A surprise project intended to temporarily push aside our extremely cynical outlook on the world of sim racing, and offer something to our readers that could genuinely help them to improve their own virtual driving experience, we opened up the “Shop” section of our website by putting up Black Flag: A Crash Course in Sim Racing – a 70-page PDF document retailing for $6.99 – though you can currently grab it for 20% off by entering the discount code “NOSIMVALUE.” Now unfortunately, despite the sheer number of people who visit us here at PRC.net, as well as a current sales figure we’re quite happy with, very few sim racers have actually offered any sort of lengthy critical feedback on the product – with Will Marsh of SimRacingPaddock penning the sole review. Today, we can add another individual to the mix; an anonymous sim racer has sent us a lengthy review of our product, and we’re extremely proud to put it up on our little website for all to see.
Good afternoon, PRC!
After trying out DiRT 3 and BeamNG Drive, I realized that I do like more realistic (well, these two titles aren’t “realistic” by any stretch of imagination, but they sure as hell are better than NFS!) driving games, so much that I’ve been eyeing hardcore racing sims since then. Somewhere between that moment and today I stumbled across your site, and instantly fell in love with the honest, sarcastic and sometimes brutal tone of the articles discussing the racing sims. And in writing this, I hope you will appreciate my honest critique of the Black Flag, which eventually i decided to pick up to aid me with my newfound passion.
To start with the positives, I think the style in which the guide is written is, in my opinion, spot on: not too dry and daunting, while at the same time not being too “dudebro.” The hardware buying/setup guide is pretty much perfect – pure, condensed useful information, both on what to look for and what to avoid. I’ve written hardware buying guides before, and this is exactly how it’s meant to be done. The “Secrets to Success” section, while mostly not being immediately useful to me personally (at this stage at least), also looks to be packed with a lot of useful tips.
The cornering and racing sections were actually useful enough even to improve my still-keyboard racing, as I’ve had a lot of misconceptions on how to race and overtake, good example of that being my “slip streaming = good” maxim that I picked up from Gran Turismo. I always thought of it as “increasing speed” rather than “losing downforce”, so I never thought using it would actually be detrimental in some circumstances. So even without picking up the wheel, I’m already a slightly better racer for reading Black Flag! The practice weekends/qualifying/racing/championship aspects of Black Flag are also not in an immediate use of me as being as self conscious as I am it’d be a long time before I join an online race, but they too look to be written in a way that is easy to comprehend, so no complaints on that front either. So overall I must say it’s a great and very useful read, and the fact that it doesn’t only talk about things that are immediately applicable to sim tarmac racing, but rather covers a wide range of topics (such as rally for example), is a great thing and certainly extends its longevity, at least for me. I’d certainly appreciate more rally-related tips (especially on using the handbrake), but it’s likely not your area of expertise. However, there are certain things that I’d love to see improved.
First of all, some background about me. When it comes to cars, I am totally ignorant. In fact, I haven’t even driven a real car yet (in these times, it’s a luxury…). I know nothing about how the car behaves, nor how it should behave. At this stage, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near me on a track. I really am one of those complete idiots who might get lapped three times over a ten lap race, provided a racing sim is hardcore enough. So please, treat me like one, goddammit!
Judging by the first few chapters, the guide is geared towards n00bs who don’t even have a “toy steering wheel” and are looking for “good racing sim” to get into, but somehow you expect me to know what is (for example) “understeer” and other technical terms? Of course I have no fucking idea what any of that means! And of course, I can google all that or pick something up as I go (although some games, like DiRT 3, make it easy by having quick descriptions of what each car setting does), but it kind of defeats the point of writing a guide on sim racing.
This might seem like a useless endeavor because most of the intended audience probably already knows all of this, but I have some informal teaching experience, and you’d be surprised how often that may not be the case – i lost count how many times I’ve encountered even experienced people thinking they know X or Y, while in reality having several fundamental misunderstandings about the subject. Providing at least some basic fundamentals should never be underestimated.
So I would really like to have some sort of glossary, or better yet – a chapter on this or that. You know, like 1.1 – What is understeer and what are its causes (mass distribution? something else?), 1.2 what cars might have more or less of it (RWD? forward engine? does it matter?), 1.3 what elements of car setup can increase/decrease understeer (diff? anything else?), 1.4 how to avoid it while racing… stuff like that. This would be really helpful to better understand some of the sections of this book. You are an experienced racer, so you know all this stuff and it’s “obvious” to you, but for guys like me (and maybe even people with more experience), it may not be. We come from Need for Speed, after all, where none of this even exists, let alone matters.
The second major criticism I have, is that it’s all text. Text is nice, but even some graphs with turns of various kinds of curves and sharpness, an apex line, some color marking on where to put breaks or hit the gas… This would be pretty useful as well. A picture is worth a thousand words – well, a trajectory for completing a turn, or doing a takeover maneuver, or even explaining and comparing under/oversteer alongside the thousand words you’ve already written will do wonders. Besides, some of us aren’t native English speakers and may have difficulties visualizing something that is being explained in a foreign language, especially if it involves terminology we aren’t quite comfortable with just yet.
This is especially true of the whole section 6, for example, because explaining something like that with words is just not cutting it for someone who isn’t already intimately familiar with racing. We’re an NFS crowd, remember? We’re used to throttle glued to the floor, cutting corners and ramming our opponents! Even a couple of pictures with two cars and two arrows indicating direction of travel would be extremely helpful to explain much of the stuff that is being talked about in section 6.
The third issue, somewhat related to first, is that there isn’t a single place where i can see which setting does what to my car. I know you have car setup and tweaking sections, and that’s great. They also provide some useful examples, but that’s the point – you mention “skating around” and a way to fix it, mainly “adjusting rear sway bar”. How am i supposed to know that in the first place? I don’t even have a toy wheel, and you expect me to know what adjusting some “sway bar” does?
Now, I understand that I won’t truly grasp the settings until I spend hundreds (if not thousands) of laps testing out those minuscule differences and build an understanding of what each setting does and how a car should be set up for each event. I get all that, and i get the “practice” thing. I’m not stupid. But can you at least give me some basic information, so that I don’t end up randomly adjusting settings in vain hopes that something will eventually work to my advantage? I can google, but again, that kind of defeats the point of writing a guide on sim racing. Plus again, you’re an experienced racer and are therefore are capable of giving useful information in a condensed form, because your experience tells you what is relevant and what isn’t.
And yes, I don’t expect you to braindump all there is to know into a few short paragraphs, but the basics would help with the “OK, I’m in a settings screen now what the fuck do I adjust” situation, once I’m comfortable with a car. Even a short outline of, say: “camber” is this and that, if you adjust it that way, it’ll do this, but will have these side effects, here’s a setting that makes sense because this and that (yes, you do mention camber settings specifically, but in a different chapter – that goes to my point of not having vital information all in once place). You provide a baseline setup, which, as you point out, should work on almost every track, and that’s great and very helpful. But you also don’t give too many pointers as to what to adjust whenever I am familiar enough with it to start adjusting things. This is how DiRT 3 does it – there are five or six things you can adjust about your car, and the settings screen actually tells you, in short, what each of the settings does.
And again, going back to my very first point, by pure luck i happen to know what “camber” is, but someone may not. Explaining what that is would be great. Ideally, you would have section(s) explaining car settings (camber values, tire types etc.), and section(s) explaining what can happen to a car (tires getting worn out/warmed up/weather, understeer, etc.).
These are my major criticisms with the guide. To sum it up, it’s pretty n00b friendly, but not n00b friendly enough (or rather doesn’t concern itself with complete n00bs). I also have a few suggestions, nitpicks and comments to particular chapters.
Speaking of performance, I would also add that adjusting anti-aliasing has huge effects on GPU performance, so lowering those settings might be worth the while as well. I’m not familiar with racing games enough to know whether such a thing even exists there, but turning off anything volumetric (volumetric shadows, volumetric lights, etc.) also reduces the strain on GPU. And finally, if you are experiencing sporadic lagging and your GPU has less than satisfactory amount of GPU memory, lowering texture resolution just a bit would help immensely (as those are eating the most amount of GPU memory).
Also, there are a few other things that can be done to a computer that aren’t directly related to the game, but can nevertheless reduce the chance of sporadic lags. Aside from installing more RAM and getting a Solid State Drive, the biggest thing is to turn off all background processes. There are many programs that install various memory-resident shit into your startup folder, such as various “updaters”, “value added experience” applets, stuff like that. Get rid of that shit, at least during a race period.
Second nerd nitpick, Chapter 2.4 – I’m sorry, but you can’t adjust a reverb to get a flanger effect, haha. If your intention was to show that the two effects are both delay-based, well, yes, that’s true, but reverb has massive amounts (think thousands) of delay lines, which won’t give you anything close to a flanger sound. So it would be more correct to say that adjusting a delay to mimic flanger – this at least would make some sense (although flanger is, among other things, a variable delay). But really, the subtlety is not related to what effect you use, but rather to how far you turn the “mix” knob (basically, a balance between “dry” and “wet” signal). The point does get across, but as a guitarist, reading this is just, like, “no.”
And finally, a small sidenote for Chapter 3.6 – I fully concur, it really is good advice to go for a ride on a kart. I did that a few times at various points in time, and it’s much fun exploring what a kart can do and how hard can i push it. At some point iIeven started to go all pretend rally and tried intentionally skidding around on full throttle while steering very aggressively, and that was a lot of fun, even if lap times weren’t the fastest. Does your ass hurt from real racing as much as it does from karts?
That about sums up my feedback regarding Black Flag. I can relate to the fact that I’m not quite the target audience for this guide, as I’m much more of a n00b than probably many people that read this. However, it would be nice to have a few bones thrown our way as well – after all, it’s a “Crash Course in Sim Racing”, not “Advanced Sim Racing for Real Life Car Nerds”.
Well before I begin to address, I must extend a very sincere Thank You on behalf of myself, Dustin, and Sev, because it’s fantastic someone has actually sat down and picked apart our product. For all of the shit-talking we do here at PRC.net, it’s only fair for someone to sit down and tear our product to shreds through a detailed, in-depth analysis in the same way we tear apart each developer’s modern racing simulator. I was really hoping the big websites would cover the release of Black Flag, as it was a perfect opportunity to rip us a new asshole and maybe put us in our place, but instead it was completely ignored. Hell, I emailed a few people offering review copies, and the most I got was a “No Thanks.” I think the only time we encountered any sort of required PR work, was some kid from 4Chan bought it, uploaded it to a file-sharing site immediately after the transaction was completed, and then filed a PayPal dispute claiming the product “wasn’t as advertised” five minutes later. Other than that incident (which was resolved in our favor), the sales just sort of quietly rolled in, and nobody really talked about it or discussed it’s existence. So again, thank you for taking the time to write to us and pick apart both the good and the bad. It was a fun little project to work on that helped speed up the final month before the real racing season began.
I think your comments about the overall accessibility of the guide are 100% correct. For someone like you, who is completely new to the world of auto racing, racing simulators, and I guess the overall “scene”, there are a few gaps where you can easily get lost, and that’s my bad as the head of the project for not considering someone who is absolutely green when it comes to this stuff. The goal of Black Flag was to take people who jumped head first into sim racing and were running 15th every race – not entirely sure what they were doing in the meantime – and hopefully turn them into a 5th place driver. And a lot of people who decide to venture into the world of sim racing, in fact I’d say the majority of them, they’re already hardcore car guys who are at least somewhat familiar with basic terminology or racing tactics.
Very rarely do guys go into Best Buy as diehard First Person shooter connoisseurs, randomly look at Project CARS sitting on the shelf, and think “this is my next hobby.” The guys who get into this are almost always guys who can name at least one or two auto racing series they follow religiously, and at least partially understand. So when putting together the structure of each chapter, and what the chapters would focus on, it was primarily built with that crowd in mind – the car guys who were like “well, sim racing is fun and all, but I’m not very good, and I don’t know how to get better.” I guess the best way to explain it, is if you purchased a Madden 17 guide from one of those YouTube chaps that explain how to dominate kids in Ultimate Team, they’re not going to explain to you how man or zone defense works – it’s just sort of expected you’re at that level already.
Now, as for your point about diagrams… I’d say you are partially correct. For each individual page, I’d try to include a screenshot demonstrating what concept or strategy was being explained, but I guess it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. For example, in the page that explains how to efficiently move someone out of the way… There’s a shot of me actually dumping a guy in an online racing using the exact tactic described. And on the page discussing how to manage the Black Boxes that most modern simulators offer, there’s a shot with the Black Boxes in plain sight. So that one falls on me for maybe not making it apparent that the screenshot on each page had something to do with the topic at hand. That was the design choice I was comfortable using, but I guess it didn’t work as well as I had intended it to.
The lack of detailed car setup explanations, that was a bit of a tricky one to cover adequately in a sim racing guide where the focus is primarily on racing and competing. I’m not going to say I intentionally omitted a whole section on car setups due to sheer laziness because that’s simply not the reason, but in a document that’s meant to be politically correct and not shit on any games – but rather serve as a helpful tool – it’s tough to outright say “I found a glitch setup that works across everything because of shortcomings in each physics engine.” Hence why I took a different approach and said “use this because it’s fast.” The truth is, unless you are competing in an ultra-hardcore league among some of the very best virtual drivers on the planet, you can pretty much throw a generic baseline setup at the car based on our recommendations and be in contention for the win almost anywhere. It’s only when the aliens show up that you’re forced to really wrench on the car for an extra tenth of a second.
As I’ve said though, we truly appreciate your feedback, and it’s cool that people are enjoying our work.