Senior Creative Director at Electronic Arts, Lee Mather, is a busy person. The launch of the F1 2021 game that he’s been leading is just weeks away and it’s significant in two crucial ways.
The first game developed by Codemasters to be released under EA’s stewardship and the first time the Birmingham-based team will release across two console generations simultaneously. Not content with a steady yearly update, the latest official game of Formula 1 will also launch with a long list of new features, changes, tweaks and additions.
“It’s the same very year, that feeling of excitement,” explains Lee, the F1 game veteran.
“I always want to see how the previews go, the review scores and how the fans receive the game.”
Of the new features, there is the headline-grabbing Braking Point story that sees the return of F1 2019 antagonist Devon Butler, “I can’t wait to see how people react to it,” a new online two-player co-op career option, “something we’ve wanted to have in the series for some time,” and seven iconic drivers within My Team for those who buy the digital Deluxe Edition, “something I’m absolutely over the moon about.”
But, having gone hands-on with a vertical slice of the game earlier this month, and what resonated with me the most was how the racing unfolded on track.
On the handful of circuits available in the preview build, I was impressed by the way the cars reacted to kerbs. The sensation of running over the red and white striped corrugations around turn six of the Baku City Circuit, for example, was significantly different to F1 2020.
“We’ve got a team of physics guys who are always looking at ways to improve, and each year they’ll pick some of the areas that I think that we can do more with. David Greco, our lead handling expert, has got some great ideas that he wants to improve on as well.
“It’s funny you mentioned that because that’s how they’ve remodelled the bump stops. You are more likely to hit the bump stops [over a kerb]. So that’s the new suspension model at work.
“There are also changes to the tyre model as well. So, it’s now pushed a little bit closer to reality again. You’ll find the car feels nimbler and a little bit edgier. We’ve worked together on making sure that that’s catchable, but the amount of time you’ll lose is obviously significant.”
Another element that will strike the more astute F1 players will be the revised sound. Around street circuits, it reverberates off the surrounding walls and introduces what I thought was either turbo whistle or hybrid whine.
“Again, you’ve, you’ve identified something quite interesting there,” highlights Lee, who has been working on the series since 2008, then building up to the release of F1 2010.
“The whine that you mentioned is the transmission generating a lot more noise than previous years.
“Obviously with Covid-19, we’ve not been able to record cars this year. Every year we [usually] get out to the pre-season tests, strap mics on the cars and capture the audio. Thankfully we’ve got years and years of audio now and the changes [in the real world] this year have been probably in the exhaust more than anything. The engines haven’t changed.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has, as Lee points out, affected elements of game development, but what about another of the new features, Real Season Start? This allows players to jump into a season with the points table and AI performances aligned with the current real-world F1 season.
We spoke on the run-up to two back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring, one of which was not originally scheduled to happen. It’s also been announced that three tracks – Imola, Algarve International and the Jeddah Street Circuit – will be added via an update post-release and just after we chatted, the Intercity Istanbul Park was re-added back into the upcoming real-life F1 season.
“Any [calendar] changes work for us. We always look at ways that we can make those changes.
“Real Season Start will give us the opportunity to actually insert more races into the calendar. So, we’re looking at potentially doing that post-launch. For example, if they insert a race that we don’t have a circuit for, we can still add the results. If you join [a season] after that race, you’ll still have those results present.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure we get all of those bases covered as effectively as possible and Real Season Start really helps with that.”
Alongside the new features, one notable absentee during the pre-launch hype has been classic cars, a staple of the F1 games since the 2013 release.
“The classics are taking a break this year. I think really, what we’ve spoken about so far gives an idea of why the classics aren’t in there because of the vast scale of what we’ve done on the rest of the game.
“Our focus this year was transitioning to next-gen platforms, Breaking Point and two-player career. And then as you say, many of the other embellishments and improvements that we’ve made to the game. Sometimes, you have to make those hard decisions.”
I certainly won’t bemoan the lack of the historic rides too much – provided Braking Point lives up to its heady billing.
For more on F1 2021, such as cross-generational online gameplay, R&D improvements and yearly game development planning, you can listen to the latest episode of the Traxion.GG podcast and the full interview with Lee Mather.