Codemasters’ F1 Race Stars: Powered Up Edition finally zoomed on to the Wii U eShop this week in Europe and North America; its marketing promises fast and fun arcade racing on the Wii U, with four-player split-screen racing. Formula One fans may get a kick out of seeing stars such as Lewis Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel make an appearance as cartoon heroes in the game, though its delayed arrival on the platform has meant that the roster is out of date.
It certainly looks like it might make a fun family racing experience for the Wii U, at least to tide us over until Mario Kart 8 dominates every waking moment of our lives later this year. Keen to learn more ahead of our review, we've caught up with Codemasters’ Gavin Cooper, the Chief Game Designer on F1 Race Stars: Powered Up Edition.
Nintendo Life: First up, can you tell us about the origins of this title and its kart-style approach?
Gavin Cooper: The goal, more than anything else, was to create an F1 game that everybody could enjoy. Loads of us in the studio are F1 fans, but previously the only real F1 games you could play were very realistic, very much for the hardcore fans. We wanted to be able to play with that F1 scene – the locations, the characters – alongside our friends and families. Share some of the stuff that’s fun and cool about F1 with people who may not be up for a racing simulation.
NL: This was previously planned as a retail release but is now an eShop-only title at a lower price - what prompted that decision?
GC: It’s just the way things worked out in the end. We’re just happy that we can bring the F1 Race Stars experience to Wii U gamers and at a great price.
For the Wii U version of F1 Race Stars, we decided to focus our efforts on providing the best possible local multiplayer experience we could.
NL: Can you outline the differences of the Powered Up Edition when compared to the previous iterations?
GC: The ‘Powered Up Edition’ contains all of the tracks (China, India, Canada and Europe) and novelty upgrades that were released on the other platforms as DLC. And because we’ve pulled all that into the game as standard, we’ve been able to go back and incorporate it into the Career mode as well.
NL: Can you clarify whether online multiplayer or leaderboards are available in the Wii U version?
GC: For the Wii U version of F1 Race Stars, we decided to focus our efforts on providing the best possible local multiplayer experience we could and squeezing in all the additional content that was previously only available as DLC. We think there’s a ton of content for gamers to enjoy even without the online mode.
NL: What modes are on offer in this title?
GC: The game is best enjoyed in local splitscreen multiplayer, which supports up to four players and gives players all the control they need to decide how they want to play. There’s also a single player “Play” mode that gives you a similar level of control when playing on your own. On top of those modes, the game also has a Career mode that lets players compete against the famous F1 faces in a series of exciting cups! Each of those modes will pit you against other drivers in a variety of different race types, including Classic, Slalom, Elimination, Pole Position, Refuel, Sector Snatch, Trophy Chase, and Exhibition. So there’s plenty of variety on offer!
NL: There are clearly plenty of power-ups on offer. Can you explain some of these and perhaps pick a favourite?
GC: Sure! Some power-ups are offensive, like the red Homing Bubble that tracks an opponent and then envelops them, slowing them down briefly. Others are defensive, like the Balloons that you can drop behind you – any opponents that hit them will make the balloons pop, covering their screen with confetti! Some power-ups can be used in different ways, like the blue Trap Bubble: it can be dropped behind you as a hazard for unwary drivers, or thrown forwards a short distance as an offensive tactic.
Many of the power-ups play on fun F1 themes, like the Boost, DRS or Wet Weather power-ups.
But my favourite is definitely the Bottle Rocket! Created to evoke the classic, frothy podium celebration, this power-up turns the player’s car and driver pop into a bottle rocket that propels itself around the track at ludicrous speed, knocking all the other drivers out of the way and damaging them. The bottle’s auto-piloted, so it’s great to trigger it just before you get to a tricky section of track!
The handling itself is very different to other karting games – there’s a real skill to be mastered.
NL: Do the mechanics have ‘hidden depth’ for experienced players, for example track shortcuts, drifting mechanics and so-on?
GC: Absolutely! A big part of making the game fun for everyone meant making it fun for people the 100th time they play it, not just the first time.
The handling itself is very different to other karting games – there’s a real skill to be mastered. Corners in the game are marked with KERS pads, and whilst on these the player will charge up their KERS meter. When a section of the meter is full, they can release the accelerator and then press it again to activate and start charging the next section. Each section of the KERS meter they fill means a bigger boost when they exit the corner, but managing the meter as well as their speed through the corner is a fun balancing act to try and master!
The power-ups reward the player for learning how to use them skilfully, too. Not just how they work and the little tricks you can do with them, but also the best places in certain tracks to use them. Learning the tracks will give players an edge, and yes – they all contain shortcuts to be discovered!
Finally the damage system – where players take damage when hit by power-ups or hazards – gives experienced players real options in terms of balancing risk vs. reward. If you’re damaged do you take the pits and get repaired, but at the cost of maybe losing your position in the pack? Or ride it out, but at the risk of your car getting fully damaged?
Did I mention the slipstreaming? Or the jump boosts?
NL: Can you tell us about the track design? How did you go about constructing hybrids of real tracks with fantastical elements?
GC: It was a really fun process for our level designers! We started out by looking at the real world circuits and figuring out what we could take: famous sections of track or famous corners, recognisable landmarks, the style of racing (for example, is the real track about long, sweeping bends, or is it long straights and hairpins?).
Then we’d take a step back from the track itself and look at the country setting – F1 is a real globe-trotting sport, so getting across the feel of all those different locations was really important to us. We’d take the character of that country and layer it in to all the stuff we got from the circuit, and then use all of it to build a track from the ground up that fitted the F1 Race Stars look and feel.
A big part of that were the fantastical elements, but we were really careful with those. We didn’t want to go too magical. F1 is a real world sport, with a big emphasis on engineering. As much as possible, we wanted to work with ideas that felt like things people could actually build. A giant animatronic scrap metal dinosaur is definitely on the list of things we’d like to see in the next F1 season!
F1 is a real globe-trotting sport, so getting across the feel of all those different locations was really important to us.
NL: How is the GamePad used in this game? Does it include off-TV?
GC: Absolutely. Single player, you can choose to play either on the TV or on the GamePad. If they play on the TV then the GamePad acts as an enhanced HUD, showing a race map and extra race info.
But splitscreen is where it shines, letting you use the GamePad as a separate display. So in a 2-player game, for example, one person can have the TV and one person can have the pad (so no need to split the screen). Or in a 3-player game, one person has the pad and the TV only needs to provide a 2-way split, so the players have bigger, easier to see screens.
NL: What are the alternative control schemes, and how many can play at once?
GC: The game supports analog stick (if available), D-pad and tilt controls (if available). Wii U GamePad, Classic Controller, Pro Controller and Wiimote all work with the game, so getting enough controllers together for a multiplayer game should be easy!
NL: Can you outline the design process that led to the cartoon-style visuals for real-life drivers?
GC: We took the fact that; a) the drivers are heroes and b) the brightly coloured racing car designs are incredible, we then used these as influences when we started drawing the drivers. We tried many different ideas; the plan was that even if you didn’t know anything about Formula One, when you saw these characters you’d still want to play with them. We struck upon a style which had a toy-like appeal with the confidence of a hero from a CGI blockbuster family movie, which also had a sleek, racing car like determination to the sculpting. The result is charming, it was a joy showing them to the F1 teams and seeing their delight!
NL: How would the team describe the process of porting the game to Wii U? Has it been a relatively simple or complex process?
GC: Making games is never a straight forward process, but our programmers didn’t look too frazzled at the end! The trickier bit has been designing around all of the different ways players can play the game – different controllers, different screen configurations... And then, most importantly, making all of those different setups fun. Making them all work intuitively, and smoothly. That took a bit more time.
NL: How do you feel this will stand alongside Mario Kart 8 when it comes out later this year? Is it a different experience?
GC: Definitely a different experience! Obviously, there are a bunch of similarities, as you’d expect given they’re both karting games.
But the F1 license gave us the opportunity to do a lot of things a bit differently, something to set us apart from the Mario Kart clones. With the license - the names, the faces, the locations – as well as the pits system, the KERS cornering system, jump boosts... All of this makes for a very different karting experience.
NL: Is this series likely to continue in the future?
GC: I guess only time will tell!
NL: Does Codemasters have any other plans for Wii U / 3DS in the near future?
GC: Nothing that we can discuss currently but who knows what the future might hold?
We'd like to thank Gavin for his time. F1 Race Stars: Powered Up Edition is available to download now from the Wii U eShop.