Codemasters’ F1 series has really gone from strength to strength over the last few years. F1 2015 laid the foundations of a new game engine, 2016 added meaning to the race weekend, and 2017 built out the progression through a career and season. Now we looking forward to F1 2018 which evolves everything that went before, while also bringing press relations back into the career and trying to make the online more competitive and fun.
Having gone hands on with the game, we sat down with Game Director Lee Mather to chat about the game. Buckle in for a bumpy ride as we go down some weird and wonderful tangents!
TSA: The tagline for F1 2018 is ‘Make Headlines’ and that’s alluding to bringing press and media interviews back into the game’s career mode. This kind of thing has been pretty indifferent in the past, so why are you trying to bring it back in this game?
Lee: It’s very much derived from the fact that we watch a lot of Formula 1 and the coverage and footage from the sport is so good these days, where you can watch it on TV, on social media, the regular updates Will Buxton does and things like that. There’s so much great insight into behind the scenes that we wanted to do something similar in the game.
Also, you see the drivers are such strong characters, they are such celebrities that all behave in different ways. I think what’s interesting is that pressured moment, when they thrust the microphone in the driver’s face basically straight after a session, and that’s when you see that real and heartfelt reaction. It’s very similar in the game and you have the exact same feeling. If you’ve had a terrible race, you’re blaming someone else, and straight away you’re asked the question, there’s some emotion attached to it and maybe it’s not as considered as it should be.
TSA: Can you keep your helmet on and just walk off?
Lee: Uh, no, but you can choose not to answer the questions and if you keep declining, you’ll get a rather angry journalist and your agent will point out that it’s not a very good career move and that you should start doing things correctly. It’s all in there.
We wanted to do this when we had enough things for it to matter, because otherwise there’s no point in answering those questions. So there’s lots of outcomes, lots of ways it can impact you.
TSA: It definitely feels like you’ve sorted out the gameplay and got that in a really nice place, but then this is how you can dress it up further and make it feel more like the real sport and someone’s actual career.
Lee: Yeah, it’s a case where we represent a real sport, so yes it’s a racing game, but it’s more than that, it’s a sport. So we’re covering things that you see on TV and giving you that insight. That’s why we go to the length that we do with creating the environments and things like that.
TSA: Another question about the interview, can you go all “fake news” at the journalist? The answers I’ve seen have been fairly considered, but can you go off the deep end like, “I’m the best and there’s no way anyone’s going to touch me!”?
Lee: There is definitely those and as you go more towards one character type or the other, you’ll get more extreme answers that are locked at the start.
One of the early ones is actually when you’re asked how you’re going to before your first season of Formula 1, and I believe the answer is along the lines of “In 50 years to come, they’ll still be talking about my rookie season!” So that one’s got a real level of arrogance and there’s quite a few that will come like that later on.
TSA: Oh yeah, I remember that one. I didn’t pick it, but I did then stick it straight on pole in a Sauber.
Lee: Well there you go! But you should’ve put the difficulty up!
TSA: I put it on 60%, Hard difficulty, and that did surprise me actually. I do think it’s still difficult to find the happy sweet spot of difficulty right out of the gate. How do you go about trying to help that?
Lee: Yeah, it definitely takes a session or two before the player gets a feel of where they need to set those difficulty settings.
I always say it’s good to judge it on your team mate, so if you’re driving a Sauber and your team mate is qualifying lower down than you did, then you know the difficulty level isn’t high enough. The first two practice sessions are a good place to set that up and get an idea of where you should be placing. And also, look at where the teams are in real life, because we do balance their performance to be in keeping with the 2018 season.
TSA: You say that, but I’ve seen Kimi win a couple of races and that’s sadly not quite his style at the moment, he’s always the nearly man in qualy!
Lee: Well the build you’re playing here isn’t the final build, so we’ve rebalanced since then…
TSA: So there’s a Kimi debuff in the works?
Lee: We’ve certainly given Charles LeClerc a bump as well because he’s been performing incredibly.
TSA: Outside of the media relations, how have you gone about tweaking the flow of the race weekend? You’ve still got the same practice session tasks and I think you’re at or almost at the point where people are tired of running those to get R&D points.
Lee: We were aware of that, so as I mentioned about the R&D, because one of the real drivers for doing those things is to get the R&D points to spend on the car, but we now give players the option to simulate sessions so that will still give them some degree of R&D back and let them progress their career. So if you don’t want to take part in all the sessions, you can choose to simulate a result and that will be simulated based on the AI driving your car at that level.
We’ve rebalanced where you earn all the R&D points from, how much you get and how you get them, so if you don’t want to focus on those areas, you’ll still be able to progress your career.
TSA: There’s also something based on your in race performance as well? I’m not sure if that was there before, but there is a little kickback on just if you’ve had a clean race, got in the points, that kind of thing.
Lee: Yeah, we wanted to move the focus away from areas that the player has played before. They’re still there so people who are new to the game still have the excitement and the new sensation in doing those things, but for someone that’s done them season after season, they can look at other ways of playing the game.
It’s a similar thing with the R&D, so you can actually ask your engineer to recommend the next upgrade and he will give you what he considers to be the best next step.
TSA: You talked about how you’re mixing up the R&D tree, which you described as fog of war and how it’s customised to each team now. What drove that change?
Lee: Yeah, so the thinking behind that was that every team has strengths and weaknesses, so why would a team have more R&D to do in a certain area, if that’s an area that the team is already excessively strong in? They would focus on the areas that they’re weaker in, so each tree is tailored to suit what we perceive to be the strengths and weaknesses of the teams.
That’s something that we got feedback on from the community, who said that’s really not right and they wouldn’t be spending all that time on something when this is an area a team needs more research.
Also, when you do move teams, you get the R&D that they’ve been working on, so it may be that they’ve been developing areas in the car that you’re not particularly happy with and you’d rather take it in another direction. Each time it gives you a different experience.
TSA: That does fit nicely with the real world like, for example, when Bottas hopped into the Mercedes over the winter break and had to get used to a new car. On the plus side, it was a much more powerful car, so that still worked out well!
TSA: One thing I’m curious about is you’ve got the rule changes that can occur and disrupt your R&D from one year to the next, but I doubt you’ll have visual changes between seasons. Certainly not for this game, but is it in the realms of possibility that, for example, you could have the last few championships, the cars, the drivers in the game and accompany the performance changes with how the cars looked and evolved?
Lee: It might be something we could investigate in the future. At the moment we represent the 2018 season and obviously the 2018 cars are the ones that are signed off by the teams with the correct sponsors, liveries and visuals. We strive to create those every year, so that’s already a huge undertaking, but it’s certainly something that we could consider in the future.
TSA: It’s just an interesting point for me, because the rule changes could rejig the order of how good teams are, but it’s always going to be the orange McLaren that could rise to the top and the white and red Sauber.
You’ve got the halo in the game, and I like how it’s been implemented so you can get rid of the column when racing in cockpit view. At the same time, I think you’re really missing the full impact that the halo has for players in other views. When setting up lobbies online is there a way that you can force, or inflict the halo on other players in different camera angles?
Lee: In what way?
TSA: I don’t know. Maybe have a big Y-shaped thong across the screen? [laughs] Level the playing field, like how you can force manual gears and no ABS!
Lee: [laughs] That’s the most unique thing I’ve heard all day! The thing is I’m not picturing a halo, I’m picturing a pair of spotted Y fronts across the screen!
TSA: [laughs] Well, OK. Think more of flip flops or thonged sandals…
Speaking of multiplayer, you’ve now got proper rankings and the Super License, and I think the overwhelming feeling is going to be “finally!”
Lee: Yeah, we’ve wanted to do it for ages and it’s another one of those things that actually really supports a lot of what’s going on with esports as well. If we can get more people playing online, enjoying it and getting the experience that they’re looking for, then we’ll start to build another generation of gamers who will start to graduate through those more professional realms of online gaming.
That was really a secondary consideration, with the primary one being getting everybody online and having a good time, not getting that feeling of having a great race and then some disruptive maniac taking you out.
TSA: Is there still a divide between quick play and ranked? So if you just want to kick back and not be too serious about it?
Lee: You can create a lobby and invite your friends.
TSA: And finally, I’m going to ask about the custom names. I made a character, and I thought, “I know what’ll be great, I’ll call them Baby Driver.” Then neither ‘Baby’ nor ‘Driver’ were in the custom nicknames list, and I was very disappointed by this, and so I picked ‘Bird’. Then I regretted that because I didn’t go back and change the name to Sweet Dee.
How have you allowed such a fundamental flaw to slip into your game?
Lee: [laughs] You weren’t involved in the name selection! Your mind works in a very unique way! [laughs] I’m not entirely sure what game you want us to make next time!
TSA: Oh, I did also want to ask about the Brawn car and how that got into the game? You said you went to, and I quote, “Ross Brawn’s lock up”, which sounds like a dingy garage somewhere…
Lee: No, it’s a very professional storage company who looks after his car for him. Since it won the championship, I think it had only seen daylight once and that was for the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Other than that it had just sat there.
We got great access to it. The guys went with 3D scanners and there’s lots of photos of us standing around going “I’m by the Brawn!”
TSA: Was Ross stood in the corner checking his watch? Were you interrupting his weekend plans? [laughs]
Lee: He left them to it. Somebody came along, opened the door and said not to break it!
Thanks to Lee for indulging us with our somewhat off the wall questioning. F1 2018 is out on 24th August. Be sure to check out our hands on preview and I guess you’ll have to wait and see if we get Baby Driver into the nicknames, forced halos and an overpowered Kimi!