practice is scaled to match, so if you’re the kind of person who wants to do 100% of everything, the things you asked to do in practice will be a lot longer as well.

But as you were saying earlier on, we do see a lot of them as being tutorials as well. They teach a player how to drive a track, they teach a player what happens with tyres, they teach a player how to use DRS. Things like that are obvious to Formula 1 fans, but really aren’t obvious to anybody else, and we want people to understand and enjoy them.

TSA: Setting up my character at the start of the career, I don’t think I spotted any female avatars to pick from. No, there aren’t any women driving in F1 at the moment, but it’s a regular topic in the sport. Do you think this is something that could feature in future? Perhaps add it in the next two months? [laughs]

Lee: It’s something that we’ve certainly spoken about and it’s something that we’re very interested in doing as well. There are various technical challenges to doing that sort of thing, and in fact, we did look into it quite intensely, but unfortunately we only got sort of 95% of the way there. So there’s still always a possibility that we can look at it again, but it would certainly be something for the future, without doubt.

TSA: You’ve got a pair of major updates planned for after launch, but last year the updates that were released didn’t really hit home and make a marked improvement, as far as I’m aware. How are you looking to make these updates feel more relevant and important?

Lee: So, there’s still a few things that we want to add to the game, so there could be a few things that we sneak in, but in terms of the actual updating of the cars or anything track related, that’s very much down to what the teams would like us to do. So we give them the option and we’re happy to update every team car with new liveries, new components, but that’s their decision. That’s kind of out of our control in some ways.

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TSA: I guess there’s a lot of back and forth because the licensing isn’t just with FOM and the sport, it’s the teams, as well.

Lee: Yeah. If a team have had a major sponsor change or there’s been a major physical difference to the car, they really do want that sort of thing to be represented in the game.

The attention to detail is such a big thing to the fans, that even the slightest sponsor logo move, they pick up on it! The team may not be so interested in making that small change.

TSA: Again, looking back to last year – I’m sorry! – one of the things touted during development was having an earlier release in the year. Last generation it was always September, last year was delayed back July, and this time it’s the middle of August. Why is that the case? Do you think you can bring the release closer to the start of the year again?

Lee: What it really comes down to is the window of time in which we see the cars. We did something slightly different last year, where we had the hybrid cars of both 2014 and 2015 seasons, so that helped us to release it earlier. We were also coming off the back of a longer development, where this year’s a bit shorter, and there was the turmoil at the start of the season, where the new tyre stuff came in and now teams can select the tyre compounds they want to take to a race weekend. So there were some new rules that we had to implement there.

Essentially, it takes time to build cars, it takes time to get them all signed off, it takes time to build new circuits and get everything correct. There’s no point in doing it and not doing it properly.

TSA: You seemed to have nailed the most recent rules for the team radio. [This is now revoked for the German GP this weekend] I didn’t hear a peep out of my race engineer! [laughs]

Lee: [laughs] Well, we’ve actually added – because some people don’t like the race engineer talking and some people do – we’ve added in some extra verbosity command, so that you can quiet him down a bit if you don’t want him!

TSA: How big a factor has the open secret of the closed alpha and beta testing been in taking a step forward with this game?

Lee: Yeah, it’s well known and we’ve spoken about it […] We’ve gained huge amounts from it. There’s lists and lists of suggestions and then there’s lists and lists of things that we’ve actually done. When we had some of the guys in the studio for the first time, we actually acted on some of those changes while they were on site over the three days!

When we set out on F1 2016, we knew the game we wanted to make, we were super confident that it was the game people wanted to play, and then getting those guys in early really affirmed what we were doing and now they’ve allowed us to fine tune things.

TSA: With the AI, it’s always tricky to get the right balance. You’ve said there’s been lots of improvements, but I still managed to get past a few of them at the first couple of corners, and then bottle them up behind me while faster cars escaped. How do you go about trying address that and keep things more dynamic?

Lee: So, the build you played today obviously isn’t final code and we have continued to work on the AI behaviours quite significantly. Something that really mixes up the first corner is if you play with the manual race starts enabled. Obviously, everybody gets away at different times, so that does prevent the bottling up and the funnelling into the first corner.

We’ve also worked on the breaking of the tow as well, so now they’ll move out of the way to try and break the tow, which makes things more exciting and overtakes are not so easy to make, because the AI is going to defend a little bit more. Then, through the corner, they aren’t so easy to pass as they were.

There’s certainly more improvements over the build we had today.

TSA: I have to say that you nailed Kvyat’s AI… You heard me shouting at the screen earlier…

Lee: I did!

All of the drivers have got their own unique attributes…

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TSA: [laughs] That’s a good way of putting it!

Finally, the multiplayer. You’ve made it bigger to have 22 drivers at once, but last year’s net code was not particularly great. It escaped me what exactly was going on when reviewing the game, but there were players being swapped for AI, and so on…

Lee: Off the back of 15, we never stopped working on that and we patched 15 quite a lot of times, so with regard to the AI taking over cars, that isn’t happening in 16.

Something we’ve paid massive attention to is that ability to race closely, and this is where the community guys have really helped us out over the last few weeks. We’ve had some of them looking at a very bespoke build, just so we can test this out and see. Amongst ourselves, we’ve had additional ADSL lines installed in the studio, so we can all run on different ISPs, we can all throttle our lines differently…

We’ve put so many things in place to make sure that the networked game is solid. We wouldn’t have bumped the numbers up to 22 cars on track if we weren’t confident we’d fixed the issues that people saw in 15.


Thanks to Lee for taking the time to chat with us. Don’t forget to check out our written preview that went live on Monday, our video preview that shows the game in action, and see what on earth it was that Kryat did. I’m sure you can guess…

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4 Comments

  1. Quite an interesting interview, I like all the changes especially to the practice sessions but I didn’t realise that you “earn currency to spend on upgrading the car” but I’m liking it.
    I’m glad they have, or will be, including the relaxed radio ban. If driving as Kimi Raikkonen is there an option to tell your race engineer to P*** off?

    • To be crystal clear, currency does not mean microtransactions. It’s just that you earn points depending on how well you do in the practice session, and put those points to the upgrades you want. So you might earn 500-odd points for a good track acclimatisation test, and be able to spend those ona 400 point engine upgrade, or divide them between 300 points for suspension and 150 points for a new front wing. Totally pulling those numbers out of thin air, but you get the idea, I’m sure.

      And radio chit chat was me joking around prior to Hungary last weekend. As I said, I didn’t have the race engineer say anything to me while playing, but even if he did, he’s not going to be giving you instructions on engine modes or anything like that.

      • Yeah I gathered that it was in-game currency for upgrades and not microtransactions, I don’t remember hearing it before. Even though I liked doing the complete race weekend it’s a great way of adding importance to the sessions.

  2. Great interview, it was an interesting read. I didn’t realise that teams would actually request updates from Codies, I always assumed it was the developer requesting the teams and FOM.
    Appreciate all the F1 coverage, it’s good to see how this years game is shaping up and especially how it’s taking on board all the feedback from previous year’s games.

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