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‘F1 22’ comes to life with new cars and physics, and no porpoises

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This year marks a new era for Formula One, and its annual video game series is keeping pace.

Global motor sport introduced sweeping new regulations this season to promote more competitive racing, forcing teams to redesign their cars from scratch. Codemasters, the UK-based development team owned by Electronic Arts that has designed every year’s F1 video game since 2009, found itself in a similar boat, working feverishly over the past few months to reproduce those new changes in its latest version. installment, “F1 22”, due out for PC, PlayStation and Xbox consoles on July 1.

“It was a daunting task, that’s for sure,” said Lee Mather, senior creative director at Electronic Arts, in an interview with The Washington Post. “But whenever there are big changes like this, it’s also a lot of fun for us.”

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Mapping of new cars began as a kind of theoretical experiment. Under the 2022 regulations, the cars would have a variety of new features intended to promote more overtaking and closer racing, including over-the-wheel spoilers, a completely revamped front wing and nose, rolled tips on the rear wings and deep-profile tires. bass. .

Earlier in the year, the teams provided Codemasters with the physical dimensions, specifications and first renderings of their new cars, which the developers used as a starting point to generate initial 3D models. Then in February, Codemasters sent a team member to F1 pre-season testing in Barcelona to get a closer look at the cars and see them in action.

“We had a developer position on key parts of the circuit and we looked at how each car twisted around a corner, where each one starts to brake, when they hit the throttle again and how they handle,” said Mather.

The impact of the new regulations, he added, was obvious: this year’s cars are heavier, with a redesigned floor that generates significantly more downforce (which is exactly what it sounds like) to allow drivers to follow each other more closely. Because the car is lower to the ground, cutting corners and climbing curbs – essentially rumble strips – is much less forgiving. And the larger 18-inch Pirelli tires have affected the weight and cornering of the vehicles.

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Codemasters revamped and re-examined nearly every aspect of its physics engine, tweaking it until 3D models clocked lap times identical to their real-life counterparts. The development team regularly consulted with current F1 team bosses, drivers and F1 esports professionals, and have been poring over data from every race so far this season, including the Canadian Grand Prix at the end of the season. from last week, resulting in a video game that Mather believes will not only be accurate, but feels like a new experience for longtime fans.

“We have done a lot of work on many aspects: our aerodynamic models, the suspension, the physics update and the tire models,” he said. “So really, the experience on the track feels significantly different.”

While the game strives for precision, Mather and his team decided to exercise creative license on one important aspect of the new cars: “porpoise,” an unexpected design quirk in which fluctuating amounts of downforce cause some cars bounce aggressively down the straights. similar to how a porpoise rises and falls on the surface of the water. It has been a major storyline of the start of the F1 season and one of the reasons why defending Constructors’ champion Mercedes has struggled to contend for podium finishes.

Playing that into the game, Mather said, had a clear negative impact on the user experience.

“Here’s how I explain it to people: If you were to shake your computer monitor up and down, you wouldn’t be able to concentrate and you’d feel really sick,” he said. “That’s essentially what you get with the porpoise in the game. We also tried it in virtual reality and it was just as disturbing.”

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Formula One and the International Automobile Federation, the sport’s governing body, recently announced plans to modify the cars to eliminate the porpoise this season, so Mather is confident most fans won’t be too upset with the decision to Codemasters to exclude him from the game.

“Some people may ask for it, but it’s really a punishment for no reason,” he said.

In addition to the revamped physics, Codemasters also set out to make “F1 22” its most accessible game yet, with plenty of features to make it playable for even the most casual Formula One fan. In addition to the player assists seen in previous entries (steering and braking, for example), “F1 22” features adaptive AI, where the game’s difficulty will fluctuate mid-race based on the player’s performance to ensure they remain competitive from start to finish.

“’Drive to Survive’ has appealed to a whole new audience,” Mather said, referring to the Netflix series on Formula One that helped fuel the sport’s recent rise in popularity. “Some new fans have no experience with racing games at all, so adaptive AI gives the game great appeal and allows players to choose how they want to play it.”

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Other new features include: “Pirelli Hot Laps”, where you can drive supercars around the track (an increasingly popular part of every Grand Prix weekend); cross-platform multiplayer, which Mather says will be added after launch; and an accurate reproduction of this year’s new track, the Miami International Speedway, which was designed around the city’s Hard Rock Stadium.

Having worked on F1 video games for over 13 years, Mather is convinced that “F1 22” is the most accurate and compelling entry yet. He attributes this in part to the seriousness with which F1 teams take esports and video games. All F1 teams now participate in the Formula One Esports Series, which has grown substantially since the pandemic, and drivers such as McLaren’s Lando Norris have made esports and live streaming on Twitch a major part of their schedules. careers.

“I never thought we’d be in a position to talk to bosses, drivers and engineers about what we do,” Mather said. “But all of your ideas have been phenomenal and really helped push this series forward.”

Gregory Leporati is a freelance writer and photographer who covers esports, technology and motorsports. His recent work has appeared in GQ, the Los Angeles Times, Pitchfork and Ars Technica. Follow him on Twitter @leporparty.

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