Bringing Formula-1 to the masses with F1 2010

In the good ol’ USA, NASCAR is in our blood…sorta. Much like American football and baseball, NASCAR is a sport that people here tend to view as better than the rest. When it comes to sports, we tend to ignore everything else that enraptures the rest of the world. Cricket and soccer are two of the best known examples, but another sport is straight-up Formula-1 racing.

You know what I’m talking about, those weirdly shaped racecars that look like torpedoes with some wheels and spoilers attached that look like Indy cars but are obviously foreign, F1 racing has a marginally small following in the States. It’s probably easy to explain, as F1 Racing is so established abroad that US racers are entering at a disadvantage. When was the last time American’s really did something when they were at a disadvantage?

I probably don’t want you to answer that. However, what I’m implying is that F1 racing has a barrier in the States, and any developer to make a game from this license has an uphill climb to appeal to American tastes. Codemasters decided to take the challenge with F1 2010, and I was shown the upcoming fruits of their labor, so follow the jump to see if they might have a chance.

F1 2010 (PC)
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters
To be released: September 2010

Now, look, I know that when I talk about F1 2010 like it’s some sort of world-sport pandering to the ethnocentric whims of American tastes, it’s a little offensive. I mean, Codemasters is a trusted developer, and they know how to make a racing titles. All they would have to do is slap the F1 license on a game case and be done with it. Fans across the world will eat up a decently made Formula-1 title. However, more than that, Codemasters really wants to bring American gamers into what many people consider “the most glamorous sport in the world.”

Back in 2008, Codemasters acquired the rights to Formula-1. Too late to push out a title for 2009, the company decided to bide their time and figure out what people would want from the game, especially Americans. Codemasters has a strong history in racing games, and they wanted their first F1 release to be solid and up to their standards. “We know we can put cars on track. We’ve proved that,” says Andy Gray, Communications Manager of Codemasters. With basic mechanics a given, the next goal was to add everything needed to make the game attractive to those new to F1.

Thus, there was placed  a lot of research on previous Formula-1 games, and plenty of focus group testing. What Codemasters Racing Studio discovered was that all players wanted to see more than just racing, they wanted the drama, the lifestyle, and the rivalries of F1 racing. They wanted to see the barrier to entry of this very nuanced sport to be reduced. Basically, what gamers wanted was not just the racing, but they wanted a reason to be racing. They needed a drive. Thus, the mantra of “Be the Driver; Live the Life” became the driving force behind the game.

“Live the Life” is the core element to tease gamers into playing F1 2010. Players will start from the perspective of a new racer at a press conference, where reporters will question a player’s familiarity of the sport and the difficulties they expect. From such basic questions, the game will place the racer with a bigger or smaller team, as well as set the career mode for three, five, or seven year. This will provide the basis for the game’s difficulty

Fans of Dirt 2 will be right at home in F1 2010′s menu system. Played with from the first person perspective, the menu jumps around all the elements a professional racer could need. The track team, agents, reporters, other racers, all of these areas of a racer’s life will be selected in a dynamic and constantly changing fashion. “You’ve kinda played from the perspective of a car, not the driver,” says Gray, and the goal of F1 2010 is to change that. Continuing, from this menu players will see changing amounts of fans, reporters, and more, and how a player interacts with them is very important. For example, tell reporters that it’s the cars fault you made a loss, and your team or agents might be displeased with you. Act cocky about a trading prospect, and other teams might try to recruit you, but you’ll piss off your own.

And those teams are important. Starting the campaign, most players won’t even be tasked with winning races. Like in real life, these smaller teams will aim for just qualifying, or for making it within the top five cars. Over time, players will work their way up and become better and more competitive, and they will have the options for staying and building up a team, or jumping around to the best and most prestigious teams.

Once prepared getting down to a race, players will be setting up a lot from the cockpit of the car. Right from the get-go players are invited to modify and customize their car in every way, from tire pressure to angle of body to a whole lot more. It is very very in-depth, and most casual players wouln’t even want to look at these numbers. Thankfully, the Engineer will be your best friend, as he will offer assistance on changing the car for you to some basic, easy to understand settings, and can quickly get you on the track. He’ll also assist in development of the cars, as when the player progresses, more and more money can be funneled into R&D. He’ll also be offering support on the track, so he’ll be your best friend on and off the track.
Twelve teams will be represented across the nineteen racetracks. Codemasters has clearly worked hard to recreate the nuances of these teams, ranging from Force India to Red Bull. Different and well known F1 racers will also race with respect to their real-life counter parts, so if someone is reckless and aggressive in real life, Codemasters aims to recreate that in the game. Also, all of the tracks have been nicely remade, from the straights of Montreal to the turns of Monaco.

Also pointed out to me is the weather system. In Formula-1, even in nasty weather the race will always go on, and this is replicated in the game. Weather will change dynamically. Rain, for example, will pool on the track, and be dryer and wetter depending on how the rain falls. Smart racers will be so bright as to draft behind other cars during a race, as the leading car will create dry trails as they cut through the water, as hydroplaning is not always the best idea. As Senior Producer of the game, Paul Teal says, this is “the most complicated weather system in a game ever made.” While that is debatable, this declaration shows that they are putting a lot of effort behind the title.

So how did it play? Well, once you got past the glamor and the drama, all of the fiddling around and customization, you’ve got…an F1 racer. Unlike NASCAR, which is mostly straights and high speeds, F1 seems to be a sport of alternating speeds and turns. While the cars will quickly boost ahead to 200 MPH in a moment, many turns can only be taken at 30 MPH. A course like Monaco feels an awful lot like a series of turns made at barely 40 MPH. Couple this with the fact that F1 cars don’t turn and break at the same time, there is a learning curve in figuring out the “tap brake-turn-tap brake” method of racing. Even the pit crew elements are hardcore, as you’ll have to enter the pit areas at certain speeds, and you have to time your stop to the T, as you don’t want to literally run over the guy trying to replace your tires. All of these elements combined might be a hard pill to swallow for some people. Fans of the sport, however, will eat this up.

So in the end, Codemasters still has a lot to prove. Even with all of the flashy lifestyle elements, the core game has got to be appealing. While European, Canadian and Asian gamers might have no problem picking up F1 2010, Americans can be pigheaded about that “foreign racing nonsense”. Thankfully, Codemasters views Formula-1 as an annual license, so things that don’t work will be replaced with things that do. For now, however, there are some interesting ideas applied to the title, and gearheads the world over would certainly want to pay attention to F1 2010.

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Ben Perlee
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