As I skimmed through this Reader Submission we here at PRC.net received late last night, I knew without a doubt that we’ll be in for a real shitstorm once the article goes live. Pulling no punches and liberally dishing out criticisms among the sim racing community, today’s lengthy entry comes from a well-known car physics editor who wishes to remain anonymous, discussing the state of authentic race car behavior within modern racing sims – and how information that could genuinely help the modding community is intentionally withheld in the quest of the almighty dollar. Grab some popcorn, it’s going to be a mess.
Hey PRC.net staff! I finally got around to writing about the current state of car physics editing in modern racing simulators, and it’s not pretty.
I first want to start with a bit of a history lesson. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we were blessed with the launch of highly configurable isiMotor sims. Exciting times those were, when suddenly you could seek every physical characteristic of a land-based vehicle, and place those values directly into the simulator or game (yes, they are merely games, no matter how seriously you take them). We were able to try and simulate an entire car by it’s sheer technical numbers, rather than working with more or less conceptually simple models of how a car should behave.
The community went into a frenzy – but a good one. Pages and pages on the old RaceSimCentral forums (as well as other sites) were devoted to fully understanding the isiMotor engine, the variables it included, and how to apply real world data to them. Programs still used for modding were written during this golden age, such as the longstanding carFactory. It seemed like everyone in the community would benefit from this wave of development. But as is the tradition with sim racing, not everyone in the community was in it for the greater good. Those with ulterior motives began to pop up, and with time, they outnumbered the genuinely good people.
First up, let’s burst some bubbles.
In my eight years of being a car physics guru, and something like fifteen years spent participating in online sim racing communities, I’ve never found a single modder who was able to 100% replicate the exact behavior of a car and call their project 100% finished. It’s never happened, and it probably won’t happen for the foreseeable future, either. You only need to see how many tire model iterations titles like iRacing or Assetto Corsa have gone through. Even Niels Heusinkveld, the mastermind behind the physics included in titles produced by Reiza Studios, has created tires that behave in a completely different manner compared to what he put out for the community five years ago. Finished products don’t really exist.
And speaking of Niels…
Niels Heusinkveld is a famous name, and he’s a perfect example of how things changed from the early days of modern sim racing modding. Back then, he was an extremely active member on various message boards, and he was working on yet another tool to help modders, named “T-Rex”. This tool never saw a public release. Why? Because much like the controversial Slightly Mad Studios figurehead Ian Bell, Niels realized he could make a living out of sim racing, and kept it to himself. Now, I don’t have anything personal against the guy, it was his tool so it was his choice what he did with the thing. But in doing so, he joined many others who were already roaming the forums, some who even worked for real-world racing teams, that went from being active members of the modding scene, to a “philosopher” that would just release tiny bits of information. Sometimes, this was real-life technical information being withheld that could potentially contribute to the success and authenticity of a mod.
Most modding teams have absolutely no idea what they are doing when it comes to car physics. Sure, the models and sounds may be top-notch, but how the car drives is mostly guesswork because much of the legitimate data has been withheld, or tools that could help the car’s simulation value have been hoarded for private use. For example, the VLM Prototype mod that everyone lost their marbles over.. The GTPC release? I’ve never seen a Group C prototype weaving at speed. As for the DRM team, the guys behind the highly acclaimed Group 5 touring car mod? They didn’t even look at the real life lap times to see that the rFactor cars were lapping almost ten seconds quicker than the real world entries – and they also think a bulky Group 5 touring car has the inertia of a Formula Ford. And as you yourself covered with the EnduRacers Porsche Cup mod, they believe tires can never overheat, and modern GT cars are to be driven sideways.
But you know what? It’s not their fault. They did the best they could, or at least what they thought seemed acceptable using their judgement. Hell, I made some pretty bad stuff when I was first starting out as well. One has to learn the hard way.
Instead, I blame two other entities on this problem. The philosophers, and sim racers themselves.
It’s easy to see what I’m getting at with the philosophers. Some back then, specifically those who claimed to have full-time jobs in the auto racing industry, are just here to fill their ego with some sense of grandeur. They have no problem saying you are doing it wrong, but the minute you ask them for useful info, they all refuse, usually claiming either a lack of time (yes, because they have the time to lurk, but not the time to help), or some sort of confidentiality agreement (yes, because telling us what kind of downforce level an F1 car rear wing generates is going to give the secret away to rival teams). Others, like Niels (and I’m not ripping on him, I respect the guy, his work, as well as the info he did share) were snatched up by developers, or have other businesses, and they have no interest in giving their tools or info away to random modders on the internet. After all, they were once random modders on the internet as well, and they don’t want to accidentally give their secrets away to someone who could take their job away from them. Guys like Niels don’t want to mistakenly create the next Niels.
At the end of the day, what happens is that sim racing modders are still using software like carFactory instead of progressing forward into a new level of authenticity. If you search for any real information about real world car values, technical data, or tools that can help you ease the learning curve of car physics editing, you won’t find much within the sim racing community. You’re better off visiting F1Technical, or a variety of amateur auto racing forums.
It’s impossible to rely on past knowledge, because although there’s a lot of info about what the variables mean inside the isiMotor engine, there isn’t a whole lot of info regarding how it is in real life.
But does our second entity, the sim racers playing with these mods… Do they even care?
Some do. In fact, many claim they do. Most, however, don’t.
If you read PRC.net regularly, you know most sim racers don’t even play their favorite racing sims all that much. And when they do, they’re more interested in shiny graphics and popular cars, rather than authentic and accurate physics. And when I say accurate, I don’t mean hard, that’s not the point. But most of them don’t care even if the mod is unnecessarily difficult, and most don’t know nearly enough about cars as they think they do. For example, if I say “wider tires don’t always produce more grip”, this alone will blow most self-proclaimed tech-savvy sim racers, because they believe the opposite is common sense.
Modding teams know this, as do the developers of most popular sim racing titles. They know people have absolutely no idea what makes an early 1990’s Mercedes DTM entry tick, so they don’t bother digging too deep. As long as it produces roughly the same lap times as the real thing, that’s all that matters. And even if sim racers did care, the real information is extremely difficult to find, that developers would rather just release it in an acceptable state rather than spend months or years searching for the information.
Yes, some manufacturers do give certain developers access to detailed technical information, but honestly, I’d love to see it for myself before I believe the marketing hype. I’d be interested in seeing the detailed CAD drawings that McLaren supplied Kunos with to create the 650S suspension – or the wind tunnel plots that Project CARS used for their Radical. And I’d love to ask the guys at Kunos how they simulated the actively dampened suspension on the McLaren road car. Many of these developers started as modders themselves, and they shifted their focus to money, rather than the community. They cut corners in many more obvious places, do you honestly think they didn’t cut corners when it came down to detailed car physics? Do you really think they have auto engineers and experts working on this information?
Developers can always come out and prove me wrong, but they’re too busy banning people from the forums for daring to criticize their game, and the sim racers are too busy discussing how many trees there are in some version of the Nordschleife.
Some golden age, hey?
I knew something was up in regards to the quality of sim racing physics when iRacing, what was apparently the ultimate leader in racing sim technology for several years in a row, went through something like seven different tire model builds that all drove in a completely different manner. I mean, iRacing came out after a truckload of hype and fanfare because it was the revival of Papyrus to an extent. Sim racers praised the handling model as the most realistic thing ever, which was understandable because there wasn’t much competition aside from GTR Evolution back then. A couple months later, a new update to the tire model came out, because that’s been David Kaemmer’s eternal science project – theoretical tire behavior.
The same sim racers who once praised the old handling model now shit on the old version while praising the new version. This process has repeated itself three times a year, for something like eight years since the game was first released to the public. The same guy who recorded Kurt Busch’s tirade at Homestead actually made a montage of the Old Tire Model behavior – and keep in mind at one point sim racers were praising this:
With absurd car behavior like this, it’s hard to think of a company like iRacing as having some sort of huge technical development team behind it. And like our anonymous physics guru above has explained, this has been a trend not just in iRacing, but throughout the sim racing community. Very few people, even the big companies, have any idea what they’re doing.
Grand Prix Legends was praised for it’s authenticity – and then five years later people are questioning why they ever put up with such an unrealistic depiction of car behavior aside from the raw challenge. RaceRoom Racing Experience currently has an issue that allows you to run a low downforce aero configuration across every car in the game, even at technical tracks like Macau, without any noticeable downsides. And as we discussed a few weeks ago, the highly popular Flat 6 mod by EnduRacers had tires that literally didn’t wear.
Do owners of Project CARS care that no tire compound in the game behaves as it should? No. Do owners of ARCA Sim Racing care that only Superspeedway bodies have been modeled, making for a truly awkward display on short tracks and road courses? No. Do sim racers care that Assetto Corsa doesn’t model oil temperature or brake fade? No. When the iRacing Peak Anti-Freeze Series was running over 10 mph faster into turn three at Daytona than the real life NASCAR Sprint Cup cars did, was anyone allowed to mention it on the forums without getting banned? No. The more you dig, it appears everyone in this is basically stuck in the mud with half-realistic car behavior and pretty graphics to cover it all up.
For a genre that aims to be something more than just half-assed vehicle behavior, we’re certainly not there yet.