Since the brilliant F1 2010 was released, Codemasters have also been inundated with fans’ requests for the inclusion of a safety car in the sequel. Indeed, if 1994’s Indycar Racing 2 managed to include one running on MS Dos, surely the inclusion on one of today’s superconsoles or superfast PC’s is long overdue. However the inclusion of the safety car is not quite as cut and dry as it might seem.
Simulation fans (myself included) want everything in a Formula One game to be as realistic as possible, with all the correct drivers, cars, circuits, flags, penalties and rules in place. We want it to rain, tyres to wear out and Michael Schumacher to drive erratically – it’s all part of what makes us love F1 and what makes following the sport so fun and exciting.
However, the least fun and exciting part of F1 is arguably watching cars tip-toeing around behind the safety car for lap after lap. You only have to look back to last year’s inaugural Korean Grand Prix or to this year’s (eventually amazing) event in Canada to find a race being started behind a safety car in wet conditions for so long it began to detract from the spectacle and become rather dull.
In real life there are good reasons for having a safety car – the main one being safety. If a driver is seriously hurt, there is debris on the circuit or the weather conditions make safe racing unrealistic the presence of a safety car makes a whole lot of sense. In a virtual reality, the dangers are practically nil. No-one is going to get an injury worse than a sore thumb from playing too much, and the risk of death is minimal.
Then there are issues surrounding implementingF1’s complicated rules correctly – and for those of you unfamiliar with the F1 rulebook, it’s no simple piece of toilet reading. Drivers must adhere to a strict set of regulations including staying within a delta time set by race control, remaining within ten lengths of the car in front at all times and not overtaking under any circumstances. Indeed, rule 40.5 of the FIA’s sporting regulations state: “No car may be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person at any time whilst the safety car is deployed”. I can envisage a few problems with online rammers players sticking to this code of conduct.
Nevertheless, the safety car is part of the real life Formula One experience, and some gamers would like the opportunity to replicate following one at low speeds and making sure their tyres and brakes don’t get too cold.
If it is included, there are a lot of questions for Codemasters to answer – how will it be implemented in online races? How can casual gamers avoid being bored and frustrated? Will we get to lobby race control over the radio about when the race should be re-started?
The good news is we won’t have to wait long for the answers, with the Birmingham-based developer revealing via the game’s official Twitter feed that “… we’ll be able to tell you whether it’s in or not by Gamescom in August… If the safety car makes it into the final game it won’t be via a cutscene. Like we said if we’re going to do it we’ll do it right!” So the feature is still under consideration, and reading between the lines I would take that to mean ‘we’ve got it in, but it doesn’t quite work yet’.
Their desire to “do it right” should be very reassuring, as Codies are clearly aware this feature has the potential to disrupt the flow of the game, the player’s immersion in it, and ultimately their overall enjoyment of the product. They will be rightly wary of potential reviews saying ‘great game, but it keeps stopping for a safety car period which is really annoying’.
We virtual racers need to have a think about how far we really want to take the ‘realism’ of a simulation and about the point at which playing the game can stop being fun. I have read posts on forums from knee-jerk reactionaries claiming they’ll refuse to buy the game if the safety car is not included in the final release, but they should be the ones thinking hardest.
How far do we really want to take it? When you’ve finished the main game can you decide to retire your driver and take over from Bernd Mylander in the safety car, spending an hour sat in the pit lane praying for an accident? Should you have to train up as the medical car driver first before you can drive it? Will players soon be demanding they are able to play as Charlie Whiting in race control? Probably, but let’s get the racing right first.
If they do decide to include the safety car, the perceived success or failure of it’s implementation could be the defining point of the series. The reason F1 2010 won awards is because much of it was spot-on, and I personally am very happy to trust the judgment of the team that developed such a great game to conclude for themselves as to whether their safety car system really works for the player.