by Stephen Hood, Creative Director, Codemasters F1 2012 game
What makes Maldonado, Maldonado? Why is Alonso able to get more out of a car than his current team-mate? Who wouldn’t like to better understand how Button treats his control inputs with such finesse?
Many of us have these discussions pre and post race when talking to friends, family and enthusiasts alike but here at Codemasters, developer of the official Formula One game, we take it to another level. We have to try and isolate characteristics, recognise how drivers think, how they treat their cars and what it is that differentiates one driver from another, let alone team-mates in identical machinery. If you’ve ever played a video game you’ll likely have come up against some form of computer opponent. These opponents use their pre-programmed intelligence to counter your supposedly higher form of intelligence.
A cleverly designed and programmed opponent can make you feel as though you are challenging another person. You lose yourself in the moment, you think and feel as if you are fending off a hard-charging Maldonado, outsmarting Schumacher on the approach to Eau Rouge or having to avoid Grosjean into La Source. Okay, that’s a little unfair on Grosjean, one of the bright lights of this 2012 season. His early season promise led to a fellow developer betting he’d finish the year ahead of his more illustrious team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. I bet on Raikkonen, and thus far he’s ahead, if only just. Funnily enough, he’s also ahead in the virtual season I’m playing here at home on my PlayStation so we must be doing something right.
Is he able to maintain speed into and around a corner? Is he able to get on the power early post-apex in order to maximise his exit onto the next straight? Does he work well at particular circuits, does he go for a gap no matter how small and can he find grip in poor conditions when others struggle? These are very high-level considerations but go some way to explaining the kind of detail we assess when developing the key strengths, and weaknesses, of each driver competing in the current season. Specific characteristics always bubble to the surface but we have to drill down into the detail in order to develop the complete makeup of each driver. We have to simulate many of the aspects found within modern Formula One simulators, the kind Alonso gets to practice on ahead of a Grand Prix weekend. But we also simulate many, many areas likely not even considered. In terms of strategy I wonder how many teams factor in the drivers they are likely to be battling against at various stages of a race?
Formula One is quite different from most racing games, not least because the AI (Artificial Intelligence) drivers have to be incredibly consistent, lap after lap, in order make the most of their given machinery let alone overachieve and stand brightly amongst other highly competitive and capable drivers. We want the player to close down the driver ahead by a tenth or two over several laps, all the while thinking about what it’ll take to pass that specific driver should the opportunity arise. If you watch Formula One, if you read about it, you’ll have an opinion on each of the drivers and we want you to use that to your advantage. If you’re new to the sport we want you to recognise traits on track, in our game, and then speak aloud to friends, family and enthusiasts about the veritable advantages of Raikkonen over Grosjean. You’ll likely be the voice of experience, seeing as you’ll have raced wheel-to-wheel against both around the new Circuit of the Americas long before the real race has taken place and how many people can claim to have done that?