With three days left until F1™ 2017’s release day, we thought we’d sit down with the man behind ‘Jeff’, Experienced Games Designer Luke Stephenson, to talk about the creation of your race engineer, Championship mode, and the classic cars of F1 2017.
How long have you worked at Codemasters, and how did you get into the gaming industry?
I’ve worked here around 6 years now. I graduated a Game Design course at the University of Bolton in 2010, and then joined Codemasters as a QA technician in 2011, which was my first industry job.
What game(s) have you worked on, and what are you working on at the moment?
The first game I worked on in QA was DiRT 3, and my first design role was on GRID: Autosport as a car handling designer. I would go on to work briefly on DiRT: Rally in the same capacity, before moving onto game design partway through F1 2015. Then of course I worked on F1 2016, and now F1 2017.
As a Games Designer on F1 2017, what elements of the game are you responsible for?
The most visible elements would be the game’s VO script and looking after the Safety Car systems! I’m also responsible for the new Championships mode, Classic Invitational Events and certain aspects of the career mode. As a former F1 league racer and a fan of sim racing in general, I’ll often look at the on track experience to see what areas we can improve on, and mechanics like manual race starts and manual pit lane entry were born from that process.
So, we hear you’re the man behind Jeff – tell us a bit more about how he was formed, and how you decided on his ‘character’.
Ah, the legend himself.
When I came onto the team during F1 2015, there was already some discussion about recording a new race engineer in order to help give the game a fresh identity on the new generation of consoles. The improvements to our physics engine meant we knew we were going to have a much more realistic F1 game than we had had before in terms of the driving experience, so we wanted the new engineer to have a calm but authorative sound, very much in the mould of someone like Jock Clear or Pete Bonnington, who was Lewis Hamilton’s race engineer at the time. We listened to a bunch of auditions before eventually settling on Adam Rhys Dee who, by a complete coincidence, had previously been the voice of our race engineer in F1 2010!
So we had the tone, but just having a new voice wasn’t enough. I wanted this new engineer to have more of his own character, so I gave him a name and started writing more expressive lines for him. A lot of the time these come from very small touches; for example during practice sessions there is a lot less pressure so he’ll speak in a more relaxed manner. He might open with a cheerful “Okie dokie,” before going into the details. In other places it’s more overt; he’ll ask “Are you all right?” if you have a heavy crash, or sass you a little for your “creative interpretation of track limits” when you get a penalty for corner cutting.
Some people love him, some people… don’t love him so much. But for me, the most important thing was not to make a character than everyone loved, but to create a character that everyone had an opinion about. At the end of the day, whether you love him or hate him, most people refer to him as ‘Jeff’ rather than ‘The Race Engineer,’ so he’s working as he should!
And are you the man who decides what triggers Jeff getting on the radio with his advice?
Yes. We made a big jump from F1 2015 to F1 2016 in terms of engineer logic as we had a big refactor of the systems behind it. To go into how it works a little: essentially, speech triggers are called at various points throughout the game; ‘Crossing a sector line’ or ‘every 5 seconds’ or ‘On collision’ would be a few examples. The system then looks through all the messages it might want to play, and evaluates a number of conditions to figure out if we actually do want to play anything.
The actual logic for any given message is much more complicated than this of course, and we also take into account variables like how many times we’ve played this message this session, how much time has elapsed since the last play and so on. One of the cool features we added in F1 2016 were zones where new messages couldn’t be triggered in normal circumstances. This greatly reduced the lines that would be played while you were in the middle of a corner, something which has been the bane of many a racing driver over the years.
How has Jeff evolved for F1 2017?
First and foremost, we have all the new lines required for the new features in the game such as power unit component wear, reliability issues and the new Practice Programmes. I also wanted to rewrite some of the existing lines that maybe weren’t quite doing their job properly; lines that are too long for the information they’re trying to get across for example. Beyond that, Jeff should now interfere with the driving experience less. For F1 2017 the audio team have reworked the radio effects so that Jeff can clearly be heard without compromising other sounds, which makes him far less intrusive.
F1 2017’s also re-introduced Classics. How will players be able to get into these historic vehicles?
Well, you can jump into a classic car of your choice in Grand Prix or Time Trial as you would expect, but we’ve also worked to integrate classic cars into the other major game modes, specifically career and the new Championships. In career, you’ll be periodically invited to take part in special classic events which are shorter experiences than a career weekend, and they allow you to experience different styles of gameplay. One example would be multi-class races, where two classes of classic car share the same circuit, but are each racing within their class, and another would be checkpoint challenge, where you must pass through checkpoints to gain bonus time as you try to cover as much distance as possible. These events aren’t compulsory, and you’ll always have a choice of which you participate in, but they’re good ways of taking a breather from the normal career flow.
Classic content also features prominently in the new Championships mode, which allows the player to experience Formula One in new ways while still maintaining the long term interest of a championship battle. What if you had two races in a weekend? What if Brazil was the first race? What if there were reverse grids, or points for qualifying? We have a collection of championships that allows players to experience these ‘what if’ questions – some using the modern 2017 cars, and some using the classic cars.
And of, course, classics will also be available to race in online multiplayer, and we have the option to participate in Spec races when using classic cars, where all players compete with the same car. It’s a good way of ensuring an even playing field within a very diverse range of cars when it comes to performance.
What are you most excited for the community to see in F1 2017?
I’d say it’s a tossup between the classics and the expanded career mode… I think the improvements being made to the R&D system in career are very exciting and should really improve both the depth and longevity in order to make it a big step up from last year.
You can follow Luke on Twitter at @Britpoint1. We’re very excited to start playing Championship mode, and if you are too, there’s still time to pre-order F1 2017 to get it in time for release day! You can pre-order F1 2017 here: