Codemasters is a company which can be proud of works that are known all around the globe – it’s the birthplace of some of the most interesting motorsport video games. Lee Mather, Senior Games Designer at Codemasters, gives us five tips on how to create an outstanding Formula 1 game.
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A massive amount of effort goes into reproducing the circuits as accurately as possible. We start by taking CAD data from both FOM and the circuits themselves. In the cases of the new circuits, this is often made available to us months before the circuit plan is unveiled to the public. The CAD data is then cross-referenced with the latest map data available to us from various online mapping companies, or on-site photography of new tracks still being built. This allows us to produce an incredibly accurate track ribbon and off-track areas which mirror the camber and elevation changes of the real-life circuit.
While physically accurate, this still falls a long way short of the level of detail we want to achieve; we want to cover every last detail, right down to drain positions at Monaco or small bumps which only a driver could know about. To achieve this we annually have images taken at each circuit. A photographer takes a 360-degree shot every 10 metres, covering areas both on and off the track. Particular attention is paid to specific areas such as surface profiles and textures. The final stage to the track polish is the footage from the race weekend for anything which may have changed; banner placement, sponsor boards, track or barrier repairs or minor track surface changes where a local repair may have been carried out.
The weighting of the gun and wheels are important to get the motion perfect. Using a fake prop item wouldn’t provide us with the level of accuracy we require.
One area we’re very lucky to be able to take advantage of is feedback from the drivers. During the course of the development we have drivers from both Formula 1 and other Formulas drive our circuits. This really helps us to confirm we’ve not missed even the slightest detail, right down to a slightly different rain gully or noticeable change in a barrier near a braking zone, for example.
Since acquiring the Formula 1 license, we’ve formed strong relationships with all of the teams. This gives us a good head start when building cars each year. As with the tracks, the process begins with CAD data, this time supplied by the teams themselves. Models are built from this data in such a way as to work efficiently within the game engine. Often the data we receive is for the car which is seen in pre-season testing. For this reason, we also look at reference and updated CAD data for the cars from the first race of the season, where obvious visual aerodynamic changes are often present. In order to allow us to accurately represent each team’s livery and sponsor logos in the game, the teams supply us with detailed high-resolution images of the cars, concentrating on the smallest of details. Once the cars are built and skinned there’s usually a little back-and-forth between us and the teams to ensure that logo placement is 100% correct.
The starting point for the handling actually comes to us pretty much for free from the car team. As the cars are modelled with authentic track and wheelbase dimensions, the physics system in the game uses this information. This instantly makes each car unique. From here we collate as much information as possible about each individual car, starting out with that which is available online or in reference material, as well as in the technical regulations set by the FIA. From here we speak to the teams, either picking up information anecdotally or through telemetry data taken during test, practice or qualifying sessions. Just speaking to the teams often yields information you wouldn’t otherwise have exposure to. Once we have the cars up and running we start to look at any specific traits, strengths or weaknesses which are emerging over the season. This can be in anything from power delivery characteristics of the engine, chassis balance, aero balance, tyre wear or temperature management etc. Once we’re happy with the feel and performance of all of the cars, we move on to setting up the tyre data, which covers the grip profiles for different compounds, wear rates, temperature behaviour, residue pickup and behaviours in different weather conditions.
Capturing high-quality audio from a current Formula 1 car is actually one of the biggest challenges we face. Other than race weekends, there are very limited opportunities to attach recording equipment to the cars. Thankfully, we have access to cars during the pre-season test and in-season tests. The pressure on the audio team at these events is immense. Working with the teams to find places to attach microphones and recording equipment is a real challenge due to not only space limitations, but also the extreme temperatures and forces generated by the cars. Because of the limited amount of running Formula 1 cars do when not at a race weekend it’s imperative that the team captures as much high-quality audio as possible, whilst not impacting on the programmes which the teams are also carrying out. Luckily, because of our relationship with the teams, we’re often able to get them to perform a series of programmes at our request. This allows the audio team to capture a wide range of data from the car under multiple scenarios. This gives us the best possible data from which to build the different engine types and effects for the game.
Motion capture plays a much bigger part in the creation of a Formula 1 game than most people would expect. With pit stops being a major part of the sport we set out to make them as realistic as possible to the player. In order to achieve this we once again call upon the teams for their assistance. To ensure we have exactly the right movement, pacing and general posturing correct, we capture the crew in their full kit. Helmets and suits are worn, and genuine wheel guns and tyres are used. The weighting of the gun and wheels are important to get the motion perfect. Using a fake prop item wouldn’t provide us with the level of accuracy we require.
On top of this, any other character movement within the game is also motion captured. Through various titles over the years, we’ve had media staff in the paddock, driver and team celebrations, crew working on the car in the garage and the driver stepping in and out of the car to name a few. All of these areas have been motion captured for maximum accuracy.
Finally, and another area which was very grateful to both the teams and drivers is in the driver models themselves. We’re granted access to each driver to allow us to take full 360-degree images of them to allow us to generate incredibly precise facial representations of the drivers in-game.