Interviews// F1 2009: Sumo Digital's Ned Waterhouse

Posted 18 Nov 2009 17:04 by
It’s been a long time since gamers last had a taste of Formula 1 goodness. With Sony once the proud holders of the racing license - until 2006’s F1 game, of course - Codemasters is now tasked with providing an authentic racing experience. With a large range of driving games under its belt from TOCA to Colin McCrae, Codies is about the most qualified publisher to pick up the mantle after Sony.

With a new F1 game heading to the HD consoles in 2010, attention turns to 2009’s season, with Sumo Digital taking care of an edition for Wii and PSP owners. SPOnG sat down with Lead Designer Ned Waterhouse to chat about the studio’s own expertise in the racing genre, how much pressure is involved with handling the F1 license and the desire to make the game appeal to both core gamers but casual arcade racing fans too.

SPOnG: Ned Waterhouse, thank you for joining me today. Could you let our readers know a little bit about your background in the games industry?

Ned Waterhouse: I started off as a games tester at Sega, working on titles such as Rome: Total War, Football Manager and recently OutRun. I was lucky enough to transfer from Sega to Sumo Digital to work as a tester, and then the studio gave me a chance to try my hand at some design. I worked on Driver ’76 for the PSP and International Track and Field for the Nintendo DS most recently.

That was all before I started my tenure on Formula 1 2009, which we’ve just finished. I was the Lead Designer on this project, so it was my responsibility to essentially make the game fun. That involved initial planning of all the features that we wanted to have in the game, how the AI would behave, what collisions happen and what tuning options we have on the cars. Once we have all these systems in place, I then help refine the gameplay until it feels enjoyable to play.


SPOnG: With much detail on car tuning and things, what sort of research did you guys undertake to make F1 2009 a quality experience?

Ned Waterhouse: We had to do extensive research. With this project, we had to know the Formula 1 rules inside out. We didn’t want to compromise on the realism of the game. So although it’s a game for the Nintendo Wii and PSP, we wanted it to be very accessible, but allow enough core customisation for those players that are real petrol-heads. If you’re that way inclined, you can go in and alter the ride height or suspension, and you’ll notice the difference. You can find a benefit in optimising the experience in that way.


SPOnG: Do you think the recent popularity of games such as Forza and Gran Turismo has inspired that level of immersion and deep customisation that gamers now expect from certain driving games? Did you take many cues from these games for F1 2009?

Ned Waterhouse: Tweaking and customisation has always been a feature that’s been prominent in Formula 1 games. For many years these games have been about simulations and accurately representing the sport. Which is what we’ve also done, but we’ve hidden away some of that stuff, so it’s there if you want to find it, but if you just want to get out there and race then you can go ahead and do that straight away without being intimidated by option menus.


SPOnG: You mentioned earlier that this game uses the EGO engine that also powers other Codemasters games like Race Driver: GRID. How have you guys tweaked or modified that engine to better suit a Formula 1 experience?

Ned Waterhouse: The fundamentals of the game work on the EGO physics system, but we’ve created our own renderer and graphics functionality in conjunction with it, and we’ve been in touch with Codemasters regularly to ensure that we’re treating the engine properly. It also helps us immensely, because Codemasters obviously have a huge amount of experience in driving games, and so we were able to draw on their expertise to help fine-tune the EGO engine to our needs.

They didn’t just help in the initial development either, when we were refining the handling model and the physics for example, the company was able to provide us with feedback. The comments are quite useful, they’ll say things like “you’re not oversteering enough here; the car should be braking harder into this corner there.” I feel we’ve really benefitted from the relationship we’ve had with Codemasters.


SPOnG: This is the first F1 game that has been released for a few years now, and certainly the first in a long time to launch on multiple platforms. Sony used to have the Formula 1 license, with their last game being in 2006. Was there any pressure at all to live up to what Sony had achieved in the past, on top of providing an authentic experience?

Ned Waterhouse: With Sony’s 2006 game, the feature set is superb. You can do your four-race weekend, your 72 laps on Interlagos and so on. What we wanted to do is take all the great stuff that Sony had done with the license but also make it accessible for the Wii audience. As I said before, you have a situation where we’ve got all of those options in the game and not compromised there at all, but some of it’s under the hood and you’ve got to look for it if needs be so that players who aren’t petrol-heads can get enjoyment from the game as well.
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