Inspiration can sometimes come from the most unlikely of sources, and today’s entry on PRC.net really stretches that concept to new heights. In my journey down the YouTube rabbit hole we’re all very familiar with, one which began with IndyCar on-board footage and ended with theories behind how the Rothschild family operates, somewhere in-between I came across a rather lengthy critical piece on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 – yes, they’re still making those games. Since the rather historic chain of releases in the late 1990’s & early 2000’s, which were a staple in the households of many millennials, the keys to the franchise have now been handed to a company known as Robomodo.
In short, the game is now a complete travesty, with many mainstream gaming outlets who once handed the Tony Hawk series 9’s and 10’s when publishers hadn’t yet taken to bribing writers, are now dishing out 3’s and 4’s, urging people to avoid the product altogether. YouTube user Flippy’s review of Pro Skater 5 doesn’t just rip apart the abomination of a skateboarding game; near the end of the video, he discusses the THUG PRO mod for Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, a free community all-inclusive pack that surpasses the work of what was supposed to be a legitimate team under a very real contract to make a Tony Hawk game. In Flippy’s words, “a team of amateur game modders broke down and reconstructed the entire Tony Hawk series to make one kick-ass Tony Hawk game on steroids, but a professional developer can’t figure out how to ship a game that works.”
That’s pretty fucking sad for an entertainment industry that is supposedly bigger than Hollywood.
In the end, this sixteen minute video got me thinking about the sim racing community itself – have there been any instances where fans kicking and screaming about a developer releasing sub-par product resulted in a portion of the userbase actually going out and proving 100% they could do a better job? The sim racing community is known by and large for their inability to be totally content with a piece of software; always demanding more from the developers with little in the way of gratitude, to the point where certain teams actively grow frustrated with these folks, proceed to label them entitled whiners, and then surround themselves with ass-kissing apologists to counter-act what can sometimes be very legitimate negativity.
But have there been any moments where major teams have been unequivocally blown the fuck out out by modders figuring out how to implement features the developers themselves have failed to create, or in some cases said were flat-out impossible without a total re-write of the game’s underlying engine?
The answer is a very definitive yes, and it’s why sim racers like myself are hyper-critical of certain developer teams who make very definite claims about shortcomings in their simulators. If you’re being upstaged by kids in a basement after telling the community something isn’t going to happen, you really need to get your shit together.
We begin our journey with one of the most controversial elements of iRacing not related to rubber – the software’s complete lack of a twenty-four hour lighting cycle. For those who don’t pay too much attention to the world of iRacing, anytime these guys host full-length endurance racing events, such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans or Daytona, the entire event – yes, all 24 hours of driving – is contested under static light conditions. It’s either daytime for the complete race, or pitch black. Goofy as hell? You bet, but anyone who dares to point this out will immediately be met with a flurry of iRacers trying to justify the lack of a day/night cycle by changing the topic of conversation to other elements the simulator does do a good job of, such as the organized races, driver swaps, skill ratings, and the emphasis on clean driving.
Turning the clock back 20 years to a piece of software constructed by largely the same team behind iRacing, when Windows 98 was the hip new operating system on the block, Lee200 of the Sim Racing Mirror Zone has created his own Day/Night cycle patch for Grand Prix Legends. This allows sim racers to partake in their own Daytona or Le Mans endurance events with the wildly popular 1967 World Sports Car Championship mod, complete with the appropriate lighting changes throughout the duration of the race that a game twenty years newer by the same developers does not have.
Another one of Lee200’s mods adds rain to Grand Prix Legends. iRacing still has yet to implement rain into the service.
After the initial excitement surrounding Assetto Corsa had subsided, hardcore sim racers hoping the title would serve as the spiritual successor to rFactor were left extremely disappointed by the game’s overall lack of functionality compared to the simulators which came before it. With races scored by time, wet-weather driving, night racing, caution flags, and preset pit stop strategies just some of the features Kunos Simulazioni chose to omit while simalatenously dubbing the game to be “Your Racing Simulator”, eventually the Kunos team began to open up about why certain features taken for granted in other simulators were suspiciously absent.
The reasoning behind a lack of night racing infamously was linked to the underlying engine powering Assetto Corsa, and became an inside joke of sorts within Assetto Corsa’s official message board. Only one light source had been built into the game – the sun itself – meaning there was supposedly no way for the headlights, nor the portable trackside lights, to properly function once the sun had dipped under the horizon. According to Kunos Simulazioni themselves, night racing would be something sim racers wouldn’t see until the game’s sequel, and the sequel hasn’t even been officially announced – just implied that it would happen sometime in the future.
YouTube user stratos0508, as you can see in the above video, managed to manipulate night time conditions into a functional state within the span of about ten minutes or so. Of course, the research obviously took a lot longer than that, but the key thing here is that the professional simulation team behind the game said this wasn’t going to happen in Assetto Corsa, and some guy on the forums sat down after school with the limited time he had, and created a rough draft to prove them wrong. Sure, it’s not an authentic 24 hour cycle, but this isn’t too shabby for one guy fucking around in his spare time; so a professional team should be able to turn things up to eleven and get it implemented properly, right?
Next, let’s talk about a game a whole bunch of sim racers like to rip on for a multitude of reasons – Need for Speed Shift 2: Unleashed by Slightly Mad Studios. After the resounding success that was GTR 2, many hardcore sim nerds saw working with Electronic Arts as the team turning away from their roots as a dedicated simulator developer, with the two Shift games omitting several elements that would otherwise appeal to sim racers in favor of a mass-market approach. Those suspicions were confirmed when both Shift games dropped, the first in 2009 followed by the second in 2011, each of them exhibiting a very strange hovercraft-like tire model; an experience made exponentially worse by slight input lag that was eventually patched out (surprise) by the community.
The vanilla versions of Shift are very strange pieces of software; they offer a fairly enjoyable Forza Motorsport-type progression system with a lot to see and do, but the on-track action just isn’t quite up to par.
Many hardcore sim racers over at NoGripRacing.com promptly set out to fix what felt “broken” about the games’ handling model; desperate to improve the actual driving model considering the game built around it was a solid replacement for Gran Turismo or Forza on the PC. What members such as B7ake found, were that select typos had been creating a mysterious “instant load transfer bug” that interfered with what was an otherwise very acceptable simulation physics engine.
As a result, the version of Shift 2 that you can play in the spring of 2017, using additional plug-ins such as B7ake’s G-Tyres mod, turn Shift 2 Unleashed into a very different experience that is far superior to the one you first messed around with and promptly shelved in 2011. Once again, a lone guy in his basement poking around in the software fixed a program that had been created by a multi-million dollar professional company.
Lastly, I want to touch on the Monster Truck simulation community that has grown exponentially over the past seven years, as it takes the concept of the consumers one-upping major game companies to the absolute extremes.
After the owners of Monster Jam, Feld Entertainment, made it very clear that all officially licensed Monster Jam video games would be designed with small children in mind, and basically turned into generic off-road arcade racers – a sort of Motorstorm for kids – hardcore monster truck enthusiasts instead gave the entertainment company a giant middle finger, ripped as many assets as they could from the multitude of Monster Jam PS2 games, and starting in 2010 basically built their own entire genre from the ground up using the french freeware title Rigs of Rods as a platform.
Feld Entertainment supposedly believed there was no market for a hardcore simulator that accurately conveyed the difficulties of driving a ten thousand horsepower truck in a realistic stadium environment, instead opting to send the trucks crashing through exotic locales and urban centers, sometimes bundling power-ups and nitro boosts into the affairs for good measure. Feld instead failed miserably in their market predictions. Select online events, such as the one I’ve inserted above of the first season-ending “World Finals” online race held in the Winter of 2010, boast more viewers on that single video alone than the combined sales figures of Monster Jam’s three most recent official releases. To put the view count of 102,742 on the first Rigs of Rods World Finals event into perspective, that one virtual monster truck race has been viewed more times than every single major iRacing Peak Anti-Freeze Series event combined over the past three years – an online eSport championship where iRacing gives $10,000 to the winner.
All of this, created by hardcore monster truck fans in their respective basements for sheer love of the sport, while the sanctioning body hands the license to literal shovelware teams, believing there is no market for a proper Monster Jam simulator.
These four examples I’ve outlined above clearly display that whenever the sim racing community kicks and screams at developers either cutting corners or producing sub-par products, sometimes, they certainly have a valid point. Like what Tony Hawk modders have done in response to the abomination that was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, the sim racing community as a whole are more than capable of putting professional video game developers in their place. I grow very frustrated when I see apologist shills or fanboys bending over backwards to defend certain sim racing developer teams, as well as the developers themselves blasting the community for “not understanding how hard it is to create a game or implement X feature”, or my favorite “if you think it’s so easy, go and do it yourself”, because we’re in a genre where bored kids in their spare time can and very well will upstage you.
iRacing doesn’t have a dynamic day/night cycle, but some guy figured out how to make it happen in Grand Prix Legends, a piece of software iRacing released almost twenty years ago on vastly inferior & simplistic hardware. Kunos claimed Assetto Corsa requires an entire graphical engine re-write to implement night racing, but again, some guy got it working in his spare time, so why can’t the professional guys do it? One sim racer at NoGripRacing rectified typos in the Need for Speed Shift 2 Unleashed handling model, transforming the game into a fantastic package after stumbling out of the gate in 2011, and obsessed monster truck fanatics built their own goddamn ecosystem which became arguably more successful than the officially licensed games themselves after the sanctioning body failed to listen to their continuous stream of complaints regarding the line of video games.
Just think of that the next time a developer whines about a feature being difficult to implement, or a fanboy claims you’re asking too much of a certain team. There’s no justifiable reason these studios shouldn’t have their shit together.