After a false start in 2009 - ably covered by stand-in Sumo Digital with its enjoyable F1 2009 for Wii - Codemasters' new Birmingham studio has finally got its first Formula One game off the grid. If you've read our review, you'll already know that it was worth the wait.
The developer's plans for the prestigious motorsport's return to the gaming scene were always very ambitious, though, and perhaps it's no surprise that some parts of the game are more successful than others. F1 2010's motto is "Be the Driver, Live the Life": Be the Driver referring to the superb on-track experience, Live the Life to Codemasters' novel idea of having you participate in media interviews and contract negotiations as you pick your way through a multi-season career.
We felt that Live the Life didn't realise its potential, so we took a recent opportunity to sit down with senior producer Paul Jeal and lead designer Stephen Hood to ask what went wrong, what went right, and what their plans are for F1 2011.
Eurogamer: F1 2010 seems quite tough. For hardcore racing gamers, that won't be a problem, but do you feel you've pitched the difficulty right for a casual F1 fan?
Stephen Hood: It depends what you mean by the difficulty, because it could mean so many different things. It could mean, for example, the AI are too aggressive, or they're too fast, or there's too big a gap in the different difficulty levels.
At the moment I would say that on some circuits they can be too quick, and it would have been nicer if we were able to wind some of the AI behaviours back for the easier difficulty levels, so they leave a bigger gap.
Paul Jeal: I think the game rewards track knowledge and consistency... Also, in Career mode, it's not just about winning, you know? We don't want you to be able to win in a Lotus or an HRT. Actually, finishing 16th for them is going to be very rewarding, it's going to get you recognised in front of the other teams, it's going to get you media recognition, it's going to do your reputation good.
Last time I played the previous Formula One game, I started in a Toro Rosso, got a podium in my first race and then won the second race, which certainly for F1 fans is not what it's about.
Eurogamer: How about balancing the driving aids? One problem we came across was the braking aid, which helps a novice player stay on the track, but actually makes it very hard to overtake because you can't brake late into corners.
Stephen Hood: Yeah, I think it's awkward to do that, because the braking aid is running under AI as well, so it's braking at the same points. I reckon... as players get into the tracks, that's the critical thing to turn off. But our goal there is to just try and keep the player on the circuit.
Paul Jeal: Driving aids is a difficult one, really, because we've played games before where driving aids do everything for you and it just nullifies the experience completely. So, for example, with traction control, we've tried to work it so it doesn't take all the play out of the back of the car. There's still that element of fun, it's just you've got a bigger window to catch it.
Stephen Hood: Each of the driving aids, we try to make them more intelligent than they have been before. The traction control, for example, if you've got that turned on and you're facing the wrong way, then it disengages itself, then it reapplies when you're facing the right way again. So you can do those mini-donuts, you can do a 180 and get back on the track. Traction control I think a lot of people will be using, so we've put a bit of love into that.
Eurogamer: When it comes to making F1 2011, where do you think you've got the most work to do?
Stephen Hood: Well, everywhere, but honestly... certainly the media side, Live the Life.
Paul Jeal: Yeah, Live the Life and multiplayer, just because we've had to invest that much time in the first one on the career, the meat and bones, the driving, the pit-stops, the weather. We had some great ideas which have been fairly well stripped back in development for both Live the Life and multiplayer.
But being the perfectionists that we are, we want to move every element of the "Be the Driver" side forward as well, the AI, the handling model, we've got some ideas for what we want to do there.
Stephen Hood: I love working on these sorts of games, but one of the big frustrations is, the bigger the team, the more complicated it becomes. What people often don't see is, behind the scenes, you're trying to make a game out of the resources you have available, be that the time or the people you have working on the team. You're trying to balance some things accordingly; you can't be everywhere all the time.
Considering the scope of the game that we were given at the start, which I think was pretty massive... If I was trying to make the perfect game, I'd probably say the on-track stuff is most important, then build up Live the Life in the future. But I think we realised early on that Formula One games have been the same for a really long time and we needed to come back and do something different.
But that was so difficult, and we were devving up until the final few days, which was pretty mental really; people were really panicking, but we were saying look, we've got to get this final bit in.
Eurogamer: It's fair to say we agree that the Live the Life side is definitely less convincing... I was going to ask if you felt you just didn't quite have the time and resources to do it justice?
Paul Jeal: A bit of both, really. There's a lot of stuff in there where I think we just ran out of the UI time. There's stuff in there which we just don't wave in the player's face as much as we should. That's almost slightly more disappointing, because it's there, but how many people are going to be able to get to it?
Stephen Hood: An example: a lot of the media stuff runs off this criteria system - has the guy won the race, has he done this, has he done that, and that sparks the questions ... we've only got about 25 per cent put in there. So sometimes Paul and I can go into those interviews and it's hard for us, because we know how it's meant to be working. It's disappointing for us when we haven't quite reached that level.
It's like having a book, you just rip the pages out of the book, and it doesn't quite hang together. So for '11, we're planning it out. We're saying these are the core features, these are absolutely essential, the game will hang together if we have these things in. Everything else will be considered a bonus. That's what we haven't done in '10. And we also know the team - we know where we're really strong.
There was certainly a point where we thought, we're never going to get this game out. It was never going to happen. But it did, and I'm really pleased we managed to get it out. And I personally would buy it even if it was just for multiplayer.
Eurogamer: Did you hit any roadblocks with FIA approval?
Paul Jeal: Nothing too bad. Initially, they weren't very keen on the Live the Life stuff at all, the media stuff. I think the thought of AI drivers slagging each other off, or the player slagging AI drivers off, or the AI slagging the player off wasn't a concept that they were particularly keen on... So that was one that was a bit of a no, but we ended up turning it around.
Other than that it was just the multiplayer, really, we were quite late in the day and it was: you can't have 12 Ferraris out on the track. It's a licensing restriction... I'm hoping we can go back to them next year and say, "I know that's not real life, but guys are just going to want to go online and play as their favourite car." We just didn't have time to react to that.
Stephen Hood: We would have called the challenge between two team mates a Team Mate Battle. It sounds like a perfect rivalry. But they don't like the world "battle".
Paul Jeal: The only other one was that we wanted AI drivers to be able to switch teams in career mode. I think we were close, but ultimately it was a no. We were like, if we honour Lewis [Hamilton]'s contract then he's at McLaren until 2013 but in 2014, he can sign for someone else. I think the thought of Lewis Hamilton in a Ferrari was just too much for a few people.
Stephen Hood: We're just trying to push all those things. You can do it in football games, have players changing squads, and Formula One isn't doing that. It is very, very branded. But what we're hoping is that the success of this will enable us to push further.
Eurogamer: Have you got any plans for DLC, or is it all about pushing on with '11?
Stephen Hood: We're not doing DLC, but... we might update the game after it's out. I'd love to be able to do that. DLC we're not planning to do with this one, because Paul and I have already started on '11 now... There are some other exciting things that we want to play around with.
Paul Jeal: Yeah, it just would have taken too much development time.. the dev cycle for a yearly iteration is so short when you factor in the sign-offs and all that stuff, anyway, that we just want to get our teeth stuck into it.
More on F1 2010
Eurogamer: So we can expect F1 on a yearly schedule from now on?
Paul Jeal: Certainly for 2011, that deal's done and dusted. I think the 2012 deal isn't a million miles away, it's not signed yet, but I guess it depends on the sales, review scores, that type of thing. After 2012... there could be 1.6 diesel engines, I'm hearing, and all sorts of stuff, and the teams need to sign up for that. It's certainly enough for us, anyway, to think one year ahead!
Eurogamer: The timing's obviously pretty good with where the championship's at right now. It's all quite exciting, coming to a head.
Paul Jeal: Yeah, timing's an interesting one because, obviously, everyone goes, "Why didn't you release it earlier on in the season?" We would have done if we could...
Some of the data that you get from the teams, not all of them, you get pretty early in the season, maybe January, February. But it changes so much from the first test to what they actually put on the track in the first race. So you've got to use the first or second race as your lock-off.
And then... it's modelling the cars and getting the sponsors right and getting them signed off by the teams. Then, track sponsors is very complicated, as you can imagine. They hadn't even signed half the 2010 sponsors by the time we were ready to place them all. It's quite a long process, back and forth, through that approval stage.
I'm fairly certain September's about the earliest you can have the game out if you want to have it accurate.
Eurogamer: Finally - predictions? Who's going to win?
Stephen Hood: I'm going for Webber, now. I want him to win, as well. Hamilton's my second choice, but I feel like Webber's got the best opportunity. I see Monza as a blip. I'm really pleased for Webber, he's a really nice bloke as well, he's got this one chance...
Paul Jeal: Everyone says that, but he is a really nice bloke, he will speak to you in the paddock. Really nice guy. I think Hamilton will do it, personally, but I'm secretly rooting for Webber as well.
F1 2010 is out this week for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.