F1 2010: Launch Event

F1 2010

Launch event – 17th March 2010

Location: 24, London

It’s just under a week since the new Formula One season kicked off for real with a rather pedestrian affair in Bahrain. I had arrived – as always – too early, for the start of the F1 2010 game launch event at London’s ‘24’ club at 4:00pm and so had cause to retire to a nearby café with time to think about what was to come.

The re-launch of the F1 franchise as a game took place on the Wii and PSP at the back end of last year to what can only be described as a mixed reception with many, myself included, hoping that the release in 2010 on 3rd Gen platforms would do the experience of racing an F1 car a little more justice.

‘24’ itself is ‘banging’ at least I believe that’s the appropriate term to use. A cool venue with a decent sound system, a bar with beer and wine available to all – gratis of course – and an atmosphere with much more of a buzz than the previous Wii/PSP launch at, the very pleasant but somewhat more somber, BAFTA.

24

The overview of the new game provided by the launch team was a masterwork of PowerPoint and game clips. The code itself is still in ‘Pre-alpha’ state and I’m sure that the clips were very well selected but in the context of describing the game’s premise, they worked, and worked well!

The game is currently slated for a September 2010 release and uses the next generation of the Ego engine, previous versions having been responsible for the gameplay of the likes of Dirt and Grid so expectations are already pretty high for what is going to be delivered.

“Be the driver, live the life” has apparently been the internal mantra used during the game’s development and now serves as the platform for describing the whole game experience. F1 2010 is not about racing fast cars around famous tracks, it’s about being a Formula 1 driver with all of the challenges, issues and, ultimately, trappings of success that this brings.

Sure if you’re Lewis or Jensen or Fernando or even Michael then life can be pretty sweet! But if you’re Bruno or Karun or Jarno then there’s a pretty good chance that you ain’t going to get a pole position or a race win – at least not in season one. The team will set you other objectives, such as to reach the second qualifying session or get into the points and that’ll do.

One of the things the CodeMasters team were keen to promote was that this is about Formula 1, not about winning every race and that means the first goal is beat your team mate, the second goal is get a better car and then, and only then, should you be looking at wins and a championship. Remember how long Jenson had to wait!

So let me take you on a journey through what the team think makes F1 2010 so good…

–       Handling. The brief for this was authentic, predictable and consistent. So a good splash of realism is thrown into the mix here for starters.

–       AI behavior and character. Some of your AI opponents will be better than others at certain tracks, or may corner attacks or defense of their line. This apparently has been taken from study of the actual drivers.

–       Evolving race strategy. Tyres will suffer from blisters if you push to hard, too fast. Marbles will build up off-line affecting your handling. Ignore the tyre degradation and punctures will happen, leaving you to limp back to the pits – if you’re lucky. Pitstops are also something you’ll need to fit into the overall strategy including how many you take and adapting to how long each one lasts.

–       Engine Management and tactics. Real drivers get to tweak settings, so do you but remember that you could degrade or even destroy your engine and you only have eight to last for the entire season before you start to take penalties.

–       Dynamic weather. CodeMasters claim the “Most complicated weather system ever seen in a game” with the introduction of ‘Active track technology’ providing a 30cm granularity of conditions definition and subtlety across the entire track condition definition. This enables a true dry line to be created and for this line to have a direct affect on the car and tyres. This Active Track Technology also work in the dry with tracks developing throughout the duration of the race weekend from being ‘green’ through to being ‘rubbered in’ with marbles etc being deposited.

Weather and Active Track Technology - close to the real thing?
Weather and Active Track Technology – close to the real thing?

“Living the life” is all about what happens off the track and works to put some flesh on the pure racing bones of the game. This is all about your rise to the pinnacle of motorsport and the journey you take to get there. We see you in your motor-home interacting with your agent who handles the contracts and team moves, we see you in the paddock answering those media questions like “Why were you so slow today?” and we see you in the post race press conference (if you made it to the podium of course) talking about the race and what went right and wrong for you.

Then there’s that time in the garage, during practice and qualifying, where you have decisions to make. Go out early on a green track (remember the Active Track Technology) and get a reasonably quick lap in on a relatively empty circuit, head out mid session when there are more cars and the risk you’ll get held up or even shunted but could be more grip, or gamble and wait to put in that one blistering lap in perfect conditions but if you blow it you’re done.

It’s also in the garage that the team will explain their objectives for the race too. They may want a good solid qualifying session and a race finish. They may introduce new parts over the weekend and want you to try things out, or they may want a podium, simple as that. Your team-mate is also there and, of course, you must simply MUST beat him if you want to get the lead driver benefits and greater contracts values at the end of the season.

All of this is about immersing you in the LIFE of a GP driver and not just dropping you in the car. We’ve seen potentially very good racing games lacking this kind of involvement – starts with “Race” and with “Pro” – and if CodeMasters can deliver then this could be something very special indeed

So what have we learned here? Well we’ve learned that this is not a game aimed at the 20-hour completionists that’s for sure. You’ll have to complete a number of seasons if you expect to be world champion and if you make bad decisions, there’s a good chance you may never make it.

We’ve learned that THEY’VE learned from the mistakes of others and have set out to make F1 2010 a more fully rounded experience while being a more precise representation (they eschewed the term race-sim totally!) of the driving experience.

And we’ve learned that the F1 game franchise looks like it’s finally, after so long in the deep freeze, in the hands of a production house which knows how to make good racing games.

Having now seen the launch of the Wii/PSP version and the 3rd Gen version of the new F1 franchise games I’m asking myself about the differences between the two. And it’s actually very, very easy.

The difference between the games, is the difference between the platforms. The Wii game (which has out-stripped all expectations according to the brand manager) is targeted firmly at the casual gamer who doesn’t mind things a little bit fluffy and simple because they just want to race cars fast. The 3rd gen systems game is for the race-gamer who wants more than just racing, it’s for the fans of Grid and Dirt who enjoy the off-track bits as much as the on-. It’s for someone who is going to invest of themselves into their racing career and actually care about what happens.

I’m pleased about this. I’m pleased I was right to wait before passing judgment, I’m pleased that my review hit the right note and I’m pleased that F1 will once again be properly represented on our game systems. At least I believe it will.

Will Bratt and me
Will Bratt and me

Other highlights of the event were meeting Will Bratt, F2 driver and consultant into the lifestyle side of the game development (along with his simply stunning girlfriend!). Will told me that there is still a generational gap which F1 is bridging and he is part of bringing that into the game too. We’ve heard of the F1 Rocks concerts which have extended the race weekend into a more rounded and accessible experience for the younger fans and Will represents the next generation of racers with an understanding of, and direct appeal into, that market.

Will is a gamer too, his gaming life having its genesis with the Sega Saturn and having moved through the Original PlayStation and PC games to his current platform of choice, the Xbox360. Will’s favourite games are Action/RPGs like KOTOR, Jade Empire and Mass Effect. He is very cool and I told him he needs to get his ass into Mass Effect 2 without delay!

“There’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip”, the old saw goes, and there’s certainly a decent enough gap between now and the launch date for F1 2010 in September for things to change, but I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen. I’m looking forward to seeing the final game and bringing you my real-life views of what I find, I just hope they don’t hurt the image that’s in my head in the meantime.


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