BAJA: Edge of Control HD Set for August Release, PC Version Rumored

While most gamers will have their eyes focused on the remastered version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which drops today after previously being an Infinite Warfare bundle exclusive for several months, there’s a remaster of a different sorts turning heads within the sim racing community. A 4K re-release of BAJA: Edge of Control, 2XL’s criminally underrated classic, was announced earlier this year for both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but only now have we gotten word of a release date from THQ Nordic. According to an international GameStop website, the desert racing quasi-sim will be in our hands on August 29th, bringing some much-needed variety to the console gaming landscape which has seen nothing but arcade racers and car collecting simulators since their introduction to the market in late 2013.

Built solely for fans of SCORE International Off-Road racing events, and making virtually no attempts to ease outsiders into the experience, Edge of Control was the previous console generation’s equivalent to Richard Burns Rally. Though the game certainly won’t be for everybody, as desert truck racing is a discipline confined to just a small portion of the western United States, it will be nice to have a break from the yearly tarmac-focused titles that are pushed out like clockwork. It’s also probably the smartest move THQ Nordic could have made from a financial standpoint; the renewed interest in hardcore simulators thanks to DiRT Rally and Project CARS being pushed into the spotlight could see Edge of Control perform moderately well in the market, compared to when it first launched amidst the Call of Duty craze during the fall of 2008 and was promptly ignored for a virtual trip to the Pacific Theater.

Along with the alleged release date being leaked through GameStop, there are also hints that THQ Nordic plan to bring the game to the PC as well. Baja’s own Wikipedia page states that Edge of Control: HD will also be arriving on the Windows 10 operating system, with Amazon pages also listing the yet-to-be-announced Microsoft Windows variant at $29.99. This could be a game-changer for Edge of Control’s lifespan, as while the vanilla game is hard to find fault with, pad-friendly design choices such as the lack of cockpit view and the ability to control your vehicle’s trajectory could be ironed out by dedicated modders in pursuit of an even more demanding gameplay experience, resulting in the pinnacle of trophy truck simulators.

All eyes will be on THQ Nordic for this release, as while Baja: Edge of Control was a cult classic universally adored by everyone who dared to stray from the Call of Duty craze for just a moment – and it’ll be certainly hard to mess up – the team haven’t exactly been on good terms with their core audience. MX vs. ATV Supercross, Nordic’s first major release (and subsequent remaster for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC), was seen as a total dud by the motocross gaming community due to poor framerate and lousy overall riding physics, causing many to abandon the team’s efforts in favor of Milestone’s MXGP 3. If Nordic can avoid these previous problems with Edge of Control HD, we’ll be looking at a stellar off-road racer with fantastic pick up and play multiplayer capabilities, but if the same remastering flaws found in Supercross surface once again, it’ll be time to ask some serious questions about what’s going on at THQ Nordic.

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Need for Speed Fans Flood Facebook With Negative Comments After “Payback” Gameplay Surfaces

If you’re going to take an entire year off to try and re-establish the Need for Speed franchise as a valid alternative to other racing games on the market, this probably isn’t the way to do it.

When Need for Speed: Payback was first unveiled to the general public in a highly cinematic trailer, I instantly took to slamming the game for a variety of reasons, criticizing EA’s willingness to pursue a story-driven direction that already had failed them twice prior, as the mixture of narrative elements and a lighthearted, semi-scripted driving mechanic was explicitly not what their core audience had asked for. However, while some jumped on me for not giving the game a proper chance – it was just a trailer, after all, and there was a glimmer of hope that the actual gameplay experience might be better considering the extended development time – moving footage of the software in action surfaced during Electronic Arts’ own EAPlay event, and it only confirmed my suspicions. Devoid of character, life, or a satisfying driving experience, Need for Speed: Payback is the result of non-gamers sitting in a boardroom, crunching numbers and analyzing data¬†ad nauseam to try and piece together a package that ticks all the boxes of what market analysis says customers should want, but in reality has the substance and longevity of a kiddie pool.

There’s a story, but it’s so embarrassingly cliche and stereotypical, away from Need for Speed it would pass as little more fan fiction from a borderline-obsessed Fast & The Furious fan on DeviantArt, registering under a fake birthday to bypass the age restrictions. The driving elements, again calling upon the Ghost engine that has been used since 2013’s Rivals, looks to once more draw upon what was established with Criterion’s Burnout series of yesteryear – meaning that driving is a solution to a problem that occurs on-screen, not something to be enjoyed and mastered over several hours of play.¬†Payback isn’t a recipe for X amount of sales or an average rating of 8.0 on Metacritic because Y amount of Need for Speed fans also happen to like the official Fast and the Furious page on Facebook; it’s a sad, clumsy project that should never have been given the green light.

And the remaining Need for Speed supporters are making their voices loud and clear – that they too are sick of this bullshit that the team at Ghost have been needlessly perpetuating since the launch of the current console generation. The official Need for Speed Facebook page has been loaded with negative comments trashing Ghost for what will now be three totally misguided efforts since taking over the franchise, with EA awkwardly trying to convince buyers that this year will be different because some YouTube personality they flew around the world to promotional events said so.

Actually, make that two YouTube personalities; one of which whom can’t even remember his lines, and most likely couldn’t tell you the difference between aero push and an apex. This is of course exactly what I want from the longest-standing racing game franchise attempting to make a compact; a guy who looks like he’s never driven more than 10 km/h over the speed limit telling me to get excited for a game where the driving experience isn’t satisfying and the story – which none of us wanted in the first place – is so intrusive, it constantly takes control away from the player.

Good job EA, this is why people hate you.

Now, are Need for Speed supporters acting entitled by aggressively lashing out at Electronic Arts and Ghost Games for taking the legendary series in such a bizarre, nonsensical direction?

I don’t believe so.

As a video game developer, or the creator of any piece of entertainment, your fans are what carry you. If you’re in a rock band, your fans are the ones buying the albums and going to shows. If you’re a director, your fans are the ones hitting up your new movie on opening night and consuming all the merchandise. If you’re an author, your fans are the ones lining up in front of Wal-Mart at midnight. Maintaining a good relationship with these people is priority number one because it guarantees success & stability, and right now, Electronic Arts and Ghost Games have failed to do that.

And they failed because the team have decided regurgitating two concepts the fans previously have not responded well to – bullshit physics and intrusive narrative elements – rather than actually sitting down and listening to what the fans have been asking for. Across multiple Need for Speed communities, the demands for a game are pretty simple – a nice selection of vehicles, a variety of scenic locations, acceptable customization elements, a driving model that behaves somewhat like a car with four rubber tires, and an intelligent police presence. By ignoring the community and spawning an abomination such as Payback, it’s basically EA coming out and loudly proclaiming that they don’t give a fuck what the fans think – which of course tarnishes their relationship with the fans even moreso.

Now this would be kind of understandable if Ghost had set out to create a sort of Lulu on Wheels – an avant garde art piece – but that’s not what happened in the slightest; Ghost took a year off primarily because sales of Need for Speed 2015 were so low due to paltry fan support, and they wanted to ensure the next game would tick all of the boxes hardcore fans had been asking it to, therefore resulting in a sales resurgence.

Yet Payback proves they have simply wasted everyone’s time. Undercover, The Run, Rivals, and the 2015 reboot were all received horribly, so why on earth would Ghost and EA believe it was a wise idea to combine all of them into one gigantic mountain of shit, while acting under the guise of “doing what the fans want?” This isn’t what the fans wanted; it’s what the fans returned to GameStop a week after launch in 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2015 respectively.

What’s even more perplexing is how Ghost were unable to sit down for an afternoon and actually examine the source material that Need for Speed fans have been masturbating over for the better part of the decade; desperately wanting sequels to. It’s honestly not a difficult task to hook up an Xbox 360 with a copy of Most Wanted – the highest selling Need for Speed game of all time – or download a PlayStation 2 emulator and turn a few laps in the unforgettable Hot Pursuit 2, while taking notes about what each game nails to perfection. This isn’t some instrument that Celtic folk stopped playing in the 1200’s, it’s a fucking video game from a decade ago and it runs on Windows 10 operating systems; how Ghost were completely unwilling to hear out the fans in the first place and turn laps in these games to see what they did right, while simultaneously taking a year off and claiming the next effort is for the fans despite combining the worst elements of the four lowest-rated Need for Speed games in the series’ history, is mind-boggling.

Need for Speed fans have every right to be upset over the existence of Payback and what it stands for; the project is the absolute pinnacle of businessmen totally detached from what makes a genuinely fun video game trying to craft an experience that does nothing aside from tick boxes in an effort to maximize potential sales.

 

So… Where’s GTR 3?

For about a week in February of this year, RaceDepartment was set on fire. Proclaiming a revival of the iconic GTR brand on behalf of SimBin UK – an off-shoot of Sector 3 Studios – we were given several lengthy pieces and interviews with key team members promising us that yes, after many years of ideology changes and botched projects, GTR 3 was indeed a real thing. In a sim racing climate in which developers load up their respective pieces of software with as many unrelated vehicles and locations as possible in the hopes that something will captivate their audience, the community saw this announcement as not only a breath of fresh air, but a return to form; the days of single-series simulations we’d seemingly moved far away from were now on the horizon once more, potentially hinting at a second golden age like the one we saw in the early 2000’s was not too far off. Though the initial batch of images SimBin UK published were quickly ripped apart by internet sleuths, who noticed lighting irregularities and oddly placed car models, we were assured that by some point in 2018, we’d be playing GTR 3, and at the very least, the team would have a working game by the summer of 2017.

Of course, when some noticed how absurdly difficult it would be for SimBin UK to create a scratch-built simulation physics engine in Unreal 4 with just the four or five staff members they’d had on the payroll at the time of the game’s announcement, the metaphorical crickets could be heard in abundance – giving doubters such as myself the impression that a lot of people were being taken for a ride, and GTR 3 was yet another pipe dream; the team mocking up a few proof of concept shots and using their connections among the sim racing community to publish pseudo-announcements in high traffic areas, with the hopes of securing an investor to actually fund their vision.

In case you haven’t figured out from the plethora of coverage on YouTube from your favorite sim racing outlets, the Electronic Entertainment Expo is in full swing. This isn’t some sort of obscure gaming show by any means; E3 is ourWoodstock per se – the entire goddamn industry comes together for one giant event in southern California to demonstrate the products we’ll be playing either in the fall, or at some point over the next few years. Now, is it reserved for the giants of the industry? Of course not; Kunos Simulazioni flew out there to announce indie racing simulator Assetto Corsa on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the Kylotonn guys are there displaying WRC 7, and even 704 Games – the questionable team behind the modern NASCAR Heat reboot – brought a laptop and some Xbox controllers to debut NASCAR Heat 2. This is on top of the already stout lineup of Forza Motorsport, Project CARS, Gran Turismo Need for Speed, Formula One, and The Crew – though the latter isn’t a personal favorite of mine.

Absent from this list, would be SimBin UK’s GTR 3, possibly the only major racing game that’s been announced yet did not make an appearance at E3. Now you’re certainly not required to travel halfway around the world show up to the California-based convention to demonstrate your game – a simple YouTube teaser would suffice – but that too appears to be missing in action. When the world is focused on the gaming industry as a whole, and your entire collective target audience have their eyes locked on YouTube to take in the sights and sounds of all the new racing games, it’s certainly odd that there’s not been so much as a peep from the GTR 3 team.

Yes, that’s my “scoop” for today; SimBin UK have not shown off GTR 3 at E3 or at least taken advantage of the hype and pushed out a teaser trailer on YouTube, so I personally have a hard time believing this game exists, or that things are going smoothly behind closed doors. But before you call me an evil conspiracy theorist set to destroy other games, let’s take a bit of a journey around the internet to see what might support this theory, and make it significantly less of a wild conspiracy perpetuated by a sim racing “hate blog.”

SimBin UK’s own web page lists an abundance of job openings, and this is something you can navigate to and see for yourself. There are at least five active positions available to apply for on the SimBin UK company roster, most of them being very prominent positions that play a key role in the development of a multi-platform racing simulator. They don’t need random motherfuckers to bomb around the office and crank out car liveries every few days, they need senior programmers, C++ programmers, and network programmers. These are the kinds of positions you fill before announcing a game, slowly fleshing out the roster with supporting positions as the main guys fall into place and bust their asses on the heavy stuff.

How do you announce a game in February, proceed to whip all these different websites into a flurry of excitement, and then five months later still have openings for key positions on the team? This is like announcing you’ve started a rock band and are recording an album, but post on your official Facebook page that you need a drummer, lead guitarist, and singer.

Bruh.

Next, we travel to the team’s Twitter account, which is suspiciously quiet. Aside from seemingly being configured to retweet anything relating to RaceRoom Racing Experience, there’s virtually nothing about GTR 3’s progress. There are something like seven or eight posts in a row about the official Mercedes DTM competition on Sector 3’s RaceRoom simulation, but that’s clearly not GTR 3, it’s RaceRoom – an entirely different piece of software. In regards to GTR 3, there’s actually a whole lot of nothing – save for one custom tweet stating their new website is live.

That was back in March.

In an era of gaming where developers across the sim racing community sit on forums and social media virtually all day, bantering with customers and/or releasing teasers of upcoming projects or future updates, for SimBin UK to announce a major racing simulator earlier this year, and then put their social media on autopilot to regurgitate articles focusing on a game from their sister company, in combination with no progress or updates on their game in six months, no appearance at E3, not even a newer teaser piece, and a whole lot of important positions yet to be filled, is highly suspicious.

Links to the team’s other social media pages from the SimBin UK website, such as Facebook and YouTube, direct to pages that in some cases haven’t been touched in three years.

This kind of anti-progress and questionable chain of announcements seems to be something not specific to SimBin UK, but also extends to Sector 3 Studios themselves, a team responsible for an objectively good racing simulator with R3E. While the team have been openly talking about turning the online portion of their title into something that can compete with iRacing at a fraction of the cost – something that’s very well possible given the diversity and overall popularity of the content offered in RaceRoom Racing Experience – as of two days ago, long after this stuff was first announced, Sector 3 can be seen openly trying to recruit employees to actually build that element of the game. So between both Sector 3 and SimBin UK, I’m under the impression they’re both operating in a manner in which they announce upcoming features, and in some cases entire games, without actually having the staff necessary to build them. They then go “oh shit” and scramble around to fulfill their previously announced goals, hoping the sim racing community either forget the previous announcements they made, or vehemently defend them if they can’t be seen to completion because “muh small developer” and stuff.

I’ve been patiently awaiting the new online format for RaceRoom Racing Experience as I love how the title drives, and would not hesitate to purchase all the content the honest way if I woke up to news that the structured multiplayer format was set to go live in a few weeks, but the reality is that all we’ve got is a few new GT cars and some obscure Swedish tracks. I was told around September of last year that they were working on an iRacing-like multiplayer service, and nine months later we’ve gotten precisely no new info; only clues that they don’t even have the relevant staff positions filled to complete it in the first place.

And I believe that’s what’s happened with GTR 3 as well. Judging by what’s publicly available, the lack of any updates or teasers at what’s traditionally a time to take the covers off everything in the gaming industry, the awkward silence on social media, the abundance of open positions on the team’s official website, the difficulty in creating a high-fidelity simulator engine from scratch with a skeleton crew, and zero coverage from sim racing publications that were once happy to push the announcement of GTR 3 to the forefront, I have an exceptionally difficult time believing this game will see the light of day.

Again, I want GTR 3. The popularity of sports car racing is at an all time high and it would be sweet to have that flagship GT game where all you do is race GT cars, in the same manner that DiRT 4 is that all-encompassing off-road title for fans of rally racing. Warts and all, I don’t think it’s too hard for a non-traditional team to deliver some sort of niche sports car game; Milestone’s MXGP3 is proof that no matter how obscure the subject matter may be, a good racing game is a good racing game.

But in this particular situation, there’s a marshal holding a red flag in every corner. Radio silence at a time when even the lowliest of NASCAR and Isle of Mann developers are proud to demonstrate their software to the world, no social media activity, a blackout from the publications who once covered it, and prominent job openings when original interviews stated there’d already be an internal build operational in the summer. If you want myself and the other skeptics to believe GTR 3 exists somewhere other than the imaginations of SimBin UK, this isn’t the way to do it.

Assetto Corsa Fails Tech Inspection with Xbox One Update

Pushing out post-release updates for software on current generation consoles can be a pain in the ass for even the biggest of development teams. With both Sony and Microsoft requiring each new package to go through a rigorous certification process prior to the update going live – as opposed to Steam’s rather relaxed set of rules that allows developers to mash the metaphorical update button – it’s not uncommon for smaller teams to run afoul of the inspection process, and be forced to announce that long-awaited updates to their game might not come on the scheduled launch date, let alone anywhere close to it.

This is the situation Kunos Simulazioni have currently found themselves in with the Xbox One version of Assetto Corsa. It has been revealed that the version 1.14 update for their indie racing simulator did not pass Microsoft’s certification process – a virtual tech inspection, if you will – and Kunos will have to make the required tweaks to the package and then re-submit all over again, beginning the process anew. It’s just one of those things that happens, and something I’m personally familiar with dating back to the days of NASCAR The Game 2011; Xbox 360 users received updates almost two months earlier than PlayStation owners, as Sony’s evaluation process was much more intricate in the previous console generation.

However, it’s certainly not something Xbox One owners of Assetto Corsa wanted to hear. The version 1.14 update promised much more than physics tweaks to the base simulation experience; features promised to significantly extend the lifespan of the game and had been left out by Kunos Simulazioni due to poor foresight and a lack of resources – most notably the ability to host custom sessions with your own personal settings – were set to be implemented with this update. With the version 1.14 update now back at square one, those who purchased Assetto Corsa for Microsoft’s flagship console are left with a game that is drastically inferior to both the PC variant, as well as it’s PlayStation 4 counterpart. Version 1.14 is essentially what Assetto Corsa on consoles should have been at launch, and this unexpected delay looks to be the final nail in the coffin for those who were berated on the official forums for supposedly not being patient enough with the progress of the game. Ten months later, their patience still hasn’t been rewarded with much of anything, and the already small userbase of this game on the Xbox One is certainly bound to drop to dangerously low levels knowing there is no set release date in sight.

Of course, this has not stopped the rabid Assetto Corsa defense force from promptly lashing out at Microsoft, with some RaceDepartment users believing that the electronics giant is intentionally sabotaging Assetto Corsa’s progress on the Xbox One due to a conflict of interests with one of their own intellectual properties.

Of course, this is simply ridiculous, but just goes to show the extent of which Assetto Corsa fanboys have been brainwashed into believing that the entire sim racing community is against them. Both Kunos Simulazioni, as well as their supporters, appear to be living on the borderline between their own fantasy vision of Assetto Corsa as it exists in their imaginations, and what Kunos Simulazioni have actually created. These hyper-fans genuinely believe Assetto Corsa has the footing to take on one of the biggest franchises of the current gaming era and is such a threat to the market share it’s actually forcing Microsoft to sabotage things behind the scenes, when in reality it took Kunos Simulazioni almost nine months just to add private lobbies – a stable of racing games dating back to the late 1990’s – into the PlayStation 4 version; the Xbox One servers boasting a pathetic 50 users per night according to RaceDepartment forum user MarkR while Forza Motorsport 6 boasts something like five million semi-active players.

This mentality appears to further extend into the professional circle, as the team can be seen giving a lecture on how to successfully launch and maintain a product on the Xbox One. We’ve covered this video already here on PRC.net in a previous article, so it’s kind of shitty to re-visit a prior topic, but in hindsight it’s a lecture that’s getting better with age, knowing how the team would eventually fail certification checks and piss off the remaining Xbox One owners who still held onto a copy of Assetto Corsa.

Where does Kunos go from here? That depends how angry the remaining customers are, and whether it’s actually worth continuing to support the game on the Xbox One. Though I don’t possess any hard statistics, I have a very difficult time believing there’s this substantial renegade group of Assetto Corsa owners on Microsoft’s console checking the official forums twice a day for any news on the version 1.14 update; your average gamer, unless they have serious psychological issues and an abundance of time to waste, will simply not be content with buying a game and then sitting around, not playing it for nine months because they’re patiently waiting for an update – that shit gets promptly returned to GameStop or EBGames within less than a month, if not the first week. So if Kunos do by some chance push out the update within the next month or so, I have to ask the obvious question here – who is left to play it?

But they’re also stuck in-between a rock and hard place, because if they cut their losses and don’t release the update, it’ll be a permanent black eye on the company for royally botching the Xbox One release, which will follow them to whatever game they choose to push out next; whether it be Assetto Corsa 2 or an unrelated arcade racer, the Xbox One owners will undoubtedly follow them across social media spouting things like “remember how they handled Assetto Corsa?”

It’s certainly not a situation I’d like to be in, but that’s the risk you take when you inexplicably believe a hardcore PC racing simulator with barely any features to reel in mainstream gamers is somehow worth porting to current generation consoles.

The White Spruce Enterprises (10)0

The moment I opened the door to the hotel room on Friday evening, I realized this whole touring late model driver gig was exponentially more glamorous on paper than what it would physically manifest itself as. Opting to leave my PlayStation 4 at home, wrongly believing the Prince George Sandman would be stocked with old school CRT’s and tacky mid-1980’s wallpaper, I instead discovered fairly comfortable accommodations, and had to quickly deal with the fact that I’d be watching infuriating government propaganda and a blow-out pre-season CFL match until I somehow managed to pass out. Yet while I encouraged some of my friends to join me on my seven hour trip to Prince George in an effort to try and offset some of the monotony of waiting for race day to arrive by just sort of walking around and getting into trouble, in hindsight it was probably a good thing their wives and girlfriends made them all stay home.

For us here at PRC, the WESCAR event in Prince George was a crash course in the harsh realities of campaigning a $40,000 race car that’s designed solely to go fast and turn left while still making use of rather primitive automotive technology. Though it wasn’t a particularly expensive weekend – on paper we may have actually earned enough to offset the travel costs, plus a bit extra – sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. Mechanical gremlins and the time it takes to fix them – a portion of auto racing not replicated on the computer screen – derailed our entire team’s evening.

That being said, however, it wasn’t all bad.

The first major landmark you come across as you enter Prince George, PGARA Speedway is a 3/8th mile oval like something out of NBA Street; weeds sprout through cracks in the tarmac, what’s left of the physical racing surface is rough and weathered – comparable to your local outdoor high school basketball court – while spectators can back their trucks almost right against the catch fence as if we’re in New York’s Rucker Park. Not looking particularly flattering from the angle above, the track comes alive when the gates open to the general public; the facility lined with trucks, SUV’s, and miscellaneous recreational vehicles all vying for a spot against the fence, with numerous bonfires lit as the sun goes down. This is short track racing in British Columbia.

And it’s not something that any racing simulator can prepare you for. Though iRacing’s laser-scanned short tracks such as Myrtle Beach, Langley Speedway, and the Las Vegas Bullring offer near-millimeter accuracy, while modders for other sims will artificially reduce track grip as a static all-encompassing number, nothing will ever quite replicate a racing surface so raw and unadulterated. This is not a NASCAR sanctioned track, where a minimum presentable standard must be kept at all times; PGARA is an open history book, each race week adding yet another chapter to the track’s legacy.

Practice began at one in the afternoon, although we’d been at the facility since eight or nine. After I was forced to sit out the first scheduled Pentiction event earlier this month due to a last minute engine problem, not to mention a couple of setup changes implemented since testing a few weeks prior, Dustin took out the #2 Slightly Mad Studios Chevrolet SS for a shakedown pass to ensure he’d made the right changes to the car, and promptly returned to the pits before he’d had a chance to properly open the thing up. Like Toyota in the 24 Hours of Le Mans this past weekend, our clutch was slipping. All of this hype with the website and the sponsorship, the social media posts and the excitement from family & friends alike, and on race day number one, our ride is up on jack stands as the other cars in the field are beginning to populate the track.

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Knowing how important it was for me to acquire seat time and get up to speed in traffic, I was promptly grabbed and tossed in the #56 Boyd Distributors Monte Carlo by Dustin’s grandpa, the car that would be piloted by his father later in the evening. With Steve’s late model career dating back to the 1980’s and featuring stints at Evergreen Speedway, he didn’t need three hours of practice time. I, on the other hand, was making my first start, so I understood why there was some level of urgency from the rest of the guys to get me out on the track in any car, just to log laps.

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Up until then, I’d done a pretty good job at keeping my nerves under control – even during pre-season testing. I came to terms with the fact that everything around me cost a significant amount of money, and anything more than a gentle nudge of the wall would result in many man hours I’d be forcing a good friend of mine to endure just to get the thing back together in one piece. But in this situation, I wanted to ensure Steve would have a car to race when the show started and not force the crew to work on two cars, so I clicked off an initial set of very bland, uninspired laps before bringing it in.

Dustin’s grandpa pulled me aside afterwards and essentially told me to not give a shit about keeping the car together in the next stint, but to go out and run hard. The following sessions, it wasn’t long before I started hearing stuff like “perfect” and “that looks really smooth” over the radio from Dustin, with cars further ahead of me remaining in roughly the same interval, lap after lap. My biggest fear was going out and being a rolling safety hazard, as some drivers happen to be when they show up for a night or two for econobox racing here in Edmonton with no prior racing experience, but that didn’t seem to be the case here.

Unfortunately, there’s no footage of me turning laps in the #56, as our priorities were on running a race team, not rushing around to turn all the GoPro’s on for our shitty YouTube videos. All I can say is that I logged a lot of laps, I was in the correct competitive rev range, and writing this out a day later, my body can certainly feel the effects of being in the car all afternoon. I’m sure photographs of the practice sessions will surface eventually; there was at least one solid photo guy there who introduced himself to me, so I at least know where to look.

One thing sim racing absolutely prepared me for was in the use of in-car radio. Once you get passed the whole “holy shit, this car is loud” element from cranking the engine over, exiting pit road, and bringing the car up to speed, there’s a strange sense of familiarity that comes over when your buddy from Teamspeak is suddenly ringing in your ears, just as he would in iRacing league races from years ago. With my push-to-talk button in the same place in the real car as it is on my Logitech G29, it’s like muscle memory took over and suddenly I’m bullshitting with my crew chief about corner entry speeds for a few laps at a time… Though there’s a very real concrete wall a couple inches from the car. Just knowing when to hit the button in relation to what angle the wheel’s at, and when to wait a few seconds to focus on the next part of the track before responding… That’s really stuff league racing taught me because all of the good drivers just sit on a main channel and either shit-talk each other or relay vital information for the duration of an event.

Radio communication is such a small part of the whole racing experience so it may seem redundant to talk about this, but a lot of people tend to get easily distracted by it because some guys treat the whole gig as if they’re an athlete and need to get into some sort of “zone” where nobody’s allowed to come in and break their focus. In comparison, I was actually telling Dustin to talk more over the radio to kind of put me in that semi-relaxed Teamspeak sim racing mindset, something that seemed to work as that’s when the best laps would arise. I also found myself naturally asking where people were on-track and general status updates you’d find yourself doing in games like F1 2016 with the built-in voice recognition technology, so sim racing does indeed prepare you with the session management skills you’ll need out on the real thing.

Prior to leaving for Prince George, I spent an evening on Grid Autosport of all titles. In the past I’ve mentioned that my taste in racing games has drastically shifted after turning laps in a proper purpose-built race car, and this has only continued in an increasingly bizarre direction now with quicker laps on a properly cleaned racing surface under my belt. The V8 Supercars in Grid Autosport are exactly how our car feels, even under braking – which is what I initially took points away from it for.

But that’s probably because I was bored enough to make setup changes this time and get the brake bias to where it felt reasonably accurate.

Here is what almost all modern racing simulators get wrong, that Grid Autosport does right: Race cars are incredibly responsive, period. The WESCAR rule set has late models running on grooved slicks, resulting in a situation where you rarely can put the throttle to the floor unless you’re on brand new tires. Despite wheel spin occurring from anywhere between 20% and 40% of the lap, at no point does the car suddenly give up and go into this weird quasi-stall that feels like you’ve hit a patch of molasses and need to hold on for dear life during the long, painful slide and subsequent wall impact; our late model feels like the car is on some sort of central rotational wheel, and you can hold the ass end out there all goddamn day if you wanted to just by managing your throttle and wheel inputs.

Yet take a guess what sim racers have complained about in regards to Codemasters games, all of which use the same physics engine – the car feeling like it’s on a central rotational axis.

The way Grid Autosport rotates around a center pivot point and still gives you such precise control of the car, even when throwing it around or under heavy wheel spin situations… That’s what our car does. No, tire wear is obviously not modeled very well in this game (aside from the endurance events, where it progresses in a linear fashion from fresh to worn), but the manner in which the car scoots under you during wheel spin and the ease you’re able to increase the angle or pull the rear end back from under you is identical to real life. In our car Dustin had to actually get on the mic and tell me to cool it down a bit, because there were a few laps I was being silly just to experiment with how out of line I could get the rear end, and even then I still thought there was a little bit more I could toss it out there. Mother Nature would receive a failing grade from r/SimRacing, as well as just about every other sim racing website that has a critical analysis element to work.

So if real life is as “simcade” as Grid Autosport according to some guy on a sim blog, why isn’t everyone a professional race car driver, you may ask? It’s the same reason some people shit their pants on the roller-coasters at Disneyland, and others are so bored by the experience they play chess for the token photo at the final drop of the ride. Not everyone can deal with what’s at it’s core complete and utter sensory overload. It’s loud, it’s hot, it smells funny, and mistakes are expensive.

And not everyone has the technological expertise to fix any mechanical problems that may arise when things aren’t working as they should. In between sessions, Dustin and the rest of the crew would go back to working on our #2 car, eventually discovering the clutch slipping was due to the clutch plate possibly being installed backwards on top of needing a new assembly, which was the root cause of the slip above something like 5300 rpm. It’s a pain in the fucking ass to remove a transmission multiple times over the course of the day for troubleshooting purposes, especially when everything under the car is ridiculously hot from the odd test lap or two.

Turning a final set of shakedown laps before qualifying was set to begin, Dustin took the car out for one additional check thanks to the track officials allowing us and another team some extra prep time, before I was scheduled to jump in and attempt to qualify a car that was completely different setup-wise to what I’d been running laps in all day. Yet while his three laps looked nothing short of amazing, with some of the sponsorship money being allocated to the exact suspension geometry adjustments we needed for a highly competitive car not just in British Columbia, but in additional regions across the western coast of North America, our engine had now developed a timing issue, and after closer examination, it wasn’t something you could start and park for last place cash, it was “park and spend the evening as a spectator.” WESCAR did give us our share of the winnings plus the customary tow money, as every effort was made to both run the car and prepare the driver by throwing me in a different car, so that was cool on their part.

Disappointed? No, not entirely. I mean, it certainly sucks to drive across the province and get sucked into all of the hype with your friends and family for your first start in a car of this caliber, only to have it all go down the drain at the very last minute as the cars are lining up for qualifying, but there are enough positives to come away at least somewhat satisfied with the experience in the end. These cars are satisfying and unique enough to drive on their own, where just the sheer amount of practice time I received was more than worth the trip seven hours to the west. I’m obviously not a fan of this particular group of sim racers, but it’s kind of in the same realm of how guys will just do solo laps in historic rFactor mods, pushing the car more and more each lap to explore it’s limits. Our sportsman late models have so much power under the hood and so little grip at their feet, every individual passage around the circuit teaches you something new about the ride or helps to refine something you’ve already got down pat.

My only regret is that we didn’t press record on at least one of the afternoon sessions, because I was extremely proud of how I ran and it would have been cool to take something home to my parents. Instead I basically have, like, Instagram photos plus the standard soreness from all the driving and that’s it.

Of course, we still had one car in the show; Steve notched second in the heat race and was starting on the front row for the main event, but as our team’s collective luck would have it, was unable to take the green flag. The car lost power as the field were about to take the green flag, leading to an extended parade lap period while the safety truck pushed Steve back to our stall. Several laps down already, the team managed to fire the car, believing some sort of ignition issue was to blame, and he managed to click off some solo laps until the half-time break at lap 50.

I’ve been playing with these things for a couple of months now, and GoPro’s are 100% worth the money. Unlike a lot of brand name items, the quality actually does justify the price, and the software it ships with by default is super easy to use if you’re not keen on pirating a copy of Sony Vegas.

Yet the gremlins kept coming. Following the halftime break, Steve’s car lost fire yet again under pacing speeds, and once more was pushed by one of the rescue trucks into the pit area for maintenance. The culprit really drilled home how technically intricate some of these cars are – something you’ll never see in the virtual realm within our lifetime – and here is when I gained an incredible appreciation for how quickly the Lengert family as a collective unit can be at diagnosing obscure problems across every square inch of their race cars; the throttle cable was merely rubbing up against a bundle of ignition wires. When Steve blipped the throttle in an effort to clear the carburetor before taking the green flag, the throttle cable moved just close enough to the ignition wires to mess with the ignition system.

This is also why a lot of sim racers feel cheated at the random mechanical failures functionality in modern racing sims, and why some strongly advocate against their inclusion, especially in online racing leagues. In real life, crew members can physically hunt around the internals of the vehicle with a near-unlimited array of tools to diagnose a mechanical problem, or take the necessary precautions beforehand in an effort to prevent mechanical issues from occurring in the first place. In racing simulators, these same failures are merely the result of a random number generator that the driver has absolutely no control of. It’s just really not fair in the virtual world, because unless you’re playing something like Brick Rigs, car building and car maintenance elements are non-existent. Failures from existing damage that occurred earlier in the race is one thing, because then the player can at least think “oh, I damaged a certain part and now it degraded to the point where it broke”, but truly random failures really shouldn’t be modeled unless a driver can take steps to prevent them ahead of time – which they typically can’t.

Field of view was actually a topic of discussion Steve and I talked about after the event had concluded, though he didn’t know in the sim racing world there’s a specific name for it and simple mathematics behind it, not to mention a lot of rigorous message board debates regarding how to use it effectively. As we were pitted on the entry to turn one, our entire day at the track was spent watching cars aggressively attack the first corner, sometimes in disbelief at the speeds some of them were attaining – even though our spotters both said we were hitting the corner at the same speeds ourselves when out on the track. This got us to talking about why as a spectator the cars look ridiculously fast, yet inside the car everything feels much slower – and it wasn’t in regards to some sort of athletic “in the zone” mindset; aside from the engine sound and some of the g-forces, racing doesn’t look fast from inside the cockpit. There’s almost no sense of speed; it’s really strange.

And I believe the answer was down to what us sim racers refer to as Field of View as it relates to a traditional PC monitor setup. You honestly can’t see shit out of a late model cockpit, hence the need for spotters, A-pillar mirrors, and then a giant rear-view mirror several times wider than what you’d find in a normal passenger car. With the chopped roof combined with the ultra-low seating position, the front windshield replicates what you’d get out of using a field of view calculator on a single monitor setup; your eyes are always focused so far off in the distance, and there’s so little you can see out the front windshield, the sensation of stuff whizzing past you just isn’t there. Factoring in the window net on the left side, not to mention the ultra wide stance that makes it feel like you’re looking across a small walk-in closet when glancing to your right hand side, it’s difficult to receive visual cues of the surrounding scenery in relation to the velocity of the car.

As a result, it’s like you’re playing on some sort of ultra-wide 21:9 single monitor setup built by an elitist iRacer who thinks he’s mastered the art of FOV calculations, but in reality it just feels really fucking weird and slow, and you’re wondering what off-beat Czech sim racing forum he got his instructions from.

Summarizing the previous weekend? Well, it’s sort of impossible. Honestly it sucks to build up all of this hype with the website and the sponsorship, not to mention the friends and family members all bombarding me with texts asking for results, only to come out and say “yeah… we didn’t even get to qualify and basically had to forfeit before the night started because of a technical issue.” I mean, people who know racing understand that this is all just part of it, no different than a football player tearing his hamstring in practice by accident – you don’t just sign up for the Super Bowls, you also get the spring training gaffes along with it.

However, away from the cameras, I got an enormous amount of seat time, we refined the setup on the #2 car everyone’s been losing their minds over to near-perfection, and the last piece of the puzzle – a timing issue – is being taken care of. This is the part of racing that sim racing doesn’t replicate, and most likely never will considering video games are supposed to be fun diversions from the monotony of the real world, not second jobs that suck the life out of you. When it rains, it pours, but thankfully our calendar has a pretty good selection of dates through the middle of September, so one event where nothing goes our way isn’t exactly going to hurt in the long run and beyond.