Turning the clock back all the way to fourth grade, our humble classroom led by a former Irish nun had been given the task of writing autobiographies as a final English project. Once a week for what seemed like the entire back half of the semester, we were dragged into the school’s computer lab to partake in notoriously lengthy writing sessions that really tested the patience of your average ten year old. Not being a piece of shit in school and already knowing I’d be doing something with writing later in life, I did my best to at least complete the assignment within a reasonable time frame and have something ready to submit for grading. Yet as the year drew to a close, I noticed something exceptionally odd – a firm completion date for the project was never set.
Many times I would ask if I could print my paper and get everything over with, only to be told that it was still too early to hand in my assignment, and to occupy myself with editing in the meantime. So for several afternoons – and these afternoons were spread over a period of weeks – I sat there bored out of my fucking mind, making excessive, unnecessary, borderline pretentious revisions to a paper in which I had no idea when the due date was, in the hopes that one day I would get to call it “finished” and have it assessed properly.
That day never came, and the same mentality of endless pretentious revisions to knock weeks of nothing off the calendar would end up infecting one of my favorite adult hobbies. Welcome to my own, personal hell.
I’ve dubbed them Eternal Science Projects, because that’s what they are. Sim racing developers, at least some of them, have decided over the past few years that their racing simulators should be evolving platforms instead of complete packages. Like a child preparing extensively for a non-existent science fair, teams of nerds from around the planet are essentially “building something in their room” – and that something is a simulator – but the questions of “by when”, “for whom”, and “to do what” are never answered in concrete fashion. With no metaphorical “due date” in sight for these games, developers are free to obsess for months over transmission behavior, turbocharger dynamics, and obscure content nobody wants, rather than focus on making a game to captivate their audience for launch day.
It is for this reason that GTR 2, a game released over a decade ago, seems almost timeless when compared to modern offerings. It’s not because GTR 2 is genuinely that good, but because the genre has progressed so little in eleven long years due to the eternal science project mentality, the standard for what constitutes as an objectively good simulator hasn’t changed at all. Because sim developers have spent so long on upping the physics refresh rate, or coding their own turbo model, or modeling their own fake Formula One cars to get around the absence of real Formula One cars, we live in an era of sim racing in which GTR 2 (2006) features wet-weather driving and a built-in race school, but you can buy three “new” PC racing sims that have neither.
To begin the month of November, we will shine a spotlight on the three most prominent eternal science projects in the world of sim racing. Equally mismanaged in their own special ways, you almost feel bad for the people directly involved.
Originally conceived as Reiza’s answer to Assetto Corsa, Automobilista was intended to supercharge the aging ISImotor engine into a formidable current-generation simulator platform. The small group from Brazil had acquired the license to ISI’s extremely popular game engine, which would allow them to upgrade the fidelity of the overall in-game experience and inject new additions far beyond what users had experienced in titles such as GTR Evolution or the original rFactor, thus justifying a purchase on the outset.
Reiza advertised improvements to aspects such as the force feedback, tire model, suspension behavior, and racing surface adhesion, but in execution, your average sim racer simply won’t be able to feel the difference between Automobilista and a good rFactor mod that they can obtain for free. This doesn’t mean Automobilista is a bad game or a blatant rip-off for those new to the scene, it just means that one developer within the ecosystem intentionally went out of their way to work on a project with diminishing returns, rather than attempting to push the genre forward in any meaningful way.
It’s not like rFactor was an unplayable, broken piece of shit with cruddy vehicle handling to begin with that justified a different team to revamp the engine; there would have been no problem using the vanilla isiMotor engine as a platform for a deeper racing experience – career modes, team management, car upgrades, that sort of thing – but Reiza have instead descended to boasting about splitting hairs over new turbo calculations in development blog posts and preview videos (above).
Answer me this, how many of you have outright avoided a racing game because the turbo model was calculated in a simplified manner?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
On top of the diminishing returns, promises of high-profile downloadable content for the most part failed to materialize. While the focus of Automobilista’s content was originally intended to shy away from a primarily South American compilation to ensure a greater appeal to worldwide audiences, the team have done quite a poor job of restructuring the game to include any sort of captivating content. Season Pass owners received a fleet of historic Brazilian touring cars and re-used assets from a previous game (Formula Truck), along with some tracks that most people already downloaded for free as third party mods. Reiza have churned out locales such as Oulton Park, Brands Hatch, Hockenheim, Adelaide, and Imola for paying customers, though high quality conversions of these iconic circuits from other simulators were already available free of charge.
If Automobilista was to be eradicated from my Steam library in five minutes, I can’t say I’d be upset – I’d just boot up GTR Evolution, as it’s literally the same end-user experience, physics engine and all. Reiza could have done something truly exciting and unique with Automobilista; instead they are celebrating an alternate calculation for turbochargers and a slightly different heads up display that will be in the next update.
Whenever that is.
We now move on to discussing rFactor 2, as we’re rapidly approaching the end of Studio 397’s first full year spearheading the title’s development. Again, if you’ve been living under a rock, Image Space Incorporated are no longer responsible for rFactor 2, so there’s been a lot of hype surrounding what might happen to this simulator under the guidance of a brand new outlet. Most believe the unproven clan will somehow resurrect rFactor 2 from the dead and turn it into the all-encompassing platform many thought it would be at launch in 2014, but as is the theme with this entry, there have been some hiccups.
The team to their credit have been great at keeping hardcore fans updated with the title’s progress by means of scheduled journal entries, but in this situation, these blog posts have actively come back to haunt the Studio 397 crew – there’s now an extensive archive of “things that haven’t materialized,” and many of the entries cover the exact same topics over and over again with little new information to reveal. January 2017, April 2017, and August 2017 all more or less introduce the new GUI and talk about DirectX 11 integration that’s still being fine-tuned, before alluding to new content and then ending abruptly; the posts almost formulaic in nature. I know I get a lot of flak here for covering the same topics repeatedly, but this takes treading water to a whole new level. Sure, Studio 397 are giving people a roadmap, but to the end user these blog posts mean fuck all if you’re not saying anything that wasn’t already said before, especially if you can’t demonstrate you’re actively making progress.
These posts, when read back-to-back, give off the impression that Studio 397 aren’t doing much of anything and that rFactor 2 is basically dead.
Did the new graphical user interface finally make it’s way into a new update? No. Are the ranked online races or “competition infrastructure” discussed in February making progress? Also no. Is the DirectX 11 variant of the game stable yet? No. Has MoTec telemetry implementation started yet? No. Have the brand new Zandvoort track and Radical roadster been been improved to a non-beta state? No, that will come sometime in 2018. Will the Corvette C7.R GTE or Tatuus Formula Cars be released in any sort of reasonable time frame? No. Have improvements been made to the game’s spotter code? No.
So what’s the plan for Studio 397 going forward?
Load up the October roadmap with three paragraphs of pretentious self-masturbatory physics talk as a distraction. As with Automobilista, there’s no way in hell the average sim racer will be able to feel the differences these alleged changes will supposedly make, but Studio 397 believe this is the next major mountain for rFactor 2 as a simulator to climb.
To be fair, Studio 397 have indeed released five new GT3 cars for rFactor 2 – albeit in various states of completion, and conveniently in a special rFactor 2 store so negative reviews cannot be left on the content – but since rFactor 2 was handed over to the upstart team, the simulator has needed a significantly more robust resurrection than some GT3 cars that were most likely outsourced to various community members. The game needed a new interface, seamless DirectX 11 integration, a tangible reason to drag people to its’ online servers, and a plethora of exciting content.
After (almost) a year at the reigns of rFactor 2, Studio 397 have accomplished something like 15% of their team goals, and are already proceeding to jerk themselves off over physics improvements that basically nobody will either notice, or care enough for to buy/re-install the game. So you have this company pumping money into a dead game that nobody cares for and offers almost the exact same experience as Automobilista, which itself offers the exact same experience as GTR Evolution (a nine year-old game), all while stuff like Formula One 2017 lets you lounge in the team paddock prior to free practice.
As I alluded to earlier, it’s like a kid building a science project in his room, but there’s no science fair for him to enter, no target audience to woo, and certainly not any guidance to speak of. He’s just amassing a pile of shit and responding with “I made a lot of progress this month” when concerned adults begin making serious inquiries. The most perplexing part of all this, is that the rFactor 2 forum is still full of people who believe that one day, rFactor 2 will rise up against all the critics and regain it’s status as the ultimate racing simulator.
No guys, that ship has sailed.
Another ship that has sailed would be the existence of sim racing’s Holy Grail, GTR 3. In January of 2017, a newly-created sister company to Sector 3 Studios operating under the name of SimBin UK announced they would finally be embarking on a journey to make GTR 3 a reality. Despite a collection of staged renders that did not depict any actual gameplay, the sim racing community was promptly whipped into a frenzy – even as initial interviews indicated the game would use the Unreal 4 engine and potentially tread into simcade territory.
Strange how some sim racers blast Project CARS 2 for being “simcade” while openly endorsing a simcade GTR 3, but I guess my bias is showing.
Since that January news break, we’ve heard precisely nothing in regards to the development or progress of GTR 3 itself, which is scheduled for a summer 2018 launch. What we have heard out of the SimBin UK camp has little to do with GTR 3 as a product, but instead centers awkward promotional pieces that imply the group have already became affiliated with the wrong kinds of people. It would be low hanging fruit to rip on RaceRoom Racing Experience for re-doing their GT3 physics for a third time when tire pressure adjustment still isn’t the game after four years, so this is the direction we’re going in today.
SimBin UK were said to be creating a program by the name of Women and Wheels – an all female eSports sim racing championship said to launch this fall – but there’s a ominous cloud of skepticism hanging over the whole ordeal. It’s now November, and there’s snow on the ground – hardly autumn anymore. There is no scheduled start date, nor have SimBin UK announced what game will be used considering moving footage of GTR 3 has not yet been revealed to the public. There is no official social media account for the Women and Wheels championship, nor is there any sort of official website to find out more information – just a small forum to fill out for Emails on the matter. A google search on Women and Wheels reveals this championship was talked about once, on September 4th, 2017, and has not been mentioned by any gaming outlet or SimBim UK themselves since. Prizes listed on the SimBin UK home page include expensive acupuncture and Skype dates provided by a group called Epiphany Junkie, which is a rabbit hole I don’t suggest any sane person to explore.
If I had to take an educated guess, Women and Wheels doesn’t exist; it was a ploy by SimBin UK to earn brownie points in the eyes of potential investors by having a few nice social justice-themed articles written in their favor.
The second piece of promotional material comes from Punch Technology, who were recently asked to build high performance developer PC’s for the SimBin UK team, and are now offering those builds to the general public. Again, the mock-up screenshots first released in January depicting RaceRoom Racing Experience assets within the Unreal 4 Engine are used liberally, even though they are now ten months old and are literally just proof-of-concept pictures that bare no resemblance to what GTR 3 will actually contain.
For a game that is supposedly six to eight months away from launch, it’s very strange that SimBin UK have placed a metaphorical burka over such a niche project; this isn’t DOOM or Call of Duty, it’s just a sports car racing game, you can’t really spoil a whole lot. Yet their official Twitter has not been updated. Facebook has not been updated. Further interviews with the Speed brothers have not been conducted. GTR 3 isn’t just an eternal science project, it’s a model train set in the basement the rest of the family isn’t allowed to see.
Thankfully, Dave from Punch Technology helped us out. You know how some websites have an automatic pop-up box with an alleged live support representative, but everyone just assumes they’re bots programmed to respond to certain phrases? Dave from Punch Technology is not a bot; he gave us exclusive information on GTR 3 because it’s a Wednesday morning and he was presumably bored at work. Thanks Dave, you’re the real MVP today. SimBin UK have supposedly expanded to at least fifteen staff members, moved offices twice, secured funding, and met their in-house deadlines.
It’s just strange that SimBin UK, despite all of their social media accounts, were incapable of telling their core audience about this.
And it’s for this reason I will close this post by announcing a $250 CDN bounty for the first person who can email us with undisputed proof of GTR 3’s existence. I don’t believe this game will see the light of day. Members of the sim racing community are starting to have their doubts. Eternal science projects suck, but vaporware sucks more, and after an entire decade, we’re getting a bit tired of random teams announcing GTR 3 is on the horizon, only for it to seemingly vanish. For that reason, moving footage of SimBin UK’s GTR 3 in action, or several screenshots/off-screen pictures that haven’t been released to the general public, will net you a decent payday if you submit said content to us. We won’t announce you as the winner for obvious reasons, but we’ll definitely throw up what you’ve sent us if legitimate.