Our resident Project CARS expert Ruben Galvez Lopez has sent us yet another lengthy Reader Submission, and this entry is probably my favorite in his mini-series of picking apart the controversial crowd-funded racer. Curious to determine the level of authenticity in his simulator of choice, Ruben has sat down and compared the lap times of real-world cars, to the performance of their virtual counterparts within Project CARS. The result? All shitposting aside, Project CARS is simcade and has no simulation value – and Lopez proved it. Bust out the popcorn, this one’s a fun read:
Hey PRC, it’s been a while! Somehow, one of those reader submissions you got flew under my radar, and after I read it almost a month later, I can’t avoid sending you a piece myself. The submission I’m referring to was the piece entitled “What Accuracy?”
Accuracy is a quality I really appreciate in a sim. There are many reasons to pick up a sim racing title: some look for the best possible racing, some look for eye candy & amazing sound effects, some enjoy tweaking a setup… But the main reason I personally am interested in sim racing is because I CAN’T RACE FOR REAL.
I am not a hugely talented teenager with a family that can support my hobby until somebody notices me, I’m just a 28 year old motorsport enthusiast, fairly competent behind the wheel, with an economic background that makes it highly unlikely that I’ll ever be a Ferrari customer that gets to drive awesome cars.
The reason I like these games is because it’s the closest I’ll be to driving the cars I grew up watching, and still drool over today. If these cars aren’t represented with a minimum level of fidelity in terms of performance, the experience loses a lot of appeal for me. Of course, it’s still fun to have an eventful race with a field full of fictional cars, but if we add an accurate representation of a car I have a crush on, it doubles the value for me.
What’s the point in having a Lotus 98T in a modern racing sim if you give it a ride at Monza in wet weather conditions, and it slaughters the lap time of a 2008 Formula One participant? That’s NOT a Lotus 98T, it’s just a pretty skin that performs and drives like an entirely different vehicle.
The submission I mentioned says at one point that the reason many current games are so far from the real cars in terms of performance, is because developers have realized that not many people care. I have to disagree. As you probably remember, I’m stuck with Project CARS, which is not exactly the most polished and accurate sim out there. Still, I’m really interested in understanding myself how the cars in the virtual environment compare to the real thing.
That question pushed me to drive mock qualification laps within Project CARS, and compare them with real life pole position laps, taking into account as many details as possible to ensure absolute fairness. I’m well aware you can’t make a straight comparison between real life lap times and video game lap times – we have all sorts of unfair advantages such as unlimited attempts, one lap setup exploits, rapid fire downshifting… So I tried to factor them all out. I set up the cars for a long race in series with parc ferme rules, I limited the number of attempts to mimic the real world qualifying format, I adjusted my lines in places where the game lacks high curbs, and made all sorts of effort to find out the day/hour/weather of the real session to get similar environment conditions. I also used the most “green” track the game offers – free practice mode.
This is one of the videos that came out of all that hassle, which I feel tells the story about how the average test usually went:
In most cases, the cars were two to three seconds faster than the real thing, even when treating the game with respect and not exploiting track limits or nonsense setups. Only on one occasion the real world lap was faster, and fairly often I found completely broken combinations. For example, the Lotus 98T is faster in the rain at Monza than Sebastien Vettel’s 2008 pole lap!
Now, I want to know your view on this topic. Is it too optimistic expecting better accuracy than this in games that try to cover a vast variety of series? Is software/hardware today good enough to demand something better than this? Is the lack of accuracy down to the limited data available for game developers, or is it due to lack of know-how from them?
Also, one last important question… Unlike me, you have played a shitload of different titles over the years. Which one was the most accurate you’ve tried? Did you ever have a game where a talented guy could find himself doing very similar lap times to the real cars across many combinations?
There’s a lack of authenticity primarily because developers aren’t as talented as we think they are. It boils down to the brown M&M’s contract rider theory that helped Van Halen survive on the road – if one little detail has been messed up, you have reason to believe other aspects of the operation are just as flawed. Only a few weeks ago, Kunos pushed out an update for Assetto Corsa that saw cars fall through the ground at Spa. If they can’t get that right, what makes you think they’ve accurately nailed the performance of each invidividual car? And again, we can ask the same questions with Project CARS – if Slightly Mad Studios couldn’t rectify a landmine bug present as early as 2009 in the Need for Speed Shift series, what makes you think their new Audi Prototype DLC will warrant authentic on-track performance?
With the technology we have available to us today, there’s no reason lap times shouldn’t mirror the real thing, but in 2016 you’re looking at a sim racing landscape where developers literally can’t get their shit together over the most basic of problems – opting to instead rely on bullshit marketing campaigns and aggressive fanboys to pretend like everything is okay. I’m sure the Kunos engine, in the hands of somebody competent, could produce extremely satisfying results, but the reality is that their lead coding guy is too caught up in calling his own customers retarded monkeys to care. The isiMotor engine isn’t a bad base to build a racing simulator around, but when the guy in charge of the entire project tells people to shut up when they’ve discovered a bug, do you really think there’s been any care put into ensuring the virtual cars match their real world counterparts? Of course not.
It’s all on the developers. They have the tools necessary to push out phenomenal stuff, but for whatever reason, aren’t.
As for the second part of your question, I can think of at least four games that absolutely nailed the performance aspect of the simulation, and unfortunately they were all titles released prior to 2008. This is basically the whole premise behind PretendRaceCars.net – we had a fantastic group of racing simulators to play, and for whatever reason, developers just sort of stopped making them and started shit-talking their own community instead.
We masturbate over NASCAR Racing 2003 Season on a daily basis here at PRC.net, but there’s a reason we hold the game to such a high regard. While the interviews and detailed explanations regarding the topic have been lost to the sands of time, the popular urban legend is that the Craftsman Truck Series physics released by Project Wildfire were so accurate, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his extended group of friends credit their on-track success in the early 2000’s to their obsession with the final Papyrus simulator. What a lot of private leagues would do – including Earnhardt Jr.’s own DMP Series – is they would take the CTS physics and apply them to the other cars available for the game. The reliance upon the Craftsman Truck mod can be seen in the segment below, where former Cup driver Jerry Nadeau can be seen driving the Project Wildfire mod at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Most professional race car drivers aren’t sim racing mod connoisseurs, so you have to wonder who tipped him off about this, and why.
Maple and I put this urban legend to the test on an otherwise dull summer evening. When browsing through NR2k3Tracks.com, we discovered a track Maple’s actually raced Late Models at – Motoplex Speedway in Vernon, British Columbia – had been created for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season under its former name of Sun Valley Speedway. Now, because the Papyrus sim was ten years old at the time, the scenery of Vernon’s track looked like complete ass compared to the real thing – but the important part was that the track geometry was basically identical.
So we jumped in and switched off every ten laps or so, using the Craftsman Truck Series physics on a popular yet dated Late Model package. We knew from being at the track earlier in the year that a good lap was in the 18.4 to 18.6 range, and Maple threw some realistic setup tweaks at the car just to test NASCAR 2003’s authenticity. At this point, we weren’t really taking things seriously, we had just been operating under the impression that NASCAR 2003 being used as a training tool was just another meme – the forum users regurgitating it falling prey to a marketing scheme being blown horribly out of proportion. Essentially, the story about Dale Jr. and his buddies being rumored of obsessing over this game was on-par with the Project CARS ad campaign of those Rene Rast videos from 2015.
Upon consulting the lap times and tire temperature readouts, we quickly realized this was much more than an urban legend. We were running times which were identical to the real thing, down to the time it took for the tires to generate heat. Yes, the graphics looked like ass and the force feedback could use a complete overhaul, but there wasn’t a difference when it came to how the car performed on-track. Now, this hotlap session took place during a period of time in which iRacing flat out sucked and there was no sugar-coating it, so not only were we blown away at how good a decade-old game could be, we also couldn’t believe how the exact same development team could get things oh so very wrong after ten more years of research.
So NASCAR Racing 2003 Season is one of the games immediately coming to mind when people ask if a game has ever truly come close to perfection. Papyrus built something that was objectively perfect, on inferior hardware, before the obsession over tire models renditions and other marketing garbage was even on the horizon.
Another title which nailed the authenticity of a major auto racing series right down to the finest details, was released by ValuSoft. Yes, that ValuSoft. I don’t remember why or how, but the shovelware crew who brought the Hard Truck/18 Wheels of Steel franchise (later to become Euro Truck Simulator) to the forefront somehow acquired the rights to the National Hot Rod Association in the late 1990’s. The first game was trashed by most critics, so we’ll just skip over that one for now. But for the second title, developer Moto1.net made a genuine push towards improving the product. Part of these improvements revolved around bringing aboard real world drivers to help with the development of the product.
Traditionally, developers use real world drivers as a cheap marketing gimmick to generate the public’s interest in a title. At this point, most sim racers are able to see through the generic PR babble claiming one of the series’ drivers was somehow involved in the development of the title, but Moto1.net did things in a much different manner. They actually went and found a driver who had a degree in software engineering.
Don Schumacher Racing driver Ron Capps, who at the time had been driving for NHRA legend Don Prudhomme, was taken aboard the Moto1.net program for the development of NHRA Drag Racing 2. The involvement of a professional driver who also understood the development side immediately helped to turn the project around, as the second installment in the line of officially licensed NHRA Drag Racing games was well-received by the websites who once trashed it, admitting the new release was surprisingly competent for a budget title.
The quality of NHRA Drag Racing 2 immediately resulted in a huge online community growing around it, and it was later revealed that many of the hardcore users were actually professional racers themselves. This was iRacing, long before iRacing became a thing, and it was due in no small part to how real data could be applied within NHRA Drag Racing 2 and be met with instant success. The title’s rudimentary garage menu had been crafted in such a way to allow for advanced setup techniques to work within the virtual environment, and as drag racing admittedly isn’t as popular as Stock Car or Formula One racing, the only people who really picked up this title were drag racers themselves.
It may look simple compared to today’s modern racing simulators, but drag racers flocked to the title, and were blown away by how realistic a piece of PC software could be – especially during a time when the technology wasn’t quite there yet. My uncle, who traditionally wasn’t an avid PC gamer, invested several days into the online portion of NHRA Drag Racing 2 as there wasn’t any sort of learning curve for an experienced driver or crew chief to overcome. It all worked. There wasn’t a buffer zone like there is in something like Project CARS.
The most disappointing part of the two examples mentioned above, is that both games were released over a decade ago – sometimes more. Somehow, we’ve moved away from this level of authenticity, while marketing campaigns claim we’ve moved towards it. Once developers can start pushing out products which match the experience offered by the PR babble, I think you’ll see this issue rectified. The biggest problem is trying to dial out the narcissistic ideologies plaguing several developer teams. The technology is clearly able to produce a 1-to-1 level of authenticity – it was somehow fine a decade ago – but the challenge is to now curb the personalities from telling their customers to fuck off, and instead set them on creating a fantastic product.