We discuss yearly iterations, new game modes and perceptions of “realism” with game director Paul Jeal.
F1 2012 is Codemasters third attempt at emulating the excitement of Bernie Ecclestone’s multi-million dollar racing circus and this year there seems to be more new additions to the series than ever before. There’s the new Young Drivers Test, hot lap videos from Anthony Davidson, Champions mode and Season Challenges as well as an overhaul of the game’s entire menu structure, so it would be easy to imagine that there should be plenty to talk about with the game’s director Paul Jeal and frankly you’d be right. Unfortunately we could only grab the long-time F1 fan for ten minutes or after he showed us what this year’s iteration is all about in a presentation at gamescom, yet we still got some of the more challenging questions in there. Here’s how our conversation went…
GZ: Last year Codemasters Birmingham talked a lot about tweaking F1 2011′s game modes and this year you’ve done that with Champions mode and everything else, but a lot of fans assumed what you were really talking about was career mode. Have any changes been made to that?
PJ: We’ve got some really big plans with what we want to do with career mode. The idea was, do you just do half of those changes for this game or do you perhaps do a more complete job next time? We’ve got an R&D team, and they were working on things like localised weather, and that was never scheduled for 2012, but they just finished it ahead of schedule. They’re looking at things like that, changes which are usually too big for an annual iteration. In terms of career mode this year; in ’10 and ’11 it was my story which was cool, but I never knew who was fighting for the championship. There’s no interviews now, but it’s more about what’s going on in the world around me. Frank Williams is getting in touch, I know Lewis is battling with Alonso even though I’m scrapping around at the back with my Force India. Also the objectives and contract systems have been improved. Last year it was just too easy to over achieve in a small team – that’s all fixed now. If you’ve got an amazing track that you’re really good at and you qualify in 5th, in ’11 it would still say race expectations 18th. That didn’t seem right, so now it’s based on if you’ve qualified well, what your previous race performance was, and who’s around you; it’s been smoothed out a little bit.
PJ: We do now, yes. F1 2010 was just like, how could we make F1 come back with a bang? ’11 was really adding to that experience, but also bringing in the multiplayer element. Then we signed the contract extension, so we had to think about what we wanted for the next couple of years. With that comes thinking about the next generation of consoles, 2014′s rule changes, and our CEO keeps asking us about iOS and all that stuff as well. Now we’re taking a much more long term view and thinking, ‘How do we group features?’ We’ve got an ideas document which is probably fifty pages long. Things like the Young Drivers Test probably aren’t strong enough on their own, but if you group that with the gamepad stuff we’ve done, the flying tutorial hot laps and then all of a sudden you have a theme that you can build around. Season Challenge and Champions Mode are all about bite-size gameplay – that kind of made sense as a structure for ’12. I’ve got something that I’d love to do for ’13, we’re just trying to make it happen and I think we’ll probably go next-gen for ’14, but who knows at the moment.
GZ: Have you managed to overcome any of those licensing issues with FOM, like having drivers being able to move from team to team between seasons?
PJ: That’s actually a contract restriction and we can’t do it. I’ve gone back on that a few times now and asked whether, say if Lewis Hamilton has a five year deal with McLaren, after those five seasons could he conceivably move to different team? And the answer is no, and the reason for that is that he’s so tailor-made with sponsors all over his helmet and stuff; and then he suddenly appears at Renault it wouldn’t match up.
PJ: Yeah and even though they did it in games of old, in those days there weren’t deals done in the sort of money we’re talking today.
GZ: Do the F1 2012 guys check in on what the Race Stars guys are going? It must be really cool to see a completely different take on the Formula One license.
PJ: With Race Stars because they’re part of the same studio we feed back on builds and stuff. I think we should have had more interactions with F1 Online all the way through, and that’s what we’re looking at now. I was getting guys asking me how F1 Online was shaping up? And I couldn’t tell them as I hadn’t see it.
GZ: That’s the difference between Codemasters Birmingham and Codemasters Warwickshire I guess…
PJ: Yeah I think that will change to Codemasters F1 and that we’ll be all in one house. It’s quite difficult when you look at Race Stars, because sometimes you see some of cute moments which I’d say no to they’d probably say, “Yeah put that in!” That’s the polar opposite of what the F1 2012 team was supposed to be, camp it up! (laughs)
GZ: But F1 2012 has those moments too, like in Champions Mode. For Kimi Raikkonen’s one before you start racing the challenge, you see a brief scene with him loitering around the background looking all moody, cast in the shadows…
PJ: Back in the day I used to love Super Monaco GP and it’s borrowed a little from that. Somebody asked me a weird question the other day, ‘It’s the 25 year anniversary of Street Fighter, how has it influenced your game designs?’ The answer is not a lot really, but actually though, I would have loved to add more of that kind of thing into a rivals mode; more of a Japanese style with music, characters folding their arms and an announcer, saying “HIM versus HIM.” We’ve done a little bit of that sort of thing, but I’d love to go a bit crazier.
GZ: Do you think that driver-specific challenges could be built on year-on-year? Like we’d love to see what a Kobayashi challenge would be like…
PJ: Yeah, with some crashing maybe (laughs). I think the jury is still out a little bit on F1 and whether it should be an annual franchise. With football so much changes year-on-year, with Formula One between ’13 and ’14 it’ll be massive because of the rule changes, but when there aren’t any rule changes and the drivers stay put it’s a little bit like; ‘Oh we’ve got America this year, well that’s great but I’ve already got eighteen other circuits’ – it’s a harder sell. Scenarios I think are a good way forward, we aren’t concrete on our RaceNet plans yet, but there will be a lot of ‘off game’ stuff where you can look through stats and brag amongst your friends to create anticipation for a big upcoming event. Also we want to be able to upload scenarios to the game. We notice in our stat-tracking stuff that on an F1 weekend, the spike in multiplayer games around that weekend’s track is massive, so if we could in advance of a race weekend drop a challenge in it could potentially be huge!
PJ: Yeah it’s possible, I’ve looked a couple of bits of technology. They sound really cool on the surface, but…One of them was weather where you could race in the exact same conditions of an event which has just passed, but then what’s the point as you know when it’s going to rain on lap 38, so that’s taken all the unpredictability out of it – it’s just scripted weather. The other thing was you could take the place of a car on the grid, and race in real-time. Well, one I want to watch the race, if you could store it and replay it then okay, and two is if it’s raining how wet is wet? And three the drivers you’re facing are so consistent that they’ll just disappear into the distance after three laps; that isn’t good. And then there’s the weird thing where if you knock a guy off, he’ll speed up to take his place to match up with the live data. All those things sound great on the surface, but the fact is that these guys are absolute machines. Anthony Davidson when he first came in to see us did a few laps at Monaco – that’s how we came up with the idea for the hot lap videos [in F1 2012]. I reckon I gained eight tenths to a second just by watching him. He did five laps within one tenth of a second of each other at Monaco, just bang, bang, bang; 1:25.1, 1:25.0, 1:25.0, 1:25.1, 1:25.0.
PJ: Yeah we do play and enjoy other PC-based sims. We’ve been lucky enough in the last year to have a go on two F1 simulators, so we’re a lot closer than people think. People think the hardcore sims are right, but we get the data from the team so we know we’re close.
GZ: And you get the testimonies from the drivers as well.
PJ: Exactly, and those games are good but even if they were more realistic than us. I always go back to Geoff Crammond’s games because they were the golden generation, and his games made me feel like I could be a Hamilton or an Alonso, not that I’m a Maldonado or a Karthikeyan. I don’t want to spend all my time focusing on staying on the track, but I can enjoy the wheel-to-wheel racing. Imagine iRacing with dialling up fuel mixtures, changing brake bias and rain?
GZ: Yeah taking one look at the official Thrustmaster wheel and all its buttons is intimidating enough to be honest!
Thanks for your time Paul. F1 2012 will be released for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in Europe on Friday, 21st September.
Tags: F1 2012
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