F1 2011: It’s more than just a game

(Above: F1 2011 rendition of the Buddh International Circuit before the inaugural Indian GP.)

Nov.7 (Red Bull Racing) Codemasters based in Birmingham in the UK the gaming geniuses behind F1 2011 and the official Formula One racing series (winning a Bafta into the bargain last year) which take players around the grand prix calendar, allow you to have a racing career, be interviewed by the media, choose your helmet design and work your way up the grid.

Their latest debut track is the Buddh International Circuit. We spoke to Codemasters’ Chief Games Designer, Stephen Hood and asked him about creating the cars, tracks and teams which help fill in gamers’ time between grand prix.

Where do you start when designing a new season: the drivers, the cars, the rule changes or a new circuit?
Stephen Hood: “It has to be the rule changes. When you look at what’s changed since Codemasters became involved in Formula One it’s all been fantastic. A new World Champion (now double champion), Schumacher came back to the sport, Mercedes became involved as a team, KERS returned, Pirelli changed the face of strategy; DRS added a new tactical element. It’s been fantastic.”

How detailed can you get with car design?
Hood: “The team we have here really are perfectionists. We have a dedicated team building and overseeing the creation of the cars and I think that comes across in the end product. We’ve actually built many of the internal components too. Cars, for us, are more than just the outer shell.”

Are you forced to leave anything out in terms of car or circuit information?
Hood: “Well, we have to build both cars and tracks to our own internal deadlines. We base the car models on the first race of the season and, certainly throughout 2010, they changed a fair bit meaning ours became progressively less representative of the late season cars. In 2011 little has changed externally but we do not yet represent the specific low downforce variants of say Monza and Spa. I’d like to see cars showcasing their low downforce configurations. It not only adds to the authenticity, it looks cool! Circuit-wise the only challenge we have is constructing a fully working track and surrounds as the actual real life track is being constructed.”

How far ahead did you have to start planning the car design?
Hood: “In terms of the car models we don’t get to see them any earlier than the public. Teams are, understandably, using every possible second up to the season start to refine their cars. We watch the unveils as eagerly as everyone else. In terms of car handling, we start working on that long before the first car launch. The media is awash with information on car handling, the effects of the new rules and so on.”

How did you go about creating the Indian circuit?
Hood: “We’re given the early plans – minus expected elevation data – and we do as much as we can until more concrete information surfaces. I think we managed to prove, back in the 2010 game using Korea, that we’re able to represent in-progress tracks extremely accurately. A lot of that is down to the resourcefulness of the track-building team. I’m very happy with India, which has possibly been our greatest challenge as information on the circuit was scarce for a long time. I can certainly say it’s a great track to drive. It’s an office favourite!”

Do you ever get any feedback from the drivers?
Hood: “It’s changed a lot since our first title, when we were strangers in the Paddock. The 2010 title created a load of buzz, a lot of awareness, and now not just the drivers, but the test drivers, are eager to provide feedback on what we’re doing. Talking to these guys, picking their brains, provides invaluable knowledge on where we should be looking to improve.”

How do you choose the right racing lines?
Hood: “Typically we use standard racing practice to determine the racing line. We then use video footage to check for inconsistencies. Some drivers have subtly different lines into, around and out of corners but most people would never notice. It’s only really when conditions change that you truly see variation in what drivers consider to be the ideal racing line.”

Ever get any criticism from the mechanics? Sebastian’s number one was looking a tad bald…
Hood: “Fortunately not on their appearance! But, if any group challenges the drivers for input it’s the mechanics. We’ve been in a few of the team garages during race weekends and I’m always amazed how accommodating these guys are during what looks like an extremely busy and stressful period.”

How’s Austin looking? Did you study our track preview film closely?
Hood: “We’re only just starting to turn our attention to that track. Every year it seems we have a new, never-before-raced circuit to include. We’re becoming masters of preempting final appearance, so I’ve high hopes for this track.”