While I’m not a fan of his content reviews, and he could work on shaving a second or two off his overall race pace, I think sim racing YouTube personality Empty Box is criminally underrated as a video editor. Regardless of what sim he’s playing, he manages to present this extremely niche hobby in a way that can be easily understood and enjoyed by a wide variety of audiences. And part of what makes Matt so popular among sim racers is how down-to-earth he is as a commentator: occasionally he’ll give a pseudo-review on the title he’s playing – listing off the positive and negative aspects – and then he’ll slowly move back into describing the action in front of him. It’s a really fluid viewing experience, and his videos are a good way to kill ten minutes or so after you’ve just got in from work and aren’t in quite the right mindset to turn some laps of your own.
For those who are avid viewers of Empty Box, I’m sure you’ve noticed that Matt does not withhold praise for Reiza Studios. Matt routinely cites Stock Car Extreme, and now Reiza’s new title Automobilista, as the absolute best offline racing experience due to the superb artificial intelligence.While Matt’s iRacing videos are obviously pulled from online events he’s participated in, traditionally his videos featuring products from Reiza Studios are predominantly offline affairs.
Like many, I believed that I would be able to replicate Matt’s satisfying offline brawl sessions against the AI just by loading up a Reiza product and hitting the track. Unfortunately, his lengthy videos spent dueling with computer opponents are not indicative of the retail product – Automobilista’s AI needs some serious work. Tonight, I spent about half an hour jumping from series to series in the same way I used to do with Assetto Corsa a few months ago, and was able to document so many artificial intelligence issues that it’s hard to believe no other sim racers are discussing this. It wasn’t cool in Assetto Corsa, and it’s certainly not cool to experience the same issues all over again.
Now it’s important to note the settings in which I was experiencing these major AI issues with. First of all, Reiza Studios need this information to help fix their game, and for readers of PRC.net, it serves to demonstrate how I was truly attempting to give the artificial intelligence in Automobilista every chance I possibly could for them to succeed. The overall pace of the AI had been set to 107%, with their overall aggression set to Low, and the default track grip set to High. Basically, I made the AI quicker than the vast majority of sim racers, yet extremely docile in traffic, and gave them a super sticky track surface. I’ve done as much as I could possibly do within the menus of Automobilista to ensure virtual Buddhist monks were sharing the track with me. I also began each race session starting at the back of the pack, allowing the AI to react naturally to each others’ presence without my involvement to skew their behavior in a sensationalist manner.
I began by taking the Formula Vee to Velopark, a car in Automobilista that’s essentially a Formula Ford powered by a Volkswagen Beetle engine. You aren’t going to hurt yourself in this car, and if you’re completely fresh to racing simulators, this is exactly where you should start to learn basic car control. Yet during practice laps, the AI would routinely spin out when leaving the pits, and I grew to expect a mess in turn four. If computer opponents left in a pack, the size of the mess was only amplified as you can see above.
When it came time to race, half of the field – including the pole sitter – wiped out in turn one. We weren’t even up to speed yet, entering turn one 50 km/h slower than we’d enter it during a lap at full speed. I mean, just look at this shit – ten seconds into the race, and half of the field is in the process of destroying itself. This is the easiest corner on the track.
So the natural response to avoid the chaos of Formula Vee was to take the Stadium Truck to the specialized layout Reiza created for the series at Suzuka. Two corners into the race, a pair of trucks literally drove off the track into the sand trap, but nothing could prepare me for the ultimate display of carnage awaiting at the end of the first lap. An AI truck spun coming out of the makeshift chicane, and sat on the track for the rest of the field to plow into. A minute into the race, seven out of twelve trucks were destroyed.
But, to be fair, the Formula Vee entries are running on what appear to be bias-ply tires, and the Stadium Super Truck is by far the most difficult race
car truck ever created for a modern racing simulator. To offset the rough start I had to this little experiment, I brought the V8 Supercars to Campo Grande – a track with virtually no elevation changes, no tricky corners, and located in the middle of a completely flat farmer’s field. Nothing should go wrong here. If you can’t drive Campo Grande, you should probably just give up. This is one of the easiest tracks in the entire game.
Not only did an AI car or two occasionally venture off-track, they would proceed to steer directly back into the pack and obliterate anyone unlucky enough to occupy the same space as them, leading to some absolutely stellar action shots. But of course, not everyone is playing Automobilista to take fancy pictures of AI bugs for their shitty sim racing blog; most of them wanted a working video game.
And as I pressed on, Automobilista’s AI barely worked. This is a game regarded by some Reiza fans as a Player’s Choice Edition of Stock Car Extreme – running on an engine that has seen retail use as far back as the early 2000’s. Yet, here I am, watching Super Karts make a beeline towards a concrete wall during the first lap of a race at Ribeirao Preto. This track is literally the best place to take these karts in the entire game, and the AI drives straight into a wall.
Now we get to the Rally Cross portion of our program, which suffered an entirely different problem completely unrelated to computer opponents wrecking the shit out of each other. As was the case with the Super Trucks, these cars were one of the main draws of Automobilista, as the isiMotor engine has traditionally been a road racing-only racing simulator engine, and highly accurate off-road cars were something of a rarity. But in testing out what Rally Cross had to offer away from Multiplayer servers, the AI cars were straight up glued to the track, and braking at points they really didn’t need to. This results in an offline Rally Cross experience that nobody should even bother with; what you’re witnessing simply isn’t Rally Cross racing.
Moving away from the dirt tracks of Finland, I brought the generic mid-1970’s Formula One season included within Automobilista to the Buenos Aires circuit, as I’ll be running there this weekend with the guys over at Realish Racing. Half of the field hadn’t even entered turn one before things started to go haywire…
…and given that grass doesn’t provide the greatest amount of grip, these rogue AI cars proceeded to come flying back onto the track and smash into the remaining cars who were able to stay within the white lines. Like clockwork, a good portion of the twelve car grid had suffered severe damage prior to the end of the first lap.
Lastly, as I get to drive a few of these at work when summer rolls around, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring the Chevrolet Camaro to Montreal. These cars are heavy, slow, and should be fairly easy for the AI to maneuver around a modern Formula One circuit. Of course, we get four turns into the race and an AI car is already stopped on the track in an inconvenient location.
I fully expect the guys who love Reiza’s work to come in kicking and screaming, claiming that Automobilista is an Early Access title, and this period of time will be used to iron out the numerous bugs that pop up. However, as I’ve mentioned earlier, Automobilista isn’t a whole lot different than Stock Car Extreme, which is in turn not a whole lot different than ISI’s rFactor with a good selection of built-in community plug-ins. Yes, Automobilista is listed as an Early Access title, but the technology powering it, including the poor AI behavior, isn’t an entirely new discovery. It’s frustrating to be sold a new game, and be subjected to shortcomings that haven’t been addressed in almost a decade, while a large majority of the community stays silent over problems that can be re-created through normal gameplay.