Despite the success of the original rFactor, a project which was the culmination of years upon years worth of sim racing research, American developers Image Space Incorporated were unable to capture that same magic when the inevitable sequel went live on the digital marketplace in the spring of 2013. Unfinished, unoptimized, and almost completely disorganized, what was once considered sim racing’s premiere team for all they had provided the community since 1999’s Sports Car GT, instead fell to the wayside – pushing out a product so disastrous, a third party was forced to take over the reigns just to keep it on life support. It was a strange couple of years within the sim racing landscape; the elder statesmen responsible for licensing out their engine for others to build upon and succeed, a group so talented they were able to launch a platform that perfectly drew upon what the community did best – create shit – awkwardly stumbled and sputtered during their own comeback tour.
And yet there are people who think the same situation won’t befall Kunos Simulazioni, eagerly anticipating what the Italian simulation team – now under the guidance of Digital Bros – will churn out next. If you haven’t figured out already from the title of this post, I’m certainly not one of those individuals. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect much from Assetto Corsa 2, and that’s if the game materializes in the first place. Unless a drastic restructuring behind the scenes takes place, I’m under the impression we’ve seen the last of Kunos Simulazioni. Stuck in a very strange grey area as a team, the staff are firmly within what many would consider the indie developer category, yet still too small to properly tackle such a complex genre such as sim racing, especially considering they’ve built the software from the ground up as opposed to licensing a competitor’s engine and injecting their assets.
Here’s the short and sweet: Kunos have spent five, potentially six years building Assetto Corsa into what it is today – very long, arduous, rocky years – and though there’s been a slight change in management and ownership, getting the same core team to do it all over again is a task that on paper is beyond what the individuals involved are capable of. Unfortunately, this means that for sim racers pledging allegiance to Assetto Corsa, the future is now – regardless of how rough around the edges it may be. Realistically, you probably aren’t getting Assetto Corsa 2 any time soon, and even if you do, there’s no guarantee it’ll be the mammoth upgrade you’re anticipating.
Recollecting the progression of Assetto Corsa over the years – watching it grow from a humble “driving simulator” into a more robust experience, and the revisionist history behind it – is what inspired me to write this quick piece today. The reality is that Assetto Corsa exploded in popularity when it first launched thanks to a phenomenal driving experience and out-of-this-world force feedback effects, but it very quickly ran into hiccups. Message boards soon became a warzone, with flocks of sim racers questioning why Kunos Simulazioni seemed almost apathetic to add basic features seen in other games into the core experience, while others aggressively attacked the critical portion of the community for being unable to lower their standards for a smaller development team. Stuck in the middle were the staff at Kunos Simulazioni, who sided with Assetto Corsa supporters, and for months upon months displayed outright reluctance and hostility to anyone who suggested Assetto Corsa as a piece of software could somehow be improved.
Though the overall tone from customers has changed to imply Kunos are this hip indie outlet who are fully in-touch with their fanbase, the reality couldn’t be further from this assertion – most improvements were only made after scores of sim racers complained that portions of Assetto Corsa were not up to an acceptable standard. In a now infamous screenshot, Stefano Casillo of Kunos Simulazioni can be seen downplaying the software’s artificial intelligence issues by urging users to “work with the software and not against it”, only to be posting about AI improvements he himself played an integral role in almost two years later because people wouldn’t stop listing the atrocious AI as one of the game’s biggest negative aspects. In another image, our own personality Sev can be seen giving the tire model within the game a failing grade and Stefano berating him for his comments on the game’s official forums, only for the tire model to receive updates several months later that magically rectified exactly what Sev had been critical of.
Shifting the spotlight away from PRC-infused moments regarding Assetto Corsa, this kind of stubbornness also rose to the surface when the console versions of Assetto Corsa launched last year. Shipping with no custom lobby functionality whatsoever, droves of customers complained about the title’s lack of what many racing game enthusiasts see as an essential online feature, to which 505 Games replied “our priority is a stable launch.” Only after scores of users returned the title and promptly bombarded their social media outlets with negative feedback and accusations of blatant laziness did Kunos finally try to implement the highly requested feature – although it’s still yet to be seen on the Xbox One.
The point I’m trying to make with these examples, is that had the community not taken a metaphorical battering ram to Kunos Simulazioni staff members, and hounded them for months upon months to advance the game in a meaningful fashion, Assetto Corsa would have remained a very stagnant, dull simulation with very little to offer compared to its competitors, even after five years on store shelves. And even with a very demanding community outlining exactly what they expected from Assetto Corsa, some of these upgrades took forever for the Kunos team to implement. New tire models were introduced gradually across multiple builds, AI behavior was largely work-in-progress for years, and only recently were things like pitstop strategy presets introduced. It’s not a game, so much as an eternal science project with no date scheduled for conclusion. Left to their own devices, Assetto Corsa would look very different had paying customers not been pushing Kunos to ensure their software was captivating in some aspect.
And this is where a hypothetical project such as Assetto Corsa 2 doesn’t look all that great on paper. Deep in development, and away from the hands of the general public to constantly critique what needs fixing, Kunos are left to build Assetto Corsa 2 using only their beliefs on what a racing simulator should be – possibly with a bit of guidance from Digital Bros as well. If you can’t see why this might be a problem, I’ve got news for you.
Kunos Simulazioni is a team that prioritized tire models over the ability to select the color of your car for online races. They’re a group who designed a game world engine with just one light source – the sun – in mind, making night racing impossible in an era of sim racing where night time events are almost taken for granted. They’re a team who intentionally left out both custom lobbies and custom button configurations from the console renditions of their game, not to mention were unable to ship the game with some sort of post-race animation, instead awkwardly warping cars to the pits as if participants were playing a tech demo. It’s a group who allowed an extensive third party modding community to flourish on the official forums, only to shut it all down one day, and a developer whom segregates online servers via copious amounts of DLC that are structured in a way to split, shatter, and then fragment the userbase into have’s and have-nots despite other games figuring out how to avoid that scenario altogether.
What else have I missed? Oh right, there’s the bizarre lack of in-game leaderboards for a game many use primarily as a hotlapping simulator, a clunky user interface with atrocious HUD elements that look as if they’re out of Rigs of Rods, and lastly some shoddy mod compatibility that breaks most mods with each new build – turning the most enjoyable community element of Assetto Corsa into a scavenger hunt for mod fixes and updates with each passing patch. These were all things that Kunos could have rectified ahead of time, one way or another, but instead for some inexplicable reason opted not to.
The ideology of prioritizing minute details over a complete, functional, and enjoyable package doesn’t bode well for a developer when your rivals are monolithic entities such as Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, and your potential customers have been playing the shit out of those in anticipation of your game.
The task of this same group sitting down for a couple of years and churning out something with the name Assetto Corsa 2 that’s not just a sequel, but a vast improvement over the original, is something I feel Kunos Simulazioni just aren’t capable of doing. Had it not been for the fans aggressively pushing for a more complete experience, and the developers reluctantly giving in after months upon months of hounding, year after year since 2013, the sheer density of bone-headed decisions and questionable omissions would prevent something like Assetto Corsa 2 from even getting off the ground.
And that’s before we talk about the team’s aforementioned inability to take criticism, which has been a dark cloud surrounding the otherwise surprise underdog story propelling Assetto Corsa to new heights within the sim racing world. It seems like every couple of months, there’s a new developer meltdown to cover that displays a Kunos Simulazioni staff member losing their cool at mere peanuts on the official forum, with Norwegian stunt driver Fredrik Sorlie’s private exchange being the focal point in a long list of public, private, and rumored outbursts. With these situations taking place with such consistency, one has to wonder if Kunos have already cracked under pressure, and key staff members are in the process of planning their exit from not only the spotlight, but the industry altogether. Though many are inclined to sympathize with Kunos for the way some sim racers have treated them, and deemed their reactions to be a natural response to a never-ending wave of criticism from customers, the team certainly haven’t done themselves any favors by shipping products that many felt were inferior, lacking, and behind the times – regardless of what the Instagram models would have you believe.
But while other developers can take this hostile environment in stride – a recent example would be Codemasters directly responding to criticism of DiRT 4 in a launch day livestream and being upfront that they weren’t quite ready for release in regards to some cars – it seems to instead drag Kunos into the fray and actively impede the team’s progress, becoming some sort of known phenomenon for those who have follow Kunos’ rise to fame among the sim racing scene.
In conclusion, because of the team’s inability to make sound decisions about the direction of their game without fans hounding them for an excessive length of time to implement features other pieces of software would include by default, and the staff’s track record of being unable to deal with actual, legitimate criticism, I have a very difficult time believing Kunos are capable of building a sequel to Assetto Corsa that’s worth our time – and that’s if they even want to. It took five painstakingly long years to morph Assetto Corsa into a simulator people can recommend to motorsports fans, and after all this time there are still things missing, incomplete, or simply configured in a way that aren’t user-friendly, which fanboys awkwardly have to explain or defend whenever they’re brought up on the official forums. For Kunos to sit down and embark on this entire process again for another, more detailed simulator, knowing both their shortcomings as a developer, as well as what awaits if they get it wrong, is something I have a hard time believing they’ll see to completion.