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News and Previews

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News and Previews

Post  EMW Raul on Wed Aug 17, 2011 10:08 am











F1 2011 gears up for a new season.

There are two new tracks, improved handling, oscillating bodywork, improved damage, revamped pit stops, 2011 rule additions, enhanced garage visuals, a new press feedback system and a dynamic cloud system. Whilst these are minor additions in the grand scheme of things, Codemasters' Stephen Hood is quick in assuring us that this is "not just a small update".

The follow-up to the fastest selling F1 game of all time will build on its 9/10 worthy predecessor with more than just tweaks and tuning. F1 2011 is a fully justified sequel.

The experience can be divvied up into the studios' three-part development/marketing mantra: be the driver, live the life and go compete. In terms of be the driver, Codemasters offers a myriad of bullet points for the back of the box. Buddah International and Nürburgring have joined the circuit roster, with a bevy of graphical improvements to the existing 18 tracks. There's enhanced damage and failures, improved feedback for the driver (a voice explaining to the driver what else is happening on the track), heightened circuit fidelity and everything else I mentioned up at the top there.

Avid followers of the sport will be pleased to hear that KERS and DRS have been included to compliment this season's FIA rules. For the less avid followers, KERS stands for kinetic energy recovery system (which converts kinetic energy recovered from the rear axle during braking into a usable burst of energy) and the DRS (drag reduction system) reduces drag. Neither of these acronyms I had to look up on Wikipedia, I promise.

In F1 2010, live the life introduced innovation to the genre in the form of paddock interactions. Journalists would pester you for comments after a race, which - depending on who you might slag off - would affect the action on the track. This year's offering welcomes a revised paddock and garage, and new parc fermé animations - which didn't make the cut in 2010 due to time constraints.

Go compete sees the biggest feature additions to the game; multiplayer is a much bigger focus this time around. F1 2011 allows two players to team up and start a co-op career. Whilst this might seem a co-operative affair on the surface, the rivalry between team mates is at the heart of the F1 experience. Who qualifies the furthest up the grid? Who has the better lap times? Who crosses the finish line first? I'll be answering each of these questions with "me" when I inevitably start a career with my F1-obsessed father when the game launches.

Contributing to the split-screen reconnaissance the industry has seen over the last year or so, F1 2011 will allow two players to play on the same screen at the same time. It's like 1997 all over again. As well as this, online play now supports a full grid of 24 cars. The game can only support 16 players, however, so the remaining eight cars will be driven by AI drivers.

When asked, Hood also revealed that something along the lines of Autolog might be heading to the game, but wouldn't elaborate as to what. Such a feature is crucial if Codies hopes to remain on equal footing with other driving games, but Hood has expressed concern about feature, claiming that it's "overstated". How the developer therefore chooses to approach social integration is one of the biggest questions remaining about F1 2011.

In F1, as in life, it's not about the result but the journey towards it. This is, after all, a sport that's just as in love with legends like Gilles Villeneuve and Stirling Moss - two drivers who would never get their hands on the championship - as it is with Fangio or Schumacher.

It's more important to remember that than ever in a season where the result's often set in stone on Friday practice, with Vettel romping to victory in five of the six opening races. A glance at this year's results doesn't come close to telling the real story, though: this is shaping up to be a year to savour, and the laps that have preceded the inevitable Red Bull win have often boasted more action than entire seasons.

For Codemasters, it got the result it wanted on its debut run. F1 2010 ended an unlikely drought of racing games officially endorsed by the Middle East's second favourite sports governing body, and it did the business for the UK outfit in more ways than one.

It was a triumph in the charts, pounced upon by a rabid F1 fan-base who had had their appetites whetted by a year riddled with rivalries and boasting a four-way showdown at the final race. It later went on to trump FIFA by picking up BAFTA in the sports category at this year's awards.

There's an interesting story behind that success. Codemasters Birmingham was a fledgling studio burdened by the expectations that come with being stablemate to one of the finest racing outfits in the business. At the same time, it was trying to create a racing game that cut against the expectations laid down by years of stale F1 games.

F1 2010 covered off the basics well, offering a ride that was faithful to its thrilling source material, and it added to it with its Be the Driver, Live the Life angle. It was an attempt to give the on-track action a little context, and to translate some of the drama, rivalries and stories that bubble through a grand prix weekend and that make the sport so compelling. For all its good intentions, though, it fell a little flat.

"I think we were massively ambitious in what we wanted to do with the first game," admits lead designer Stephen Hood, "and that Be the Driver, Live the Life aspect was a pretty big undertaking for the first instalment. But we needed to do that to prove that we were trying to do something a little different and not just churn out another racing game with F1 cars in it."

F1 2010 was, for all of its accolades, an exploration lap, as the team found its limits and assessed where its strengths lay. "A lot of that initial work is all about the tech," Hood continues. "Last time it was about trying to pull the game together, and F1 2011's been about what we'd really like to do with the game."

It turns out that much of what Codemasters Birmingham wants to do is to refine its original ideas, which is no bad thing when those ideas were so sound in the first place. Be the Driver, Live the Life is still the mantra, and it's one that's being reinforced through some added polish.

The sense of drama that surrounds an F1 race is being paid close attention to, with more in the way of animations before and after a race; there'll now be small establishing scenes before a session as the driver scrambles into the cockpit, and success in a race will be met with the kind of giddy scenes that typically greet the climax of a tough Sunday afternoon's work.

Away from the track, there's the return of the virtual paddock from F1 2010 and DiRT 2, though this time - in a sign of the series' upward mobility - your driver will have his own room tucked away in the team's motorhome. There'll be added context provided by a feed of emails and news reports where the consequences of your words in a press interview will play out - and it seems as if the studio has found a way to integrate the fractured on- and off-track elements of F1 2010.

F1 2011's full tagline now reads Be the Driver, Live the Life, Go Compete - and that appendage covers much of F1 2011's new ground. Multiplayer racing is now a much more serious concern, and for the first time (and thanks in no small part to the work of the DiRT 3 team) split-screen is an option, as is co-operative team play.

Online racing will also be served by a more robust hub, acknowledging the dedicated following that F1 2010's multiplayer maintains to this day. It's here that one of F1 2011's additions will be felt the strongest, and where it will certainly prove controversial.

Mechanical breakdowns will now feature in the game, in one of many concessions that Codemasters Birmingham has made to the vocal hardcore. Keeping the game the right side of frustrating is a tough balance to strike, especially if, 77 into 78 laps of Monaco, your engine's little end decides to turn into a big end.

It's a balance that the studio claims to have struck; damage will come about primarily through the driver's own actions, while the weaknesses of the car at their disposal will play a small but significant factor (meaning that, for what it's worth, Red Bull's KERS will prove unreliable, while the HRT will disintegrate if someone frowns in its direction).

With technical gremlins an ever-present threat, an added layer of strategy will be lent to the racing. Considerate driving is as essential as nailing braking points, and it promises to add an occasional edge; find yourself languishing some way off your opponent and your engineer could come on to the radio, telling you of the car in front's technical woes and igniting the kind of hunter-and-hunted situation that made the recent race at Monaco so thrilling.

Until, that is, the safety car intervened. It's another feature that the die-hards have been screaming for, and it's one that Codemasters Birmingham is paying serious attention to. There's the challenge of making driving at quarter throttle exciting for the less dedicated players, but it's one that the studio is searching for a solution to. It's likely that its answer will be revealed later in the year.

There are some more fundamental tweaks on the track, some a natural evolution from last year's game and other dictated by this year's radical new rule set. Handling has now been tamed, and the darting cars of F1 2010 have been tempered. "Last year, I always joked internally that it felt like Tron," explains Hood. "I felt that it was too quick."

"The problem we have is that it's F1 - the cars are so fast and you're braking such short distances it doesn't help the player when they're trying to learn the circuit or the cars. What we're trying to do this year is make the cars a little more involving. Instead of last year where you had to learn how we wanted you to drive the cars, F1 2011 is about applying your knowledge of the real world." Cars will be more predictable and more responsive, in part thanks to more attention being payed to the workings of an F1 machine. The rigid geometry of an F1 car's suspension will now be replicated, and a greater sense of impact will be communicated when running a wheel over a track border. F1 2011's cars will be stiffer, and there'll be a bigger emphasis on their mechanical grip.

A large part of that comes from the tyres, and F1 2011 will be working hard to simulate the behaviour of the Pirellis that have so successfully mixed up this year's racing. Tyre degradation will now play a much bigger part, and over the course of a weekend you'll learn to covet those sets of softs, and learn when's the best time to extract the two laps of perfect grip that they offer.

When they expire, they'll have a tendency to do so dramatically. Take them past their best and their performance will fall off a cliff - the very same cliff that Sebastien Vettel was teetering on the edge of at Monaco.

It's shaping up to be another vintage year, then, both for Codemasters' game and the sport itself. If F1 2010 was the exploration lap then F1 2011 could be the kind of blistering outing that firms up the series' position among the very best of the racing genre. Last year it came up against Gran Turismo 5 and, against expectations, held its ground, the two sitting neck and neck on Metacritic. This year it's got fresh competition in the shape of Forza Motorsport 4.

With Codemasters Birmingham now established and last year's game providing a strong foundation, can it contend with the top tier once again? "I'd love to think so," says Hood. "I love the Forza series, but I do wonder whether they're being pushed into a Kinect sphere which could take away from their main game. I'm not sure about new features, and they seem to be a bit quiet on that. We've always said we should have Forza or Gran Turismo as well as F1, but currently I think we can beat them."



I took the opportunity to get a first-hand feel of how the cars handle in F1 2011. They feel more challenging to drive – twitchier, and more likely to catch you out if you get too greedy with the throttle on corner exit. Unless you’ve got all the driver aids switched on, of course.

The variation in their performance between different types of tyre compound is much more noticeable – unfortunately I didn’t have time to get much of a feel for how long the tyres last.

Some of the improvements made to the handling are left over from developments that were planned for F1 2010 but never made it, as Mather explains:

“We were working on an improved suspension model. Unfortunately due to some other technical difficulties we couldn’t get it fully implemented.”

They settled on a compromise solution for the first game: “It was very good, but it wasn’t quite where we could get to.”

The new model is implemented in F1 2011: “It makes a big difference to the feel of the cars. It allowed us to start with a clean sheet on cars set-ups.

“It gives the feeling of a car that’s in contact with the track surface. That was one of the biggest things we really wanted to gain – the feel.”

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