With the release of F1 Manager 2022 today, and last week for digital pre-orders, it marks an important moment in the history of Cambridge-based Frontier Developments – its first motorsport-derived title in 27 years of video game development.
Based within an industrial estate entitled the ‘Science Park’, Frontier is located within an imposing building that features an equally intimidating reception area shrouded in security and NDAs.
This home to smash hits RollerCoaster Tycoon, Elite Dangerous, Planet Zoo and Jurassic World Evolution.
But, on the face of it, these have little to do with the high-speed, high-stakes, world of Formula 1.
“At Frontier, we’ve built a reputation for developing deep management and simulation experiences,” explains Andrew Fletcher, F1 Manger 2022’s Game Director.
“F1 is a sport which thrives on depth and detail, and it offers us a lot of opportunities to visually present that data in a way which both die-hard fans and newcomers to the sport will hopefully enjoy.
“We’ve got several F1 fans throughout the company, including myself and a huge number of the team working on the game, so for us, it’s been a bit of a ‘pinch yourself’ moment.”
The resource management of balancing incomings with outgoings is where the real parallels between Frontiers’ latest effort and back catalogue are most clear. A key component that will ultimately decide your fate, be that in Planet Coaster or F1 Manager, juggling your team’s ability to appease sponsors, pay wages and simultaneously invest in car development is pivotal.
In order to make this balance seem authentic, the creative team first gathered vast swathes of statistics.
“For the driver ratings, we’ve used real world data from various sessions to inform each of the nine performance values, to ensure we’re replicating the sport closely,” said Fletcher.
“Part of the challenge is in separating the performance of the driver from the performance of the car, which we’ve also considered. So, for example, with the ‘cornering’ performance rating, we looked at historical qualifying laps and specifically the drivers’ performance in the most corner-heavy sectors.
“In addition to other relevant data, such as how often drivers exceeded track limits during flying laps, we used these sector times to understand who can successfully carry more speed through the turns.”
When you first play F1 Manager 2022, it’s the attention to detail that really strikes a chord. Historical stats for red flags and weather are used for each track to provide them with a true-to-life character while evolving information is used to calculate relative pace throughout a season’s development processes.
“The designing and developing parts system was developed closely with the motorsport team at F1 to ensure we were as true to the sport as possible, while still providing the necessary flexibility from a game design perspective so it’s approachable for all players.”
However, one thing that I found particularly impressive was the title’s 3D-modelled recreation of the races.
You see, with a management platform, this isn’t strictly necessary. Some dots moving around a circuit map analogous to a driver tracker would suffice, and indeed if you ramp up a session to above four times the speed, that is what you see.
But below that each car is visible, they move around the track, overtake, defend and sit in drag reduction system trains. There are spins, crashes and retirements. There’s even a fully dynamic weather system and functional safety car.
Now, this clearly isn’t as slick as an out-and-out driving game, no question. But, for a management-focused release, it’s genre-defining.
“From the outset, we knew we wanted this to be a step up graphically from what people expect when it comes to management titles,” highlights Fletcher.
“The data and graphs are going to be exciting for die-hard fans of the sport, but the whole F1 experience is a visual feast that really hooks in fans.
“We knew if we wanted to create a ‘broadcast-style’ graphical experience it had to match what you see on the TV. To that end, when you’re in the race weekend, you can watch each session unfold from the trackside cameras or from a variety of onboard angles with any of the drivers,” said Fletcher.
Sound is also a critical component of the F1 Manager 2022 experience, with David Croft and Karun Chandhok on punditry duty and team-to-driver radio communications created after the team sifted through over 25,000 clips from previous races.
“The process itself is quite complex, as it’s not just a case of writing and recording,” recalls Senior Dialogue Designer, Robbie Mann.
“We also had to work with various teams to ensure we were getting all the recordings we needed to create a dynamic system which reacted to how the player was performing.
“Crofty and Karun were brought in once we’d penned the original scripts, and they brought their expertise to the table in shaping those scripts to fit their own voices.
“It was often an incredible knowledge-gathering exercise that served us incredibly well throughout the development cycle.
“At one point during our recording sessions, Crofty was hitting 1200+ words an hour, which is definitely the most I’ve ever seen!”
Now F1 Manager 2022 is available to anyone with a PC, PlayStation or Xbox and the reviews have been largely positive, the culmination of several years’ worth of research and development is now out in the wild.
But it doesn’t stop there.
“It’s definitely the start of a new franchise, and one that I think everyone at Frontier is excited to see continue to develop over the coming years,” said Fletcher.
“One of the most rewarding parts of our work is when we see players out there enjoying the game and creating their own stories.
“We can’t wait to see how they handle the pressure of the hot-seat, making those key split-second strategy calls and putting themselves to the test across multiple seasons.”