While the rest of the
editors of this site are gumming up their keyboards and controllers drooling over Dragon this and Dragon that, and RPG this and RPG that, I’ve been busily scouring the Interweb for the latest news in racing sims since last Spring. It’s hard to believe my steering wheel has been in a box somewhere since last April. This has set my sim racing career back a full decade in real racing time, and a slew of releases have come and gone with no attention whatsoever.
I haven’t been driving, but I’ve been training plenty hard using the positive re-enforcement mental imagery system. If you have a rapid broadband connection, there are streaming videos at http://www.formula1.com under the ‘video’ entry on the main menu that are pretty impressive.
The Race Edits are somewhat comical testosterone-and-music filled summaries of the year’s races. They suitably capture the soap opera-ish nature of the F1 season, but at the same time are far too short to convey any real information about the actual race. However, the Onboard videos record the pole setting qualifying lap from an on-board camera and at high resolution they can be rather immersing. If you can stomach it, watch Jenson Button’s qualifying lap from Monaco. With the proper network speed and monitor size, it can feel like you’re right in the cockpit. There’s a spot about 10 seconds after the qualifying lap flag (about 30 seconds past the start of the video) after climbing a steep hill there is a sickening long left turn as the track levels and starts to descend that is just taken so sweetly on the edge of gravity, friction, and getting air-borne. Similarly, Rubens Barrichello’s qualifying lap on a rain soaked track at Brazil in the second to last race of the year is also taken on the very edge of nerve.
I enjoy the qualifying videos because they show how close to the limits the drivers operate. The limits of adhesion, the limits of tolerance (count how many times Button’s tire comes within 6″ of a wall), and the limits of human capacity to react and manage the car.
Finally, we have an introduction to on-board telemetry. This screen-side version is very limited in extent, but, going forward, this will be an essential key to reaching 7:00. There is a freely available software package from MoTeC http://www.motec.com.au/ designed to accompany the data acquisition and telemetry hardware that they sell. In a stroke of genius, the GTR games can write the simulation information out into files that are compatible with the analysis software and learning the ways of car setup and performance analysis is easily as fun as the driving itself.
There are a lot of new driving games in the market this fall for all platforms http://kotaku.com/5271643/e3-2009-preview-these-are-the-big-racing-games-we-think
SimBin, the makers of GTR-Evolution, are doing their best to saturate the market with hair-splittingly-indistinguishable titles with four having been released in the last year while also carrying on their ‘advergaming’ adventures. A car maker, Volvo in this case, hires the game developers to provide a limited simulation of a few of their cars which is free to download. It’s the same game engine involved in SimBin’s commercial offerings, just limited to one make of car. This follows the path of BMW ‘s M3 challenge:
Volvo, The Game
BMW M3 Challenge
As I said, the game engine is the same as in the commercial version so anyone looking for a taste of this style of play can do so freely. But a warning that they can be plainly unpleasant just using the keyboard.
Finally, I can’t yet report success, but delicate negotiations are in progress even now regarding the location of the new simulator in our new house:
You know.. I believe I have never played a racing or driving sim. I do from time to time play Motorstorm on my PS3 or PSP and I have sampled Dirt 2, GT for PSP and… er, NFS Shift for PSP, but a proper sim… No, I think I never played anything like it. Test Drive on Commodore 64 back in the eighties is probably the closest I ever got to it… I can’t drive in real life either. Is there a connection?
I love racing games but have never really been a big fan of the simulation types. I think the main reason is that when it gets so close to reality without that physical connection to the vehicle there’s a large chunk of the experience that’s lost. It’s like some sort of racing uncanny valley. My favourite racers have always been the ones that side step reality in favour of pushing their unreality as far as it will go. Stunt Car Racer, F-Zero GX, Motor Storm, even Mariokart DS are all games I’ve poured many an hour into. As it stands I think Motor Storm: Pacific Rift has delivered the most visceral, metallic crunches and scrapes but again I don’t for a moment see it as a sim. Back in the Playstation days we used to play a lot of Colin McRae, V-Rally (complete with Crazy Physics), Toca and GT and that’s probably as close as I’ve got to enjoying sims really.
For years I thought that driving a real car would be similar to driving in a simulation racing game; I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s all down to that physicality that totally alters the experience.
Ah sorry Meho I missed your last comment there but inadvertently answered it anyway!
There’s a lot of mechanical nuances with driving that a (typical) console or computer interface doesn’t deliver. I believe in America all the cars are automatic? In the UK we’re all manual so we have to clutch to change gear and to stop our cars from stalling! The clutch has a very specific feel about it as does the brakes, accelerator pedal and steering wheel that differs from car to car. Honestly I couldn’t get over how wrong I was about cars feeling similar in games. Recreating the g-force in a car is something that can’t really be created in your living room as well. Merely going round a shallow corner makes your body lean slightly whereas at high speeds things get more pronounced and bumpy. When I went go karting I was in heaven because it had that fun competitive edge that racing games (and motor sports) have as well as the visceral thrills of actually driving. I highly recommend it!
I don’t have a license, so I don’t think they’d allow me to drive even go karts. But, yeah, I basically share your sentiments. Playing a proper simulation just never looked appealing to me as it is probably too complex for me to start with and I am after that insane adrenaline rush thing that proper simulations are not meant to deliver anyway. That said, Excitebots on Wii is awesome because it’s just that kind of crazy, totally unrealistic racer with high FPS to make my inner child happy.
Helmut, I apologise for being such a philistine when it comes to driving games.
Gregg B, automatics are most common in the States, but most vehicles come in both types. In my experience, once a person learns to drive a manual transmission they really like it. The lease on my XTerra ends in a few months, so if I don’t buy the thing outright I’ll surely go back to a more sensible manual vehicle with better gas mileage so it doesn’t look like I’m compensating for something.
No license, Meho? How can you stand it? My truck broke down on Wednesday and it ruined my life, despite the fact that I had it fixed and back with me by yesterday.
I’ve only played a true, hardcore driving sim once or twice before heading back to my dragons and space marines. I like reading about Helmut’s adventures because it’s a side of gaming I really know nothing about. This export-your-telemetry-and-analyze-it thing sounds awesome.
I’ve driven manual transmissions most of my life on the West Coast of the US, but now I only drive an automatic. It’s to hard to drink beer, shift, text, and flip off the bicyclists hogging the bike lanes otherwise. Actually I do only drive an automatic but I just got weary of shifting gears as my job requires my driving around cities a lot. Cities with lot of hills and curves. After 10 hours of clutching and shifting, my arms and legs were numb.
I really need to check out a driving game. I too have never played a proper one but love it when driving comes up in other games. Also, though Helmut will scoff, I did love to play Mario Kart on the DS before I almost crippled my fingers with the microscopic controls.
“No license, Meho? How can you stand it? ”
Well, the short answert is: this is not America (copyright by D. Bowie). Over here the public transportation is still considered an option and the city itself is organised in such a manner that you can actually get around without needing to drive too much. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this country is some kind of lost rural paradise or anything, it’s just that life is not 100% centered on owning a vehicle. My wife is learning to drive though, so I assume we will be owning a car… once.
Wait… there’s a place that’s not America? A place with MASS TRANSIT THAT WORKS?!
Next you’re going to say that we should stop bombing countries containing people who don’t look like us.
You so crazy, Meho. 😉
Well… it… kinda works. I mean… yeah, it does. Back in 1992/1993 it was basically nonexistent (we were under the economic blockade by the UN and the fuel was scarce and… yeah, public transport was severely affected). But now it’s kinda OK. We don’t have underground trains here though and that REALLY creates problems.
I don’t think any racing sub-genre is any better or worse than any other. The arcade versions of the games still operate on physics, just amplified for simplicity and fun which are always worthy objectives. The only advantage to a realistic sim is that you can use realistic driving techniques and realistic telemetry tools to help you get better.
One thing that has been talked about in various racing forums is the way the fastest drivers generally take advantage of game engine limitations in order to get fast times. Complete realism in any software simulation is going to be impossible. There is an episode of Top Gear where the main character is trying to achieve a 10 minute lap in a road car. The funny part comes when he’s interviewing some motorcyclists and one of them quips, “There aren’t as many bumps in the XBox version,” and they all nod in agreement.
There’s definitely a hurdle for anyone who wants to sample a demo. Who even has a joystick these days? It’s hard come up with a script for a realistic sim that demo’s well. Put someone in a car on the track with a keyboard and they’re faced with 2 hours of sucking while they learn the track while developing tendonitis of the hand. Try the driving school approach and people moan that they can’t get out and drive. It’s not surprising no one has tried one in the last decade.
“The rest of the editors”?
Maybe “most” but certainly not “the rest”.
I think it is time to reveal that I am also a race fan…though not necessarily of high tech F1. My tastes run to older cars (Spirit of Speed 1937 and Rally Trophy), rally cars (Rally Championship 2000, Rally Masters and RalliSport Challenge), touring (TOCA 2 and STCC 2), dirt track (Dirt Track Racing 2 and Saturday Night Speedway) and oddities (Vakantie Racer, Trabi Racer, Syrenka Racer and, of course, Need for Russia: Greatest Cars of the CCCP).
Now if I could just get the dragons to move so I could finish my qualifying lap…
I don’t play any F1 games, the modern ones are too fast for my old eyes and I haven’t sought out the classic Grand Prix Legends. I do enjoy watching the vids though and naturally I meant that all but the most senior editors were tied up in this Dragon bizness.
How does Cars of the CCCP play? Rallying, in my experience, is very tough.
Need for Russia: Greatest Cars of the CCCP: Parts I and II resembles the early Need for Speed entries with a couple weird Polish twists. (The Need for Russia series was developed by Polish developer Play Publishing.)
For example, you start the game with an underpowered car and you must outdrive your competitors…some of whom are driving trucks. Or your first track is through the ruins of Chernobyl. The games look good and install without glitches. The driving is strictly seat-of-the-pants. There is a physics engine lurking in the code that will inform you that momentum is a very real force and that as a demonstration of same you are going to be meeting a wall in 3, 2, 1…
The appeal of the Play Publishing games is that you have the opportunity to experience a world that has nothing in common with taking a half million dollar Italian ride out for a spin on the streets of Monaco. More likely you’ll be driving a 1982 Lada through the Polish countryside. And, as a change, that’s fun.