Last Wednesday, Jon and Felix trekked across London to Codemasters' extravagant F1 2011 preview event. Last year's entry in the popular racing franchise was a tremendous success, winning awards left, right and center; so expectation is high for the follow-up. Codemasters had scattered demo booths running a not-yet-final version of the game across the spacious hall, including the handheld editions which Jon got to grips with.
We sat down with Paul Jeal, senior producer on F1 2011, to discuss following up last year's success, what the new gameplay features such as KERS and DRS mean for players, and whether the recent spate of racing developer closures has affected the team.
Jon Lester: So first off, could you introduce yourself and you role at Codemasters.
Paul Jeal: Certainly. I'm Paul Jeal, I'm the senior producer on Codemasters' F1 2011.
Jon Lester: Now, 2011 is a huge thing for F1 because of the advent of KERS, DRS and the new Pirelli tires. How easy was it to implement these new features, and how does it affect racing?
Paul Jeal: Really easy, actually! Well, not 'really easy'; but certainly easier than it perhaps looks on the outside. And it almost feels like we've bribed Berni Ecclestone, because all these three things are tailored for the game. So KERS, the power-boost, brilliant; gamers understand that, everyone knows how to use it.
And, I think the fact that you can deploy it anywhere, so you start to use it offensively and defensively, particularly in multiplayer when you're behind a guy. You'll start to use it in different positions to exploit weaknesses.
DRS, that's a little bit more complicated, because you can use it anywhere in practice or qualifiers; but in a race its limited to specific situations. The guys know a lot about F1 and are putting a lot of effort into how do we display that on-screen, how does the race-engineer tell you? Don't use it during a corner, or you'll just go flying off!
Jon Lester: We did!
Paul Jeal: You'll notice a difference in terms of speed! So on the straights, again, that's an attacking weapon rather than a defensive weapon, which is great for gamers. But the tires are the biggest thing. So, you've got the optional tire which is softer. It's got a couple of golden laps before it just rips off! So it's really about maximizing those fast laps. Then you've got the prime where you need to heat them up. So your first lap with primes can be quite sluggish, they'll never be as quick as the optional tires. But when they get to an OK grade, the tail-off is much better.
So then you need to realize it's not about catching the guy in front of the pack necessarily; when you're on primes or optionals, as long as he doesn't scamper too far away, you know when it comes to the pit-stops you'll pass him anyway!
Jon Lester: Visually, F1 2011 was a huge leap forward over its predecessor. Is this just down to more detailed art direction? Or have you been able to dig some more memory out of your engine?
Paul Jeal: Improvements across the board, really. I think Codemasters games have always had particular art styles, and ours were quite well-known for their graphical prowess. And that comes from using the EGO Engine, and that each game feeds back into it. So, for example, our weather system from F1 2010 went into DIRT 3, and now their split-screen tech has come into ours. So we're able to share the tech and get much more of a year-on-year improvement.
But, just in terms of working on a sequel, its amazing how much you can focus in on and rectify the little bits and pieces that you wanted to improve. It wasn't until we started to do some before and after shots. Because you think it looks good, but it looked good before, right? Then you look back and forth, and you realize it's a lot better. And you really start to see how much more you've moved forward in such a short space of time.
Jon Lester: Will we see a new community portal in F1 2011? Stats, replays, that sort of thing?
Paul Jeal: We're taking it one step at a time. We would love to do that; that's definitely the way we're going to go. But we used up a lot of our multiplayer resources, as you can imagine, just getting 24 cars online, in the cockpits, doing split-screen. You can find out what your own stats are, and some of the areas from DIRT 3, for example, the uploading of replays, that type of thing, is a step too far for us on F1 2011. We store so much more in the data-system; car positions, how much rip the tracks got, what the weather's going to do. So it's a little bit too much for us to do at this time, but it's definitely where we're going to go. It's all about the bragging rights!
Jon Lester: Finally, racing studios are dropping like flies at the moment. We've had Black Rock, and closer to home we've had Bizarre Creations. We mourn their loss. Do you think gamers are losing interest in the racing genre?
Paul Jeal: I don't think gamers are losing interest. But it's difficult; as games are getting better quality, it used to be that you could buy dozens of games a year, and still afford to pick up some seven out of tens. Nowadays, games are massive. Look at Forza, Gran Turismo; hundreds of hours of gameplay there. You haven't really got the room to have many more games of that genre on the shelf anymore. Games prices, too, are now reasonably expensive.
I think, really, you need to deliver a polished game. And have an idea of who your audience is, and what the focus should be on the game so you know it's going to do well in that particular space.
Jon Lester: Absolutely. Well thank you very much for your time.
Paul Jeal: You're welcome, thanks.
Jon Lester: And good luck with the launch for F1 2011.