I tend to stay away from sim racing-related eBook reviews here on PRC.net due to the massive conflict of interest that will undoubtedly arise, but today we make an exception to that rule simply because somebody asked us to. A sim racer by the name of Chris Newman hit us up earlier this morning to tell us about a project he’s been working on for a little over a year, and asked that we talk about it on PRC.net to generate a bit more interest in the endeavor – as it has also been featured on GTPlanet in front of a more casual-oriented audience. Operating under the title Virtual Race Driver, Newman’s new eBook is a free, constantly-evolving resource intended to help budding sim racers learn how to navigate this difficult hobby primarily through a compilation of driving tips from front-runners found across a multitude of games. Coming in at just over eighty pages in length, and featuring no less than eighteen contributors in its current form, the PDF file is not so much a complete guide that you can read from front to back in one sitting, but rather a bite-sized collection of general hints and tips from a variety of personalities within the greater sim racing community
You can download a copy for yourself HERE, with no registration roadblocks or other miscellaneous information tracking oddities to be found whatsoever. As the product is free, I encourage you all to make room on your respective hard drives for the three megabyte download, and form your own opinions prior to carrying on with this article.
Earlier in the year, we here at PRC.net released our own eBook – Black Flag: A Crash Course in Sim Racing as a gift of sorts to the inexperienced sim racers who struggle out on the virtual tarmac yet still frequent our website. Save for legitimate complaints regarding the lack of detailed car setup explanations and overhead maneuvering diagrams you’d normally find in a more traditional educational auto racing document, reception from our target audience was overwhelmingly positive, and I have no problem openly stating we 100% succeeded in what we set out to achieve with Black Flag. No, Prima Games have not contacted us to help work on the inevitable Project CARS 2 strategy guide, but I’d like to think the near-unanimous positive reception from those who purchased Black Flag indicates we’re definitely qualified to discuss what constitutes as a satisfactory piece of sim racing literature, and what doesn’t.
Putting one of these things together is extremely difficult and requires both extensive planning and a very concrete, tangible vision of the end product. This is not a project I’d suggest taking up unless you’ve got a whole bunch of free time, are familiar with programs like Microsoft Publisher, and can overlook every aspect of the package with the utmost of confidence in your own abilities – from the initial outline, concept, target audience, and format, to the final editing and re-organizing of the document. Writing a lot is only one piece of the puzzle; you have to both educate the reader as well as entertain them, while wrapping the entire piece up in a visually slick package. If mistakes occur at any point in your journey, or sacrifices have to be made because you’re not extremely skilled in one particular area, the whole project will suffer.
I will gladly write a piece on any sim racing topic you guys Email me about, but I cannot lie to my readers and damage the relationship we’ve got going on with our audience: Virtual Race Driver as a sim racing eBook isn’t very good. Objectively, I think the concept of solely focusing on the advice of top sim racers was a unique approach that made for an enticing premise on the outset, but in execution the material itself is laid out too poorly and disorganized to be effective. This isn’t to say that Newman didn’t put effort into his eBook – apparently there’s been over twelve months of work on this project – but the results drill home the importance of planning and preparation in a document like this.
Visually, the guide is unappealing. With current versions of Microsoft Publisher, you basically have free reign on the art style of your sim racing guide, yet Virtual Race Driver plays it safe with a very Microsoft Word-like approach. Many pages simply have too many empty spaces, the excessive use of stylized headings for each paragraph is a throwback to middle school essays, and the constant bombardment of the cover car – a generic blue open wheel entry – alongside disproportionate game logos give VRD a very dated and amateurish look. Each driver is introduced with a brief list of their accomplishments and a personal photo before diving into their unique sim racing advice, but it would have been nice to see their current online ride – I really don’t care what they look like in person; most of us are ugly as hell, but at least we’re in good company.
A screenshot of what they currently race in their game of choice would go a long way to displaying the diversity of drivers featured in VRD.
We are not told why each contributor’s accomplishments matter. As I mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, the premise of gathering a bunch of prominent sim racers under one roof and getting them to share their secrets is actually a pretty solid idea on paper, but the key to making their advice hold weight is establishing who these people are in the first place. If you haven’t noticed, sim racing isn’t even a blip on the radar in the world of eSports, with iRacing’s premiere online championship, the Peak Anti-Freeze Series, reeling in a whopping 300 viewers during last weeks’ event in New Hampshire. We don’t have a Dyrus on wheels, so the readers need to be given the backstory of each driver involved.
Now I’m down to read about a prominent iRacing competitor’s practice regime – as are many sim racers – because you never know what kind of valuable tidbits he could produce, but I need to know why winning X championship established him as a “name” within the service, and the reason his advice matters. Keep in mind, I can also list myself as a multi-time iRacing & rFactor champion, so an extra paragraph introducing the driver – and thus filling up the blank space on the page – would go a long way.
In the most prominent example I can give without hurting anybody’s feelings, there’s a lone entry from Forza Motorsport 6 competitor Aurelien Mallet. The last time I checked, the competitive Forza scene was being completely ruined by excessive corner cutting, so how do we know his victories actually mean anything in the world of sim racing? Another section of VRD makes note of Mike Conti’s relatively young age, but doesn’t explain why this is so important – I mean, fifteen year olds with a ton of free time are usually good at video games. This is nothing new.
But the biggest sin this guide makes when it comes to presenting the personalities involved, is the extremely awkward and forced donation button at the start of each section. While VRD is free, there is an option to donate to any one of the eighteen drivers featured in the document by clicking either the PayPal or GoFundMe logo. It’s really awkward, especially as the length of contributions vary wildly from one paragraph to a few pages. I don’t think anyone is going to chip in a few dollars to a guy who wrote a paragraph telling people to “practice things they are bad at.”
There’s no structure or cohesive order. When we worked on Black Flag a few months back, an integral part of the project was sorting all of our combined advice into a format that progressed in a linear fashion. We started with the absolute basics – finding the right hardware for your sim setup and determining an adequate car and track to train with – before progressing into practice techniques, qualifying strategies, and green flag operations; finally concluding the guide with advanced driving techniques and how to conduct yourself in an online league. Virtual Race Driver is sorted by sim racers who contributed rather than specific topics, making the entire document an extremely confusing read. You can’t just open up VRD, check the index, point to the topic that says How to Go Faster in Time Attack, and dive in. You are manually forced to go through the whole enchilada and basically hope one of the eighteen sim racers mentions something you were interested in.
Virtual Race Driver basically needs to be re-written in an entirely different format to be effective. Not that the advice given by each sim racer isn’t valuable; it’s just not organized in any fashion. Arranging each chapter by a specific topic, and then combining a list of quotes from each individual driver relating to said topic, would be a much more effective way of presenting VRD to the reader.
There’s a pretty significant gap between English speakers, and non-English speakers. Entries like Michael Conti’s, as seen above, are heavily detailed and offer a lot of insight on how to be a successful sim racer. Thiago Careca’s submission, through no fault of his own, clearly display a less than adequate understanding of the English language for the task at hand. The difference in writing styles really interrupts the flow of Virtual Race Driver. This is when the process of Ghost Writing becomes extremely important, and it’s something I employ in many of the Reader Submissions you see featured here at PRC.net on a weekly basis. We have a lot of non-English speaking sim racers reading our site – and occasionally translating our posts into their native language, which is really cool – but when it comes time for them to write something into us, what we receive in the mail doesn’t read as smoothly as our traditional articles. There are many times I’ve basically ended up re-writing entire submissions, and while it leads to accusations that I fabricate submissions to create unnecessary controversy, the reality is that the source material was actually in broken English.
Newman needed to take creative liberties when it came to Virtual Race Driver, as many of the non-English contributors simply couldn’t match what the native English speakers could produce. This is not their fault, but for a project such as this one, it’s integral to the long term success to do a bit of ghost writing.
Lastly, some tips featured in Virtual Race Driver are more common sense than anything else. The section written by GT Academy finalist Florian Woithe includes an abundance of diagrams and genuinely useful information, but segments like these are contrasted by a set of nuggets such as the one above that really didn’t deserve to be included because they’re so bloody obvious. I’m personally under the impression that Newman contacted many a sim racer to contribute to the guide, and simply inserted what each person responded with into the document. The lack of quality control means that you’re often skimming through entire pages because some drivers either didn’t know what to say or totally half-assed their section to get it over with, which combined with no tangible format that splits each section by topic, makes staying engaged with what VRD has to offer quite quite a difficult task.
It’s hard to point the finger at who is to blame when it comes to this element, but given that Newman was the individual putting the guide together, merely asking the right questions to each contributor can go a long way. Rather than merely asking each personality for a generic list of sim racing newbie tips, narrowing the question down substantially and inquiring about driving techniques or training techniques their teammates or friends thought were “odd” or “unique” about them would go a long way to improving the quality of said tips within the eBook.
Virtual Race Driver is a free 86-page PDF document, so I can’t sit here and tell you not to buy it because there’s simply nothing to buy. If you’re curious to check out what Chris Newman has created and hope to stumble on a piece of sim racing advice that will aide you in your own personal journey, I’ve provided a link to the project at the beginning of the article. The document is intended to constantly evolve over time, meaning how it appears as of October 4th, 2016, is not how it will look one or even two months into the future.
However, as the main driving force behind PretendRaceCars.net – a website notorious for long-winded sim racing articles – and as one of three individuals who worked on a sim racing guide that was well-received by the community and brought in a surprisingly decent chunk of pocket change, I have unfortunately found many things that I feel were not done very well in Chris Newman’s eBook, Virtual Race Driver.