Racing simulations aren't exactly common on Nintendo's family friendly Wii. There's no Nintendo equivalent of Forza or Gran Turismo on the motion control console, with EA's Need for Speed ProStreet probably being the closest Wii owners could get - and that's not a comparison that's going to end well for the EA racer. Codemasters and UK developer Sumo Digital are about to give Wii owners a proper racing sim in the shape of F1 2009, the officially licensed game of the 2009 season that finished last weekend. We caught up with Ned Waterhouse, lead designer on F1 2009 at Sumo Digital, to find out why hardcore fans shouldn't write off the Wii game.
VideoGamer.com: If you've got a Wii and an Xbox 360 or a PS3, why should they get this version now rather than wait for F1 2010?
Ned Waterhouse: This game is as faithful to Formula 1 as it possibly could be. It's got all the cars, the tracks have all been approved by the FIA. We've put a lot of focus into recreating all the circuits exactly as they should be. The grand prix race weekend setup is all available in the game, so if you're a real F1 enthusiast you can do your Friday practice, get your right tyre set-up, change your suspension stiffness, sort out your gear ratios and get feedback from your race engineer. You can then do the three sessions of qualifying, earn your grid position and then, if you so wish, you can set up your pit stop strategies and, if you're really dedicated, adjust your race length to be 100 per cent. You can race the 72 laps of Interlagos if you want to in real time. All that depth is there for real F1 buffs.
It was something that was important for us. We didn't want to compromise in terms of realism and how we recreated the sport. If you enable the option for fuel use and tyre wear you will have to use both hard and soft types of tyre compound during the race and you will have to set your pit stop strategy accordingly. If you forget to come in for your pit you will have to conserve fuel because you might not make it round for the next one. That depth is there if F1 fans want it. We haven't made any compromises in producing the game because it was for the Wii. This is a game for F1 fans that offers the tactical depth and subtlety that you'd expect from an F1 game.
That said, we've also been conscious to make it accessible for players who don't necessarily want to spend hours tweaking their vehicle set-ups and so on. It was a fine line to walk. We're conscious of the Wii demographic. It needs to be an accessible game. If you want to jump straight in and do three laps against Jenson Button around Monaco then you should be able to do that without working out the format for qualifying or whether you need more oversteer or understeer for this track. So throughout the design process it was a case of identifying the important options which should be visible all of the time and then maybe tucking away some of the more advanced features so as not to overwhelm new players or players who are new to F1. But if players who want that depth of simulation want to go looking for it, all those options are there and they will find a real tactical advantage to using them.
VideoGamer.com: What was your approach to car handling?
NW: Driving a Formula 1 car is really f***ing difficult. That's why not many people do it. What we did from the ground up was create a handling model we felt represented an F1 car. Then we layered the driving aids on top of that. You have, effectively, stability control and anti-skid controls and so on. If the player wants the real in-depth experience of driving an F1 car they can turn off all the aids. They can do it part way through a race if they like to see how it feels. There is a technique to it. It is difficult. You don't get the amounts of down force on slow corners, so the back end will step out and you've got to be careful not to doughnut the car. Also with that you get more wear on the tyres. If you're spinning the wheels the tyres will wear quicker, although it's a technique. If you want to get your tyres to optimum temperature you can lay down rubber on the track and get them up to the heat they need to be, although it would be at the expense of them degrading quicker. Players can make their own assessment of their relative skill level. As they feel they're advancing with the game they can slowly disable these until they find the handling model that's at the right pitch for their skill level.
VideoGamer.com: Will the aids enable players to keep their finger on the accelerate button and turn the car?
NW: Yeah. If you turn all the driving aids on you will be able to race Interlagos with the best of them.
VideoGamer.com: Given the Wii's a family-friendly console, were you tempted to do an arcadey OutRun-style version of F1?
NW: We talked a lot at the start about what the core vision of the project should be, particularly in looking at the Wii, because it doesn't have a lot of hardcore racing titles. But our feeling is that it should. There is no reason why a serious racing game can't succeed on the platform.
VideoGamer.com: There are a lot of hardcore F1 fans who aren't hardcore gamers and own the Wii, right?
NW: Yes. We spoke about whether we should be doing things like mini-games in the pit stops and so on. We thought that would dilute the gameplay. This is a game about driving cars really fast and conveying that sense of what it's like to be an F1 driver, what it's like to hurtle into a corner at 200 miles an hour. Rather than do things like mini-games in the pit stops where you tinker with your car or whatever, we wanted to get across the agitation an F1 driver must feel when they're sat there waiting for that lollypop to flick over. So you will sit there and wait for your tyres to be changed and your fuel to be put in, and then you're just itching to get back out on the track. That's something we were conscious of.
That said, we also identified what we thought was an important thing for the Wii platform: split-screen gaming. Being able to play next to your mate, put him off and have a laugh together in the same place. We felt for the Wii platform in particular it would be a good feature to have.