Graeme Ankers, Game Director at Studio Liverpool, and Nick Burcombe, Designer at Studio Liverpool, talk about Formula One Championship Edition for the PS3.
Q: 2006 was Schumacher's final season and was seen by many as a defining moment in FORMULA ONE history. Taking FORMULA ONE onto PLAYSTATION 3 is a defining moment for the game's franchise - can you tell us how you've been able to use the power and advantages of PLAYSTATION 3 to enhance the FORMULA ONE experience?
Graeme Ankers: The power of PLAYSTATION 3 has really enabled us to fulfil our vision of the FORMULA ONE game. We utilised the new architecture to provide us with a brand new physics system that feeds into all parts of the gameplay, such as the handling and the full damage system.
When you race in a field of 22 cars in the rain, with car reflections on the track, the full damage on and see the amount of individual particles and effects generated, it really gives you some idea of what PLAYSTATION 3 is capable of. Especially when the whole package is running in High Definition.
Q: The 2006 season has been hailed as the return to FORMULA ONE glory with Alonso and Schumacher battling to the final race - how have you ensured that the gaming experience is as thrilling?
Nick Burcombe: The way the game is structured, no two races are ever the same. The way the AI drivers interact with each other is based on several personality traits that try to reflect their real world behaviours. Some drivers are more patient than others; some are more erratic than others. Some will make mistakes when under pressure whereas drivers like Alonso and Schumacher will rarely make a mistake even if you're pressuring them lap after lap.
The other thing that really works is the new 3-stage qualifying process as it often throws up very interesting grid line ups that make for interesting races. If someone like Alonso has a mechanical failure in Q1 or Q2, you can be guaranteed lots of excitement during the race as he starts to make his way through the field.
Q: The game has already received great comments on its stunning looks - can you tell us what the key ingredients were for creating such a realistic feel?
Graeme Ankers: The key ingredients are attention to detail when creating the geometry and the lighting. The most difficult thing to achieve in the context of a game is a natural look. I am proud that we achieved this with F1 Championship Edition, and it comes down to a lot of work balancing the colours and working on the lighting code to get it looking right.
We really strived towards recreating that race day ambience in different weather conditions and environments. Lighting gives you real contrast and drama in a scene and this really comes alive with F1 Championship Edition, especially when the weather changes and the skies darken and the lighting is starting to diffuse.
In the Time Trial sessions we set the lighting to dawn and here you can see the PLAYSTATION 3's RSX graphics chip in full swing as long shadows are drawn across the track and the rays filter through the trees when driving full tilt towards the sun.
Q: Did you have to film any additional footage of FORMULA ONE tracks, cars, and drivers to take the game onto PLAYSTATION 3?
Graeme Ankers: We have a great relationship with FOM (Formula One Management) and the F1 teams, and they provide us with all the latest information on an ongoing basis. With regards to PLAYSTATION 3, we were able to analyse and use the data much more effectively. The level of detail the track artists went to is incredible. For example, on the main grandstand in Malaysia they modelled the exact number of seats just as in the real world grandstand.
We also set up a booth in the pit lane at the Japanese and Bahrain GP's last year to capture 3D laser scans of all the F1 drivers' heads and shoulders to get their likeness just right in the PLAYSTATION 3 game.
Q: How much damage can really be done to the cars and how did you ensure the crashes were realistic?
Graeme Ankers: The damage system is very accurately modelled on real world damage in F1. Each car in the game is modelled and built of the same sections as its real world counterpart. We get details from the F1 teams of each car and meticulously build the game models from this. We then run all the car models into the physics simulator and apply all the real world forces that an F1 car faces against them.
We studied a lot of footage from races that involve collisions and recreated that realistically in the game. The damage model is a multi stage one, so taking a slight knock to the front nose cone will cause that part to loosen at first but a heavy impact will mean the full nose and wing will break off and a visit to the pits is required for repairs.
The power of PLAYSTATION 3 enables us to give each detached piece its own physical property that continues to react with the track and other cars. So for example, if a car in front of you looses its wing and you drive into it, it will break into smaller pieces and potentially damage your car. It's a great system and it gives us some incredible and exciting results.
Q: Can you tell us more about how you've integrated the new controller into the game?
Nick Burcombe: We've spent quite a bit of time with the SIXAXIS controller and we've included an option to steer using the motion sensor. It takes a little while to get used to, but I think once people have mastered it they'll be putting in fast lap times because it's easier to steer smoothly and do the smaller adjustments.
Q: Did artists, programmers and designers have to work differently for the PLAYSTATION 3 version of the game due to the new range of technical possibilities offered by the system itself?
Graeme Ankers: Yes, we had to rethink our approach for the development of F1 Championship Edition for PLAYSTATION 3 across all disciplines involved. The Artists had to build all the tracks and environments from scratch as well as the car models, so everything you see in the game is bespoke to PLAYSTATION 3.
To give you an idea of the additional detail we could go to, we compared the memory requirement of the Monaco track on PS2 to the memory requirement of the same track on PLAYSTATION 3. The PS2 came in at 8 Megabytes and the PLAYSTATION 3 track came in at ten times that at 80 Megabytes. All 22 cars on the PS2 fit into 5 Megabytes of memory, whereas on PLAYSTATION 3, 1 car alone takes up 5 Megabytes of memory. That gives you some idea of how much more detail we can go to on PLAYSTATION 3.
The Programmers developed a game architecture to get the most out of the PLAYSTATION 3's performance potential and this meant we have developed new dynamics, physics and AI systems.
All this extra power and attention to detail then influenced the design of the game. For example, the new physics system meant we could accurately map the shape of the F1 car in terms of collision data which gave us features like interlocking wheels. This means you can now lock wheels with an AI car when coming into a corner and provides a new level of playing the game.
All these new features that came from advances in the technology needed to be balanced by the game design team. I'm very proud of the results we achieved across the entire team in 14 months.
Q: From a sound point of view, how does F1CE compare to previous iterations?
Nick Burcombe: Compared with previous versions of F1, F1 Championship Edition has a brand new and incredibly complex sound engine that fully utilises the parallel processing capabilities of the Cell processor.
The car engine sounds are generated from multiple layers of granular synthesized sound that respond to various aspects of car telemetry such as throttle, speed, RPM, current gear and gear changes, and traction control. The engine sounds also reflect depending on whether you are positioned inside a car or external to a car.
All the tracks are fitted out with reflectors and occlusion that bounces sound off buildings, grandstands and other obstacles in a physically realistic manner, resulting in a subtle but realistic ambience - the reflections are accurately filtered, Doppler shifted, time delayed, and reverbed.
The occlusion helps to give solidity of visible obstacles - if other cars are passing nearby, but on the other side of a building, they will now sound like they are on the other side of the building, as they will be accurately filtered and muted. Other cars moving relative to the player also have a very accurate Doppler shift applied to the sound - this is particularly noticeable when watching replays.
The sound is of a much higher fidelity than the previous version too, due the PLAYSTATION 3's ability to render uncompressed 5.1 surround audio at 48 KHz. We have also coded a variety of high quality DSP effects such as reverb, distortion, and compression to further enhance the quality of the sound.
This applies to the engines, and also the other sound effect such as rumble strips, gravel, collisions, and crowds. Crowd sounds are now positioned in 3D to match the visible locations, and as you speed past them you hear the Doppler shift of the cheering and air horns which enhance the feeling of speed even further. Various other ambiences such as rain are also now rendered in surround sound to give a more spatial feel.
The complexity of the sound rendering engine for 22 cars, coupled with each engine reflecting off (and being occluded by) many obstacles is extremely computationally expensive. It would be impossible on previous versions of F1, but the PLAYSTATION 3 has really brought the sound to life and if you've got a 5.1 surround speaker package you'll get the full effect.
Q: Has the AI been improved compared to F106 on PS2 and PSP?
Graeme Ankers: Yes, there is a whole behaviour system linked into the AI that we call Live Action Racing that we developed further for PLAYSTATION 3. This is a system of pressures and risk that the AI calculates depending on its position, situation and how much pressure it is under.
AI cars will make mistakes under pressure, or to try and avoid an accident and the player can either capitalise on this by overtaking or get caught up in it and collide. This basically gives you a very life-like racing experience where you never have the same grand prix race twice. If you then throw strategy, engine blow outs, pit stops and collisions into the mix you're getting the best racing experience possible.
Q: Can you explain the game's online capabilities for the PAL version?
Nick Burcombe: The European release features 2 network multiplayer modes - LAN and ONLINE. In LAN (Local Area Network) mode you can physically connect up to 8 PLAYSTATION 3s. That can include AI cars too so that anyone joining the party late can just hop into an AI car and get on with the race. It's a nicer solution to having to wait in a lobby for a race to finish which could be up to 20 laps. The ONLINE mode has a full field of 22 cars on track with a maximum of 11 human opponents and 11 AI cars.
Both ONLINE and LAN feature fuel usage, tyre wear, damage and pitstops. The pitstops can make a fantastic difference to your race too. If you're too quick or too slow with the button sequence the time just ebbs away and you can easily lose places. You have to keep calm but still be very quick if you want to gain an advantage.
Another nice feature is that even if you've got AI racing with you - they can't interfere with your race. With collisions switched on there is only contact between 'players', not AI. I like this because it's nice to blame a real person if you get knocked off the track rather than shout pointlessly at the machine, but it still means that if you crank the AI difficulty up you're really having to race hard for the points.
Q: How did you develop the Pit Crew Commentary Feature? Did you work with anyone from the FORMULA ONE industry to ensure all comments were realistic and timely?
Nick Burcombe: The commentary system has had a complete overhaul from previous versions of the game. We've spent quite a lot of time listening to the TV coverage and getting a feel for the types of things they talk about. In longer races, say a 20 or 30% scaled race, you get a chance to really hear the developing situation throughout the race as drivers try to take advantage of pit stops and the ever changing situations throughout the race. On top of this, you get useful reminders from your pit crew about your performance and pit stop strategies.
Q: What features have been added to make the game even more accessible to non-racing gamers?
Graeme Ankers: This is an area we put a lot of work into to make sure any player at any level can play the game and compete regardless of their knowledge of F1 or other racing or driving games.
We developed a full complement of driving assists that are all switched ON by default. New players of F1 Championship Edition will get assistance with things like steering and braking, as well as seeing a virtual racing line and corner indicators to help them round the tracks.
They still have control of the car but these assists will kick in when they need it most. As a player becomes more experienced, they will start to turn these assists off from the pause menu and get the full F1 driving feeling we're so proud of.
Q: What local commentators have been recruited to run the voice-overs in game?
Nick Burcombe: For the English speaking commentary we have James Allen from the ITV coverage on UK TV and F1 racing legend Martin Brundle who is also part of the ITV broadcast team. They've been very good to work with and they've really contributed to the feel and atmosphere of a full race weekend.
Q: Where did the idea of F1 TV come from and how does it work?
Nick Burcombe: F1TV is very simple. We have given the player the opportunity to create any grid order they like and then watch as the race develops. Some people may want to set up the grid the same as the 2006 season and see how thing work out - some people want to see how high Schumacher can climb from 22nd place on the grid. With F1TV you can set it up any way you want and then let it go.