Video games have become big business in many areas of the world. Getting a license to a famous sport, company, or something similar can provide mega bucks not only for the developer of the game who have the rights to their license, but for the actual people the game involves just as much. The FIFA, Madden, NHL and other franchises that EA sports create year after year do an incredible job for them, creating millions, possibly billions, for Electronic Arts. what I plan to discuss here though, to no real surprise, is the evolution of Formula 1 within the games world. F1 games have a fantastic history ranging back to the more simple days of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) right up to the modern, high tech world of the Playstation 3. Studying the past few years, the official series of Formula 1 games has been absent from the grip of our hands via the medium of game controllers. This is all soon to change however, with the announcement last year of Codemasters’ purchasing the rights to create formula one videogames for the world to enjoy, and furthermore this year just a few weeks ago revealing that the Nintendo Wii and Sony PSP consoles will be the first to enjoy the world of F1 once more, with the more gamer-orientated Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 having to wait till the 2010 season. Nevertheless, this was great news for all concerned – Formula 1 was back in our consoles.
So who are these saviours’, these Codemasters people that have our beloved sport in their studios being miraculously recreated for us to immerse ourselves in and enjoy? I’ll try my best to bring you up to speed on why I’m very excited for Codemasters to have the license and why we should all be extremely excited for their games. Codies go way back in the world of gaming; away from the world of motorsport their heritage with games runs extremely rich in the veins of history for the evolution of gaming. Some of their more famous installments of games can be seen with Dizzy and the immensely brilliant Micro machines, a series of games I grew up in love with on the Megadrive and Playstation – seeing Micro Machines 2 brought into the HD generation with online play and a spangly crisp HD makeover may just send me into a ball of excitement! – but even away from that scene, Operation Flashpoint, Prisoner of War, Brian Lara Cricket, picking up the much loved Sensible Soccer and re-releasing a HD version for the Xbox 360 generation, Overlord, GRID, TOCA, Colin McRae, Music, I could go on and on… the similar fashion in all these games is that they have a huge fandom about them, and a much loved respect for each and every game produced or developed by Codemasters because every time you know you’re getting a good game. Unless it’s Leisure Suit Larry which… I’m unsure why Codemasters decided to make that. Google it for yourself…
So what about Formula 1 2009, what can we expect? Let’s just step back a second and take a brief look at the evolution of Formula 1 in consoles over the generations. I’ll be honest, I first started playing the F1 games on the Playstation, what with myself being very much in the Playstation age of youth, but I do have brief memories of playing Nigel Mansell’s game on the NES, Top Gear 2, Super Monaco GP 2 and even the immense Super Hang-On back in the days of the Megadrive despite not being an F1 game, but still! Along the life cycle of original Playstation, we saw several installments published from the team at Psygnosis (now known as Sony Liverpool, more on that later) and developed by the masterminds of Bizarre Creations (who went on to make Project Gotham), with Formula 1 97 being a massive standout from this writer’s point of view as arguably the best F1 game to be seen on any kind of console (excluding PC) but of course, all down to personal preference. This was followed up by the largely forgettable F1 98, developed by the largely forgettable Visual Sciences – some copies had Trulli in the Prost on the cover too. Bad times. But moving on, the series grew through the expansion of Psygnosis into Sony Liverpool, seeing new studios setup to work on future installments with Studio 99 developing a far more improved but still only average F1 99, as well as the original Playstation version of F1 2001. Of course, as we all know technology seems to fly by within a few years, and by 2001, Formula 1 was finding it’s feet on the Playstation 2. Concerning the PS2, Sony Liverpool themselves kept themselves dedicated to the development of the games, and from 2001 onwards in the Playstation 2 life of the series, only Sony L. made the games rather than sending it to a third party to develop it. This was no problem – the Playstation 2 series stays fantastic and were a great recreation of the sport, albeit it in the years of Schumacher domination. Along with the questioning of stagnation in real life due to Ferrari domination, there were questions of where the series was going as nothing new was really being added to the series year by year, and by 2006, Sony Liverpool had dropped a license they’d held for so many years.
F1 has never been a Playstation exclusive though, I simply give you this tale as Sony had the license for so long and were undoubtedly the main source of Formula 1 games. for example, look at Geoff Crammond - a video game designer very much has stayed true to his love of motor racing and Formula 1 over his career in videogames, created the much loved Grand Prix series for the PC. Sadly, the last Grand Prix game we saw was with the fantastic Grand Prix 4, back in 2002, although the game is still very much played and updated via the modifications and updates created by fans worldwide and can be found on the internet. Staying with the PC, it would be totally unjust to not mention rFactor, officially described as a racing simulator for those that want any kind of 4 wheel motor racing. The support and community this open source game has is absolutely incredible, and is arguably the best thing you will get at the moment if you want Formula 1 in a game. This being said, whilst Crammond and Sony managed to hold the license, for a brief few years Electronic Arts brought out a series of fantastic alternatives to the Sony series in Formula 1 2001 and Formula 1 Career Challenge, which actually still stands as one of my personal favourite F1 games due to the fact you had to create an F1 career over a series of years rather than a single season you see in most career modes within F1 games. That, and a sensational presentation style and general completeness to the games won me over so much, and when EA dropped the license once more, a general sense of disappointment definitely was felt from my point of view, despite the much criticised approach of yearly releases EA and their EA Sports division general seem to receive.
Over the years other formats have seen other big and small Formula 1 games created – Grand Prix Manager on the PC say F1 going in a strategy direction where you become a team manager and the F1 world ran alongside your decisions and roles as a team boss, and was quite a refreshing way to approach Formula 1 I felt, something I would love to see again. Going back a decade to the fantastic F1 World Grand prix on the Nintendo 64 as well as installments on handhelds such as the Game Boy Advance, and even small independent games like New Star Grand Prix that was released just weeks ago, there is a rich history of Formula 1 to discover and enjoy in your own hands, and one I can totally recommend looking up to all fans. The most recent official Formula 1 game though was the F1 Championship Edition seen on the Playstation 3, obviously developed by Sony, and if you do have a PS3 I'd at least look at downloading the demo for it as it really does show just how much times have changed graphically. Just a breathtaking thing to witness, no matter how frustratingly bad the commentary is even just for a demo (James Allen was never a great commentator but F1:CE did not help his cause!)
So, Codemasters. I do get such a rich sense of confidence whenever I think to myself that Codies are in charge of a new generation of Formula 1 games. We’re at a stage now in technology where realism is such a paramount factor of creating a game, and the F1 fans have let their voice known so much to the developers that they want a realistic racer – one thing that Codemasters themselves have more than happily picked up upon. Some of their more recent motorsport games – GRID, Colin McRae’s DiRT – have been utterly sensational games that have serious pushed the boundaries of how beautiful a game can look, but admittedly have not been the most realistic of games. Of course, there is such a big gap in audiences here when considering; these games were very much directed to an audience of gamers who want casual action, mixing a bowl of realism with a jug or arcade silliness, and in Codemaster’s fairness, it has worked because these games became hugely successful, and more importantly from my point of view, hugely popular. The team have more than enough resources, experience and dedication to motor racing to create a brilliant Formula 1 game, and I for one am truly looking forward to seeing what they can produce. It’s just a shame we won’t find out the true extents of their power in the elite consoles (PS3 and the Xbox 360) until 2010 really!