The Average Gamer

Codies’ Jeal On Developing F1 2012, Car Handling and Grid Girls

After guiding me around the brand new Circuit of the Americas track, I asked Paul Jeal, Senior Producer at Codemasters Studios about the improvements in F1 2012, F1 driver input and the prospect of grid girls.

What improvements are we going to see in F1 2012 over last year’s game?

PJ: We’ve dropped the paddock integration this year. We gone for a slicker front end to the game with the options laid out more clearly. We did a lot of research on the back of the previous games and we discovered that people didn’t realise that some features were even in the game! So we went for a much cleaner UI where the F1 cars are the star. It also helps speed up loading times for the game too.

The lighting has moved on a bit from last year. The crowd technology has moved on quite a long way as well. The tracks are much more heavily populated which adds a lot to them especially on a track that’s quite barren like the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Just about every area of the game has had a facelift. With the replay cameras we tried to go for more cinematic views. More like they are on TV.

Formula 1 can be quite an intimidating game for newcomers, in terms of complexity of the sport. You have to use two tyres compounds. What is KERS? What is DRS? Just learning the controls and then being able to control the car in the first place.
F1 2012 - Williams
F1 2012 is going to start with the young drivers test. We released a video from the real-life young drivers test earlier on in the year. It was really interesting to go there and find out some of these guys have never drive a Formula 1 car before. Some of them have done straight line tests, some in the simulators. It’s as close as we could get to what happens at these tests and how do you progress the guys. Do you just literally stick them in a car and let them get on with it or do you introduce stuff gradually? So we’ve taken some elements of that.

Players are going to be able to pick a team from McLaren, Ferrari or Red Bull. Sit in the car. Learn the controls and then we break the Abu Dhabi circuit into nice little sections so you can learn things -what changes the camera position, what’s an apex what the ideal racing line? This all forms day 1.
Once you’ve completed day 1 of the young drivers test the game unlocks other game modes if you want to try them out. Or you can come back to day 2 of the test if you want to learn a little bit more about all the toys- fuel mixture, KERS and DRS. It’s not dumbing the game down at all really. Those tutorials are there for those who want it.

Another little feature we’ve put in there is the adjustable break bias. You can see the drivers hand going down to the lever while on the track. Whenever you go on-board with Michael Schumacher he is constantly just moving the break bias from front to back. That’s something for the hardcore guys to play around with this year in addition to the fuel mixture stuff the KERS and DRS. It’s very much the case of learning the track and then trying to play with the extra toys.

Lastly, our R&D team have been working hard on improving the weather system. Launched in F1 2011 it was pretty cool but in F1 2012 we’ve moved it on to include localisation of weather fronts. It can be raining on one particular section while being dry around the rest of the circuit. It’s a lot more unpredictable. There will be more of those grey areas where you’re not exactly sure what the right tyre to be on is.

While it [the weather] worked well in F1 2010, when it was raining it was predominantly wet or intermediate or dry or it would go lineally from one to the other. There wasn’t as much randomness as we would have liked. That’s been tweaked. If you are out of the points you can take a gamble on tyres. Sometimes you’re winning races by miles and all of a sudden something will change and you’ll make the wrong call. It makes things a bit more interesting again. The weather is also totally random, so you’re never going to have the same race twice.

With the game being released before the end of the season will you be able to race in the same weather conditions as the live races as they happen?

PJ: We’ve looked at that stuff, real-time weather scenarios and being able to download it into the game or upload it from RaceNet. I don’t think that is going to make it in for this year.

There is some technology that is being developed that will ultimately let the player take a drivers place on the grid and we can have GPS on the track itself feeding back into the game. It all sounds really cool but I think most people want to watch the race first and then go, well what if I was Jenson Button, what would I have done and where would I have finished.

I also think that if you know what the weather is going to do it takes the fun out of it, like Monaco 2012 for example. Jean-Eric Verne took the gamble [to change tires] miles too early. But if that rain had come down earlier he might have got a podium or a win you just never know. I think it is cool as a headline but I wonder in reality how much of that would come through in the gameplay.

Any changes to the handling of the cars?

PJ: Yes. We’ve tweaked the suspension and tyres again this year. When we did the racing research we found that there were two camps. Some people preferred the F1 2010 car handling in terms of the ultimate grip that it delivered. But obviously there was a thing with the tyres. When the grip started to go away they would spit at you and you were never going to be able to recover from it. In F1 2011 the slides were recoverable but perhaps the car stepped out a bit too much. It was all a bit too tail-happy.
F1 2012 - Circuit of the Americas
In F1 2012 we’ve taken the best of both. In the high speed corners when you get your line right and you’re on the super grippy tyres, it’s really going to have that F1 2010 high speed direction change. Then in the slow speed stuff you’re still going to be able to skate the car around especially as the tyres start to wear away.

How do you deal with constant changes to the look and performance of all the F1 cars?

PJ: In terms of visual lock off in the contract it’s explicitly tied to the first race of the season [in March]. When Jenson Button was driving for Brawn they changed the car at every race so you’d literally be chasing your tail to keep up. That March sign-off of the cars is ultimately what dictates our September release date.

Everyone’s like “why don’t you release the game earlier?” Well, we can’t because the teams don’t even unleash their full car until sometime during the last pre-season test. Even then there are some new bits and pieces that are going to hit the cars at Melbourne [first race of the season]. We are also still changing DRS zones if they are slightly out and changing the Pirelli tyre compounds as they only release them in stages. We are able to update all that information during development [throughout the year].

The tracks are usually the last thing to be signed off. Here we are showing the Circuit of the Americas. You see there are sponsor boards around at the moment. That’s the phase we are at with the circuit. The McLaren car is now signed off with Lewis Hamilton, which is why were are showing it. There are a couple of teams that are outstanding, pit crew outfits and those type of things. Every asset has to be checked and double checked to make sure you have the sponsor’s logos in the right location. It’s quite a lengthy process.

Which Formula 1 driver is giving you input this year?

PJ: It’s still Anthony Davidson. Each track is going to have a “hot lap” driven Anthony. He also commentates over the top in which he’s pointing out the [track] references for what to look out for, what gear you should be in, what’s the racing line and at what point you should be breaking. Those type of things. From our experience of watching any driver complete a lap, you learn so much. We think this is really going to help players.

We learnt a great deal from talking to these young drivers at the Abu Dhabi test too. We were really keen to see how close we’ve got real F1 driving.
F1 2012 - Ferarri And Red Bull
Literally, the first two interviews we did out there were with Stephano Colletti. He’d never driven at Abu Dhabi when he arrived there to drive in the GP2 category he’d used our game to practice and then he won the race. How cool is that!

Steve Hood [F1 Creative Director] was interviewing another driver called Fabio Lima on his way to his first experience in an F1 car. His first perception was that maybe the game is a bit arcade-like in its handling characteristics compared to some of the hard core simulators on PC. But we interviewed him immediately after he’d got out of the car and he said “Do you know what? You guys have got it pretty close.”

We get feedback from just about every driver and team combination in terms of how do you determine pit stop strategies etc. Pirelli also give their input into the tyre life.

Any grid girls in the game?

PJ: No grid girls this year I’m afraid. It’s something we are definitely looking at. The whole idea of the pre-race tension is something that is pretty cool. Until we get it to a recipe where you don’t just do it once of twice and then skip it just because the pure volume of work which it takes to produce. Plus also the start/finish straight is the area of the game were we are max out the most. We render all the cars in garage, the entire crowd and all of the other things that are going on there. I think our technical guys will probably wait for the next gen consoles.

Thanks for your time Paul.

F1 2012 will be released on the 21st Sep 2012 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.