Interview with Codemasters’ Steve Hood and Andy Gray

Formula One has seen a different perspective flourish recently with the famous name of Codemasters winning the rights to develop the games and subsequently making what is widely considered to be the best racing gaming series ever developed. Steve Hood, the creative director for Codemasters’ F1 series and Andy Gray, the communication manager at Codemasters kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about all things F1, real life and simulated.

Stephen Hood

1. Starting off with a question about the season, what are your thoughts on the season and who were you backing for the Championship?

Steve:  Towards the end of the season I actually wanted Alonso to win the title. I’m English so I always prefer to see the underdog emerge victorious! Besides, I feel ready to see Ferrari win again. From the off though I was backing Schumacher (long-shot!) and Button (50/50).

Andy: Last season already feels like an age ago for me but it was certainly entertaining. Having seven different winners in seven races helped to open the season up and added to the unpredictability that we all love. Austin was a great success for the sport and showed that F1 does have a home in the USA which can only be a good thing for the future. Personally I am a Hamilton fan so it was an up and down season from that perspective. Technical issues hampered what could have been a very good season for him. Next season will be interesting though. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the top step once or twice but I doubt he’ll be a title contender in 2013. I hope I’m wrong.

2. Onto the games now; Codies won the rights to the games in 2008 and launched F1 2010 as its first game. What prompted you to develop the game so much between 2009 and 2010, and in particular, the graphics?

Steve: The 2009 game was developed by Sumo Digital specifically for the Wii and PSP. At the same time we were developing F1 2010 for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. We were pretty much starting from scratch so needed a two-year development cycle. They were two completely different games from two different studios. F1 2010, 2011 and 2012 have all been developed at Codemasters Birmingham. Graphically we’re getting the maximum out of the consoles now and keep learning how to do thing smarter.

3. F1 Race Stars was recently launched to much praise. What inspired you to make a game like it? Was it a chance to reach a new market or was it a glimpse of the child in you, wanting to do something outside the box? 

Andy: Race Stars is something that the company has been thinking about for a while. Split screen kart racing is always great fun. We were pleasantly surprised about how open Formula One Management and the teams were to the concept. It attracts a different, younger audience than the simulation game and also gives parents the chance to sit down and have a race against their kids.

4. You were the subject of much abuse from gamers when this years game was launched, with your decision to remove a scaled tire wear being dubbed ‘tire-gate’. Is it a deterrent from making the game for you, or do you see it as the dark side to the job? 

Steve: The feedback is not a deterrent from making the game but when it crosses the line to become abuse it is not acceptable. At times we have to make judgement calls about what we think is the best way forward and unfortunately you can rarely please all the people all the time. We have a very vocal community with strong opinions on the game, which is great because we are always looking to improve in everything we do. We don’t need to open ourselves to communication with the community so it’s possible to eliminate the so-called ‘darker’ side of the job but I personally think it important to allow people as much direct access as possible. It’s only a very small minority that casts a shadow over this interaction. You can’t please all the people all the time and the biggest problem is you can’t always make people aware of why a decision was made.

With specific reference to removing tyre scaling,  a lot of people had made their mind up that it was a terrible idea before they knew the reasons for its removal or had indeed tried the game without scaling. Once we explained these reasons many people accepted what we were trying to do. However, like I said earlier you can’t please everyone. I use the community to colour my judgement calls but not to determine them.

5. A question for Andy now, what exactly does your job involve?

Andy: I look after the worldwide PR for Codemasters’ Formula One games. This means that I control when and how we communicate what is in the game to the press and, in turn, gamers. In the UK we implement this strategy ourselves, along with the help of our PR agency, while abroad this is handled by our partners and other agencies.

This encompasses things such as preview and review, interviews with the development team, events such as E3 and Gamescom and videos etc… I also try to be active on Twitter so that I can talk directly to the people who are playing our games.

Andy Gray

6. If you could add one thing to the games, even if it was completely unrealistic, what would it be?

Andy: I’d like to see live updates to the grid over a Grand Prix weekend. When I was growing up I used to spend hour re-arranging the grid to reflect the results of qualifying so that I could run the race myself at home before the real thing. It’s something that FIFA does incredibly well with Match Day. I often find myself sat down replying the last game that Spurs played or playing upcoming fixtures. For me FIFA is the daddy when it comes to sports games.

7. If you could change one thing about Formula One, what would it be, and why?

Steve: I’d like to see greater scope for engine variation. I loved it when V8’s were up against V10’s and V12’s… pro’s and con’s. That’s something I think plays out very well and is in fact something set to appear in future games.

Andy: Hmmm great question. I’d like to see talented young drivers get more opportunity to be in the car. At the moment the odd reserve driver gets a Friday Practice Session and there is the Young Driver Test but I don’t think they get enough time to prove what they can do.

8. Where would you like to see the games in five years? 

Steve: Being recognised as not only the greatest F1 games ever made but as defining a new set of standards for authentic racers.

Andy: I’m incredibly proud of what we have achieved since we signed the F1 license. I can still remember the amazing reactions we got when we first showed F1 2010 to people. It was such a massive step forwards. Codemasters, and most importantly the studio in Birmingham, has proven that F1 is far from dead as a gaming franchise. The success of the games speaks volumes for that.

The key thing for us is to keep improving the game year on year. Hopefully we are getting close to reaching our goal of making the best F1 game of all time. As for where I hope they are in five years… I hope F1 games continue to be a success because that means that more and more people are getting interested in a great sport.

I’d like to thank both Steve Hood and Andy Gray for taking the time to answer my questions and Andy for organising the interview. 

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