Game Developer Deep Dives are an ongoing series with the goal of shedding light on specific design, art, or technical features within a video game in order to show how seemingly simple, fundamental design decisions aren’t really that simple at all.
Earlier installments cover topics such as the memory-altering mechanics of adventure game RE:CALL, the appeal of distorting the nostalgic and familiar for the sake of terrifying your audience with Choo Choo Charles developer Gavin Eisenbeisz, and teaching the player to find the beat through environmental cues in Melatonin.
In this edition, developers Matt Dickinson and Tim Bartlett of Frontier Developments talk about how the synergy between the art and audio disciplines came together, along with a solid base of real-world data, to create an experience that is surprisingly faithful to the televised broadcast experience in F1 Manager 2022.
Hey! Art director Matt Dickinson and principal audio designer Tim Bartlett here from Frontier Developments, the UK development studio and publisher behind games such as Elite Dangerous, Planet Coaster, Jurassic World Evolution and now, the home of the F1 Manager series. For both of us, the opportunity to work with a brand like Formula 1 at the forefront of motorsport is the culmination of our own individual journeys through our respective art and audio disciplines. With any game, there’s always a deep synergy between what players can see and what they can hear, but with F1 Manager 2022 we had a clear vision to bring the TV broadcast experience to life, which has brought our individual disciplines even closer.
In F1 Manager 2022, our officially licensed Formula 1 management simulation, players take charge of an official F1 team, aiming to lead them to glory throughout the 2022 season and beyond. Taking the hot seat, their decisions and strategies will aim to maximize the potential of both their drivers and their machines, guiding them to the top step across all 22 of the 2022 circuits as they experience the unfolding action from a variety of trackside and on-board cameras. Off-track, they return to their headquarters to invest in their team’s development and start planning for long-term achievements by developing a future race-winning car or recruiting new talent from the F1, F2 or F3 paddock.
F1 is a huge visual and audio experience, whether you’re trackside or watching it on TV. How it looks and sounds is a key part of the sport’s DNA and it’s something that has changed and evolved throughout F1’s existence. Extending the TV broadcast-style experience in F1 Manager 2022 has included every team working on the project, but the result brings the sport to life in an entirely new way.
Central to the whole game are the cars themselves—each team’s car has unique characteristics, in the way they look, sound, and behave on track. It’s an area that, when making a management game, we had to approach in a different way to a racing game. If you think about a racing sim, the visuals and audio are really working from the player’s input, whereas in our game, everything is running within a simulation. Take something like a gear shift: in our game, that action isn’t a player-triggered event. When a driver shifts gears in our game, you're watching the animation of them pulling back on the shift paddle as you would during a real race, whereas in a racing sim, the player would be directly controlling the paddle themselves. So, we’re triggering the start of the shift before the point it’s needed so that the animation and audio sync up. You’ll also notice the steering wheel is displaying all the right engine outputs. There’s an entire engine simulation running on each car, which the audio and art can use to accurately replicate what the car is doing.
Running that as a simulation within a simulation is really a testament to the depth the gameplay and audio coders have gone to, to get those tiny details that transform the game from something that could be very data heavy and quite separate to the sport itself, to a level where your brain fully believes that the driver on your screen is driving the car.
Of course, each team has two drivers, so it was also key that players can identify their drivers both visually and audibly to create a connection with the sport. They are the stars of the show, after all. Not only are all 20 drivers represented in-game using high-fidelity facial scans, we also used real audio supplied from F1 of the drivers and their engineers talking via team radio, building a bespoke system that allows these voices to remain and interact as they would during a real race, even if the pairing of driver and engineer is changed.
The overall immersion is cemented by some of our only studio-recorded audio in-game: full commentary provided by Sky Sports F1 commentators David Croft and Karun Chandhok. They were a joy to work with, bringing the enthusiasm and depth that fans enjoy during a real race weekend. Details like these add extra touches of authenticity, amplifying the depth in which we’re able to use the F1 license.
One of our central aims for the game was to embrace F1’s data-driven approach, using their vast archives of content to add depth and realism to our own systems. Authenticity is paramount to creating a gameplay experience that expands on the presentation fans receive at every race weekend. The depth of data we’ve been provided by F1 and the teams themselves allowed us to bring the sport to life in an interactive way, which really adds weight to each decision the player makes.
Building Formula 1 Tracks
For example, when we started designing each circuit, we used F1’s own GPS surveys which are conducted during a race weekend. This gives us a CAD-like representation of the circuit in 3D, everything from where the curbs and barriers are to individual white lines on the track. This approach lets us take this data, add markup to show what it represents in the game, and apply the 3D assets we have built to them instantly.
We then layer this with multi-resolution satellite data around the tracks, with the highest resolution around the immediate circuit structures shot on demand by Airbus’s Pléiades satellites, which allowed us to ensure that individual details and the impressive vista backgrounds are replicated in-game. When designing both our art and audio systems in the game, we’ve adopted an approach that allows us more flexibility with future changes. For example, our art team has built a pipeline that allows us to plug and play this satellite data alongside F1’s in a few days to get a basic block out and work knowing everything is correctly positioned, which allows the team to allocate more time for the fine details.
Using F1 Broadcast Audio
Our audio processes in-game are also subject to an entirely bespoke system, which we created to bring the trackside camera angles that the art team recreated from broadcast footage supplied by F1. When the player is viewing the action from onboard, we use audio taken directly from actual onboard TV footage. This works in a fairly traditional manner, using the Crankcase REV middleware system to play the sounds back in-game, closely tied to the RPM and gear change behavior of the car.
However, our trackside engine audio is a completely different beast. What would normally happen here in most racing games is that we would attach REV sounds to the cars and use doppler, 3D positioning, and real-time effects like environmental reverb to produce our trackside sounds. However, before embarking down this route, we experimented with triggering real recorded pass-bys from TV footage for our cars going down straights, which of course sounded completely real, because they are real recordings. We assumed we would need to revert back to REV for corners and more complex parts of the track, but again, before implementing that, we experimented with pass-by recordings elsewhere, and discovered that with enough effort, it was actually possible to use recordings for virtually any situation, provided you authored enough different assets and had a clever system to play them back.
We’re incredibly lucky to have access to F1’s archives, so then it was a case of describing the situation that each recording was taken from, tagging it with as much info as possible, and then reapplying it into the game in similar situations. The audio files were tagged with information like manufacturer, driving behavior, the gears that the car is in at different points, and whether the car is at 'race' speed or slower (like safety car speeds). A crucial part of the system is the fact that all the audio files have markers to state where the sound passes by the camera/listener position. We are then, in real-time, lining up that marker with the point that the car passes the game camera, in order to make it feel in sync. This involves some complicated predictions and real-time adjustments, but the end result is an incredibly immersive audio experience that you can put side by side with the real thing.
In F1 Manager 2022, we’ve built a solid framework for future iterations of the franchise, and our teams continue to refine their skills and suggest new changes that we can explore to deepen that immersion even further for players.
The real eye-opener has been how much quicker it’s been to start with real-world source data. Often, in such a creative industry, there’s a desire to do everything yourselves. Using that source data, be it CAD/satellite photography or audio references, you can build a very solid base. There’s obviously a financial cost to this route and it does lock in some of the aspects you can control, but there’s a really large payoff in terms of progressing the quality much quicker so you can get to the point where spending time on the details really adds value.
The art team has been able to fast-forward past a lot of the setup and basic wrangling and jump straight into attacking the real body of the work. Whereas from an audio perspective, we used the existing resources available to us from wider media and approached an existing system in a completely new manner. Creating systems that allow us to dial things back in a non-intrusive way allows us to adapt quickly to future visual and audible changes to the sport and to focus on the quality and vision.
We’re immensely proud that we’ve delivered an immersive and authentic experience for fans of the sport. Bringing the broadcast to life has been an incredible experience both for ourselves and the wider team. Our focus now shifts to the future of the franchise, and how we can use these systems that we’ve lovingly built to create an even more exciting experience for players, focusing on the details which make the sport so special.