Saturday, 23 May 2020

Catch-Up 1: the Not-GotYs

Since last we spoke I've been in somewhat of a holding pattern, expecting to find another meaty topic about next gen to dig into but instead being satiated by micro-blogging about game dev stuff and the state of politics. I suspect that during the not-E3 events next month I'll find something that won't fit into a few 500 char posts on Mastodon. But until then, I was reminded of the tail on my recent GotY posts of the games that get left off those lists (because I didn't manage to play them in their launch year). As many of those games are things I've played by now, I wanted to just quickly give some thoughts on a few I never got back to talking about, however briefly (and which didn't get included in the recent rule changes made to allow ongoing games to be properly given their dues).

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

A good capstone on the series, this expandalone contains strong levels (something Dishonored has continually refined with iteration) but the environment reuse does make it somewhat limited (but then you'd maybe expect that from a DLC that this clearly was before sales of Dishonored 2 left Bethesda unwilling to require people own that to buy this).

I find it hard to believe that this story alone would be satisfying (selling it separately did allow me to buy it on a different platform to the base game so I can't fault them for that but after replaying Dishonored 2 & immediately jumping into this, it felt like bundling the two is a smart move). Taken as the final piece in a series, there's a lot to enjoy from how they conclude the threads & flesh out bits of lore. Mechanically, I'm not sure the selection of new abilities is my favourite but that's been a long-standing issue I've felt: the need to keep things somewhat novel & not just replicate the original formula creates a weird space which demands evolving strategies that worked in previous games (which is good) but also makes you pine for the flow you'd achieved by the end of a full game exploring your abilities (which can feel bad but maybe ensures the systems never feel stale).

As an Unseen stealth player, I've never felt like this series compromises those roots for action (although giving plenty of extra space for non-lethal surprise moves). That remains true here but the Contracts (optional mission objectives) do suggest that those wanting to be a ghost can't also engage with that new system completely (as contracts demand murder, something previous games have worked to ensure there is always an alternative to). The removal of an achievement for never killing (it exists only for not killing during any one level) while retaining the one for never being seen indicates developer intent for players to be somewhat more bloody during this campaign. I respect avoiding becoming formulaic even if it's not what I go to in a Thief-like.


What Remains of Edith Finch

I don't think this is as emotive as it thinks it is and that can really hold it back unless you choose to go with it. When it worked for me, it worked extremely well and the section everyone talks about as tying mechanics & narrative perfectly was so anxiety-inducing for me (as someone irrationally paranoid about settings where losing concentration can quickly lead to losing body parts).

It's also a pretty visually lush in the way that several of these Sony-incubated (Santa Monica Studio) developers have been able to achieve (see also Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture). The pushing of well-funded indie into adopting very AAA aesthetics. The Unfinished Swan may have been a visually more interesting experiment but this game works incredibly well. The density & detail of the assets fleshing out the different scenes here provide a lavish presentation that puts you inside the place. When you're playing a game to find the details & understand the story, having that crafted density rather than a rough approximation that is only meant to invoke it matters - I know plenty of indies who dislike that but I don't think it's untrue even if it does somewhat tie budget to what you can do with virtual spaces. Finding affordable ways of doing this stuff (ie doing it fast but well, possibly leveraging a huge database of material info & mesh detailing or assembly tools) is something that'll continue to push the industry forward.

Inside

Did I never mention Inside on here after noting I failed to play it in 2016? Well that's an oversight.

The continuation of the ideas covered in Limbo manages to expand on every facet of the '2.5D platforming with mood and some mechanics' design. It's also a very solid evolution of the visuals and the best dithering you've seen in a game. Seriously, the final result is very appealing and I suspect it'll convert at least some who have previously accepted banding as a limitation into reading up on how to stop it.

Titanfall 2

Just an incredibly solid campaign that provides something new in each level to play with while driving forward a basic story with just enough to hook you into finding out what happens. You and your big robot friend try to save the world. It's a real shame this never got the space to really breathe and so is now stuck in the cult-mainstream area where a lot of people have played it but not quite enough to make a sequel obvious for a hit-driven publisher like EA. Also it feels real good to pop AI heads off using the mouse, all contained within more narrative trappings than the multiplayer-first original game - for those of us who have really moved away from competitive online shooters, the campaign makes for a value that churning through Apex Legends simply doesn't (even at the entry price of free).

Watch Dogs 2

Another game that I found the energy to complete on PC rather than console. Considering the (narrative) slog that the first game was, the radical changes to the tone and subject here refreshed what could have been just another attempted GTA-lite by someone other than Rockstar.

The result is something that feels like it has an identity. Something Saints Row took three games to really nail down and then almost as quickly imploded into itself. Hopefully Watch Dogs: Legion avoids that and I can have some more fun taking selfies & completely avoiding the combat that feels so out of place for an average hacker in over their head. Oh dear, I feel that's not what they're going for with Legion and no fancy procedural story system will save a mediocre shooter that could have been a stealth hacker game with charm.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Next Gen: Feeding the Beast

No one attended GDC due to the global pandemic (I was considering pausing this blog for some months during the crisis but decided having more things to read during world events wasn't a bad thing at the current time) but we still started to get the technical deep dives on the architecture of the new 4K consoles from both Microsoft and Sony. (I will try to avoid just repeating what is said by both architects.)

I will not, sight unseen, be telling you which numbers are slightly bigger and so which console is definitely going to dominate the next five to seven years (plenty of people with much larger readerships seem to have already covered that). I've not been read in on any next gen hardware so nothing I'm about to say is hinting at information not already make public. But the way these specs are being sold is already somewhat interesting, especially as we think about the divergence between a totally open (assuming you've got the billions to buy into patent lockouts on various standards) PC system and the closed box of a console, after a generation where the custom silicon inside each high end console were ultimately less distinctive than in previous generations (even the one where MS asked for a Pentium III on an nForce chipset & a GeForce GPU).

Getting from There to Here

Moving from AMD's tablet CPU cores to a modern Zen2 desktop architecture and a GPU upgrade to stay contemporary with current PC GPUs targeting 4K screens was widely expected and confirmed early on during this generation transition. But you have to feed the beast and for games that often means juggling a huge array of large assets with only a semi-predictable pattern of demand (based on player action). The dual issues are having the time to load the data you need to render in the near future and the processing power to run the logic that decides which assets to prioritise & actually push the commands that move data around (the latter becomes far more pressing as bandwidth increases).

A major theme from both console architects is load times and the potential for radically faster storage now that NVMe SSDs are the expectation (and luckily PCIe is just ticking over to doubled bandwidth, which removes that bottleneck from controllers with a wide pool of flash chips to parallelise over). MS are branding their upgrades the Xbox Velocity Architecture with a new DirectX API (which will also be available on PC) called DirectStorage. Sony have gone into detail about their custom silicon and decisions to enable SSD throughput beyond even the most premium PC tech.

It's not just about having a fast connection, you need to be able to drive data to where it needs to go and keep everything catalogued. Sony in particular are definitely focusing on taking the fastest PCIe 4.0 drive they can and pumping it with a silicon implementation of RAD Game Tools' current compression (use less drive space, get even more data into RAM for the SSD bandwidth by expanding it the other end of the connection) and classic DMA silicon (don't waste CPU cycles getting your main processor to direct data around, use dedicated silicon to do it - a trick as old as time) with a few tweaks to the formula (looking forward to hearing more about the GPU cache scrubbers from practical talks after games get released).

PC game designers are going to have to get very clever to match the game experience of these new consoles without having access to all these tricks - expect significant increases in RAM requirements for some AAA ports that will have to use the system RAM as a large cache for data they can stream into the (more limited) unified memory as needed on consoles. Will we see high settings with 4K textures on PC ask for at least 32GB RAM & even 16GB VRAM? I wouldn't say it's not going to happen within 2 years. Those 100-200GB installs are not going away (although Sony did make the salient point that SSDs remove the need to duplicate data to help remove seek times - we can claw some excess back to redirect into even more detailed textures).


What new game experiences? Elevators and slow-opening doors everywhere are not an unconstrained design choice; the length of the walk through the between dimension to fast travel in the recent God of War wasn't required by the no-cuts design decision. It's all about being unable to load enough data for clean fast transitions and even with the much lower quality (smaller) textures of the PS360 generation, you saw a lot of slowly fading in the most detailed textures available (initially associated with the Unreal engine but an issue for many engines that wanted to push RAM limits or just spend less time sitting on a load screen). The plan going forward is to load extremely detailed assets just-in-time via a massive sustained read bandwidth from the SSD, so players never see anything less than the most detailed option close enough to the camera to differentiate. Mesh/Primitive Shaders are also going to help here in making the triangles that make up a scene more dynamic in games that step away from the old static pipeline (think the advertising blurb for Tessellation, only it really works this time for far more scenarios).

This also opens up new possibilities beyond just avoiding load screens or design choices aimed at masking invisible loads in more open level designs (rather than very constrained levels or low/repeating texture scenarios) etc. Things can move faster without causing the dreaded texture quality drop/pop-in. That's not just allowing high speed open world driving games to up the detail of each street or letting Spider-Man swing faster. Each camera cut is a very rapid movement to the new position.

You'll be familiar with inserting pre-rendered video that uses the in-engine assets into otherwise real-time rendered game cut-scenes. It's often very obvious when the PC technology moves forward but the assets are still from an old console release (GTX 760 vs video captured on a 360). There are many reasons for it, like being able to do some offline post-processing (less relevant now real-time shaders are so powerful) or show scenes or animations that you don't need to ship as assets (or hand-tweaked animations that don't fit into the shipped animation rig). A big reason: jump cuts to a different area, ie places for which you don't have assets already loaded into memory unless you've got lots of extra RAM sitting idle, are a right pain - once you start looking for it, it's clear how often directors avoid such cuts, especially multiple of them. Well now you don't have to worry about that issue so expect real-time cut-scenes to start to be a lot more dynamic in cutting between different locations (or different areas within a large scene) in a way far more similar to other media.

Going back to more technical details: to put the PCIe 4.0 four lane SSD connection in context, that's half the massive bandwidth that most PC GPUs have used for the last decade and which textures stream down to the local VRAM - many many times faster than the fastest rotating platter HDDs. For Sony to go beyond that via cutting-edge compression (spending silicon on something better than the current compression typical for GPUs either as texture compression or delta compression) is very exciting and MS are no slouch, they're just not betting everything on it needing to be as bleeding edge.

Doing Something New when You're Here

So we have 16GB of unified fast RAM (with a bit of differentiation from MS with a 10GB very fast block + 6GB slow block mainly eaten by the OS, while Sony have made all of the RAM mid-fast). We're feeding it via extremely nice storage and custom silicon that avoid spending all our CPU cycles on memory transfers or decompression algorithms. What about the actual rendering features?

We know a bit more about the MS side for the GPU, because they also did a point update to DirectX 12 and unified the console and PC APIs for the XSX. The new DX12_2 (Ultimate) will update the feature level (things a GPU has to support) to basically be "almost all the shiny things nVidia have been shouting about from 2018's Turing RTX cards". This is actually a real trick for nVidia, who get to claim leadership of the GPU space while not winning either designs for the new 4K consoles (MS & Sony both seemed happy with AMD plus really wanted to update from x86 to x86 CPUs, something nVidia took piles of money from Intel to agree they cannot offer to customers wanting a custom SoC design).

AMD are making their custom RDNA2-derived GPU for MS to basically boost their feature set up close to where Turing has been for a while. Mesh Shaders (not even calling them Primitive Shaders - the ill-fated Vega tech AMD wanted to fix the old shader pipeline structure) as mentioned above; ray tracing via hardware BVH traversal acceleration (Turing's RT Cores); variable rate shading (shading at rates other than the native pixel count in areas of a scene); and sampler feedback (clever tools for making sure you only need the texture data in RAM that the scene actually needs and no more) - it's all here and what we know of Sony's custom RDNA2 GPU is very similar (they called them Primitive Shaders but who knows as AMD are definitely using something compatible with the common Mesh Shaders plan for both MS and their future PC cards & I don't see why Sony wouldn't have signed up for that considering the first shot at AMD's own Primitive Shaders never got enabled - ultimately they're branding quite similar ideas but I think AMD are sanding away any differences to make it more like Turing rather than nVidia having to pivot at all).

Something I want to focus on here is what neither architects have said is being matched vs Turing & isn't in the DX12_2 feature level: Tensor cores. The (usually low precision) AI inference maths that enables a lot of interesting ideas like computation photography (Google Night Sight), nVidia DLSS (AI upscaling), and much more (often in an offline context); especially relevant for games now we're talking ray tracing: high quality denoising. MS gave the PR talk about their XSX having 97 TOPS of DirectML Int4 performance but if you look into the rapid packed maths blurb then that's almost certainly just saying their normal shader cores can do eight Int4 ops as a SIMD-y alternative to a single FP32 op (same 32-bits of data). This explains why that figure is so much lower than the RTX GPUs, which max out at 455 TOPS (using dedicated silicon).

Sony have also not talked about any AI cores and it sounds a bit like their extra SIMD/vector units (saying their old Cell SPEs were basically ideal for complex audio processing needed for things like transfer function processing) for virtual 3D audio are going to be how they offer non-shader core acceleration of other computational demands. I spent a decent amount of last year doing work on a project around virtual 3D audio. I'll say this much: what I got working before the company folded made me a believer (using nice stereo headphones) and I used to be adamant that you needed all 5 speakers since way back in the nForce/original Xbox days (when real-time Dolby encoding finally made it easy to pipe 5.1 audio out of games with one TOSlink wire per device + some real-time spacial game audio was getting ok). I'm very glad Sony are leaning heavily on this and also that their foray into VR isn't being completely forgotten. Ray tracing for sound propagation through a level and good virtual 3D with hundreds of localised spacial sources will make for something unlike what we're used to hearing. When this tech works, it really work (and Sony aren't hiding that it doesn't yet always work so we've got to figure it out).

I'm eager to get more details of these system (how much are they holding back for later reveals?) and then to see what people are starting to do with this power. I wish we'd heard about tensor cores, because I think there's something rather interesting about the potential there that we'll possibly not see if only nVidia push them (and slowly cut down the die area they use for a feature if Intel & AMD don't match them). Just because neither consoles have announced it, doesn't mean AMD aren't going to offer that for their (non-custom) RDNA2 PC cards, but inclusion in a console would definitely push adoption & experimentation.

These new systems seem like very smart steps forward, mainly matching new feature for new feature (with a slight difference in focus on just how fast each feature runs) and not being "a PC but fixed platform". Interesting times for cross-platform games and how we do things right without underutilising silicon when it is available.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Sets a Decade in the Making

I've been playing through more RPGs recently (digital game rentals: looking to get people subscribing for a long time so going after quite large games) and having not played a Final Fantasy game in a long time, FF XV sure was something. A game announced in 2006, rebooted with new leadership sometime 2012-2014, and released in 2016 (for consoles; 2018 for Windows where I played it; 2019 Stadia).

However the exact preproduction/production split worked out, you can see from a lot of earlier trailers that the world they released was, in some form, being assembled for quite some time. The gameplay systems you see in trailers exist in the final game but not in the places they are shown & some of the CG footage apparently ended up in a movie rather than the game (which makes where it is cut into the game all the more disjointed). It's not actually the longest of RPG, assuming you don't try and eke out every inch of side-quest content & after-credits end-game. But it's an example of AAA games that seemed to be built first before being rebooted (under a new producer) into the actual final game, taking which pieces they could because after spending $100m on building assets, you can't just throw them away even if you end up making a very different game with them.


This is far from the only time we've seen that pattern. As the sets on which games are placed have become more and more extravagant (chasing the potential returns from matching the over 125 million sales of GTA V, a massive world for both a long campaign & countless multiplayer experiences) then the total you can sink into building them is only going to have grown. At the same time the speed of technical progress has allowed assets created to be viable for a AAA game for longer - something made for a game four years ago is not automatically now useless, even if you've not kept pace with the latest ideas (not even every major release today uses physically based rendering, an asset creation transition already well underway 7 years ago). You can go against the norm and play up a style you're going for rather than keeping pace with expectations because even HL2 (16 years old) has the basics of making something competent - you can even deploy that style at the 11th hour, as the original Borderlands did.

Quite a lot is known about the 2014-2016 era of FF XV's development, as some public progress reports exist to reassure people who originally started waiting for a game called Final Fantasy Versus XIII in 2006 that this new numbered entry was definitely coming soon. We also have reporting from people inside Bungie on the way those Destiny games have been radically rebuilt for new stories. The way Destiny feels as you walk between info-dump dialogue and wait for timers to count down in levels that seem repurposed from possibly earlier designs is probably not reading too much into what actually happened. We know that Overwatch is a setting originally designed for an MMO that does not exist. Blizzard presumably made a lot of content for that MMO to feel out the design & throwing it all away was not the best option.

Some of how the BioWare process has been documented, making a game that doesn't work until it all comes together in the final months, doesn't sound dissimilar to a process of making assets for a game and world you may not yet understand only to wait for someone to take final charge in the last moments & make a new game out of it. Not to say that this isn't on the edge of how a lot of games have been made over the years but the length of the "preproduction" (a term that seems to mean a million different things but generally just "not literally the entire team was working full-time on the project") and how much of the asset production is being done before the final decision is made on how to use those sets - it's something else (FF XV trailers show significant divergence as late as 2013 but the very different plot & action sections are clearly being done with assets that are there in the final game).

As the next generation comes along with a mainstream target of 4K60 & an upper realm of 120fps, real-time ray tracing for lighting and reflections (using dedicated hardware to accelerate), then we may see asset fidelity continue to slowly tick up but driven by the dynamic rendering options (see ray tracing shader hacks in older games for how the same old assets can look fresh & new with a bit of effort - if you're already making PBR assets then changing your rendering equations to relight your scenes can make a huge generational difference without rebuilding your assets).

It'll be interesting to see what happens for constructing the worlds in which we play vs making the games. It'll be a while before they're capable of being unlinked but we're going in that direction. The CG production world and the game development world are overlapping more and more so why wouldn't you rapidly assemble your world using Quixel etc assets, effectively offloading a lot of your asset pipeline to external libraries. Location scouting is something you can analogise to knowing where to go for the right assets well beyond things like SpeedTree, because larger and larger pools of assets are being assembled so that you may need someone who can know where to go for your virtual set. Sometimes your corporate overlords already also own two petabytes of data that is your starting point. Ubisoft are specialists in creating massive worlds using a lot of teams around the world and their current struggles are more about ensuring each product has a clearer identity from the pasting of a game onto each of those underlying worlds - too few ideas being handed out by a central gameplay brain trust at the top.

We live in interesting times, going forward and looking back at how recent game projects have managed to see the light of day after extremely long and turbulent production cycles.

Monday, 27 January 2020

A New Generation of Semi-Sim Driving Games

I have been thinking about driving games again. The act of driving around virtual tracks in virtual cars - possibly not strictly simulational but taking inspiration from the laws of physics and how they apply to an engine working through a gearbox to apply force to up to four wheels in contact with (ideally) tarmac. Games that aren't about exploring open worlds or drifting on invisible rails but about refining your entry into corner 12 with the perfect braking point for your current setup, tyre wear, weather conditions, and fuel level to optimise your exit speed down the long final straight.

What I haven't been doing is playing much Forza Motorsport 7 or Gran Turismo Sport. Which isn't to say they're not still the ongoing titles in those series: Polyphony Digital have made good on their plans to keep releasing new content for GT Sport to bring it up to a full game and Turn 10 finally missed their odd-year Motorsport cadence (they've hit from the 2005 release of the very first Forza Motorsport) so are having to support their e-sports ambitions on the old platform even after updates have run dry.

Meanwhile, Codemasters have continued to release more driving games than any other publisher with their annual F1 licensed games and usually combined with at least one of a TOCA/Race Driver/GRID or Colin McRae Rally/Dirt titles. Now Slightly Mad Studios (of Project CARS fame) is part of that publisher, they'll have even more games to publish. Which is to say I've been playing through some older games and also trying out the reasonably new F1 2018 & 2019 releases to help me refine what I'm looking for in a driving game.


One of the nice things about different teams coalescing around an idea of a semi-sim, ie a game that's not the PC pure simulator racing setup, is that many of the quality of life features appear in several places. Since Flashbacks came to GRID & Dirt in 2008, they also came to Forza in 2009 (with unlimited rewinds in FM3). While playing the earlier 2011 F1 game, Flashbacks were limited with custom difficulty offering at most four rewinds, but by the time F1 2015 rolled around, you can rewind as much as you like (something that's still true in the most recent F1 games). To me this allows offline play to combine the process of learning tracks and control with experiencing a decent campaign made up of your best performances. It's training for time trials or online play and it gives players the confidence to turn off assists because learning how to tame a beast of a car won't ruin a 30 minute race against AIs that they'd otherwise have been crushing. We now expect regular checkpointing in games rather than a failure resulting in restarting the entire mission.

The idea of assists has also changed over time. The handling of F1 2011 and 2015 isn't identical but you can feel similarities (beyond how weightless both make the car-car impacts feel) with things like how ABS works which are unlike a modern Forza or the newer F1 games. Previously, when working with physically-based cornering (ie not "arcade" handling) then turning on virtual ABS provided limited help in corners because they felt like they consumed all the friction of the tyre slowing the car down so there was nothing left to turn with. If you brake before the corner then turn and accelerate, this isn't the end of the world. Unfortunately for those wanting this assist, trail braking is a thing and F1 is known for it - it's basically impossible with this old system for simulating ABS (which feels a lot like you've locked the brakes but without the loss of deceleration).

But assists are meant to limit your potential (they make your mistakes less ruinous but cap your performance so there is incentive to turn them off - that's the ideal anyway) so this wouldn't be the end of the world without another major assist everyone offers: dynamic (3D) racing lines that go from green to red to tell you where the braking point is. Only they're not quite as dynamic as you'd want from a teaching tool: they tell you where the best braking point is for a competitive lap, not where you need to brake if you can't use trail braking because of another assist you've got on. Marking the place where you need to have already been braking is like having a note marker in a rhythm game where you're not meant to press a button: that's the opposite of what I wanted. So jumping ahead from 2015 to 2018, I was glad to see that the new ABS system reserves friction for turning - it becomes a helper mode that makes your braking slightly less effective but means you don't need to know how far to hold in the left trigger and how to let it off slowly as you decelerate to get round the track competently.

With all these assists (ABS, traction control etc), they're completely illegal in actual F1 racing but also that is some of the most demanding driving you can do - I'm not trying to play an actual simulator; I don't drive race cars & my joypad is a bad approximation (which is why games have to smooth steering inputs with a joypad) for a complex wheel & two pedals - F1 cars don't need a clutch pedal. Doing this for real is something experts are paid a lot to do very well and consistently after years of practice. Which helps lift the question beyond "is it realistic" because no, none of these are options you can enable in an F1 car. I think it's easier to have conversations about what assists are designed to do when there's not the option of falling back to how it happens in real life (unlike a lot of the cars in these semi-sim games that do have actual clever gizmos doing this stuff, sometimes with an option to disable them for track day).

When I'm learning how to handle the car losing balance at a tricky corner or how to manually tweak my various boosts (if you didn't know, F1 cars charge an onboard battery under braking which they can deploy as extra power (beyond tweaking fuel mix); they also have a system for increasing speed on the straights by opening the rear spoiler as long as they're under a second behind the car in front to help encourage overtaking) then sometimes I don't want to worry about locking. Also there are a lot of people who haven't had to think about any of these things and introducing one concern at a time is a great way to build the ladder to enjoying the full range of systems in these semi-sim games (along with unlocking the best lap times that mastering all the systems and knowing a track well can provide).


There's something here that might not hold me for an entire 305 km on a single track but luckily you can tweak distances and it'll kick up wear to compensate (as all these games should), turning a race into a more reasonable 20-30 minute play session. The weather forecast is always there to keep things interesting - pit for wet tyres or should you risk it not getting worse and put on intermediates? The pit strategy is a core part of every F1 race because you've got to change tyre compounds at least once and, in previous years, refuel (1994-2010) - it's all about handling the dynamic conditions and betting where you'll need the best lap times (making races less of a procession defined by raw pace during qualifying turning into race pace). The conditions for an exciting race have been developed by actual racing so video games can handily borrow all that know how - drivers considering when to burn tyres on pace and when to sacrifice a tenth of a second but be better placed to overtake in two laps when the opportunity arrives (bonus points for games that have the radio operator advise you about such possibilities). One of the things that has turned me off Forza games as a long term project to master was a lack of interest in dynamic conditions being as dynamic as they really are (even the poorly received DriveClub provided examples of dynamic conditions and real-time lighting: changing a dozen or more laps into never the same loop twice - something Forza Motorsport took too long to adopt). Having wet tyres teleport onto your car as the rain starts is really not doing it for me in 2020 (especially in FM7, where you keep driving past a pit lane there's no reason to use).

F1 games had always challenged me because they're so fast that mastering them without assists needs a great memory or amazing reaction times. With a granular AI difficulty (1-115) you can really tune the AI to your pace (also the breadth of teams means that you know approximately where you should finish based on how good your car is vs the rest) and slowly ease off the assists. There's also the pageantry of the race weekend (all of this stuff tweakable to however much you want to engage with) which allows you to (in the most recent games) run various programmes during qualifying to get familiar with the track and show your team how you can maintain an ok pace while focusing on minimising fuel use (doing things like coasting at the end of straights) or being kind to your tyres. There's a lot more than just doing the race itself and those programmes feed back into unlocking upgrades to push your car up the rankings. F1 2019 even introduces a brief Formula 2 option, finally offering cars with longer acceleration and braking times than the slowest F1 team (to help get up to speed - something the far wider selection of cars in other series make much easier).

We should see some new consoles showing off new driving games later this year but I might actually be the most interested in what new is coming to F1 2020. The actual motorsport is making a few changes that'll mean new tracks but it would be nice to see them bring back the classics (especially as they've already built versions of the tracks recently retired from the real season) to make more meaningful the smattering of classic cars already in the game and expand options beyond just running a career mode that pretends tracks never change in the future theoretical seasons. What if they got really into speculating on future rules changes so you could vote in new seasons which played quite differently? Something to give a 10 year career some real legs.