TiX Talks – Interview with Codemasters F1 2017 Creative Director – Lee Mather

F1 2017 from Codemasters is due for release on 25th August 2017. At the launch event last week in London, TiX was lucky enough to interview the franchise’s Creative Director, Lee Mather.

TiX – So Lee, all of us at TiX have day jobs to pay the mortgage, and we run TiX in our free time. If making the F1 2107 game was your hobby, what would your day job be?

Lee Mather – I would love my day job to be a racing driver! When I was at school my only considerations were that I wanted to do something with computers or something with cars. When I left school at 16, I did a very short stint training as a mechanic. I also did a very short stint looking after IT in a garage so I could tick both boxes!  Then I went straight into Q&A for Elite Systems testing video games, and one of the very first games I worked on was a racing game for the SNES called Dirt Racer, which was my introduction to the industry and straight away it was cars and computers combined! So obviously at this point I would still love to go off and be a racing driver because it’s just the best thing in the world ever!

TiX – So at this point in time F1 2017 is finished, are you already thinking about F1 2018 and where do you start? What’s the process you go through at this point when you’ve put so much effort into the current game?

LM – We started thinking about F1 2018 2 years ago! We’ve always got a plan for the future as you would never put a bunch of new features in one year without a roadmap for the way you want to take them. Even a brand new IP would always have a future plan for where any features will go, because you wouldn’t want to do a pile of work and then have to throw it all away in the next game. Even if its a game that never makes it past it’s very first iteration and there’s only ever one version of it released. you’ve always got a plan thats far further reaching than just one game. Also you can’t expect to get funding for a massive project without an idea of where you can go in the future.

TiX – What input from game features do you get from F1? I assume you have a very close relationship with them.

LM – We go to them with what we think would make a compelling experience. We meet up and present it, then we get feedback and then we’ll take it from there, We have built such great confidence since we started working with them in 2008. We’ve got a great relationship they know how we work and they understand how the game comes about and what’s required. There is a lot of trust between us.

TiX – Have you ever pitched something to them that they’ve refused?

LM – There’s always things that are restricted that are unrealistic in the F1 world but a good example of things that we’ve been allowed to do over the years is F1 Race Stars. Who would have thought years ago that we would have been able to make a cartoon racing game based on F1, with caricatures of the cars and drivers! That was brilliant and just goes to show you how open everyone is to new ideas.

TiX – The UK has got a really great track record of developing brilliant racing games. Which ones have inspired you and which ones have scared you?

LM – I can take inspiration from all racing games as I play a lot of them! I l played Gran Turismo to death and was a huge fan of it in the early PS1 days. Then when we moved on to the 360 generation I really started to gel with Forza and I played a lot of that! I also enjoyed Project Cars and Forza Horizon and people were saying “I can’t believe you play a lot of Forza Horizon because you like F1!” I respond by saying sometimes I want to kick back, put my feet up, listen to the awesome soundtrack and drive around the countryside. And then I’ll go and play Formula 1 for an hour! I love a mixture of all racing games. Codemasters have also just released Micro Machines and I’ll play that in the evening if I don’t feel like anything too intense. There’s such a wide range of racing games out there and the rest of this year is going to be insane.

TiX – Forza Horizon 7 is upcoming and obviously it’s going to be released on the Xbox One X.  How is F1 2017 progressing on the X?

We have already been demo’ing the Xbox One X version of the game. We ran it for the first time in public at E3 and what we’ve been able to achieve is awesome! We’ve made quite a significant improvement across the board for rendering on all of the platforms. Xbox One is already running 1080p 60 fps where it wasn’t full 1080p last year. There’s also HDR support on Xbox One S, Xbox One X, PS4 and PS4 Pro. We’ve also got checkerboard 4K on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, along with improved quality of the visuals. So there’s a better quality to things like shadows, mirrors and reflections. We have really been able to capitalise on the increase in performance and get closer to a PC experience on console.

TiX – Codemasters recently acquired Evolution Studios. What’s the status with that team, because obviously they did Driveclub? Have they been brought into your F1 dev team or are they working on something new that you’re probably not going to tell me about?

LM – They have an entirely new IP.

TiX – When are we going to hear about that?

LM – I’d be surprised if it was this year! I suspect it’ll be sometime in the new year maybe, They’ve got a project and it’s all looking good.

TiX – Moving on to talk about you. In your opinion what’s the best game ever made?

LM – You know what? I can actually categorically give you one!  Maybe it’s rose tinted spectacles and it’s also probably a game I’ll never go back and play again, just in case I taint it!  But it’s Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the N64. It was perfect. It was pure and it was innocent. The gameplay was simple, there were none of the complex mechanics present that have been brought into games in recent years. It was just pure.

TiX – The first game I’ve ever played that opened my eyes to video games was Paperboy on the ZX Spectrum and we’re probably going back 35 years! Which game first opened your eyes to how videogames are special, and made you think that’s what I want to do?

LM – That’s a tough one! When I was younger I had a ColecoVision and it had games such as the perfect arcade conversion of Donkey Kong, but nothing in that area ever grabbed me and made me think “That’s what I want to do”. There were however a lot of games from the Amiga era and I would probably say Batman was really important to me. I could play it almost blindfolded so that was a really special game. I also remember F17 Interceptor which came with the console. I used to play Pinball Dreams competitively with my dad and that was always fun, but probably the biggest influence for me was The Secret of Monkey Island. I just thought it was fantastic. Everything about it was brilliant, especially the characters and the story. Then when Monkey Island 2 came out it was off the scale! So that, oh, and obviously Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix!

TiX – One of the most impressive places I’ve ever been in my day job was actually the Williams F1 headquarters on work expenses and visiting the museum there. Where’s the most impressive place you’ve ever visited on Codemasters expenses?

I’m not sure about a place, but experience wise there’s been quite a few! But I always go back to SPA (F1 Grand Prix) in 2010, filming with Lewis Hamilton in the hospitality at McLaren. That’s the one that still stands out to me because it was the first one and it was such a big thing when we first got the rights to the game. So that was something special!

TiX – If you wished you’d made any game which game would that be?

LM – Recently it’s probably Forza Horizon! There’s just something special about that game, it’s a good balance between serious driving and fun.

TiX – Is there an established IP that’s out there in the market that you’ve had an idea for, or you think you could improve?

I’d love to answer that but it’s a Codemasters game! So, if I gave you an idea of what it would be it would obviously give someone else my idea that I don’t want them to have!

TiX – Finally, what are you currently playing, when you’re not playing F1 2017?

LM – On the train on the way down today I was playing Sonic, but I had a bit of a gaming drought after Zelda because how do you top it? Then I couldn’t decide what to play so I slipped back into Black Ops 3 online which led me to the campaign on Modern Warfare 2 Remastered on veteran. After that I was craving more of that kind of game, so at the weekend I started the five hour trial of Ghost Recon Wildlands and bought it when I was only four hours in because I was enjoying it so much! I also dipped into Forza Motorsport 6 because I felt like playing some of the Porsche content. So, I do really play a wide range of games!

Many thanks to Lee for taking the time to speak to TiX, given his incredibly busy schedule in promoting F1 2017 ahead of its launch on August 25th. Keep watching TiX for the full review coming later this week!

For more information on the game you can watch the TiX video of the first 15 minutes of the career mode below.

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