Reiza2017… 2018… 2019…?

I think if there’s any one specific event in the history of sim racing that displays the utter foolishness of the community, and their willingness to virtue signal in front of their peers for internet brownie points rather than demanding more from developers in the face of a dying genre, Reiza Studios’ IndieGoGo campaign – the aptly titled “Sim Racing Bonanza” – immediately comes to the forefront. Twenty four months have passed since a whole lot of sim racers collectively tossed over $107,000 USD at these guys, and I am genuinely surprised not one of them have bothered to ask some pretty basic questions as to what Reiza Studios are actually up to.

The year was 2015, and Reiza Studios had established themselves as an upstart indie developer in a scene known for relentless superautists that criticize the slip angle of every last tire compound seen within a modern racing simulator. Yet though their most recent release, Game Stock Car Extreme, was quickly becoming a highly underrated cult classic among the most dedicated of pretend race car enthusiasts, Reiza Studios had run into a bit of a problem; they knew their piece of software was objectively something special, yet lacked the means and funding to insert vehicles and locations that would attract a bigger crowd to the title. Featuring primarily South American content, with the centerpiece being  a sort of pseudo-DTM series known as Stock Car Brasil, Reiza’s creations had traditionally been held back by a very weird brand of racing which Europeans and North Americans – the two largest sim racing demographics – found very difficult to adapt to. And as a result, for everyone who bought Stock Car Extreme and loved it – myself included – there were ten others who looked at the track list and went “what the fuck?” No thanks.

Reiza’s solution to the obvious problem, was to take a leap of faith and create a crowdfunding campaign – highly popular at the time – in which sim racers would donate to the team in exchange for Reiza to work on more appealing content, and this is outlined pretty specifically on the IndieGoGo page.

On paper, it wasn’t a terribly bad idea, and Reiza were initially justified in their decision to explore the crowdfunding route when it was revealed the first piece of content contributors would get their hands on was none other than a mighty V8 Supercar-spec Holden Commodore. With Australia’s national racing series lacking any sort of simulated representation outside of iRacing, users flocked to the otherwise highly niche title, some pitching in a pretty absurd amount of money to the campaign just to turn laps in this beast before anyone else. And to Reiza’s credit, they deserved this fanfare; the SuperV8 is one of the best simulated race cars of all time.

But it’s here where the story goes from a promising gamble, to a strange set of circumstances at the very least.

Reiza surpassed their crowdfunding goal with flying colors, but the popularity of Stock Car Extreme was not sustained from this unprecedented wave of generosity on behalf of the sim racing community. Within a week, Stock Car Extreme was once again a ghost town; used solely for independent online racing leagues, and Steamcharts actually hinted the game was on life support – a significantly different story than what users across various sim racing message boards would have led you to believe. At the time, I even wrote articles on the phenomenon, as it was unbelievable how sim racers tossed a six figure sum at an extremely small developer, only to basically forget about it a week later. The amount of active players the game boasted, amounted to about three league’s worth of players turning offline test laps for an upcoming race – no different than the game’s level of activity prior to the crowdfunding campaign. In short, the virtue signalling of sim racers claiming to support Reiza, didn’t translate into more people playing the game; only sim racers buying or contributing to tell others they did so for internet brownie points.

Acting quickly to counter the drastic decline in legitimate popularity, Reiza re-released Stock Car Extreme with minor, sometimes intangible improvements under the name of Automobilista – an effort that I believe was made to capitalize on the popularity of Assetto Corsa as an “every man’s PC driving simulator”, albeit with a much more profound focus on race cars. While I personally enjoy Automobilista, very little hides the fact that it’s yet another rFactor re-skin with an assortment of community plug-ins and minor tweaks; ones the average sim racer won’t pick up on. Thankfully, those who owned Stock Car Extreme on Steam prior to the launch of Automobilista, received the game for free.

The first point of interest, comes in the development pace of Automobilista.

Reiza promised a pretty steady stream of new content and features throughout the title’s lifespan, and while it’s something they’ve somewhat delivered on, the process has been very slow going. Development of Automobilista was intended to be completed by the first quarter of 2017, but as of this summer, the team are still working to complete post-release downloadable content packs and other upgrades they were once happy to discuss and publish a tentative release date for. Some mentions of previously teased content have disappeared from newer updates on the official Reiza forums, such as a Group B rally car, hill climb stage, and a car pack from a major manufacturer. This content has failed to manifest as of late, and while I don’t exactly doubt Reiza’s ability to finish the cars and tracks at some point in the future, their timeline to do so is now well beyond what was originally advertised. Simply put, they are now tangibly behind on Automobilista.

The second point of interest relates primarily to a title flying under the codename of Reiza 2017. Now while it’s important to note that the crowdfunding campaign was not for their full-fledged sequel, many of the higher contribution perks advertised a free Steam key to this upcoming major release. According to the IndieGoGo pitch made two years ago, we could realistically expect to see Reiza2017 available for purchase sometime after the final quarter of 2016. This is why a lot of people found the crowdfunding campaign so attractive in the first place; they’d fund an extensive push for Stock Car Extreme downloadable content, and in return receive “the big one” for free in a few years when Reiza had sat down and made their own full-fledged software release.

The problem is, we’re now halfway through the 2017 calendar year, and precisely zero details in regards to Reiza2017 have been made public.

The people who contributed to the crowdfunding campaign expecting Stock Car Extreme DLC, followed by a major release that pushed the isiMotor engine to its limit, were instead given a half-baked repackaging of Stock Car Extreme with a dynamic racing line and higher physics refresh rate, while info on the “new simulator” discussed in the campaign pitch is non-existent to the general public – despite the campaign implying it should have been released by now. Reiza did make their change of plans clear to the general public, believing it would be ideal to introduce a stop-gap title to hold people over until Reiza2017 was ready for release, but this isn’t a plan that would work if the team were to fall substantially behind on development of the stop-gap title.

Which is precisely the case right now. At the very least, Reiza are enormously behind on the company’s three-year plan, which has understandably angered some sim racers as they were very much looking forward to a DirectX 12 powered racing simulator from an otherwise fairly competent indie team, not a regurgitated version of rFactor with light tweaks here and there. In a more extreme view of these events, I think those wanting a refund have a reasonable complaint to register with the team, as part of the attraction in contributing to their crowdfunding ordeal was the eventual free access to the DX12 simulator, and we haven’t heard a single thing about this game’s existence despite blazing past the initial expected launch date for it. The stop-gap title essentially took so long for Reiza to complete, it’s now shifted their entire calendar back.

It’ll be a tricky path for Reiza to traverse, but one thing is for certain; Automobilista in it’s current state isn’t exactly a poor game by any means, but when there’s talk of DX12 and dynamic weather, a regurgitated copy of rFactor with some decent community plug-ins inserted by default isn’t what a lot of people were hoping for.

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Yawn Factor: Sector 3 Studios Acquire Porsche License

If you’re going to go through the trouble of making some sort of impromptu hashtag, and tease a “major announcement” about your video on Facebook, it better actually be a major announcement, and not something that everyone else within the ecosystem have been doing for about eleven months. This is the spot RaceRoom and Sector 3 Studios have found themselves in today, as the #WelcomeHome announcement was not a full-fledged TCR Scandinavia expansion as I publicly predicted (though I think Jean-Francois can confirm I called it in private on Facebook), but rather the introduction of Porsche into the *free-to-play PC racing simulator. After years spent using the aftermarket modification brand Ruf in substitute of the iconic German sports cars – as did many developers during the years of EA’s exclusivity deal – simulation enthusiasts who call R3E their software of choice will now be able to purchase a fleet of authentic Porsche race cars in the near future.

For the R3E crowd, as well as the developers themselves, it’s certainly an exciting time for the game, as Porsche’s inclusion is really one of the last major automotive brands to be implemented into RaceRoom Racing Experience, and there are a pretty diverse array of classes in which Porsche sports cars past and present can be dropped right into the already stout packs to compliment the field. I’m also hoping that some of the older ADAC GT Masters packs will be retrofitted with the previously omitted Porsche content, as the pricier bundles depicting one of Europe’s top GT series at the time shipped with incomplete fields due to the lack of a Porsche license. If Sector 3 were to take this route, it would be an extremely classy move on their part, breathing new life into content people may have forgotten about.

Contextually, however, I find the hype and fanfare RaceRoom tried to drum up in regards to this announcement fairly peculiar, if not outright pretentious. At the very least, the marketing department could have done a lot better given the circumstances.

Rather than simply tease a new manufacturer was being added into the mix, the affordable simulation rig company instead boasted of a “major announcement”, using the hashtag #WelcomeHome. In light of the team’s plans for an extensive online racing service, and an entirely new console game from their sister company SimBin UK, a lot of sim racers believed this #WelcomeHome announcement would be much bigger than a new car brand entering the fray – and this is a sentiment conveyed on the official Facebook page as well. For this “important announcement” to manifest itself as a mere license acquisition… It’s kind of a letdown.

And that’s because for over a year, almost every other developer in the sim racing landscape today treated their own acquisition of the Porsche license like it was a pretty major deal – which in all fairness, it was at the time. Kunos Simulazioni rocked the entire genre on June 17th, 2016, when they revealed their little studio of just under twenty people had somehow managed to wrangle the elusive Porsche license away from the grasp of Electronic Arts, revealing a trio of paid downloadable content packs, paving the way for the rest of the hobby to follow suit. But then Turn 10 got their hands on the very same license, as did iRacing, Slightly Mad Studios, and even Gran Turismo – a franchise that had existed long before EA’s exclusivity deal went into effect. Within a few months, it honestly just didn’t matter anymore, and the deal between Porsche and EA had firmly cemented itself as a really aggravating piece of trivia. So for RaceRoom to advertise this as a major event in the game’s timeline… I’m sorry guys, but that ship sailed long ago.

I also take issue with the rather strange, misguided hashtag used to kind of promote this announcement, the whole #WelcomeHome thing they’ve got going on. Dating back to Race: The WTCC Game, Porsche vehicles have never appeared in any simulator made by the Swedish incarnation of either SimBin or Sector 3 Studios. So in this case I’m not really sure what Porsche are “coming home” to, as Porsche car models weren’t present in games created by this team to begin with.

Some will try and claim this hashtag is actually in reference to the GTR series of simulators, in particular GTR 2, but they’d be factually incorrect to do so. The GTR releases were actually made by a group operating under the moniker of Blimey Games, based out of the United Kingdom, and not Germany – Porsche’s home. Those who still push the GTR 2 argument regardless of these facts are also forgetting that marquee manufacturers weren’t a key selling point of GTR 2; the game was based on the 2003 and 2004 FIA GT Championship seasons, and it just so happened that there were a lot of Porsche’s and Ferrari’s on the roster because that’s what teams were using at the time. This wasn’t Need for Speed or Test Drive by any means, where trailers showcased shiny street-legal Porsche’s and Ferrari’s for you to gawk at; it was a pretty obscure racing simulator.

Regardless, it’s good to see Porsche playing ball with even the little guys in the genre, and this can only open the door for an increased level of cooperation within the sim racing landscape.

 

#WelcomeHome, TCR Scandinavia?

While there hasn’t been a whole lot of action regarding Sector 3’s RaceRoom Racing Experience as of late – the Swedish team slowly churning out more and more obscure content while talk of an extensive online racing interface to rival iRacing has died down – the RaceRoom brand have put out a rather ominous teaser on their official page, christened by the hashtag #WelcomeHome. The post has sent followers and official forum members alike into wild mass speculation, as unlike most developers who drop subtle hints about upcoming content through tweets and other miscellaneous social media posts until the inevitable reveal, Sector 3 have remained relatively tight-lipped about the future of RaceRoom Racing Experience and their company as a whole, meaning sim racers are left largely in the dark as to what this announcement could contain.

Intense speculation is really all this story warrants at this point, so for today I’ll just sort of drop an estimated guess on our audience, and then over the weekend we’ll see how close we got to the actual reveal.

I believe this announcement could possibly be related to an official TCR Scandinavia expansion pack for RaceRoom Racing Experience. While operating under the name of SimBin, the team we now know as Sector 3 Studios released not one, but two very obscure expansion packs for the cult classic simulator Race 07, centered around the regional touring car series many years ago. While it might not be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea – one “blanket” touring car series is often enough for most sim racers given how most sanctioning bodies provide the same vehicle specifications, and the same kind of racing – it would at least make sense for Sector 3 to revisit something very close to home. The team are based in Sweden, after all.

The evidence that points towards a possible TCR Scandinavia expansion pack can already be seen in RaceRoom Racing Experience as of today; Sector 3 have spent the past few months pushing out five straight Swedish racing facilities including Knutstorp, Falkenberg, Anderstorp, Karlskoga, and Mantorp Park – so all that’s really needed to complete the TCR Scandinavia experience would be the vehicles themselves. I’m not going to sit here and tell our readers it’s “not a lot of work” to make just a few cars and some liveries, because it is, but it’s certainly much less of a mountain for the team to climb compared to obtaining a Ferrari or Porsche license, and it 100% explains the #WelcomeHome hashtag that Sector 3 are pushing. This project is obviously something they take a lot of pride in because it’s close to home, and there’s nothing that says “obscure Swedish racing sim developer” than “Swedish touring car series.”

Unfortunately, at a time when sim racers are chomping at the bit for either ranked online racing to be implemented into R3E, or more information regarding SimBin UK’s GTR 3, it’s probably not what many loyal R3E supporters are wanting to hear. I’ve really been wanting an excuse to jump back into R3E, as I personally love the combination of how the tires behave, the internal car sounds, as well as the exceptional force feedback, and touring cars on tracks that are otherwise meaningless to me are just not going to reel me in – and I think a lot of people will agree on that front. RaceRoom Racing Experience is a good simulator, it just needs that little extra boost to make it great. This isn’t an extra boost at all, it’s just… more content.

Content that only a fraction of the userbase will even entertain the thought of purchasing, especially in light of talk regarding a massive overhaul to the online ecosystem, and a spin-off game centering around content that people do want to drive, just seems like a really bizarre way to proceed about things. And it’s decisions like this, if true, that really serve to explain why the company has run into financial trouble on multiple occasions. Customers have their credit cards armed and at the ready for all of these exciting new features the team have no problem announcing, but are then given regional touring car series instead that very few people will buy, while the actual exciting stuff just kind of vanishes until someone brings it up on a forum in six months.

But anyways, for the Swedish PRC readers hanging around here, y’all can probably get hyped for a TCR Scandinavian expansion.

704 Games Achieve Small Victory with NASCAR Heat 2’s Driver Roster

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Though the moving gameplay footage released over the past few weeks has objectively left a lot to be desired, showcasing little in the way of physics improvements while boasting new tracks, series, and graphics above all else, 704 Games have managed to notch themselves a small victory with their upcoming oval racer NASCAR Heat 2.

Yes, as we leaked not too long ago, the Camping World Truck Series and the Xfinity Grand National Series will both be featured in the sequel to last year’s horrendously disappointing rush job, but it’s in precisely how these two feeder series will appear that has actually set a new milestone for NASCAR games as a whole, and should give even the harshest critics – that includes myself – a slight amount of hope for the sequel, if not the mindset that 704 & Monster are at least acting in good faith with the franchise. Unlike past NASCAR titles, regardless of whether they were developed by Monster Games, EA Sports, Image Space Incorporated, Eutechnyx, or the almighty Papyrus, NASCAR Heat 2 will include a complete field of real life drivers across all major series featured within the game. Officially licensed NASCAR titles have been appearing on store shelves dating back to the era of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, but surprisingly this will mark the first time in the 20+ year history of NASCAR games to boast a 100% authentic starting grid, right out of the box.

Because NASCAR is not under an all-encompassing concorde agreement like our European readers are familiar with in Formula One, allowing developers to obtain a blanket license that automatically ensures rights to all eleven teams, video game developers looking to re-create America’s most popular auto racing series in a virtual environment must individually track down every individual driver, sponsor, and team owner participating in NASCAR-sanctioned events to secure their appearance within their piece of software.

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This has traditionally resulted in very awkward situations in years past, as NASCAR’s notorious silly season, coupled with sponsorship feuds and tight schedules to secure the field of drivers for the upcoming video game, has seen pretty prominent drivers omitted from the roster of opponents in favor of generic fictional cars, much to the dismay of even the most casual of fans. Some of these cases are quite laughable considering the caliber of drivers they involve; despite winning the fall Richmond race in 2004 and securing a spot in NASCAR’s inaugural playoff race, Jeremy Mayfield did not appear in NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup, whereas Roush Racing phenom Carl Edwards, who had won three times in 2007, was nowhere to be seen when the series made the jump to the Xbox 360 later that summer with NASCAR 08. For NASCAR fans, it was akin to booting up Formula One 2016, and discovering Red Bull had been replaced by a fictional racing team, dubbed “Codemasters F1,” with Ricciardo and Verstappen replaced by the names and mugshots of two interns who “looked the part.”

And of course, with developers knowing full well that the two major support series would not be as popular as the Sunday Cup series, several teams had no problem filling a vast portion of the grids with bogus fantasy drivers – killing any sense of immersion in the process. If this sounds outlandish to those not familiar with NASCAR games, that’s because it was, and on the PC, this is exactly what led to such an extensive modding and add-on livery community; Papyrus left out Chip Ganassi Racing in it’s entirety for their final release, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, instead bundling the game with a selection of 20-odd fantasy drivers that all seemed to promote other products affiliated with Vivendi Universal at the time – such as a World of Warcraft car.

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On the contrary, 704 Games have published the full list of all 32 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers who will appear in NASCAR Heat 2 this fall, with their Facebook page showing off high-resolution renders for those who want a closer look, though Facebook has obviously murdered their quality. After multiple generations of NASCAR games in which developers shamelessly inserted themselves, friends, and co-workers into major NASCAR release to compensate for a lack of real-world drivers, it’s obviously a fantastic change of pace. Most NASCAR fans thought this would simply never happen, as the complexity of acquiring individual rights to the exact liveries and sponsor packages of over 110 professional drivers seems pretty astronomical for any major dev team to achieve, let alone a team as small and unproven as 704.

Is this one of the benefits of their new location, working directly underneath NASCAR’s corporate offices in Charlotte, North Carolina? Quite possibly, though as I’ve mentioned in the title of this post, this doesn’t exactly mean the rest of the game will receive this level of dedication. Recent gameplay trailers for NASCAR Heat 2 have been fairly lackluster, failing to show any prolific revisions to the game’s handling model and making a very poor display of the truck series at Eldora, so while it’s certainly a cause for celebration that we’ll have a full field of drivers in a NASCAR console game without the need for third party mods, there’s still a lot 704 need to do in an effort to ensure NASCAR Heat 2 is worth your time and money.

Rumor: ISI to Assist in Developing GTR 3?

Still kept from the eyes of the public despite the summer months being a traditional time to release information on upcoming games, SimBin UK’s GTR 3 continues to be a rather perplexing story in the world of sim racing. Announced several times over the years before either failing to manifest, or turning into other projects altogether, the justified skepticism surrounding the current iteration of the title only grew louder, as sim racers noticed the proof of concept screenshots released at the beginning of 2017 from SimBin UK – supposedly representing a multi-platform racing simulator under the name of GTR 3 – could have been mocked up in mere minutes within the Unreal Engine, thus indicating the game might not be under active development, but a publicity stunt to secure funding. While all of us want GTR 3 to finally manifest and land in our hands given the previous edition’s widespread critical and commercial success, SimBin UK’s silence in regards to the title is indeed worrying; key job openings, a lack of social media activity, and interviews with the team themselves paint a very different picture about GTR 3’s existence. In short, it doesn’t look likely.

However, a rogue comment left on PRC, and a bit of circumstantial evidence, indicates GTR 3 may possibly be deep in development after all with the help of a major player within the ecosystem – though it’s certainly not something that should be taken as fact just yet.

The rumor, left on our website by an anonymous user in late June with no prior posting history, alleges that Image Space Incorporatedcreators of both F1 Challenge 99-02, as well as the revolutionary open-ended racing simulator rFactor – have partnered with SimBin UK on the upcoming sports car simulator. Of course, with some of the inane garbage landing in our comments section on a daily basis, it’s hard to believe much of anything that’s written in sim racing’s cesspool of insanity, but there are at least grounds to turn this into a reasonable sounding rumor, rather than something completely out of left field.

Image Space Incorporated transferred development of their flagship racing simulator, rFactor 2, to a team operating under the name of Studio 397 last fall, essentially ending ISI’s direct involvement in a piece of software they’d been actively developing since at least 2003 or 2004. However, the company did not outright state they were ceasing operations and moving away from the sim racing micro-industry altogether; along with message board posts echoing this same sentiment, the last time I spoke to Tim Wheatley, he implied they had taken up a project that’s “not rFactor 3”, but will use the isiMotor engine rather than working to develop it.

I originally believed this to be a revival of the IndyCar racing franchise, considering ISI had acquired the license to both Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as the Dallara DW12 for rFactor 2, but my assertions later proved to be incorrect when Slightly Mad Studios revealed a full IndyCar field and several tracks on the 2017 schedule for their own simulator, Project CARS 2.

If the rumor left in the anonymous PRC comment is to be believed, this would now point to ISI being involved in the resurrection of GTR 3 by SimBin UK, as the most practical application for the isiMotor engine – like I’ve discussed before here on PRC – would be in endurance sports car racing, where changes in weather, lighting, and track conditions are commonplace, and the engine could be used to its fullest extent. It would also explain why SimBin UK are so confident in announcing GTR 3 to the world despite being a relatively small staff seemingly incapable of constructing the game themselves; outsourcing fundamental portions of the game’s development to a highly experienced team would allow them to actually get the game off the ground, while taking care of the elements they are capable of achieving, such as securing licenses and retaining assets such as car and track models from their sister company, Sector 3 Studios.

Obviously, it’s all just rumors and speculation, but it’s a rumor that seems rather reasonable. SimBin UK aren’t big enough to create a multi-platform racer like GTR 3 all by themselves, and it’s been public knowledge that Image Space Incorporated are working on something behind closed doors, not yet interested in completely retiring from the sim racing community. Helping out on GTR 3 would be a natural and exciting fit for both ISI and SimBin UK, as the isiMotor engine would thrive with the  subject matter centered around what their engine does best.

If hell does freeze over and this all comes to fruition, sim racers have every reason to be excited. A polished, feature-complete rendition of rFactor 2 focusing on one primary racing series is long overdue in the genre.

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