We're giving away five copies of F1 2015 on PS4 – if you want to be in with a chance of snagging one be sure to read the interview below and answer the question here.
After a slight delay, Codemasters' F1 2015 is set to hit the shops on July 10, and just like previous versions it's a must-have game for motorsport aficionados, car lovers and anybody else who likes a bit of fast-paced action. We've been chatting to Paul Jeal, the game director at Codemasters and an F1 fanatic who grew up working with Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 3 in the 1990s, to find out what makes its upcoming title so compelling, why Codemasters added the things it did, and what we're likely to see in the future. In short, why we should be excited by F1 2015.
When you sit down to make a new F1 game, how do you decide what features to target and what to avoid? Is there a wishlist?
You've always got a bunch of stuff you want to add, but it really only makes sense to unleash it when it's right. There are things you've never been happy about [in older versions] that you want to fix, and the sport itself brings a raft of changes quite late in the day. We've got great community channels focusing on feedback from players, you read the reviews and see what people say, and we've got a clear direction on where we think the strengths of the company are.
F1 2015 is not going to run on Xbox 360 or PS3, and that's because we've made a conscious decision that we don't want to be limited by the things that limited us before. So in order to start again, everything is tailor made from the memory perspective you've got on the new generation systems. You're only really constrained by time, licensing hurdles and bits and pieces.
One thing we'd love to do is have a completely free world, where all the drivers are free to move teams, but that's quite political. As a gamer you don't tend to think about these things, but when you're talking hundreds of millions of pounds I get why that's a bit harder to pull off.
Every season they introduce a new track, and that new track is never really concretely confirmed until December, but that's too late for us, it takes the best part of a year to do a track, so we'd need to commit to it earlier.
Tell us the thinking behind the Pro Season mode. Why did you decide to do it, and what makes it more difficult? How hardcore do you have to be to succeed?
The problem we've always had with F1 is that the audiences are fairly hardcore – they like the hardest levels they can get with steering wheels. But there's also still the majority that plays in chase mode. We didn't want to start the game up with two separate options – arcade and simulation – we wanted a one mode fits all.
So we've done a lot of work on the physics system. We've hired some specific people who've worked on PC sims before, physics coders and in particular game designer Dave Greco. Dave has done a lot of professional racing and is also a professional online gamer, so he's the kind of audience that we're targeting at the extreme end.
We decided to split it into two different championships and create this super tough Iron Man mode for bragging rights, potentially something we could build on year-on-year. So, for example, in the future you might add tear-off visor strips, virtual support, and it is a game mode that's going a little bit more down the simulation route than perhaps the mainstream would be comfortable with. During focus testing, we've also found that even the guys who do like to play F1 on the pad and chase view like to dip into it every now and again though, just to show their mates and have a laugh at how difficult it is.
Tell us how the voice recognition for PS4 and Xbox One, letting you talk to the pit crew, works. Be honest, do you think it adds to the experience, and will people use it?
So with F1 2015, you can talk to race engineers and request information, with details no longer showing on screen, but instead relying a bit more on that relationship. Even if you do know quite a bit about Formula One, it's easy to hear a driver on the radio and think 'What's he asking that for?'
On TV you know what the story is because you have the graphics and you have the commentary, but when you're in the race you won't actually know what's going on. I think people will use it, and even if it's only a small number it's still worth adding. If you analyse how many play with wheels, for example, it's somewhere in the region of three to five per cent of your audience but you'd never remove support for wheels just because it's that small.
As the first F1 title built for PS4 and Xbox One, what has this enabled you to include that you couldn’t before?
This year we were more interested in the absolute pillars that we wanted to achieve, and none of these were achievable on old-gen. So the new EGO game engine, 60fps, a more realistic level of car handling, feedback both in terms of force feedback through the wheels, or the pads these days are getting really good in terms of rumble and what the car's doing underneath you, as well as the graphical uplift as well.
And then just really making sure the simulator experience is great for the professional sim drivers like Dave Greco, versus the number of people who just want to kick back with a pad on the sofa and just do a handful of laps. Making sure that's right, going through the process to make sure the visuals were as good as they could be and releasing it a little earlier in the season – those were all fairly lofty goals I guess, and none of that was achievable on old-gen.
You’re very close to launch now, are you working on a day one patch?
We are working on a day zero content update for the game, and there are a number of things we're still juggling around. The main game was built up really early from test liveries and bits and pieces, so we want to get that day zero content update so we've got the updated McLaren livery, we've got all the 2015 wheels in – they're a little more secretive sometimes getting photography of the wheels.
Perhaps we'll also add in a couple of new features. One of the things we had in old gen F1 was a little more information on the screen – so you can see tyre temperatures and things like that, and it wasn't something that made it into the development schedule. However, it's still something we might want to do as apart of an update, and it's on the list to be investigated at the moment.
Fine-tuning the performance – a team may have taken a step forward, or a driver who's doing well, just making sure that if you've taken a punt fairly early in the season, this is the pecking order – we just want to make sure that it is all right. There will be more updates as well; this is a new process for us. I guess EA's FIFA and other sports franchises have been doing that for a while – just making sure it's fresh, it's relevant. McLaren was the biggest one that took us by surprise.
So if you play the game, will McLaren now be backmarkers?
Yeah [Paul, a self-confessed McLaren fan, looks glum]. That's the thing – everyone asks why the game launches after the start of the season. Well, forgetting the fact there's no way the teams are going to give you all the reference details early enough, who would pick the performance order and the differences between them? You'd be getting so far off reality.
We started the submission process after China, so we'd seen all the pre-season tests, we'd seen Melbourne, Malaysia and China, and now you're going 'Well OK, here's the performance order', and then you see something like Monaco and McLaren pick up points, and you're like 'Well maybe they can turn it around'. And then you see China and that didn't go well – you can't knee jerk around with F1 as sometimes a particular circuit's characteristics may make an improvement.
Which F1 drivers or experts have you had in to consult and test the game?
Anthony Davidson, who does a bit of the simulation stuff for Mercedes, is our handling consultant. Alex Lynn, the Williams development driver, has also tested this year's game, along with Pascal Wehrlein, the Mercedes and Force India driver. Lewis Hamilton has been involved on three or four different occasions with the previous games. The teams are really good at getting drivers involved.
In terms of detailed feedback though, it's Anthony first and foremost. But at the same time we're really keen on the next generation of stars. They’ve got the experience of the car, they've got the experience of growing up playing PlayStation games, and they're also doing a slightly different job in terms of simulator development because teams want to know whether a front wing is going to add two tenths of a second or whatever. It's slightly different to what we do, but their feedback is getting really quite technical in terms of what the car should be doing.
Are there any DLC plans for F1 2015?
Not for this one. It's quite a tough game to sort out downloadable content for. The license is based on the 2015 season, and then if you want any additional tracks and cars, all of that's extra money. It's something we want to look at for the future – when we look at classic content, for example, or whatever else we might do.
Visual updates are also tricky for us, and we were one of the few who were happy that drivers are no longer allowed to change helmet design – I think that Lewis and Seb [Vettel] changed theirs after every race. It's too much to keep on top of. One team changed their livery and or noses every race. So at the point we could get access to photography, make it, get it signed off, and get it out to the consumer, there would be another one out – it's just unrealistic to do.
A lot of games developers have run into trouble this generation for releasing unfinished or buggy games. You obviously work to a tight deadline with the F1 games. How do you avoid that happening?
It's tough. I don't want to come to the defence of games, so to speak, but you've got a hundred guys working on making a game, being tested by 100 guys, and on day one there will be 700,000 people playing it, so they're inevitably going to find some stuff. Should the whole process be a little bit tighter? Maybe given more time, I guess, but once you've committed to a release window, new assets and launch TV and media campaigns, it's pretty tough to change direction. I think you kind of get a feel for where your game is at, relatively close to launch, and the way that developers track bugs, you kind of predict when the end might be.
I certainly think that more could be done still. Our approach is definitely to do this day zero content update, just to refresh everything and do some fixes from there. There will inevitably be more when the game is in the wild though, in terms of fixes. Supporting your game after release and doing those fixes is something every developer looks at. In an ideal world you'd get as close to a clean game as possible, and obviously that's what you're trying to do with development. We're very restricted to a time window though.
You’re planning to make changes to the game as they happen in the season in real life. Who handles that, and when? Do you have people watching the Grand Prix and making notes or looking at data live?
There are a handful of games designers and myself, we're the guys who'll watch every practise session and soak up as much as possible, but it's also the brand manager who'll point out 'Oh, Lewis tweeted this', or 'I thought that was cool in the race'. It works quite well across all audiences. Otherwise I think there's a tendency to highlight the stuff you think is cool, and most of us sit in the super hardcore – its nice to have a few guys that have a real-life passion for the sport, they're not really that fussed about getting up at 4am to watch a race!
The TV companies have also done such a good job of highlighting what goes on. When Crofty [David Croft] and Anthony are talking for two hours in a practice session and it is raining, you really get a great insight into some of the detail. I remember them talking about track conditions being green and rubbing in, and that whole concept really grew out of a load of guys watching it in a room and thinking 'That'd be kind of cool to include in the game.'
You’re not going to tell us what’s in F1 2016 – but come on, tell us what features you’d like to include in an F1 game when the technology becomes more mature.
We've got a number of different ideas, one I can't share with you! It would be a brand new feature never seen before in the franchise though; we just want to make sure that if we do it, we can do it justice.
The other two things we've done before. Classic content was something that was in 2013. It was a huge licensing undertaking but it's definitely something we want to do again in the future. Career mode isn't in 2015 – we felt like we weren't able to put career mode to the level we wanted, so that's something we're also looking at. We'll also wait until it's out in the market and evaluate what people actually like – what they are playing, what features do they like the most?
There are a number of tweaks we'd like to make anyway in terms of what it looks like, too. I think our character models are still a certain way away from how I'd like it to look, from perhaps what the other top, top sports games look like. That's obviously a big investment as predominantly we're a racing company. We do the racing part, but F1 is one of those few games that bridge sports with racing.
We understand you’ve got the F1 licence for one more year – what happens after that?
We're already in talks with Formula One about extending it, it just depends how long that extension is. We've got an option with the roadmap to go for another year, or we can go for longer.
It's an on-going partnership, we get on really, really well with the Formula One management, they're really happy with what our game is doing, we're looking to do more with the license for what we could do with products, and I can't really see anybody else coming in and taking that.
We’ve seen quite a few next-gen racers from other studios so far – what have you liked about them and thought Codemasters could learn from?
I think anyone who just works on their game without evaluating others is missing a real trick. Some of the other sports games that really led the way for us to follow suit in terms of the character likeness, the career mode and motion stuff, the story stuff you get in games like EA's NBA Live, it's really interesting.
Obviously being another Bandai-Namco product, Project Cars was something we were always keeping an eye on because they're very much tailored to a chunk of our core audience. And they've done some pretty cool stuff with some of the physics. It's a slightly different game because it's a whole chunk of cars, where we're focusing on a particular type of car, but we hammer other games!
F1 2015 goes on sale on 10 July 2015. To enter our giveaway and get a copy on PS4, enter here.
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