F1 2012 is out across Europe from tomorrow. VG247’s Dave Cook had a chat with Codemasters to learn more about just how challenging it can be to make such a hardcore franchise accessible to all.
There’s a canyon of difference between playing an arcade racer like Burnout and slogging through the punishing challenge that comes with F1 games. It’s the kind of game where one slight wobble or a poorly judged application of the brakes can spell disaster, and that’s why many fans keep on coming back for more.
That realism and dedication to the discipline is admirable in Codemasters, but it isn’t fun for your average racing fan on the street. That’s why the studio has made F1 2012 more accessible, but the team has always been keen to stress that it isn’t dumbing down the format.
Recently, VG247 spoke with the game’s creative director Steven Hood to find out just how his team approached the casual market without sacrificing F1 2012’s simulation aspects. Top of the pile in this crusade for the casual player was the game’s new Season Challenge mode.
Essentially boiling down a full career mode playthrough into a shorter season of just ten races, Season Challenge throws all of the same mechanics, gruelling cornering and unexpected weather conditions into the mix, so long-time fans needn’t get too upset.
It just means that gamers without a lot of time on their hands can get the same F1 experience without the huge time sink. Hood told us where the concept came from, “when we started this project initially we stopped and we said ‘the cool things within F1 are things like pit stops, dynamic weather, or choosing your right tyres, and so on.’ We wanted people to be able to experience all of that.”
“We started to make the game at the time, and then we got some people in from a research company. We sat down with them and they told us ‘people love the experience, but they don’t want you to dumb it down. Instead, they want to be able to experience more of it, when they can.”
“It’s like someone saying, ‘Yeah, I love watching F1 on a Sunday because that’s my free time. But when it comes to the game, I don’t want to play an arcade game, but I want to play an authentic experience’, so that’s basically what we tried to do with [Season Challenge].”
Season Challenge is almost ironic isn’t it? F1 drivers are usually in a hurry after all.
Hood’s team also cut down the qualifying stages to just one lap, and that really does cut down the overall playtime considerably. The full hardcore experience still exists if you really want to invest time in your career mode, but Codemasters has also catered for the absolute opposite end of the spectrum as well.
Enter the Young Driver’s Test. It’s a long tutorial mode that throws challenges at players to help them better understand the game’s more intricate and demanding aspects, as well as how to prepare for unexpected variables, namely, weather.
It’s not just a made up tutorial either, it’s a real test that all budding F1 drivers have to take at an early age, as Hood explained, “the Young Driver’s Test is something that happens in real life anyway, and it’s aimed at kids who drive in all different series, to try and find drivers who have real potential.”
“In the game, teams pick you and they say, ‘you’re going to come with us to Abu Dhabi Monday-Tuesday and do a two-day test.’ You also get the real driving experience from the feel and weight of the car, and the chance to test it.”
Hood was also keen to stress that the Young Driver’s Test isn’t an attempt to pander to the uninitiated, but it’s a necessary tool for anyone wanting to join in the fun. Hood continued, “We say to people, ‘you may have played racing games before, but Formula One cars are very different vehicles’, and you will learn how to handle then better as you practice, in the sense that it’s almost like you’re ranking up and improving your car with upgrades.”
“Races are really short,” Hood continued, “the cars have easier controls at the start of the game – we’ll change the gears for you – so that the Young Driver’s Test helps you improve. You’re still in the world of Formula One but you’re learning what it means to try and win races.”
Don’t know what the pit lane is? Codemasters has you covered.
So essentially, the Young Driver’s Test takes all of the laborious hardships that may make it harder for people to understand the game away, so that they can focus on how they use the car instead. But that hasn’t stopped Codemasters from throwing a few necessary evils in the paths of learners.
“We also have the added complexity of the weather system,” Hood explained, “so in most racing games you’re just driving and the weather is dry all the time. But in F1 2012, not only do you have different compounds of tyres for dry conditions alone, you’ve got intermediate tyres, wet tyres and more.”
“Young Driver’s Test players will also need to experience what that’s like” Hood stressed, “If you’re going extremely fast and then all of a sudden the track’s soaking wet, the rain’s pouring down, and you have low visibility – what do you do?”
“New players need to know how to handle that, how to make a pit stop, what tyres they should be using, and so we try to explain some of those issues to them. We’re saying, ‘you need to understand how to use these toys to get the most out of the experience.'”
Hood’s explanation makes sense. After all, you wouldn’t just throw a trainee carpenter a stack of tools they’d never used before and expect to return a day later to find they’d built a house. It just doesn’t work that way, so breaking down that learning curve just a touch will help more people enjoy the franchise.
The game’s weather system is something Hood is particularly keen on, and it’s something he feels will really impact on the simulation and difficulty as console and PC tech improves. He even revealed to us that his team is already looking at ways in which this new tech might be implemented.
“As we get towards the end of the cycle,” Hood explained, “we’re still trying to optimise and get more out of systems. Next-gen is exciting for us and we’re actually starting to think about it now – things like adding more detail to cars, improving the physics engine.”
“But that said, things are working as we’d like them now, they’re where we want to be. Beyond that we can make the simulation more inventive, such as – for example – if you have a course where it’s raining, you could have water running down slopes and pooling at the bottom.”
“So you’d be thinking from your own experience like, ‘I know there’s a dip coming up, there could be a pool of water here’, and that could effect your racing line. But with games now, the whole track gets wet and it impacts on the quality of your grip everywhere.”
Hood closed by painting us a rather sadistic picture of why this would be awesome, “Being able to have fully dynamic weather, and rain that pools would be brilliant, and it would make you think, ‘I have to change my racing line here’, just as you see someone else spinning off. It’d be great.”
Actually, that would be kind of funny, wouldn’t it?
F1 2012 launches across Europe on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 tomorrow, the 21st of September.