Formula One 2010 – Thoughts On The E3 2010 Demo
Fun fact: Formula One racing is the world’s largest driving competition. Viewership and financial outcomes out-perform the combined totals of NASCAR and Indy, and yet you’ve probably never seen more than 5 seconds in a James bond movie. Not your fault mind you: Americans just don’t go for multiple-day-decreased-chance-of-fiery-redneck-explosions racing. Even so, it’s big business and you’d think that means big video game business as well. You’d be wrong; F1 games have never been as successful a street racing and NASCAR games. The F1 franchise languished under Sony’s ownership for the better part of the last decade. After their license to the brand lapsed, it was quickly snatched up by Codemasters, who launched their first F1 game, Formula One 2009, last year.
It sold a’ight but didn’t set the world on fire. They aim to change that with the upcoming Formula One: 2010, and we got the chance to see a bit of it last week at E3.
This was part of the same presentation in which we saw Bodycount. I saw a short explain-it-all by F1:2010′s developers, followed by a short demo, and the chance to play. I had a great time, but some reservations remain about this compelling, if still frustratingly opaque, upcoming game.
1) “Be the driver; live the life”.
That’s the game’s tagline, and it was repeated more than once. Obviously it refers to the intent to create a visceral racing game, but meant to evoke the game’s more unique(ish) gameplay. According to Codemasters, F1:2010 will be a much more complex game than racers tend to be, due to some light RPG elements in the form of rail-shooter style fixed-place interactions with your agent, crew, and even the press. These interactions, we were told, will have direct repercussions on your career as you advance through the world of F1 competition. You can choose to follow or disregard the advice of your agent (switching teams for example). You’ll interact with your Pit Crew. But what really caught my attention is the chance to deal with the media in two distinct ways.
First, you’ll face a size-variable press scrum affected by your performance. Do well, or better than expected in a critical race? The scrum will be larger than if you turn in a mediocre performance. There will also be formal press conferences – I’m guessing for occasions such as the decision to switch to a different team – in which you’ll field questions from the press gang. Various response options will be provided via conversation tree, and the way you choose to answer the media’s questions will have direct impact on your career. Offer interesting, flippant, or outrageous answers and the press will cling to you like deer ticks. Come off as a prick though, and you’ll alienate your team. You can be humble, and credit the team for your victory and yourself for losses. Or you can go full on dick and do the reverse*. Either way, the amount of fame and money you stand to make is affected. We didn’t get to see this for ourselves, but it sounds like it will make for a very varied experience.
This is obviously something of a gamble. It isn’t the first time someone has tried to add RPG elements to a sports game; previous attempts were not well recieved. I’m all for it, but I don’t really play sports games; I can see how adding RPG to a racing game makes about as much sense as a mini game where Sub Zero has to purchase groceries in order to pull off a Babality**. Sports gamers typically want to get the hell to playing. My guess is that if the RPG element isn’t something you can skip through, it’s going to cause a lot of complaining.
2) The racing looks fantastic.
Formula One 2010 is, first and foremost, a racing game. The player will compete through several seasons as they rise from rookie to celeb (or not!). We’ll take their word on the RPG elements but we can report firsthand that game physics were great, play was easy, and graphics were mind-blowing.
The camera control allows you to switch between several POVs, from inside the cockpit, to an entirely external, 3rd person view, to a RIGHT UP CLOSE FPS style view. All of them looked great. Someone in the room actually thought to ask about the frame rate – given the rich textures and visceral high speed feel, they guessed 60 FPS but apparently the game runs at 30. If so, it’s one hell of a good 30. Case in point: We were repeatedly informed that the goal was to create a series of races with environments that generally reflect real world conditions, particularly in the way weather affects the track.
In real life, a engthy period of rain-free weather causes a build of of grit in the form of pulverized asphalt, oil residue and tire fragments, which means a rougher track with a lot of grip. Rain washes that off and returns the track to a state closer to fresh pavement. It also causes residual oil to float above the track, which means a slippery, more dangerous race. The demo we saw took place on a rainy track. Water droplets cascaded onto the screen and collected randomly, much as you’d expect to see when driving your own car. The tires showed signs of genuine interaction with the environment, slowing, locking, even visibly spinning at different rates as you drove over wet patches.
We were also told that the dev team spent a lot of time talking to real racers about the experience of driving F1, and the thing they took away is that the while racing is FAST, it’s not light speed. A lot of racing games show passing scenery as a barely perceptible blur. Codemasters’ team said the racers told them they often have enough time to notice something happening in the audience, or to make note of the actions of other drivers during even the fastest races. I’ll never be able to verify if it’s actually true in real life, but the game as demo’d and played captured that idea – you felt like you were going fast but the scenery remained somewhat sensible at most speeds.
3) Easy handling, control.
I got to play for about 5 minutes, and it was limited strictly to a single, demo only course. The game is in final completion stages, and certain aspects (game physics, graphics) aren’t finished. For instance, no spectators. Even so, it was a blast. Dumbed down for the demo sure, but fun and easy. I wiped out thrice but to the developer’s credit, when I did, I could feel why it happened. If the final product is any indication, it’s going to do a lot to help newbies like me and old hands alike to improve.
I’m not entirely sold. While FI 2010 will support online multiplayer for up to 12 players, there are currently no plans for DLC. They’re also not planning to support modding (though they admitted it is “inevitable”, and should it prove popular support may be provided down the line). These aren’t suicidal decisions of course; if they weren’t shining us on, then they avoided those features in the interest of making the best game possible. But they might alienate the people most likely to play their game. F1:2010 isn’t out until September and they’re still putting the finishing touches on it. However, if it lives up to their hype, who cares if you can’t trash talk 12 year olds on XBL. I won’t.
Formula One: 2010 will be out 09/24/2010 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
*They kept mentioning a lot of F1 racers whose names I have never heard. I have been informed they are quite famous. Any European readers might wish to chastise or educate me about the stars of the sport.
** H/T Greg Saunders