F1 2011 producer Dean Scott talks about striving for realism, shifts in focus, and Vita-exclusive features

What got cut, what stayed in, and what's been improved

F1 2011 producer Dean Scott talks about striving for realism, shifts in focus, and Vita-exclusive features
| F1 2011

F1 2011 is heading to the Vita as a launch title, hoping to replicate the same success on the portable track as the home console versions that took to the grid to critical acclaim last September.

We sat down with producer Dean Scott to talk about the title's differing approach to the high-speed, high-precision motorsport in contrast to the PlayStation 3 outing.

Pocket Gamer: Can you tell the readers of Pocket Gamer what they can expect from this outing?

Dean Scott: They can expect an authentic F1 experience in the palm of their hand. And come February 22nd, they have the glorious option to trade money they have earned, borrowed, or stolen for this experience: all the cars, drivers, tracks and action of a Formula 1 season faithfully recreated in handheld high definition.

In addition to the 19-race season, you can also race 2-4 friends online and play the Challenge modes that are unique to the handheld version.

What sort of challenges did you face in bringing the game to the Vita?

No game is easy to make - you're creating something unique every time. Making video games is hard enough when you know the platform, but Vita was the great unknown and that throws up a load of additional challenges.

Luckily for us, the power of the machine helped us mitigate a lot of problems: we were able to throw a lot of stuff at Vita and it worked off the bat. Working to hit a launch window also adds time pressure.

Sony, for its part, supported us brilliantly with development equipment and technical assistance. But, as with anything, you have a finite amount of time and manpower and you prioritise to get the absolute best out of that.

The initial gameplay videos were met with a lukewarm reception, with most of the criticism focused on the visuals. How far has this aspect of the game progressed?

The Vita screen is amazing, and the best place to experience the visuals of F1 2011 is actually on the Vita itself. It's authentic, it's pretty, and it's quick.

How much of that comes across in a YouTube video I'm not sure, but certainly whenever I've personally demonstrated the game to people they are very impressed.

The title is said to use the Vita's "unique capabilities". Can you explain a bit more about what those capabilities are and how they affect the gameplay?

The coolest thing about Vita is that it allows a home console-quality gaming experience in the palm of your hand. We've embraced that by producing a racing title that wouldn't be out of place on your lounge TV.

We also use touchscreen controls to select cameras, and use the rear touchpad for authentic 'paddle-style' manual gears. We also have online play.

I don't think anyone's that excited about the gyroscopes, are they? We don't use those.

Home console versions place a significant emphasis upon online competition: how has this translated to the Vita?

For us, for the first Vita iteration, the focus was on getting all the content in there. We have to a have a full season first and foremost.

After that, we've tried to add value with some multiplayer head to head racing on those world famous tracks. You can't race an entire season in multiplayer like on the PS3 version -we were more focused on making the single-player modes as fully featured as possible. So, it's fair to say our focus differs in that regard.

Have you spent time improving the Career mode and, if so, what features can be found exclusively on Vita?

We don't lift the Career structure wholesale from the PS3 version. We wanted something pared back and snappier for the handheld version. Players are still able to take part in a multi-season career, but the big screen 'live the life' elements from PS3 are missing. There are no paddock interviews in our game.

Instead, we have an entirely new game mode consisting of 60 one-off challenges. It's a well-worn cliché to talk about 'gaming on the go', but the reality is that for every person that wants to do a full distance race there's another who doesn't have two hours to spare.

Our challenges cater to players who want to dip in quickly and achieve something. A burst of arcade gameplay, weaving through gates or overtaking as many rivals as they can, stuff like that.

Have you had input from the drivers themselves? Is getting feedback from the stars important?

We retain the services of F1 test driver Anthony Davidson as handling consultant. His input is pivotal in getting the feel of driving an F1 car spot on. We take a few liberties with the Vita version, as the controls aren't quite as precise as having a force feedback wheel hooked up.

The most important thing is to make sure it plays well, but to also give the hardcore element the option of haring around Silverstone in the wet with no traction control.

Is covering a season that's finished your preferred way of working? Is there something about producing a title based on a completed tournament that appeals to you?

Reading between the lines slightly here, there are a number of reasons why the F1 2011 game wasn't released at the start of or during the 2011 season.

Formula 1, by its very nature, is a highly technical sport. Were Red Bull to discover that a front wing shaped like a badger gave it a second quicker per lap around Silverstone, the last people it'd want to know about it would be, well, anyone else.

The R&D work to make the car competitive goes right up to the first race of the season. Codemasters enjoys a fantastically close relationship with the teams, but some things are top, top secret.

As a consequence, we can only really finalise our cars and make sure they're accurate to the current season once it's about to get underway.

Does that level of accuracy matter? It absolutely does. We want to make an authentic F1 experience. Our fans demand it. Without it, we're just another open-wheel racing game.

You could point to FIFA managing to get out closer to the start of the football season than F1 manages, but players don't massively change appearance and attributes in the close season. At the start of next season, Luis Suárez will still be a striker.

We were always going to be ready with F1 Vita for the launch of the console. Sony decided when that would be, and for Europe it's February 2012. The Japanese version was released last year with the launch of the title over there.

Do we prefer it this way? We prefer to be accurate, certainly. If there was a way to have the best of both worlds, we'd take it. But we have to be THE authentic F1 experience.

Many thanks to Dean Scott for his time. F1 2011 for PlayStation Vita will be on sale from February 22nd.