Assetto Corsa Private Lobbies Have Been Delayed

Those who purchased the console version of Assetto Corsa for either the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One knew this was coming at some point, but finally seeing it manifest itself in a Facebook status update is surely the aspect of it all that’ll sting the most. Kunos Simulazioni spent several weeks, maybe even months, implying the long-awaited implementation of private lobbies would be arriving in the forthcoming update for Assetto Corsa, but as you can probably infer from the screenshot above, the release of that update has now been pushed back an undisclosed amount of time.

Shipping with a comparatively minimal amount of features and functionality when pitted against other current generation racers, Assetto Corsa was deemed to be an extreme disappointment by the majority of those who purchased it, yet the hardcore sim enthusiasts pledged their allegiance to Kunos Simulazioni in the hopes that one day, the console iteration of the popular racing simulator would offer the same type of overall experience found in the original PC counterpart. Though consoles typically aren’t the ideal platform for serious organized multiplayer league races, games like the Codemasters’ F1 series, Gran Turismo, and Forza Motorsport have proved that an equally dedicated group of sim racers call these platforms home, and were hoping to use the figurative playing fields of Assetto Corsa for future online racing seasons

Unfortunately, their patience and good-will continues to be put to the test, with no clear reward in sight – only to be hounded by fellow forum for not exercising even more patience. As a sim racing developer who rose to prominence through the 2014 calendar year by building an indie racing sim that skyrocketed in popularity thanks to a wave of over-zealous fanboys helping to perpetuate their eternal science project, Kunos were warned quite aggressively by third parties who could see the game for what it is that the console crowd would simply not stand for some of their more questionable development choices; ones that prioritized a steady stream of downloadable content over implementing functionality seen in games from previous console generations. This talk was at one point deemed libelous, and the individuals responsible for the controversial postings as “notorious trolls” who “irrationally hated” Kunos, but at this point it’s pretty hard not to call these predictions anything but brutally accurate; with Kunos continuing to fumble console updates and provide no tangible timeline as to when console owners can expect to have a game that resembles the vastly superior PC version, the company’s reputation has taken a pretty severe beating.

All kinds of colorful rumors have tried to explain the botched console release and subsequent shoddiness, from Kunos staff members not being entirely on-board with the console release from the get-go, or a rival coder supposedly hired to produce the work output from Stefano Casillo (and reduce the message board hostility), but unfortunately we’ve never gotten a clear explanation that accurately conveys why the same company held in such high regard by a number of sim racers could put out a woefully inadequate counterpart on another platform.

These delusions of grandeur also appear to stretch to the development team themselves, as Kunos staff members can be seen appearing at Codemotion Rome 2017 to discuss the process of preparing Assetto Corsa for current generation consoles as if the game was an excellent example of how to successfully accomplish this task, when in reality the team are consistently botching or outright delaying essential updates the community have patiently waited months for – not to mention the horrendous launch which saw both consoles unable to run the game smoothly for several weeks. It’s hard not to label what’s going on in Italy as a virtual cult of personality, as it seems there’s a pretty big detachment from how Assetto Corsa community members feel about the title and key developers, versus what’s actually happening from a basic consumer standpoint. Facebook “fans” have loaded the offical Assetto Corsa page with praise, thanking Kunos for the vague news on what in layman’s terms is an extremely shitty delay, but those who don’t need internet brownie points from fellow sim racers know you certainly can’t keep sitting around waiting for a product you bought eight months ago to add rudimentary features it should have had at launch.

It’s really just a bit old fashioned mess at this point, and in hindsight I’ve often wondered why Kunos even bothered to conceive a console variant of their simulator in the first place. The team weren’t exactly known for their strict development schedule even in the PC version’s Early Access phase, and before the game achieved 1.0 status was already being blasted by mainstream sim outlets for a lack of functionality. I have no idea why a company would intentionally and knowingly bite off far more than they could chew, especially with such a large chance that it would backfire and expose their incompetent traits on a significantly larger platform. Yes, we all know the answer to the question is “money” – plain and simple – but in the long run, is it really worth shitting a severely hampered version of your PC sim out into the wild for a few million?

The answer, quite simply, is no. Even if Assetto Corsa 2 is on the cards, every single potential customer is going to remember how it took eight months and counting just to add private lobbies to the game, and instead of purchasing the game out of curiosity like they did for the first title, they’re going to outright avoid it – especially with stuff like Gran Turismo Sport, Forza Motorsport 7, and DiRT 4 on the market offering a significantly more comprehensive overall package.

I’m under the impression that this delayed update is part of larger problem; the ship is sinking, and we’re merely starting to see the first cracks – though the losers who support Assetto Corsa like a rogue religion will only continue to demand more patience, and like Scientology, encourage you to contribute… er… support Kunos by buying both present & future DLC packs. My question is, when do these blind apologists also give up hope? Kunos sold an abhorrent game on consoles, and eight months later, it’s really not that much better aside from minor FPS improvements. When is reality going to set in that it’s just not working out, and they’re kind of a shitty company for putting out such a half-baked game when compared to the other products on the market?

 

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PRC Invades Bandai-Namco Germany

18049515_10212920580798641_1027486462_oThanks to the opportunity spearheaded by Ian Bell, this past Wednesday I was graciously invited as PRC’s foreign relations rep to a private press showing of Project CARS 2, which means we can start opening up a bit more about the upcoming simulator and tell you about everything that was on display at Bandai-Namco’s offices in Frankfurt. I arrived on location around noon and was greeted by two SMS employees, Luis and Marco. They quickly led me to the room where they had a rig setup with a Playseat and a Thurstmaster T300, complimented by a relatively large television running Windows 10.

Marco told me that before lunch would arrive, I could warm myself up with a couple of laps in the Olsberg GRC Lite car at the Daytona infield rallycross track. Straight out of the box the car behaved like I expected a support class  rallycross car to behave. If I had to explain the feeling of the car to someone who hasn’t played Project Cars 2 yet, I’d say that it felt very similar to how the rallycross cars drive in Dirt Rally – though much more refined. On dirt or gravel, the car felt almost identical to Dirt Rally, but on tarmac you could really feel that Project Cars 2 is, at its heart, a racing simulator. It didn’t display the weird and wonky tarmac physics of Dirt Rally where the car seemingly has too much grip, but rather felt exactly like you would expect a car with dirt tires would behave on tarmac.

18049465_10212920577118549_1400574340_oAfter I’d done a couple of warmup laps, it was time for a proper race against a field of AI opponents. If you don’t know much about Rallycross, then let me quickly explain to you how it works – six cars are spread across two rows, with the race commencing in a standing start fashion. Events are usually short affairs rarely lasting more than five or six laps, of which one requires you to take a slightly longer route around one of the corners of the track – known as the joker lap.

Since Marco was impressed by my speed he disregarded the AI strength setting recommended by Slightly Mad Studios for the press event and set the slider to 100% strength and increased their aggressiveness as well, a slider that many longtime rFactor players will be familiar with. I started the race in last place and had to make my way up the order during the course of five laps. I quickly overtook four of my five opponents, however the AI driving at the front of the pack was giving everything it could, throwing blocks, braking late and trying everything else at his disposal in order to keep me from taking his spot. However, my immersion was affected when I completely forgot to take the mandatory joker lap, and the game did not penalize me for it.

Later in the afternoon, we continued with a proper Honda Civic GRC entry at the Hell Rallycross track, a track many of you will be familiar with from Codemasters’ Dirt Rally. Though the track layout itself was the same as it is in Dirt Rally, I noticed something else now that I had a direct comparison with a different game that has the same track; Even though the layout was the same, the track surface detail was much higher in Project Cars 2. You really felt that you were driving on big chunks of gravel; The wheel vibrated ever so slightly, just like it does when you drive a gravel road in real life. Obviously, this feeling will change on the wheel and force feedback options that you set yourself, but that it’s working this well at this stage of the development of the game is a good sign.

After I’d accustomed myself to the car and track combination, it was time for another race. Since I had beaten the AI easily at 100% strength at the Daytona rallycross track, Marco now set the AI difficulty to 120%, fittingly called “Alien”though I don’t consider myself one, neither figuratively nor literally. This time I had great difficulty keeping up with the AI since I had started in last place again, and due to a couple of mistakes from my side I didn’t manage to win the race.

Next up was driving the Acura NSX GT3 at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. For the first time, dynamic time changes and 60x time speed up were activated as well, which meant that during the couple of laps I drove to get used to the car and track, the time of day progressed from noon to deep into the night. Headlights turned themselves on automatically on the car and at the track, and due to both lower air and track temperatures you could actually feel the tires producing a little more grip than during day time. This is something the endurance racing guys will love.

During the couple of hotlaps that I completed to familiarize myself with the car, I noticed that the turn-in behavior of the car felt “weird”. It was a feeling that was difficult to describe, but compared to my own experiences playing the alpha version of the game at home, it didn’t feel as smooth as I was used to with these cars. We went into the gameplay options menu and saw that Stability Control was activated, presumably for the more mainstream gaming journalists who would arrive later. I don’t know exactly what it does (apart from making the car feel like shit), but I implore Slightly Mad Studios to explore how stability control has been implemented. Many pad users will undoubtedly toggle on a vast array of assists to come to terms with the driving experience in Project CARS 2, and I felt it was counter-intuitive to what driving assists are supposed to do.

So, after disabling the Stability Control option, it again was time for another race against the AI, this time against a full field of 31 other GT3 cars, similar to what you would experience when driving the Blancpain GT series in real life. Again, I started last and had to make my way up the order during the 10 laps I was given for this event. After I’d gotten into a bit of free air and could turn some laps without having to constantly battle for position, I noticed that the AI somehow had a lot more power coming out of the corners and thus they were able to accelerate much quicker. But even though they arrived with much more speed at the different corners of the track, they could brake five, sometimes even ten or fifteen meters later than I had to in order to make the corner. In turn, their actual cornering speed was somewhat slow; sometimes they were so slow that I bumped into them at the corner apex, even though at turn-in they had a good two car lengths on me. This is something that Slightly Mad Studios definitely have to put some work into until the release of the game, as right now they exhibit behavior traits similar to ISI-powered products, where the line the AI uses conflicts with what the player car is capable of.

What I enjoyed about the AI though, was that thanks to the high aggressiveness setting the AI often dared to try and out-brake me into corners when they were next to me, something which many games don’t do well. Sometimes this led to the AI using me as a brake in order to make the corner, but most of the time it worked out fine. I also didn’t notice any massive pile ups or cars stuck in the gravel pits, which plagues not only the original Project CARS, but also other racing simulators like Assetto Corsa. I eventually made my way up to third before all of the spaghetti fell out of my pocket coming out of turn five, and caused a massive pile up that involved at least five or six cars.

The final car and track combination that we visited was IndyCar at the Long Beach Street Circuit. There was no AI race event configured for this combination, but again we started at daylight and drove until the track was dark. I rarely drive single-seaters in racing simulations since most games get them pretty wrong based on my own real-world experience, but I was positively surprised by how it handled.

What you’re asking yourself the most at this point is probably: “Tell us how the cars drive and feel!”, so let me answer your question. The overall feel, as Austin described a few days ago is very similar to some of the very good cars in rFactor 2; for me that means that it feels very realistic and predictable, but I know there are people out there that really dislike rFactor 2’s physics. The tire behavior is very similar, flat-spotting is simulated at least to the same degree that rFactor 2 simulates it (albeit the force feedback doesn’t try to rip your arms off you once you flatspotted your tire) and PCARS2’s tire model also incorporates an advanced form of tire deformation, as you can see in the video below.

What really makes the biggest difference though in terms of feel compared to other simulators, is the way that the suspension is modeled and how it interacts with the force feedback and the overall feel of the car. As I mentioned with the Rallycross cars earlier, thanks to most of the tracks being laser-scanned, you can feel every little bump on the track. This makes the cars more exciting to drive but also easier to predict, as driving over a bump gives you immediate feedback as to what the car will do next. Obviously all of this is subject to change, but if Slightly Mad Studios keep going in this direction with the development of their physics model, then I’m very optimistic that it will turn out very well and generally be liked by the community.

Another thing that I got to experience was what the team are calling “Live Track 3.0” and how weather affected the track. Track and weather progression was accelerated by a factor of 60 during my time spent playing the press demo, so one lap with one car would feel like like two laps with a full grid of cars putting rubber down on the racing surface. After a couple of loops around the circuit you could not only see a driving line form, but you also felt that you could brake later and accelerate earlier where the rubber was laid down. I also have to mention that unlike rFactor 2’s real road surface, which is a generic uniform strand of rubber, the racing groove begins as two distinct smaller rubber trails (one for each side of the vehicle’s tires) before eventually widening into a bigger, general patch. It looks objectively better than rFactor 2’s real road, and gives you a better idea of the lines people are taking through each corner. An additional feature that I sadly wasn’t allowed to take footage of yet (since the feature isn’t completely finished) is how the dynamic track changes with weather, but I’m sure you’ll see it at some point in the near future

Once I was done with all the car and track combinations that I was allowed to take footage of, we went back to Long Beach, but set the weather options in such a way that it progressed from heavy clouds to a heavy storm, and then back to blistering heat over the course of a couple of laps. Since the build version I was playing didn’t allow for pit stops or a change of tires at the start of a session, I could only use dry slick tires for the complete session with the Acura NSX GT3.

With every lap I turned, it began to rain harder and harder until I could barely go forward anymore due to aquaplaning. And when the weather changed to a scorching heat, a dry line quickly formed where I had driven the lap before while the rest of the track only slowly dried off. According to Slightly Mad Studios, the final version of the game will, on most tracks, have realistic drainage modeled into the track mesh, so once it stops raining water will realistically start to disappear from the driving surface, while taking much longer and in realistic places off the track, such as on grass. Though sim racers who run shorter races won’t be able to see how this plays into an event strategy, the bigger GT3 and prototype leagues will find this to be an extra challenge they’ll have to deal with.

The sound is, overall, pretty decent. Depending on the car it’s already very good, though some cars still experience issues. One thing I spotted during my session at Bandai-Namco was that when you drive under a bridge it sounded like someone is cutting a steel beam with an electric steel saw, though I assume this will be fixed.

In terms of visual fidelity and performance, I can’t comment that much from the event itself since the game didn’t run at full details in order to guarantee perfect performance. I can tell you from my personal experience though that the game looks absolutely beautiful in most cases on full detail as the graphics engine is, after all, an improved version of the one used for the original iteration. Optimization is significantly better than the first game, as during hotlapping on maximum details I never dip below 60fps, and that’s with a 970GTX at a 1440p resolution. This is of course still subject to change as not all graphical features have been implemented into the game yet, but what I just said should give you a rough ballpark figure of what to expect from the final game. Be aware though that the more AI or, when playing online, real players are driving in the same session as you, performance will most likely take a dip as your CPU will be stressed pretty heavily thanks to the complex physics engine that works underneath the cover of Project Cars 2.

All in all I found very few things wrong with the game in its current state (or rather, the build that I played), and if things progress as nicely as they have done so far, I see very little reason to not enjoy this game once it is released. I honestly tried to find as many bad things as I could during the couple of hours that I had to play this game so I couldn’t be accused of shilling for the game, but there just wasn’t that many things wrong with the game. I also did not receive any money or other incentives to write this article other than paid travel to and from the Bandai-Namco Germany headquarters.

Auf Wiedersehen

[Disclaimer: The poor video quality is down to Austin not having mastered the art of Sony Vegas video rendering yet, since we were allowed to recapture the footage taken at Bandai Namco at home. At the event I was able to play the game at a 4K resolution.]

Could ISI Bring Back Sports Car GT?

Though Studio 397 have been given the keys to drive rFactor 2 off into the sunset, that doesn’t mean the original developers of the simulator – Image Space Incorporated – are about to rest on their laurels anytime soon. We’ve heard from several sources, including an email exchange with Tim Wheatley himself many months back, that the team are hard at work on an upcoming project; one that will “use” the isiMotor engine rather than “develop” it, so it’s certainly hard not to let speculation run wild – because if there’s one thing all sim racers love to partake in regardless of their preferred discipline of motorsports, it’s playing the waiting game for either a new simulator, or an update for a sim they haven’t touched in several months.

Last year, I predicted this secret project would manifest into an officially licensed IndyCar simulator. Image Space Incorporated appeared to have an excellent relationship with both Dallara and the Verizon IndyCar Series, to the point where Indianapolis Motor Speedway was included in rFactor 2 as default content, and they were sharing data about the current spec aero kits with third party mod teams working on other games, so it wasn’t a stretch to assume things would be kicked into high gear with a fully-licensed IndyCar simulator sometime in the future. ISI achieved worldwide recognition for their fantastic open wheel simulator F1 Challenge ’99-’02 over a decade ago, so an IndyCar sim would almost be a sort of homecoming celebration for them; it’s not quite Formula One, but after years upon years spent developing multiple sim racing sandboxes with heaps of unlicensed content in the base package, it would be a return to their roots to create an open wheel sim with the blessings of a major racing series.

The biggest problem with this hypothesis, however, lies with IndyCar itself. Featuring only twenty two drivers on the grid for the 2017 season, all of whom pilot cars that are generally regarded as the worst looking vehicles in the history of auto racing, IndyCar isn’t just a shadow of its former self; the series is on life support. People aren’t going to the races in person, they aren’t watching the races on television, about half of the drivers on the grid are regarded as washed up stars of yesteryear, and I’ve read stories of Indianapolis residents not even knowing IndyCar was a championship series; they just thought the Indianapolis 500 was a one-off special event. While many sim racers would no doubt love a hardcore IndyCar game because of the variety the series provides – visiting temporary street circuits, ovals, and purpose built road courses all within just a few months – it’s probably not feasible on the IndyCar side of a potential deal. These guys can’t put their own fans in the stands for $50, so who’s left to buy an IndyCar video game most of them won’t be able to complete a lap in for $60?

But regardless of the IndyCar situation, ISI are still making some sort of undisclosed project, and the language used to describe it implies the software won’t be some kind of eternal science project, but a feature-complete simulator you’ll be able to purchase, install, and play without worrying about things like developer blogs, road maps, new builds, and all of the garbage that has infected sim racing as of late. And looking at the types of sim racers who still play rFactor 2 religiously, there’s basically one move ISI could make that would win virtually everybody over and generate both the most amount of buzz, and highest number of sales across the entire planet while still remaining true to their sim racing roots.

Resurrect Sports Car GT.

Released in April of 1999 and published with the help of Electronic Arts in an era long before they were known as the world’s worst company, Sports Car GT was ISI’s first major racing simulator, centered primarily around North American multi-class GT racing as sanctioned by IMSA. Though the game included a slew of fantasy circuits to diversify the track roster, sim racers were introduced to locations such as Lime Rock Park, the Las Vegas Infield Circuit, Sebring International Raceway, Road Atlanta, and a high-quality version of Laguna Seca that blew away what Papyrus had built a few years earlier for IndyCar Racing II. Not only was the vanilla release extremely well-received by major gaming outlets, bundling impressive graphics with equally robust physics and a simple career mode that allowed you to buy, upgrade, and sell cars, Sports Car GT’s third party mod community promptly exploded in popularity. Absolutely everything went right for this game.

Fast forward fifteen years, and GT racing is even more popular than it was in 1999, with the added bonus of being financially stable; limits being placed on car development to prevent costs from launching into the stratosphere and prototype-like machinery from dominating each event via liberal interpretations of the rules package.

On the software side of things, sim racers have been begging for an all-GT oriented sequel to GTR 2 after the company now known as Slightly Mad Studios won several awards for what was on paper a very obscure simulator based on the European FIA GT Championship. With the cars being relatively easy to learn yet difficult to master, and brand loyalty playing an integral role when it comes to on-track dick waving, many sim developers have thrown top level GT cars into their software to satisfy the needs of sports car racing fans, though being inserted into a diverse smorgasbord of content just isn’t the same as firing up a piece of software with menus, features, and functionality as elegant and focused as the Ferrari’s, McLaren’s, and Porsche’s it features.

But this is where resurrecting Sports Car GT in that fashion, makes perfect sense.

rFactor 2 is a great simulator, but only in very specific circumstances. The Stock Cars ISI tried to implement a few years ago in an effort to woo the oval racing crowd are still woefully inadequate, with the AI unable to provide a compelling oval racing experience. There are plenty of open wheel cars to mess around with, but all of them allow you to beat and bang with your opponents as if they’re bumper cars at the local summer festival. And yes, while the game welcomes third party mods with open arms, most of them just aren’t very good – either quick conversions from other platforms, or beautiful 3D models with objectively poor physics. This has created situations where a lot of people end up buying rFactor 2, only to wonder what all the fuss is about.

And then there’s the endurance racing content by UnitedRacingDesign.

The popularity of rFactor 2 in certain sim racing circles has skyrocketed thanks to what’s basically two mods from the same payware modding team, as URD’s unlicensed GTE and Prototype packages show off the isiMotor engine in the absolute best possible way. With several leagues – including the prestigious VEC – making use of both mods in an online endurance racing format, events are long enough for the dynamic track to naturally evolve in the intended fashion, the tires behave in such a way that those who drive the cars understand why rFactor 2’s thermonuclear tire model is such a big deal, and the 24-hour lighting cycle, driver swaps, and weather patterns play an actual role in the event as opposed to being features the large majority of rFactor 2 users will never touch.

What I’m getting at, is that the major new features that make rFactor 2 a technological masterpiece which so many hardcore sim nerds can be seen masturbating over on the official forums, are actually made use of when it comes to GT and endurance racing content. So it would make sense for ISI to reboot Sports Car GT and make that type of racing their primary focus, as it puts the level of detail and functionality they’ve spent years working on at the forefront, rather than hiding it in options menus to be neglected by a large portion of their customer base.

Licensing is also made significantly easier for Image Space Incorporated by choosing to pursue GT & endurance racing. With so many series and sanctioning bodies around the world running under the same basic set of rules and specifications, there isn’t actually a need to go out and license one exact racing series directly, such as Blancpain, IMSA, or the World Endurance Championship.

Merely acquiring ten or twelve of the most popular GT entries, along with a handful of prototypes and a decent selection of major racing circuits is enough to get things off the ground, as regardless of whether it says Blancpain Endurance Series above the windshield of a McLaren 650s, or a fictional World GT Championship moniker, the physical on-track product isn’t any different. This is what they appear to have done Sports Car GT, as I can’t find anything on the packaging or in-game track signage that states it’s an official IMSA product of any sort – it just has an ass load of various GT cars on tracks that just so happened to be on the IMSA schedule, as well as a few international tracks like Donnington Park and Hockenheim thrown in for good measure.

We’ll obviously learn in time what ISI are up to behind the scenes, but I’m under the impression they are resurrecting Sports Car GT with an updated set of cars and tracks, using the isiMotor 2 platform as a base. Sports car racing is the absolute best way to make use of all the new additions to the isiMotor engine first implemented in rFactor 2, the popularity of sports car racing is at an all time high and people are desperate for some sort of modern game primarily focused around GT racing, and it would be a sentimental returning-to-their roots story for a company many have thought lost their way with the haphazard development of rFactor 2. There’s basically no reason for them not to do it at this point.

A Collection of Vaporware for your Viewing Pleasure

It’s a fact of life in the video game industry – things don’t always go in the manner which they were first intended. What may have seemed like a fantastic initial pitch might instead turn out to be a logistical nightmare when it comes to following through with the ordeal, thus leading to a situation where optimistic supporters of your upcoming release dating all the way back to the first reveal are suddenly asking an increasing array of blunt, abrasive questions. Known by the affectionate term of Vaporware to the greater gaming community, titles like Duke Nukem Forever attained widespread notoriety for their horrifically long time spent in development that ended up surpassing any critical discussion of the title itself – with gamers more focused on the story behind the software’s inability to launch as an example of what not to do in the industry. It’s like everyone’s watching a documentary unfold in real-time.

Yet due to the exponentially smaller community size, independent developers can get away with this behavior in the world of sim racing on a much more frequent basis. With significantly less potential customers to disappoint, as well as a cluster of websites covering these games aimed at the same group of hardcore enthusiasts rather than mass numbers of readers, any race car game that fails to materialize does not run the risk of alerting major gaming outlets that a developer doesn’t have their shit together – and thus fucking over the company’s reputation in the long run when they try to take on other projects; it all stays internalized, with the news articles eventually pushed into the archives.

So let’s dig them up.

Dirt Track Racing 2017

Though the recent frenzy surrounding iRacing adding a plethora of dirt oval racing content to the popular online simulator platform may sound like the developers had specifically taken aim at backwoods rednecks living in rural American trailer parks, the reality is that short track oval racing is an extremely popular discipline of auto racing on both sides of the pacific ocean, and Australians love their sprint car racing. Big Ant Studios, an Australian team who had worked on prior officially-licensed sprint car games for Sony’s PlayStation 2 – but had recently taken their talents to cricket titles – were hoping to revive Ratbag’s iconic Dirt Track Racing series of the early 2000’s with a crowdfunded dirt oval racing simulator. Elaborate plans for the simulator went live in early 2016, alongside an impressive video indicating preliminary work had already commenced on the game, so there wasn’t much of a need to be skeptical in regards to the project itself – the team were definitely capable of building what they were promising.

As this was all happening a few months before iRacing would eventually reveal their similar plans for dirt oval racing on April Fools’ day, there was admittedly a lot of excitement for what Big Ant were planning to deliver – with the help of the community, of course. Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t translate into a successful crowdfunding campaign. On March 1st, 2017, Big Ant were forced to announce that the $78,000 raised for Dirt Track Racing 2017 was only about a third of the initial funds needed for the base product to land on store shelves, and the game had been outright cancelled. Backers were given a complete refund of their donations – as per Kickstarter rules – and Dirt Track Racing 2017 will forever remain a two minute teaser trailer on YouTube.

Ironically, estimated sales figures from the release of iRacing’s dirt content project that if all 7,000 iRacers online during the day of release bought the complete array of cars and tracks available at launch (a price tag of $50 USD), they would have raised around $40,000 more than the $266,000 Big Ant were asking to make their dirt simulator into a reality. So it’s not a matter of dirt oval racing lacking a big enough audience to make a dedicated dirt game a worthwhile venture, it’s that sim racers are generally unwilling to take risks on products that don’t bare the iRacing logo. Though I can’t blame sim racers for being nervous about supporting a company whose claim to fame is cricket and PS2 sprint car outings, the alternative they’re forced to live with is a game featuring monthly subscription fees and per-content costs that may drive away the average fan before they’ve even tried signing up.

GT Legends 2

2016 appears to have been an especially bad year for vaporware sims, as alongside Big Ant’s failure to acquire enough funding for Dirt Track Racing, we were also graced with an announcement from none other than RaceDepartment that GT Legends would make a return under the command of ex-SimBin employee Simon Lundell and his new outlet, Tiny Feet Studios. We saw no screenshots, mock-ups, or renders of the project, which is generally par for the course when announcing a game – only a few select documents indicating the whole thing was basically an idea that existed in someone’s imaginationbut this did not stop RaceDepartment from publishing a high profile news article with Lundell’s blessing.

However, the official Facebook page for Tiny Feet Studios has not seen a single fragment of activity since the RaceDepartment article in February of 2016. Meanwhile, the homepage for Tiny Feet directs to a single splash screen that states “the legend will be back” – again with no footage, screenshots, or even assets to display. As far back as 2014, the brand can be seen looking for individuals with Unreal Engine 4 experience a move suspiciously in line with SimBin UK’s move to Unreal 4 with the upcoming GTR 3 but obviously nothing seems to have come of this in the meantime.

While I personally am under the impression Lundell and Tiny Feet used RaceDepartment as a third party marketing outlet to try and generate interest in a GT Legends reboot, hoping to secure a publisher based solely on the reactions of community members writing hyperbolic comments about throwing money at the PC monitor, a different reason that explains the title’s inability to materialize was offered in March of this year. RaceDepartment have written that development of GT Legends 2 was suspended due to Lundell coming down with an undisclosed illness. There is of course talk of “alternative solutions being sought”, but this doesn’t explain why social media activity ceased immediately after the initial announcement in early 2016, and nothing so much as a single screenshot or tidbit of information has surfaced over a year after the fact.

Unfortunately, with how shady certain aspects of the sim racing community can be, I can’t really take this story at face value. I’m not quite sure what game studio just sort of stops operating entirely when their boss gets sick. Not only that, the premise of someone affiliated with SimBin starting a brand new studio that plans to use Unreal Engine 4 as a racing simulator power plant, offering no proof that the title exists aside from a single RaceDepartment announcement, has now been repeated two years in a row. This all looks really strange, and there’s probably a story here, but it’s one of those things where we’ll have to wait it out for more details.

KartKraft

You knew this one was coming, and it’s a very difficult story to follow. Originally announced in 2006 (no, this is not a typo) under the title of KartSim, the name of the developer changed no less than three times – first we called them Maschine Simulations, then Primer Interactive, and eventually Black Delta – though CEO Zach Griffin remained a constant throughout the project’s lifespan. The premise for this one is pretty simple; a team of enthusiasts were going to sit down and build the ultimate karting simulator using Unreal 4 as a base, as most modern simulator engines just can’t accurately convey the characteristics of an ultra-lightweight race car without the whole thing feeling like a poor rFactor mod.

A fantastic preview trailer was released, sporting out-of-this-world visuals, such advanced depth in the customization & configuration aspect that would solidify KartKraft’s status as the be-all, end-all kart racing simulator, and just for shits and giggles, the game appeared to have some sort of first person element that let you walk around and explore the facility as you would at a real kart circuit. It looks undeniably awesome, but now comes the time to remind you this was all revealed to the general public six years ago, with the title campaigning for Steam’s Greenlight platform in the spring of 2014. By 2016, the name had changed, and the game’s official YouTube channel had advertised that a Steam Early Access launch was imminent, but then it just sort of… vaporized…

RaceDepartment ran a piece earlier this year entitled “What Ever Happened to KartKraft?” – and the comments which followed are extremely telling. Some users who imply they were under strict non-disclosure agreements note the game was enormously buggy and was in no state to be released to the general public, even on Steam’s Early Access platform – which allows unfinished titles to be sold at a heavily discounted price – while others state they loved it and blamed the bugs on those with poor PC’s. Now, all games in development have a varying array of bugs, but for KartKraft to receive such a divisive reception from its own testers, an entire decade after being announced, it’s probably not a good thing.

To add fuel to the fire, the simulator’s official Facebook page reveals a pretty essential piece of contradictory information if you’re willing to dig that far back. On June 30th of 2016, which also happens to be the last day any sort of official post was made to the Facebook page, Black Delta wrote to a Facebook user known as Nicolai that KartKraft would be released on Steam’s Early Access platform within a few weeks time. However, the following nine months saw the team respond to all future queries about KartKraft’s release with the same vague PR babble regurgitated over and over again about encouraging users to continuously check their social media page for updates, bringing us up to present day.

I’m unsure how a team can go from publicly stating they’re a few weeks off a Steam Early Access release, to being by their own description completely unaware of when the game will come out at all, and then giving this same answer for a period of almost an entire year. It’s like they’ve somehow gone backwards. This is not what happens in sim racing, and it’s certainly not what happens in indie gaming as a whole unless there’s a major mess occurring behind the scenes.

Vaporware will always exist in some fashion – it’s just part of software development – but KartKraft, GT Legends 2, and Dirt Track Racing are the three most recent examples of racing simulators that failed to materialize. Will at least two of the titles see the light of day? I wouldn’t count on it. Dirt Track Racing was officially killed by Big Ant Studios, we haven’t seen a single shred of evidence regarding GT Legends 2 existing aside from a power point presentation floating on somebody’s hard drive, and while KartKraft did have a rough release date established at one point in time, their social media activity abruptly stalled, and their PR guy has been copy/pasting the same generic response for almost a whole year – which has gone against previous posts indicating they were ready to pull the trigger and put the thing up for sale.

If our readers have any information on the three games listed above, we’d certainly like to know what happened to them.

Unwanted Setup Sharing Plays Prominent Role in Automobilista Time Trial Championship

It’s admittedly been a while since we’ve talked about Reiza Studios’ Automobilista here on PRC.net, as the Brazilian-backed evolution of rFactor has remained in stasis for several months; pushing out tiny fragments of objectively high quality downloadable content for the small group of users who still use the title as their sim of choice. Not quite a massive step for the overall sim racing landscape, but still a worthy addition to the library of any hardcore virtual racer, Automobilista was designed as a stop-gap title for Reiza Studios’ 2017 project – which we suspiciously haven’t heard anything about in recent memory – but that’s not the point of today’s article.

Over the past week, Reiza have dropped the green flag on a mammoth hotlap competition intended to bring the entire userbase together for the ultimate display in leaderboard dick-waving, putting up a fairly decent sim rig as a grand prize for accumulating points throughout twelve different weekly time trial challenges, which will obviously span a period of about three months total. The first combination Automobilista owners can try their hand at, the 2015 Stock Car Brazil Series at Velopark, reportedly boasts over five hundred unique entrants, indicating there’s a pretty solid core group of sim racers hanging around to see what Reiza Studios will churn out next.

However, upon actually examining the fine details of this competition, it seems Reiza Studios didn’t put all that much thought into what constitutes as a fair, competitive environment – or take special precautions prior to the start of the competition. Automated setup sharing has been built into Automobilista by default as a tool to ease newcomers into the world of sim racing, meaning that the setup of any individual who registers a lap has their configuration automatically uploaded into an online database, and those hitting the track for the very first time can merely highlight the name of a user, click Fetch Setup, and be given the keys to a car several seconds faster than their own. Now it’s really not a bad idea in theory, especially as the default setups for any car across a variety of games are sometimes just random numbers between the minimum and maximum value – thus creating a car that handles like dog shit – but the problem is that Reiza forgot to disable this functionality before the competition kicked off.

Because every car in sim racing is 100% equal by default, setups play a much larger role in determining the victor of any given competition than they do in real life auto racing. While major sims like Forza Motorsport and iRacing both have external setup marketplaces, neither piece of software allows you to explicitly click a drivers’ name and import their setup for this very reason; whereas real world car setups are just part of the equation to being successful out on the race track, a sim racer’s car setup is basically their whole goddamn playbook, and with sims not being totally accurate, sometimes their setup includes exploits that only they have found.

As a result, participants are discovering the hard way that all of their work and research can be stolen by their rivals at a moments notice, and with a decent prize on the line, several can be seen on the official Reiza forums demanding the developer to disable the function for the contest. Others are explicitly not turning a lap until the closing moments of the seventh day, giving other sim racers little chance to become acquainted with their setup and turn a quicker lap.

It’s pretty bizarre that a hardcore sim developer would not understand the importance of keeping car setups private during an intense, twelve-week online competition in which prizes are awarded. Part of the fun of being a sim racer participating in a serious league is sitting down in front of a PC, reading about how cars work, and applying that knowledge in your simulator of choice to gain a few positions on track, whether it be outsmarting your opponents on strategy or blowing by them with raw speed. Reiza have essentially nullified this entire process, with the vast majority of participants now sitting around waiting for “one of the fast guys” to register a time,” and in some cases beating the quicker entrants with their own setups – which the creator didn’t want shared in the first place.

It’s certainly not a good way to begin the championship, that’s for sure.

But with the setups of top leaderboard drivers now floating around in the wild for all to see, the physics flaws and general shortcomings of Automobilista have now been exposed as well. Though the Stock Car V8 was constructed by Dallara to be a low-cost, heavier, ultra-durable DTM knockoff, a sort of hybrid between a NASCAR Xfinity Series entry and a 2010 German Touring Car, the setups being used at the top of the leaderboard are nothing short of nonsensical from a realism standpoint. Sim racers are setting up these lumbering tanks created for wealthy Brazilian auto racers to be ultra twitchy death traps that loop themselves over the slightest of bumps and elevation changes, mashing the restart key over and over just to complete a clean lap. With no fuel consumption or tire wear enabled, sim racers are hitting the track with a single liter of fuel in the tank and working the two-foot magic save hax garbage to turn laps in a caricature of a Brazilian stock car – which sort of defeats the entire purpose of a hardcore simulator.

To make matters worse, Motorsport.com reports the 2016 Stock Car Brazil pole at Velopark set by Caca Bueno was a blistering 54.172, yet this would put him almost three seconds off pace the current #1 time in Automobilista of a 51.8. I understand that the locations aren’t laser-scanned, but Reiza’s tracks are fantastic works of art regardless, and a difference of three seconds in qualifying trim between the best driver in the history of the Stock Car Brazil series, versus the top twenty five sim racers – some of which have probably never driven the car before this week – is something that should be looked into.

Next week, the Reiza community challenge will take the early 2000’s Formula One car to Suzuka, which may see this problem magnified thanks to the increased complexity of setup building for open wheel race cars.