Developer Interview: Codemasters on ‘F1 Race Stars’
This Sunday at Eurogamer Expo, I had the opportunity to sit down with Tom and Joel from the Codemasters Racing team, currently working on F1 Race Stars (launching next month). The game is a fun new take on the serious, highly technical sport of F1. This new direction is sure to please a whole new audience as it provides a game that the whole family can enjoy.
Without further ado, here is the full interview:
Tom Goodchild (Designer) and Joel Beardshaw (Level Designer), both working on F1 Race Stars at Codemasters Birmingham.
PS Nation: This isn’t just F1 with massive heads – give us an overview of the game and what makes it unique.
Joel: From a level design perspective, it’s not just massive heads – we’ve taken inspiration from the real tracks and then made a playful take on it. We have loop-the-loops, we’ve got going up the side of walls, going upside down…all kinds of crazy stuff going on. We really wanted to take the feeling of F1 and make everything super deformed, with a celebration of the globetrotting. When we go to Brazil, we don’t just stick on the tracks – we go through a rainforest and a festival. It’s over the top in lots of different ways.
Tom: So from a game design point of view, it’s very similar – trying to create an F1 game for the masses. A father can play and a kid can play, and both will feel like they’re part of the experience. It is a karting game, so there’s a lot of karting tropes, like weapons, but we have our own F1 spin on it. You can have wet weather for instance, where you can fire a weapon that gets the whole track instantly soaked but you get special wet tyres and can go faster. Or the safety car, which is my favourite power-up, where it runs in front and everybody has to follow it quite slowly, so it compresses the pack back together.
PSN: As well as aiming for a younger and broader audience in general, are you targeting the US market more with this game?
Joel: F1 itself doesn’t have much of a US market; it’s mainly here in Europe. This year though, they’ve added the American track, which we’ve included to bring it to the US audience more. ‘Globetrotting’ is definitely one of the key words we were trying to aim for. We also want to bring it to more kids. I know there are a lot of dads out there who want to get their kids involved in the sport. In the same way that kids wear football shirts to get into that sport, we almost want to help dads, so their kids will be able to say “I want to pick Alonso”. He’s a cute character now that they can relate to.
PSN: What are the different game modes available in Race Stars, and is there any online multiplayer?
Joel: From day one, we wanted to make sure we had 4-player split-screen as standard – but then you can also take those 4 people online, as a party, in any game mode. We don’t restrict it, so you can enjoy with as many friends as you want in any way that you want.
Tom: We’ve got different race modes, such as ones where you pick up trophies on the track, or go through gates in a slalom. [There’s also] an elimination mode similar to Dirt and other Codemasters products, where the person at the back gets eliminated. But in this one they turn into a ghost and can catch up to disrupt other players.
Joel: We have 6 different race modes in all, so we tried to make sure they all had their own unique feel.
PSN: It’ll definitely be something that lasts a while then?
Tom: Definitely. The career mode itself is actually 30 different mini-championships made up of all the different race modes. So it starts off with a gentle race, then we start throwing in the refuel mode or the slalom mode as well. There’s quite a lot of content in there.
Joel: Some of them are really playful and make it more manic, but some of them add a bit more technical challenge. Like with refuel mode, you have a refuel meter and if you really overpower your car with fuel, you’ll go super-slow. So you’ve got to think about how you’re picking up the fuel, but you also don’t want to suddenly run out of gas. It adds more of a challenge in there as well as some silliness.
Tom: Another feature of the multiplayer is advantage gifting. After the race you get a little prize that you can either give to other people or keep to yourself, and it either has a positive or negative effect. The whole thing is all about party play.
PSN: Are any of the modes exclusive to either the single-player or multiplayer? Or is it all uniform across the game?
Tom: No, the modes are all universal.
PSN: Would you say the game is comparable to titles such as Modnation Racers and Sonic & Sega All-Stars, or are you trying to carve out your own niche in the genre?
Joel: We’re definitely trying to make it our own, but it is a karting game that kids and adults can enjoy, so we’re all in the same sort of space. But we haven’t just gone for a clone, we haven’t just put an F1 label on a cookie-cutter game. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to make it as different and fun as possible.
PSN: How do you find working with a license? Is there more pressure? Do you think it’s more restrictive, or do you prefer having the set direction?
Tom: I’ve worked on licensed products before, and I think the interesting thing about this one is that because the genre is karting, it’s given us the ability to be more playful. When it’s the real sport, it has to be an accurate portrayal – like even the advertising boards need to have the rivets on them correctly. But because we’ve opened it up, the whole idea itself implies that we can become more playful.
There’s been some obvious safety aspects, like the drivers have to wear helmets and that was enforced by the people who run F1, so there’s some things we have to respect. They’ve allowed us to do a lot though, like the weapons in the game. That in itself is an amazing thing. After coming from the previous licensed products I’ve been working on, it’s really impressive.
Joel: What’s really nice as well is having an inspiration to work from. If you have a blank piece of paper and are told to write something or draw something, you’re like “wait, what?” It’s always nice to have something to draw inspiration from, especially when it has such a rich history. Even people who don’t really know F1 well still visually know some of the bits of Monaco. If you’ve watched an F1 race you probably know some of the skirting through tight bends on the city streets, or down by the river.
It’s like how Pixar had a really cartoony take of Great Britain in Cars 2, with Big Ben and London Bridge. Like that, we got to take our own spin on some of these iconic tracks and corners. For F1 fans, we’d like to think that when a dad is playing it, he’d see a corner and think, “I know that, I know how this plays out”. Then when a kid is playing this for the first time, he might see the same corner on TV later and recognise it from the game.
There’s a lot of inspiration and we’ve been able to make some fun things out of it. There’s a part in Monaco where we’ve always seen there’s a swimming pool that the drivers have to go around. Straight away we thought “we have to do something with that swimming pool, it’s going to be great fun”. So we got these lilos that you drive over and then they sink into the water, so the people behind you are suddenly in the water going “oh no!” because they’ve slowed down. It’s been really fun to have the inspiration.
PSN: And on the subject of licensing, is every driver and team covered in Race Stars?
Joel: We don’t have all the tracks; we have 11 of the tracks, and a 12th on day 1. We’ve only got 12 tracks because we really wanted to nail those ones, and 12 is a lot of tracks. We do have every team and every driver though, with also a couple of new ones thrown in as well.
PSN: The tracks are obviously really fun and crazy, but are they all based on the real-world circuits?
Tom: Yeah, the start and finish straight is very similar, then we just try to include the famous corners. As Joel said, we try to give you a flavour of the place you’re at. In the track we were showing today, Germany, where you go through a castle and then down an autobahn – it’s the iconic, classic parts of the country.
PSN: It’s of course very early to say, but are there any tentative plans to make this an annual release?
Tom: We don’t even know yet -
Joel: We’ve just been concentrating so damn much on getting it out! We hope we can go forward with it, but who knows where. We’ll wait to see what the people think!
Tom: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of potential there.
PSN: Is there any possibility of seeing a Vita version in the future?
Joel: We haven’t got any plans for any handheld versions.
PSN: That’s a shame. In general though, what are your personal thoughts on the cross-platform capabilities? Is it something that excites or interests you?
Tom: It’s certainly interesting. You have to invest a lot of money though to replicate both to the state where they can talk to each other. Even minor differences [could hinder it].
Joel: As a designer, I’m excited to see how the PS3 and the Vita can work together, and the Wii U and the 3DS working together. It’s an exciting concept, but no plans from us this time at least.
PSN: Do the drivers have varying stats or special abilities, or are they all standardised?
Tom: They have different special abilities. Every single team rather than having different stats, has their own unique ability. For example, Red Bull have an ability to slipstream and then they gain bonus boost.
Joel: We’ve got a big red homing bubble for Ferrari, which you can actually fire backwards. So you’re used to these bubbles coming up behind you, then suddenly you see one coming towards you, so it really throws you. My favourite one in particular is the jump boost mechanic where if you time your accelerator presses correctly in the air just before you hit the ground, you get extra boost. And with my favourite character, Timo Glock, when you land you also get a power-up you can use later. They all play with the power-ups and the systems that are there and give you a solid difference, rather than one guy having slightly better acceleration.
PSN: Well Joel has actually just answered this, but Tom, what is your weapon of choice?
Tom: I like the pulse, which is a shockwave that comes out of the car, then hits other people around you as well as blocking other weapons, which is really diverse.
PSN: Having watched the trailer and played the game, it seems very humorous – was this a conscious decision in order to contrast with the serious F1 stereotype?
Tom: I don’t think we went out to make it deliberately humorous – just more of a playful take.
Joel: We wanted [the drivers] to be like superheroes; like Buzz Lightyear, full of bravado. It’s more complimentary. It meshes well with how the gameplay is, so there’s obviously team rivalry but everyone wants to feel like the hero.
Tom: We recently showed the drivers their caricatures, and they’ve all been absolutely enamoured by them.
Joel: Yeah, all the drivers had to approve their face, and they were all really pleased with how they look.
PSN: Playing the game earlier on, I noticed that the weapons didn’t just have an immediate impact, but also a lasting effect.
Tom: The damage is one of the places where we’ve tried to reference F1 as a sport – we’ve included pitting in. When your car is hit, bits cartoonishly fall off and you lose a bit of speed. Then you can drive through a pit, of which there are 3 per race. The track boosts and bonuses override the damage though, so if you’re keen enough, you can carry on. It’s risk-reward.
Joel: Yeah, [due to the boosting mechanic] you could think “no, I can do this corner, eye of the tiger!” but sometimes it could be “it’s only the first lap, I’m going to pit this time, play it safe”.
PSN: How much of the team work on both the core series and Race Stars?
Joel: There’s some guys that have come over but we are two completely separate teams. We’ve had 2 or 3 people move over, but that was just at the beginning of the project. There’s literally just a little kitchen between us in the offices, but we are completely separate teams.
PSN: Looking at the studio as a whole, Codemasters seems to have a huge focus on racing games – Dirt, Grid, F1 and now Race Stars. Will this continue going forward, or do you also have other projects in the pipeline?
Joel: We’ve really wanted to focus on racing these past couple of years, because it’s what we do well, this is what we excel at.
Tom: I think we’re now seeing industry specialisation a lot more. Studios know it takes a while to build up tech enough to make a quality product. Like with Call of Duty; Modern Warfare 1 didn’t come out of a vacuum – they spent 10 years before making other games. There’s a lot of inherent knowledge that’s really hard to communicate.
Joel: We want to be industry leading in racing. That’s not to say there won’t be other projects in the future.
Tom: Also, the British are pretty good with racing games!
Joel: Yeah. There’s some studios that have gone down in the past couple of years, but they were still making great racing games, the market just didn’t realise that.
PSN: Wipeout of course is the most recent one -
Tom: It’s a real shame. I suspect Sony won’t drop that series though.
Joel: Well I hope they don’t!
PSN: Finally, staying on the theme of Codemasters Racing, all 4 franchises are so distinct and unique. Is there any overlap at all between the various teams?
Tom: There is a core technology that we use on all of the products. That’s why Race Stars had quite a quick turnaround, because we could take on the technology we already had. We already had renderers and low-level physics systems, which gave us a knee-up when trying to create a new product.
PSN: Thank you for your time, and best of luck with Race Stars’ launch.
Joel: Thanks and hope you enjoy the game!