As you could see from our F1 2019 hands on preview, we came away pretty impressed with the ambitious step forward that it’s taking over last year’s entry. Instead of just evolving it, it’s adding the Formula 2 feeder series, featuring the epic rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, and greatly expanded the game’s esports credentials and online multiplayer options.
We got to sit down with Car Handling Designer David Greco and followed up that interview by putting a few questions to Game Director Lee Mather. Through the magic of editing, we’ve combined them into one interview, almost as though we were sat down with both of them at the same time!
TSA: The biggest thing for me is the introduction of Formula 2, and certainly I think it’s something fans will have wanted for a long time. I think you guys got very lucky with the number of rookies coming through. Did that feed into the decision to bring Formula 2 into the game?
David: No, no, I don’t think so. I don’t know the decision, because that’s for the executives to make, but I’m very glad that we made it!
TSA: Well, it gives you something more to do personally! I’m interested in how you’ve then tried to differentiate Formula 2, because for a long time it was said to be too close to Formula 1 in terms of pace and handling?
David: They’re very different now. Maybe up to 2016 they were quite similar, but now the F1 cars are very, very performant. They’re so fast, they have bigger tyres, they’re bigger cars, more power.
To add Formula 2, I didn’t actually need to do much. I input the difference in grip, aerodynamics and energy and the car just fits.
TSA: Is that what people can really expect? That they’ve got a little bit less of everything?
David: Well, not just that. They will feel there is less grip, they will feel there is less power, but because of the smaller tyres, they will also see that, even with less power, there’s still enough to make the rear spin. And then there’s less downforce, of course, so will notice it straight away.
TSA: How is Formula 2 being integrated into the career? Do you run a full season as a rookie, or is it being used more as a quick lead in to getting into Formula 1?
Lee: The addition of Formula 2 opened up a great opportunity for us to do something different. The great thing about having F2 in the game is that we can now build a driver journey from before they enter F1. That’s particularly appropriate this season, with four drivers graduating from F2 in to F1.
In F1 2019 the player will take part in three F2 events, with their performance impacting upon their relationship with two rival drivers who we’ve added to the game. Your on track exploits will also impact upon how you’re perceived as a person; are you a team player, or someone who is only out for themselves? Instead of a player having to almost imagine their back story, they’re going to be creating it. Once they make the move in to F1 it’s something which will come with them, as part of their history and the rivalry which developed back in Formula 2.
TSA: Can you be a bit rubbish and end up stuck in Formula 2 for years on end?
Lee: As we’ve always done in recent years, we allow the player to select any team in the F1 season. There’s a wide range of play styles, with some gamers wanting to start at the bottom and build a team up, others wanting to work on upgrading a car and improving performance, where there’s a large contingent who want to jump straight into the team which they support and love.
There are gameplay considerations from the players choice though. Depending on their performance and what they chose to do in each of the scenarios, the value of the player will change. That value is what allows the player to negotiate for a better contract. I’ll always be able to sign for Ferrari, but I may have to be the second driver, and accept no additional perks. A team such as Ferrari will also have high expectations of me as a driver, so if I don’t start producing podium finishes, I’ll be in jeopardy of losing my position with the team.
TSA: Within the F2 races, some of the highlight reels of younger drivers like Lewis Hamilton coming up through what was then GP2 or this year’s rookies, they’re very fighty. Is that something that you’ve tried to capture in the AI?
David: I work a lot with the AI as well – in the end they have to drive my cars! So we’re actually sitting together sometimes.
They are more aggressive. If they need to close the door, they will close the door and you might lose your front wing. Maybe it’s better not to bully them, because they will bully you back!
TSA: Turning to Formula 1 itself, you’ve got the F1 2019 spec car that’s going to be used online. How did you come at developing that? How is it in relation to the other Formula 1 cars?
David: Of course, it’s going to look similar. How we came up with how it looks is to do with licensing and the choices they made, but I know for a fact that it will be something really appreciated by esports players especially. These players have many times complained that the different models made the cars feel different, which I don’t agree with, but they thought that so this year they won’t have that complaint.
TSA: And can you talk about the impact that the emergence of esports has had on the rest of the game? Has it fed into the changes that you’re making for the wider multiplayer?
David: Yes, it is! It’s pushing us to emphasise and put more resources into networking for the online and make the game lag free, just make it better.
And of course, there’s the ability to make your own league, to customise it, to feel like within the game you can make your own esport.
TSA: It definitely feels like you’re answering the requests of long term fans who felt the online was lacking and that, to run a championship, you’d have to do it all yourself.
David: You’d have to write it down, make your own website, but now we’re trying to make all this data more easily accessible.
TSA: How does the special content try to do justice to the rivalry between Senna and Prost? What I saw at the event was just the one overtake challenge, so how much further does it go in the full game?
Lee: The addition of the Senna and Prost content covers more than the on track experiences which we’ve created. There’s an obvious challenge of not being about to create entire seasons from the past, but we’re still able to create exciting scenarios to make use of the two new cars. We’ve created eight scenarios where you play as either driver and you’ll race amongst a field of other drivers, with the ultimate goal being to beat either Ayrton or Alain.
Players who complete the Senna and Prost events will unlock the McLaren MP4/5B and Ferrari F1-90, and that’s on any difficulty level, so it’s up to the player how challenging they want to make it. Players will also be able to select the facial likeness of either driver to represent them in their careers. We’re also including themed driver customisation items, which work with the new customisation element we’ve added to the game this year. This extends to two very cool multiplayer car liveries, which can be applied to the new multiplayer car for use online.
TSA: You said the earlier launch date came from having grown the team to work on the series. Does this also set you up better to avoid the difficulties of 2014 and better handle a new console generation in the coming years?
Lee: Growing the team allowed us a great opportunity to not only start work on the game far earlier, but as you mention, to allow us to release the game earlier. That’s something we’ve wanted to do for some time, as it keeps the game relevant to the current season for longer, and allows players to get their hands on the title while the season is still young.
It’s a little unfair to refer to F1 2014 in that way, as it was targeted to be the game it was for various reasons. The increase in team size, the wealth of knowledge we’ve gained, and the fact that this will be the second generational change for the team since we started working on F1 puts us in a very strong position to know how best to handle the switch.
TSA: Finally, and I’m sure you’re a bit tired of the question, but how seriously are you considering VR support for the F1 series?
Lee: I don’t get asked about VR as often as I think people might think. There’s no doubt there’s an expanding and passionate fan base out there, and we certainly acknowledge that the F1 series would be fantastic in VR. It’s not without its challenges, but I can guarantee that we take the consideration of its inclusion very seriously on each project.
Thanks to David and Lee for chatting to us and answering our questions. Be sure to catch our F1 2019 hands on preview, ahead of the game’s launch on 28th June.