Are developers claims of using “real data” to build their sim cars merely hot air? That’s the question today’s Reader Submission seeks to answer, as an amateur rFactor modder behind the wonderful CART88 package from the Historic Sim Racing Organization has outlined a few different situations from mainstream sim developers that have left him scratching his head. With cars shipping with incorrect differential models, or popular prototypes turning lap times six seconds faster than the real vehicles, it’s a bit hard to have faith that the marketing department is on the same page as the physics gurus in charge of each respective development team. Compounding the issue is the fact that some of the information that may lead to a more accurately produced sim car is actually available for the general public to consume, so it’s a bit strange that major teams are unable to visit Amazon.com and order a $20 book in the pursuit of authenticity, when passionate modders have no problem doing so for the sheer love of sim racing.
As you all know, I am responsible for the CART88 project in terms of most of its physics development, as well as sounds. Now, first of all, the Automobilista conversion is still coming along, don’t get desperate! In fact, I am writing to the sim community here today to tell you how creating a mod or a car is not as clear cut and as clean as the modders, and even major sim developers might tell you; research, time, testing, and critical thinking are oh so very important. This submission comes in the sequence of two separate events that shocked me, considering we are talking about developers that made you pay for these cars.
The first portion comes from basically how it seems even official developers fail badly on the “research” part. Every, and I do mean EVERY 1960’s or 1970’s Formula One mod, from the vanilla content of Grand Prix Legends through all the iterations of the Lotus 49 in every simulator, to Niels’ Formula Vintage, is wrong. And what’s more shocking is not the fact that they are wrong, it’s instead how simple it would have been to avoid this particular error. The differential is an often overlooked component in sim racing, but when we have a car without big aero or tire grip, its role on the general car behavior can be huge. The approach everybody had, was that those cars were supposed to come with a highly adjustable Salisbury type differential variations, or simplifications of this being implemented in other sims, like rFactor.
Now what if I told you that those cars never used this differential? Well this is the truth. Back then they were all using a Clam and Paw type, which was a very simple type that was first used in the Auto Union cars of the 1930’s Grand Prix Era. This is a non-adjustable differential that is basically completely open on Coast, and locks from 50% to 75% on power. Now how do I know this amazing and crucial piece of info? Simple, I got it from a book about the Lotus 72 that sells on Amazon for 20 Euros or less. Hardly top secret or hard to get knowledge, especially for developers who supposedly have access to “real data” and other such buzzwords.
The second event that shocked me, was seeing lap times six seconds faster than the real thing coming from iRacing’s Nissan GTP around Road America. Now, we could forgive this in a non-laser scanned variant of Elkhart Lake, but in the pristine Road America iRacing has, it’s unacceptable. But what really rustles my jimmies is not that they got it wrong. After all, it’s really hard to get lap times right across many different circuits, especially if you don’t have absolute precise data from the vehicle, and assuming your physics engine does everything right. Which it probably won’t. What gets me going is how they just ignore it and don’t fix it.
I am telling you this now; a mod, a car, any piece of content the community creates, is typically not finished with release version 1.0. Modders don’t have an army of testers to go around running all the circuits and report back competitive times, or trying to break the mod with exploits. That’s why the CART88 mod is still receiving patches, because I am effectively using the current CART88 season in HSO to also test the mod in a competitive environment, which is how it should be done. This assures the end product is actually bullet proof and performs as much as the real thing in all possible scenarios, if driven to its limits.I noticed the times are off at, for example, Mid-Ohio, so expect a big patch to rectify this, based on my observations, and on me questioning some of the data I researched earlier. But this is ME doing a whole mod for free! How can people at iRacing, Kunos, SimBin, Slightly Mad Studios, etc, sleep at night knowing that they got things so wrong, and they don’t do anything to fix them, despite the users paying for this?
You see, a basic tenure of simulating a race car is what kind of apex speeds, top speeds, and braking distances a car achieves. This in a laser scanned track should at least amount to a lap time more or less within the ballpark. Sure, thousands of laps of practice in a perfect virtual track will usually allow a slightly faster lap time, but not six seconds’ worth. I find it funny the whole “Formula One 2017 is simcade” debate, when the “serious” sims can’t even get something as basic as these elements correct, and worst of all, are unable to admit that they got it wrong and begin working on a fix. So much for “listening to the needs of the community…”
Unfortunately, I think a lot of it has to do with developers knowing that the community will make excuses for their sloppiness, which is partially why simulators of the early 2000’s are objectively more accurate that the software on the market today. Most developers, and this extends all the way from Kunos, to iRacing, to Slightly Mad Studios, are all extremely passionate about sim racing in the same way that we are, which is why they still continue to push out software and content for what is a very niche genre that rarely generates a reasonable return on investment. However, because each game’s respective community will now actively work as an extension of the marketing department – whether this was intended or not – the incentive for these teams to exhibit precision and accuracy in their work just isn’t there anymore. If you’re a sim developer and you knowingly half-ass a car, only to boot up the message boards and find people still praising your work and calling it one of the best sim cars ever, subconsciously this is going to re-wire your work ethic a bit.
This is also a community where the majority of participants have zero mechanical knowledge, and in some cases don’t even possess a valid driver’s license, so for every sim racer picking apart inaccuracies in a sim car (or giving it the thumbs up), there are at least twenty five others on the forum counteracting the useful feedback with outright disinformation. This right here is actually the source of iRacing’s endless tire woes, as back in 2011 the original variant of the New Tire Model generated rave reviews from the amateur race car drivers on the service, but this positive feedback was outweighed by teenagers and bus riders in the Peak Anti-Freeze Series complaining that their unrealistic setups and driving styles no longer worked. Because the volume of complaints outweighed the number of amateur drivers kicking ass on the service and actually enjoying the brand of racing, take a guess who iRacing listened to.
Unfortunately, the only option to rectify this is to either keep building third party mods that do pay close attention to detail, or venturing down another route and tweaking vanilla content. This isn’t really possible in iRacing because it’ll get your ass banned in a hurry for a legitimate reason, but given that it’s not hard to find the ACD converters for Assetto Corsa stuff, nor is it difficult to use unpacking software for Slightly Mad Studios content, I envision a future where mod teams specialize in “Community Patches” for first-party content, in which a team like Kunos would release a DLC car pack, only for the mod team to come out with a “Redux” patch that fixes some of their flubs in terms of suspension geometry or tire behavior. It’s not ideal, but this is more or less what’s happened with Richard Burns Rally and Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed, both of which spawned pretty big add-on communities centered around a few groups of guys essentially digging through the internals of each simulator and fixing the issues.