F1 2015 interview: Racing towards the next-gen

Codemasters game designer Steven Embling gives us the inside track on F1 2015.
F1 2015
F1 2015 interview: Racing to towards the next-gen © Codemasters
By Curtis Moldrich

Sims are meant to mirror a real life activity, but that seldom stretches to the game’s creators mimicking their subjects’ IRL R&D tactics. But that’s exactly what Codemasters did when it came to the first F1 game on new hardware, PS4 and Xbox One.

To nail its launch on the next-gen, the British studio employed a new development strategy for its latest F1 title – mirroring that of last year’s all-conquering Mercedes F1 car. Effectively taking a year out in 2013, Mercedes took a gamble – diverting the majority of its R&D effort to the new rules of 2014. The result? The Mercedes W05 Hybrid won 16 out of 19 races, and became one of the most dominant cars the sport has ever seen.

In the same way, game designer Steven Embling tells Red Bull that in order to maximise the processing horsepower of the PS4 and Xbox One, Codemasters increased the gestation period of the new F1 game – with equally impressive results.

“This time round, obviously we’ve taken our time with it, but we want to create something brand-new from the ground up” he says. “For the old generation of consoles, we wanted to give something in the meantime, and that’s what F1 2014 was."

With racy new challengers like Driveclub, Project Cars, The Crew and Forza Motorsport 6 now lining up on the grid, Codemasters had to do something special to put F1 2015 in pole position – and it looks like it has.

Featuring revised game modes, tweaked graphics and tuned up handling – not to mention all the cars of last season too – mean F1 2015 is shaping up to be the first game to truly harness the spirit of F1.

Just like F1 teams needed time to adapt to the sport’s new hybrid rules, Codemasters also needed time to get to grips with the new hardware. Always pushing the limits for each title, the arrival of the PS4 and Xbox One represented new lines drawn in the sand for what’s possible. "Everyone who is working on optimisation and the art, they need to get used to the new memory budgets that the new generation of consoles will allow them”, Embling explains. With more processing power on tap than ever before, Codemasters have given every aspect of their new challenger a tweak.

With a release date of June 12, the game will be out earlier in the year than its predecessors, giving racers the chance to play along with much more of the season. F1 2015 comes complete with dedicated models of last year’s cars, but the game’s earlier release has made recreating this year’s cars a race against time. In the preview we had, the 2015 cars still weren't ready. “It’s a bit of a mad rush this time because obviously with the 2015 cars they’re all relatively new, but they’re coming in now and we’re just getting them in the game.”

Upping the realism to take on the likes of Project CARS and Driveclub, this time the F1 2015 team has gone the extra mile – even travelling to pre-season tests in Barcelona and Jerez to map the cars and capture the noise of their new hybrid units.

"We've got unique recordings for every engine now”, says Embling. “All the way up until the end of the rev-range. So we can plonk that into the game and it sounds a lot better than previous titles." We’re also told that the engines won’t pack up completely, but will suffer from wear and overheating – with performance taking a hit.

F1 2015 © Codemasters

After graphics and sound, frame-rate is the the third piece of the puzzle for a great racing game. Offering a better sense of speed and buttery smooth presentation, a 60fps frame-rate can make or break a modern racer. Thankfully, F1 2015 has it covered.

“We’re aiming for 60fps and we’re very close to that now on Playstation 4”, Embling assures us. “Obviously the team are optimising right until the end and it’s looking like we’re going to hit that target." Codemasters also add that the increased memory has resulted in “more detailed environments, track surfaces, weather visuals and especially lighting”, something immediately noticeable in our first drive of the game.

Those who play FIFA will know that bringing a sport to your sofa isn’t just about the gameplay. For years, FIFA has brought the all the slickness of televised coverage to your console, but now F1 is revving up its presentation. “We’ve got the broadcast aspect, this time round”, Embling tells us. "We’ve got the drivers talking to their race engineers [and] we’ve got the commentary from David Croft and Anthony Davidson, so it very much feels like you’re watching the Sky Sports intro, or whatever media outlet you’re used to watching the F1 on."

Formula One is famous for its high rate of development, with cars bringing new pieces of technology to every race in a bid to stay ahead of the competition. Borrowing another page from FIFA, F1 2015 will now stay up to date by using mid-season DLCs for the first time. Giving gamers the chance to truly play along with the F1 2015 championship, the updates will include liveries and performance changes for a more accurate reflection of the cars. "For the in season updates, we’re going to be keeping a very, very close eye on how the pecking order changes as the season goes on”, Embling informs us.

F1 2015 © Codemasters

Of course, making the best Formula One game ever requires more than gorgeous graphics and DLCs – although they do help. For its latest effort, Codemasters has echoed the teams it’s recreating, spending a lot of time under the hood for some dramatic but less visual changes. One of the main areas of complaint for previous titles, Codemasters has given handling a very thorough tune-up, and Embling is more than happy to tell us about it.

"Everything is new from the ground up, in particular the handling this time round. We can be a lot more detailed in what we recreate and things like the tyre temperatures, and the aerodynamics and the loading of the tyres and the suspension,” he beams. “That comes back through the force feedback and the pad rumble which gives really nice feedback to the player to tell them when they’re on the limit."

What’s more, Codemasters has used its extra development time to listen to fans, making full use of the new hardware. We’re told F1 2015 makes use of the Xbox One’s separate trigger rumbles, while the PS4’s DualShock speaker will broadcast messages from your race engineer. "It’s nice to have quirks in the hardware that can allow us to make it that detailed” adds Embling.

F1 2015 © Codemasters

F1’s enormous reach means any game needs to satisfy a broad spectrum of players – from sim-racing enthusiasts to Sunday drivers. Previous F1 games have always been great for the pick-up and play crowd, but this time Codemasters has thrown in a mode especially for more seasoned racers – and they’re very excited about it. “The Pro Season mode creates a season in a way that’s most faithful in terms of realism.” Embling tells us. “You’re locked into having the same kind of help as what the driver would have. So you’re in your cockpit cam, you’ve got no assists… that’s a mode which is definitely for the hardcore."

Embling also tell us about the other work Codemasters has done to please its more dedicated racing fans. Wheel support is vastly improved in F1 2015, and it’s something Embling is clearly proud of. "It's a lot better this time round. The force feedback is really detailed this time round”, he nods. “You can literally feel every bump on the circuit.” When combined with the Pro Season mode, improved wheel feedback means that F1 2015 could be the most realistic F1 game yet.

Elsewhere, familiar modes have also been totally redesigned, and Codemasters hasn’t been afraid to borrow ideas from its competitors. Something seen on Forza Motorsport 5’ and Driveclub, F1 2015 pits you against the lap of another racer from the cloud. “We’ve got ghosts that as you improve and beat your old rival, a new ghost will load. So as you improve your time you’re constantly getting a new ghost and thats obviously spurring you on.”

Multiplayer, a key aspect has also been given the once over. Next-gen power has allowed Codemasters to put 16 players in a race and fill the grid up with AI. Players can also search for sessions while they’re doing something else – only to be dropped into a session when there’s the right amount of racers.

Anyone who has played previous versions of the game will think that 16 players is a recipe for disaster, but Embling also tells us that the team has improved the series’ infamous multiplayer penalties. Seemingly dealt at random, previous F1 games have suffered from archaic penalties that almost always seemed to punish the victim. When we mention this, Embling laughs as if he’s all too familiar with the pain of an unlawful time penalty.

“Theres a whole load of factors which are taken into account behind the scenes, which work out who is at fault and how severe the impact was,” Embling reassures us. “If you just graze someone going past them, the system isn’t going to worried about that. But if you completely take someone out by not braking in a 170mph smash, then clearly the system’s going to give you quite a strict penalty for that kind of behaviour. "

Finally, as someone who has been involved in every detail of this year’s cars, we thought it was only right to ask Embling who his money’s on for the 2015 Championship. "I’ve always liked Lewis Hamilton,” he says. "I like the way he drives and obviously the Mercedes is looking strong. Things are getting quite interesting at the front, but I still think Lewis Hamilton's my favourite."

Currently odds on to be the best F1 game yet, F1 2015’s development echoes that of last year’s Mercedes, but it remains to be seen if the game will falter at the last race like Hamilton’s title hopes in 2007 – or take the championship like he did in Abu Dhabi last year.

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