How can online racing become the norm, without each lobby descending into a tornado of madness? It’s a topic we’ve looked at here on PRC.net last Friday, yet today we’ve received an anonymous Reader Submission wishing to discuss the matter again in a bit more detail. As iRacing continues to dominate the sim racing landscape, reeling in an active player count almost double what Assetto Corsa and Project CARS are able to achieve on a nightly basis, online racing is here to stay, yet the experience can be tainted if not everyone in the room is up to speed. How can developers ensure as many virtual drivers as possible enter each race with adequate car control skills? One of our readers believes he has the solution – or part of it, at least.
Hello PRC! Today I’m sending you my first submission, inspired by your article on Friday called “Patience.” It touches a very interesting topic, and I’d like to share my view. I am absolutely convinced organized online racing is the future of racing games, and I have a huge interest to see the kind of solutions developers come up with in this area. It doesn’t matter how good the artificial intelligence of each title is, there will always be that corner where they’re much slower than you, and that other corner where you can’t match them. They’ll always behave in a weird way when you race them in certain places. They will never be as good and predictable as racing other competent humans, or at least we’re still far off the day someone nails it.
In the “Patience” article, you explain how the lack of good drivers can potentially kill any racing platform you create, and I wholeheartedly agree. If you keep trying to improve your rating (or whatever each system calls it) to get good races, only to still be paired with crash-kids who are only there because of a fluke win, you’ll give up very soon. The dream of of joining decent pick and play rooms at any time needs a big user base to become a reality, as the deeper the player pool, the more chances each driver gets paired with twenty or so other individuals with a similar skill level.
There’s nothing wrong with leagues, but sometimes you can’t really stick to their schedule. Instant clean racing would be fantastic, but it´s really difficult to achieve. As you pointed out, it is even harder in console games, and it’s really interesting that games like GT Sport are trying to build something that’s properly structured. I’m not quite sure you can build something like iRacing for the console crowd. Even if the very top events are half-decent, I’m afraid the daily experience is going to be a nightmare. 75% of players out there completely suck at racing games, and most of these guys can’t be saved. Racecraft takes years to learn. Unless you try your best to “save” the ones that suck because they’ve just started playing these games, you´re never going to gather a decent number of competent players in the long run. But even if there are guys who will never become competent, there are many that could improve a lot with some help.
I think many of these problems were already mentioned in the comment section of your article – the bits that weren’t Assetto Corsa spam anyway – but what about the solutions? I think that if developers make an effort to bring these guys up to speed with proper tutorials, or with a more serious single player experience, the pool of good drivers could become bigger. If you keep forcing the players to play five lap races starting last and show them they need to pass one car every corner, they´ll take that approach with them when they go online. If you show them how a proper race weekend usually proceeds, they´ll understand it.
When I was a kid, I remember buying the original Gran Turismo, being very young and clueless about motor racing as a whole. While the game had many of the sins I mentioned – like stupid single player structure – I vividly remember the instruction booklet coming with lessons that came in very handy. One of the things I can remember is their explanation for the friction circle, that I could grasp even as a brat. They taught a dirty kid with next to no racecraft not to turn and brake hard at the same time in 30 seconds, and many other things that allowed me to survive the initial frustrations and keep playing the game until I started enjoying it.
If they could help me in 1998 with some shitty book, imagine the kind of welcome you could give to new racers today! Extensive in-game tutorials, help in external websites like YouTube, a race engineer feature that suggests the correct changes for each setup problem… and yet no one gives a shit – no one even tries to implement this stuff to the point where it works!
Recently I bumped into a series of videos about racing etiquette that I think are a perfect example of the kind of material that could help make public online racing a bit better. The quality is poor, the creator has a heavy Italian accent I can’t stand, and I´m pretty sure they’re created using that abomination called Project CARS, but they’re brilliant at explaining clearly what is expected from a driver when it goes wheel to wheel in each different situation:
Now if a random sim racer can do something like this, imagine how cool and engaging developers could make it look! Include something like this in the games, teach drivers how to race wheel to wheel, and you’ll be helping a lot the guys getting into racing games for the first time. Many of the usual turn one accidents happen because players are completely clueless about how to drive with other cars alongside them, so for fucks sake, make an effort to help these guys understand what to do!
And the same could be done with stuff like basic setup tweaks and many other areas that can confuse newcomers. To become decent at racing games, being a motorsport fan helps a lot, and I´m sure there are many guys with the skill to become decent drivers that will never get there because the games don’t do the job of introducing the basics to them. Some worthy guys will leave out of frustration, and you can’t let that happen in such a small community. Everyone needs to pick up these games, and even if they aren’t very fast, they still need to be able to say “I understand what is expected of me.”
Transform these license tests some games have into something actually helpful, teach the new guys how to race safely in a pack instead of asking them to do a hotlap without crashing, show them the value of consistency. Punish poor driving in every game mode with damage or penalties, and shape them into safe and cautious racers. If you treat your new players as if they were idiots, they will become idiots. If you take them seriously and try to help them getting up to speed, the ones with some skill will eventually become worthy racers. What you can’t do is to ask them to repeat stupid sprint races and then throw them online.
Otherwise it will just be a total mess, and won’t be very much fun for everyone involved.
I agree with you on basically every single point, so I guess this place is going to temporarily turn into an echo chamber for the time being. Not that this is a bad thing, the topic of clean online racing is one that definitely needs to be discussed at length before the next batch of sims hit the market, as I’m sure all of them will try to steal iRacing’s thunder in some format. They’d be stupid not to – do developers really think they can just repackage the isiMotor engine for a fifth or sixth time and call it a day in 2017 or 2018? Hell naw, that’s ridiculous. You know a revolution is coming, and iRacing was just the start.
You are correct that Gran Turismo Sport will be in for a rough ride this fall. As I’ve said earlier, the collective audience of Gran Turismo as a whole aren’t the best racers to begin with. Some just enjoy grinding through career mode and purchasing a few of their favorite cars before treating it as a massive automotive sandbox. These guys will be in for a world of hurt when the emphasis is suddenly focused on clean, competitive racing, and the once-relaxed online lobbies have been replaced with an entirely different driving mentality. I think you’re right in that the longtime Gran Turismo fans will simply get frustrated at this change in direction and be completely unwilling to adapt to the new style. When you’re a casual racing game fan, and have approached each title with the same mindset of “I’m just here to fuck around with cars in a semi-realistic environment”, people shouting at you on the mic for being a shitty fucking driver and ruining the experience for others is a quick way to get people to put down the game for good.
Your comments about the Career Modes of each title playing a role in how the average sim racer – or console racer for that matter – drives, again I think you’re spot on. When you boot up Forza, Gran Turismo, Assetto Corsa, or even Project CARS, there’s no incentive to actually play the game in any sort of hardcore format. Forza and Gran Turismo give you these dinky five minute races for the majority of the Single Player progression, pushing away the genuinely difficult races that require strategy into a category where they’re completely optional, so you’re never actually forced to get good at the respective simulator you’re playing. For example, my buddy has Forza Motorsport 6 and we’ve been spending a fair bit of time with the NASCAR Expansion because it’s not as bad as a lot of people say it is, and it definitely bummed us out that there’s only one full-length NASCAR race available. Sure, 200 laps at Homestead is fun the first four or five times, but why did Turn 10 neglect to include full length events at Daytona, Indianapolis, Sears Point, and Watkins Glen as well? And why are these really cool endurance events, like the 8-lap Nordschleife endeavor in GTE cars, tucked away in an optional section of the game? You have these crazy fucking difficult games like Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden 2 earning a massive reputation among mainstream gamers for their overall challenge, but when it comes to race car simulators, nope, any sort of realistic race length is deemed too hard, and the audience has to be treated like attention deficit riddled school children.
And you’re right, when the audience is never tasked with actually preserving a car for more than five minutes, or they’re not punished for driving like a knob, they’re completely fucking retarded when they hit the track online. Now as for the second portion of your submission, regarding developers including racing ettiquette tutorials within their software, this actually used to be the norm back in the day. A YouTube user by the name of JRRacing64 has graciously uploaded every single tutorial video included within NASCAR Racing 2002 Season; tutorials narrated by three-time NASCAR Champion Darrell Waltrip.
Again, this was in 2002, long before fancy video editing software could be yanked from ThePirateBay in the span of about an hour. Even if there is nobody currently on the payroll who could be allocated to making this kind of stuff, nothing is stopping a team from outsourcing this aspect of development to a talented community member with a well-maintained YouTube channel, and inserting it into the game as part of a detailed Racing School section with on-track tutorials.
My theory as to why this stuff has been removed and completely omitted from modern simulators, is that sim racing developers themselves feel the genre is dying a slow and painful death, and that they believe the same people are buying each new title, year after year, with absolutely no newcomers to the genre whatsoever. I mean, if they believe all current sim racing community members started with GTR 2’s Racing School, what’s the point in adding a racing school to every game afterwards? It’s far less time consuming for them to just add a few driving assists and be done with it – which was fine for the previous generation of sims – but if we progress to a point where all sims have an iRacing-like mode of play, this is going to be needed again.
Lastly, I think your comment about license tests may hold the key to long-term sustainability of organized online racing. Let’s be honest, the Safety Rating and iRating aspects of iRacing cause some drivers to become super paranoid, with on-track incidents escalating into sheer chaos that eventually spills into the forums. The smart thing to do if developers don’t want to throw tons of money at replicating iRacing’s online format, is to implement Gran Turismo-style License Tests (or a GTR2-style racing school), and you’re only allowed to enter lobbies of a certain skill level provided you’ve passed the appropriate tutorials with acceptable results. As a competent driver, it may be annoying to spend the first two hours with the game completing boring-ass license tests, but a good driver will be able to ace these on the first try anyways, and considering the pay-off is a consistently clean online racing experience, what’s two hours out of your day watching a few mandatory videos and running through a couple on-track scenarios?