Though the speech is in Italian and you’ll need to head to the official Assetto Corsa forums for any kind of English summary, Alessandro Piva and Fabrizio Brugnaro recently made a fourty-six minute speech at Codemotion Rome 2017, in which they discuss in pretty great detail the process of taking Assetto Corsa – a racing simulator which had been built primary for the PC platform – and porting it to both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. We don’t have many native Italian speakers here, so the footage is admittedly of little use, but ZX636 has taken the time to translate summaries of each segment for those who still lurk the Assetto Corsa message board. It’s a long read and highly informative if you’re into the technical process of re-building a video game to be compatible with other types of hardware, but there’s one underlying theme about the whole thing that in my opinion makes this lecture a bit silly:
The console versions of Assetto Corsa were terrible, both from a technical standpoint, as well as a gameplay standpoint. Seven months after release, owners are still not satisfied with the product.
Maybe I’m being far too hyper-cynical for Good Friday, but it takes an awfully large set of testicles to give an entire speech on the process of successfully porting a PC racing simulator to current generation consoles, going into great detail about optimizing the application for use on inferior hardware, knowing full well the game suffered from substantial performance issues at launch, was universally panned by customers, and is now considered to be a sort of bastard child that should very well have been aborted thanks to the team’s inability to bring the console rendition of the game in-line with what’s available in the original PC variant.
Piva initially discusses how Assetto Corsa struggled to retain 20FPS in the early days of development for each console, but goes on to explain how they were able to use the architecture of the two primary consoles to achieve their goals. It’s funny how they conveniently didn’t address the game’s launch, which saw several console owners taking to YouTube and other social media outlets in frustration at the game struggling to maintain a stable framerate, not to mention the intrusive screen tearing which spearheaded an influx of returns and refunds. Arriving on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in August of 2016, by October of the same year, sim racers were still complaining of basic software issues that prevented smooth gameplay after several patches.
To me, it’s just flat-out goofy to read these guys talk about the steps in porting a game to consoles, knowing at the end of the day, their efforts were not successful in the slightest, and they bit off much more than they could chew judging by the quality of the final product. No, it’s not a crime by any means to give a lecture on an intricate process such as porting a video game from one platform to another, but typically you’d want to hear from someone who did it well rather than did it poorly, and whose game isn’t being blasted across all review sites not based out of the same country as the publisher. I mean, the transcript is still an informative read so I urge you guys to go through the full thing, but knowing how the end product turned out makes it all a bit moot.
Fabrizio Brugnaro then steps in and admits that the process of Quality Assurance – you know, testing a video game to ensure it’s not bugged to hell and works as it should – was new to the team. Brugnaro explains that the PC version of Assetto Corsa does not have any sort of dedicated Quality Assurance team, but rather relies on a “small group of sim racing enthusiasts” to hunt for bugs and other issues.
Dear God this is asinine. Though there are some knowledgeable folk that can be found within the sim racing community, letting a group consisting of random modders (who in some cases might not even have a driver’s license), fanboys who will kiss your ass religiously no matter how badly you botch an update, and shitposters with 10,000 forum posts give your $60 product a shakedown before being sold on a worldwide platform is just asking for trouble. I really shouldn’t have to engage in a full-on sperg-out to convey just how absurd this is, so instead I’ll say that this should give some valuable insight on the existence of longstanding AI troubles, poor user interface, and hilarious stuff like cars falling through the ground at Spa in a certain build of the game.
When it’s been publicly revealed that one of the main coders cannot take any hint of criticism without lashing out at the guy, do you really think the “sim racing enthusiasts” serving as the renegade QA team are little more than blatant ass-kissers? Nope, and the product suffers as a result. There’s your proof that Assetto Corsa on the PC doesn’t have any kind of formal quality assurance system behind it, but are instead just sort of hoping random people in the community with no Q/A experience whatsoever give it the thumbs up. This is fine for, like, a private rFactor mod, but certainly you’d think things would be treated with a significantly higher amount of professionalism when shipping a $60 video game on Steam, plus an array of downloadable content alongside it.
Now in regards to the console version, Brugnaro states it was the first time Kunos had ever assembled some kind of proper quality assurance team, and for a period of time didn’t have “methods” or “tools” for the developers to collaborate with the bug hunters – though this was eventually rectified and the process exponentially sped up. So while it can be forgiven that the “pro” quality assurance team missed some things due to inexperience, like a notification box in the setup screen that says your setup doesn’t meet the minimum ride-height requirements, I’d like to know how Q/A testers missed pretty blatant framerate and screen tearing problems, because these are elements you don’t need to be a professional race car driver or “sim racing enthusiast” to notice as he alludes to later – it’s like, basic “how a piece of computer software should work in 2017.”
I’m not happy with how the Q/A team is blamed by a member of Kunos for basically not being able to drive the car a few hundred feet forward and see that the game chugged significantly, or there’s a spot on the road in one track that basically fucks the car for no reason, or that the AI is supremely fucked beyond belief. These are all really simple things you don’t need to be a “sim racing enthusiast to spot”, and yet that’s the excuse we’ve been given – the Q/A team were so bewildered by a hardcore racing simulator, they could not find the “drive” button and actually play the game.
In conclusion, what we can say about the Codemotion Rome 2017 lecture, is that Assetto Corsa was simply not a game that should have been released on consoles. The team faced a Mount Everest-like climb to prepare the software to work on inferior hardware, using trick after trick just to achieve a semi-playable framerate that took many months of patches after release to satisfy the customers whom had purchased it. And even when the game did get whipped into a playable state, the quality assurance team were simply incapable of shaking down the game properly, to the point where some of what they missed is so stupefying, many will undoubtedly be under the impression they simply checked to see if all of the menus worked as they should, not once hitting the track to examine basic gameplay and performance elements. As an added bonus, we also have confirmation that the PC version of the game outsources Q/A testing to random people who lurk the forums, the credentials of which are questionable at best.
While the original variant of Assetto Corsa is slowly being turned into a somewhat okay racing simulation after years of Kunos being pushed by the community to flesh out the game with additional features and functionality, I am left bewildered by the console counterpart, which was obviously created as a quick cash grab. The man hours dedicated to learning all of these tricks and shortcuts just to get Assetto Corsa to achieve more than 20 FPS on the PlayStation 4 could have easily went to fleshing out the PC version people already had fallen in love with, rather than building a product for another platform that most people would return in the first week thanks to glaring technical problems. The quality assurance team could have then been tasked with refining the PC version, allocating an appropriate level of bug-hunting tasks exclusive group of fanboys… er… beta testers rather than placing the whole game on their shoulders.
Yet because of the above decisions, Assetto Corsa is merely okay on the PC when it could have been great, and Kunos now have to explain why there’s this awkward console version a portion of their fanbase are clearly upset over, instead of establishing themselves as one of the leaders in PC simulations.