Let’s go racing with GPRO

Graphic of Formula 1 cars on trackI’ve mentioned on this site previously that, on occasion, I’ve wondered what it would be like to manage a Formula 1 team (see my review of Grand Prix Story). I’m still feeding that desire to know, and have recently started to play a browser game called Grand Prix Racing Online (GPRO).

GPRO is a racing management game – let’s make that clear from the start. There are “live” races, but they amount to the browser refreshing every couple of minutes, at which point you get to see how your car is doing. Forza 4, it isn’t, but it’s not meant to be. No, the point here is to train your driver, train your staff, improve your car and facilities, and try to work out the best strategy for winning races. That’s where your skill comes in, not on the track itself.

There’s a heck of a lot to think about. You obviously want the best driver you can get, but at the start of the season the drivers market is crazy with managers looking for recruits. So do you put up with a mediocre driver and come back when it’s all died down, or do you carry on and end up paying a silly salary? Which parts of the car do you upgrade… which parts can you afford to upgrade? And when parts wear out are you going to replace them with new ones or go back to some of the old ones you took off the car earlier?

Various options for managing a Formula 1 teamRace day strategy itself is, I think, the hardest part to get right. You need to set the car up… wing angles, type compound, gear ratio, and so on (fortunately it’s all done on a scale from 0 to 999 rather than getting too technical). You need to decide how much fuel you will have on board, and how much you will put in at each pit stop (yes, there’s still refuelling in this game). And you have to hope your driver doesn’t make a mistake or you get a random failure on the car. All of this combines to make the races rather interesting – what they lack in fancy graphics they make up for in personal investment in seeing your team do well. Or, in my case, not do so well.

Grand Prix Racing Online will appeal to those who enjoy management games – and particularly those who enjoy Formula 1. It’s completely free to play, works in your web browser, and there’s no harm in having a look… unless you count getting addicted :)

Grand Prix Story for Android and iOS [review]

gpstoryI have to admit it, I’ve occasionally wondered what it would be like to run my own Formula 1 team. The engineering challenges of developing the best car possible, the thrill of seeing my cars come home at the end of a race (hopefully in a good position) and the glamour of travelling all round the world.

Sadly, I’m almost certainly never going to find out what it would be like, but a great little game for Android and iOS devices does give me a chance to play around with some of the concepts.

You may remember, just before Christmas, Will Judd reviewed a game called Game Dev Story for us. In that game you ran a virtual software company trying to release hit games. Well, Grand Prix Story is another release by the same guys, and has you running a racing team instead.

So what sort of stuff do you get up to? There’s car development – which starts off very simple as you only have one chassis and a couple of drivetrain options available, but you can also research different body types, drive options, and upgrades like aerodynamic wings and improved engines.

You can hire new drivers, choosing to take on a rookie and train him up, or go for someone with plenty of skill and a high salary. Hire mechanics to repair the cars after a race, and to research and build new ones. All of these people can be upgraded in some way to improve their skills and get the most out of them.

In short, it’s the fun parts of team management without the grind of having to break up fights between your drivers or explain to the FIA why your car’s front wing seems to be flexing a little more than it should! It’s obviously very simplified, but it’s still great fun. It’s worth pointing out that this really is about team management, however – you won’t do any actual driving in the races. After all, that’s what you pay your drivers for.

The key to winning is research and knowing which setups work well at which tracks. Taking a road car to an off-road track will result in a poor finish. Some of the tracks reward cornering ability, while others require a good top speed. Some even need a setup that can cope with ice. Don’t expect anything like an accurate replica of Monaco, but by knowing the conditions at the various tracks on your race calendar you’ll do better than if you just approach it randomly.

That semi-thoughtful approach really works for me. You can pay careful attention to the details if you want, or can just have a bit of fun playing with cars, and it’s good either way.

At the end of the game (which is 14 “years” long) you can choose to start again with some of your technological advances in place. Just don’t think that by taking your most advanced car with you you’ll breeze through the early races… I tried it and still struggled!

Grand Prix Story is a fun little simulation of a racing team. It captures the essence of motorsport management without becoming overwhelming or delving too deeply into detail. It’s a great distraction and, if you do have an interest in motorsport, I’m sure you will enjoy it.

Grand Prix Story is available from the Android Marketplace and Apple iOS App Store.

Friday Fun: Formula Racer

After last week’s somewhat sedate Friday Fun, let’s have something a little more high-octane this week. Formula Racer is a Flash “Formula 1” game, which puts me very much in mind of Pole Position.

You know what to do… it’s a race after all. You will need Flash to play, and there is sound. Oh, and there’s a “Kinetic Boost” button for all you KERS fans out there.

–> Click to play <–

F1 2010 Review [Xbox360]

I’ll admit it, I’m a huge Formula 1 fan. When I first got an Xbox I searched high and low for a Formula 1 game for it, only to discover that the F1 franchise was only available for Playstation.

Last year the Codemasters took the F1 game reins and I was excited by the prospect of finally getting to enjoy my favourite sport on my, now, Xbox360. Sadly F1 2009 still wasn’t available for the Xbox360, but I did play it on Wii and iPhone.

This year, however, the moment has arrived. F1 2010 is out on a variety of formats, PC, PS3 and, yes, Xbox360! So what’s it like?

Is that computer generated?

I’m a very visual person – I like things to look good – so the first thing I notice about a game is the graphics. F1 2010 has that hyper-realism look that always tips me off that it’s computer generated, but it does look awesome. In fact, some people I’ve shown the game to have commented that it’s almost like watching the real thing. The weather effects, puddles on the track during rain, water streaming over your visor, spray from the wheels, all look amazing and make me wonder how the real drivers cope in the wet. But even during a normal race the track and other cars look wonderful.

One thing I really like doing is having a few laps of whatever track the real F1 is visiting next. So far that’s been Singapore and Suzuka, and the Korean track is looking like it’ll be fun. The level of detail in-game is so good that having those laps gives me a much better idea of what’s happening in the live race. I understand better how the track fits together and why the drivers are taking a particular line through a corner. Codemasters have done a great job at making the tracks as accurate as possible.

Have a look at the trailer to get an idea of how F1 2010 looks.

What’s it like to drive?

There are a load of driver aids you can switch on and off to customise the difficulty level, such as automatic braking, a visual racing line, ABS, traction control, and even how clever your opponents are. By tweaking those settings you should be able to find a level at which you can enjoy the game no matter what your skill. Driving with the controller is simple enough – I managed to stay on the track most of the time – but F1 2010 really comes to life when you use a steering wheel controller. The fine control available and the illusion of actually driving helps improve the gameplay immensely. Having said that, I occasionally play online against a friend who swears by his Xbox360 controller and usually beats me too. I wouldn’t rush out and buy a steering wheel just to play F1 2010 – try it with your current controller first and see if that suits you.

Am I living the life?

The official Formula 1 website talks about being the driver, living the life. If F1 2010 is designed to give you the whole experience of being an F1 driver, well, it just can’t. The press interviews after the race are necessarily scripted with you choosing from a few available responses. The other teams are very formulaic in how they respond to you, reacting to your press comments more than anything else while, in the real world, if you started winning races in a Lotus car you’d soon be approached by one of the other teams. But then, that’s not why I bought the game really: I bought it to race and the on-track action is just brilliant.

Any dislikes?

Sure, there are things that could be improved. I’ve picked up on discussions that the qualifying times for the other drivers are all generated rather than taken from actual lap times. It would be nice to see that, if I (accidentally) blocked a driver on the track his lap time suffered. There are times that my team tells me a driver is five seconds ahead of me when I’m actually right on his tail, and I’ve read (but never experienced to my knowledge) that if there’s a chance of rain some of the other drivers might not pit at all. These are all niggles, though, and haven’t really affected my enjoyment of the game.

What has affected my enjoyment of the game is the over-enthusiastic penalties handed out by the stewards. Fair enough, if I charge into another car I get a penalty for causing an avoidable collision. The weird thing is that if I’m in front and brake for a corner, and a car hits me, I still get the penalty! Fortunately there’s an action replay system that lets you go back in time a few seconds and have another go, but I’m starting to think this must have been what it felt like to be a McLaren driver a few years ago.

Conclusion

Overall I have to say F1 2010 is a fantastic game. I’ve been playing it every day since I got it and while there are issues and annoyances, the joy of driving round familiar tracks in-game, pretending to do what I’ve seen on the TV so many times, is intoxicating. I’m loving it, and I can see F1 2010 being played in my house for a long time to come.

Pick up your copy of F1 2010 today – available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Get your Formula1 geek on with F1 Drivers [iPhone]

Let’s get something out of the way right at the start – F1 Drivers is the kind of app you’re only going to want if you’re really into Formula 1. If that one phrase hasn’t put you off then read on!

F1 Drivers, by Jeff Maynard, is essentially a statistics and information app. I’ve never really understood some people’s fascination with exactly how many times their favourite football team has lifted the cup but after having a play around with F1 Drivers I’m starting to get a bit more understanding!

F1 Drivers lists every driver who’s taken part in the sport, including their career stats and photos if available. Photos tend to be available for the more modern drivers only, unless they’re Stirling Moss…

Also included is a listing of all the tracks in the 2010 season, with thumbnail map, information about how often the track has been used in the past and the date of the 2010 race. The part I found most fascinating, though, is the league of “Most Grands Prix, No Wins”. Did you know Martin Brundle’s never won a race? We’ll let him off with that, though, because he does such a good job during the race buildup and commenting :)

Most definitely one for the Formula 1 geeks, F1 Drivers is full of interesting information and stats. It costs £1.19 and is available from the app store (iTunes affiliate link).

Release your inner race driver with Formula 1: 2009 [Wii]

I still remember one of my best Christmas presents of recent years… a chance to drive a single-seater race car round Knockhill circuit in Scotland [photo]. I love Go-Karting, and watching races almost as much as driving. Often when I watch the Formula 1 Grands Prix I think how great it would be to have a go in an F1 car.

Well, I’m not quite there, and playing Formula 1:2009 on the Nintendo Wii is probably about as close as I’m going to get. Don’t take that as a complaint, though, because F1:2009 is a great game!

There’s something about driving around the circuits I’ve seen on the TV so many times that’s just amazing, seeing the same views as you would from the camera pod, finally understanding how the circuit fits together, and racing alongside all the cars I recognise from this season.

There are several options for going racing: a quick start will let you jump in a car on any track and choose to take the place of one of the current F1 drivers, giving you the chance to drive your favourite team’s car straight away. You can opt to play a full race weekend, from practice through to the race itself. Or you can try to aim for the championship over one season or three… building up your reputation and skill as you go. The options are many – plenty to keep F1 fans busy! I certainly understand a little of how drivers must feel during qualifying now, wondering whether that lap you put in will be enough to get you through to the next session or if someone’s about to come and knock you off your spot.

There are a few oddities to be noted, though. Firstly, all cars have KERS. Secondly there’s little indication of the dominance of the Brawns or the terrible start of the McLarens, all the cars seem to be around equally competitive.

I think this highlights a problem with this sort of game: we all know how the 2009 season went. Brawn started well but tailed off (although they had enough of a headstart to win overall). McLaren started poorly but got better. Massa was knocked out (literally) part way through the season, and not every team opted to use KERS even though they were allowed to. Codemasters, of course, couldn’t know all of that when they published the game… even if they had restricted who was on KERS the teams kept changing their minds! And could you remove a character from a game halfway through because of real-world injury, or would that just be insensitive?

None of that is a serious concern, though, because it’s all about the skill of the player and the enjoyment of taking part in your favourite sport, even if only digitally.

One thing I struggle with, and I’m not sure if it’s because the Wii controller isn’t attached to a steering column, is that I find it quite hard to steer! I’ve found the same thing with driving games on the iPhone too. I often over-correct at corners, although I’m getting better with practice.  I’m glad to know I’m not the only one having difficulties though – Chris Garrett mentioned on Twitter that “the tracks and cars make you feel like you are there even if crashing a lot doesn’t ;)”

That pretty much sums up my experience of the game. It does a great job of capturing the feel of F1… the races, the tension of qualifying, and being able to drive around the tracks I’ve watched others navigate so often are all fantastic! But, my goodness, I spend a lot of time in the barriers. Better get some practice in then.

F1:2009 is available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com (affiliate links). Check out Codemasters for more information.

Have you played F1:2009? What did you think about it? Share any tips or even just tell us your favourite track in the comments.