With the current platter of stories blowing up within the Sim Racing community, it’s easy to forget where our genre has come from. While the disastrous launch of Project CARS is still fresh in everyone’s minds, and the impending console release of Assetto Corsa serves as a reminder for developers to not bite off more than they can chew, the stories which once warranted massive message board discussions have now been lost to the sands of time. There’s no denying that it’s a slow news day, and as many of our North American readers are parked in front of their televisions for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, why not take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of the rumors that sent forums into a frenzy.
What Happened to Midtown Madness?
Angel Studios ruled the late 1990’s PC gaming market with two PC-exclusive open world racers, titles which were published by none other than Microsoft as a showcase for what the Windows platform could achieve. Dubbed Midtown Madness, the expansive cities of Chicago, San Francisco, and London were turned into virtual playgrounds thanks to a plethora of creative game modes, and the long-forgotten MSN Gaming Zone was used to handle online racing functionality. The game received phenomenal reviews across the board in a time when review outlets were not used as a third party marketing resource, and most sim racers who have been around this scene for more than a few operating systems often look back fondly on the two Midtown Madness games.
The Rumor: Rights to develop Midtown Madness 3 were given to Digital Illusions of Battlefield 1942 fame, who released the game as an Xbox exclusive in the summer of 2003 to take advantage of the brand-new Xbox Live multiplayer service. Despite stellar reviews and a noticeable increase in graphical fidelity, Midtown Madness 3 marked the end of the franchise, and the brand remains a relic of late 1990’s automotive video gaming.
The Reality: Angel Studios is still making Midtown Madness games, though they’re clearly not under the Angel Studios or Midtown Madness labels. The team was purchased by the almighty Rockstar Games in 2003, and began releasing a line of open-world racing titles eerily similar to those that helped the studio rise to critical acclaim. Now under the Rockstar San Diego banner, the Midnight Club series picked up exactly where Midtown Madness left off and offered console gamers across all major platforms the exact same addicting experience once reserved for the Microsoft Windows operating system. Midnight Club Los Angeles was the final full release in a series of games spanning nearly a decade, however Rockstar San Diego is credited with playing an integral role in the development of Grand Theft Auto V.
As for the other games using the Madness branding, Monster Truck Madness became 4×4 Evolution, and Motocross Madness turned into the MX vs. ATV series of games.
It Wasn’t Really EA’s Fault
The Need for Speed franchise began to face an identity crisis in the mid-2000’s, as Electronic Arts moved into uncharted territory with a franchise that had existed on a yearly basis in some form since 1994. Critical reception towards Need for Speed titles had been on a steady decline for several years, and Electronic Arts were simply running out of ideas on how to innovate a series that already had seen more identity changes than David Bowie. To rejuvenate the series, Electronic Arts brought PC racing sim developer Slightly Mad Studios on board, and tasked them with turning a pair of Need for Speed games into hardcore racing simulators for the console masses to compete with Forza and Gran Turismo. Unfortunately for sim racers, the game was a flop, shipping with several technical bugs and handling issues – requiring an entire portion of the community over at NoGripRacing.com to sit down and unfuck the game with various physics changes and unofficial community patches.
The Rumor: Electronic Arts forced Slightly Mad Studios to ship both Shift titles in an unfinished state, claiming that several features were disabled or left half-finished at the request of big bad EA for no apparent reason other than EA is stupid.
The Reality: Slightly Mad Studios proceeded to create a third entry in the Need for Speed Shift series without EA’s involvement, using funds gathered by both the community, as well as wealthy private investors. The idea was to develop a big-budget racing sim without the intrusive hand of a developer making boneheaded decisions about the end product that would anger the hardcore fans the game was intended for. Even with four years in development, 30,000 community beta testers, and the lack of an authoritarian publisher calling the shots on a game they don’t truly understand, Project CARS shipped in a state that implied there was virtually no quality assurance testing done on the title prior to release. Over ten patches have failed to rectify bugs that render the game virtually unplayable for anyone who uses the sim for more than a quick five-lap sprint race. EA clearly wasn’t the reason the Shift games sucked, the fault lies within Slightly Mad Studios itself.
Where Did Jeremy Mayfield Go?
NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup was an attempt by EA Sports to copy some of the gameplay elements that had made NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona so successful a few years earlier. Instead of focusing primarily on the highest level of NASCAR racing – as had been the norm for several years prior – Chase for the Cup also included three other NASCAR series that compliment the NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule throughout the year. The game is fondly remembered by diehard NASCAR fans for its massive career mode, offering an equal level of depth compared to Dirt to Daytona while boasting a more complete roster of licensed drivers and tracks.
The Rumor: Controversial Evernham Motorsports driver Jeremy Mayfield was originally intended to be the game’s cover athlete, a rumor heavily backed up by the intrusive Dodge branding on several loading screens and awkwardly re-named gameplay modes. Mayfield’s erratic behavior behind the scenes, and refusal to attend certain meetings with the EA Sports marketing department, caused for a last-minute switch to Chevrolet driver Kevin Harvick.
The Reality: As someone who’s played the shit out of EA Sports NASCAR titles back when they were brand new, EA Sports had a very real tendency to fuck up and omit one or two full-time drivers from the roster each year. Kerry Earnhardt was left out of NASCAR Thunder 2003 despite appearing in trailers, Tony Raines was left out of NASCAR Thunder 2004 despite appearing in the in-game tutorial videos, Bill Elliot was left out of NASCAR 06: Total Team Control despite appearing in preview screenshots, and Carl Edwards was left out of NASCAR 08 due to sponsorship conflicts. Pocono Raceway was also strangely left out of the game’s extensive track roster, indicating that EA Sports simply couldn’t finalize all licensing agreements before the required deadline. People simply noticed Mayfield’s absence because his 2004 campaign was rather successful – qualifying for NASCAR’s first ever post-season tournament following his infamous win at Richmond.
Meanwhile, Mayfield’s allegedly erratic behavior has been exposed as the result of an extensive smear campaign by NASCAR. Mayfield caused problems in the garage area during his time with the factory Dodge team for exposing the relationship between team owner Ray Evernham and development driver Erin Crocker, but Mayfield was eventually proven correct as the pair wed a few years following his departure from the team. The former driver of the #19 Dodge Stratus was also a victim of NASCAR’s zero-tolerance substance abuse policy, as despite having a prescription for both Adderall and Claritin D, refusing to become the face of NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program warranted a carefully crafted backlash by NASCAR itself, labeling Mayfield as a methamphetamine addict.
Mayfield appeared in future iterations of their NASCAR series on consoles, indicating his omission was indeed the result of licensing deadlines not being met.
Gran Turismo Destroys Enthusia in Sales, Polyphony Digital Hires Their Physics Guy
Released in 2005 for Sony’s extremely popular Playstation 2 home console, Enthusia Professional Racing by Konami was an independent attempt to steal some of Gran Turismo’s thunder. Fueled by the development ideology of “we think we can do it better” – the same ideology that helped guide Kunos Simulazioni’s Assetto Corsa into the spotlight – the little-known indie sim racer is still praised by hardcore driving enthusiasts for the raw authenticity of the game’s physics model. However, like most unforgiving racing sims, Enthusia was a complete and utter commercial failure. Clueless reviewers from Gamespot attempting to turn competitive laps with a standard Dualshock controller blasted the game, explaining that:
Rear-wheel-drive cars are especially tough to drive in Enthusia, displaying a huge tendency for oversteer and requiring incredible amounts of patience (and driving touch) to be successful in. While the game touts an incredibly realistic physics engine, it’s hard to believe rear-wheel-drive cars are this twitchy in real life. As one colleague put it to us, “If rear-wheel-drive cars handled in real life the way they do in Enthusia, no one would ever buy one.”
The Rumor: Enthusia was a flop, but Polyphony Digital was so impressed by the level of detail in the game’s driving physics, lead physics developer Yutaka Ito was acquired in time for Gran Turismo’s jump to the Playstation 3.
The Reality: Several message boards appear to treat this claim as fact. Both GTPlanet and NeoGAF threads pop up mentioning this little piece of trivia when looking up “Yutaka Ito Polyphony Enthusia” on your favorite online search engine. While I’m not able to find how long Ito spent at Polyphony helping out with modern Gran Turismo releases, it appears that his guidance was lent to both Gran Turismo 5 and Gran Turismo 6.
iDT Almost Released a Modern Champ Car Sim
During the first five years of rFactor’s life span, the modding community exploded in ways never previously thought possible, with talented mod teams popping up left and right at a rate simply unmatched by other simulation communities. Mods created by some of these teams are still being updated and converted to other racing sims as they become available, displaying the full extent of how genuinely good the glory days of sim racing once were. Among the long list of semi-professional modding teams were a group based out of the United States, calling themselves iDT Simulations. The team specialized in several high quality modern Champ Car and historic Indy Car seasons, going through great lengths to model many temporary North American street circuits such as Toronto and Long Beach to complete the Champ Car experience.
The Rumor: Back in the late 2000’s, iDT Simulations were hard at work building a complete stand-alone Champ Car title with the official Champ Car license. Like what Reiza Studios have currently done with Stock Car Extreme and the upcoming Automobilista, the game would center around the world of American Open Wheel racing and feature all relevant support series while being powered by a tweaked version of the isiMotor engine – just like Automobilista.
The Reality: This rumor has been confirmed to us by a private source. iDT Simulations had indeed been building a retail Champ Car racing sim – a title which would have been very similar to Automobilista, albeit with a much more familiar selection of content. At some point near the end of the project, a disgruntled member of iDT financially sabotaged the project, and the work that had been done was systematically released as free rFactor mods for the sim racing community instead.