As We Predicted, iRacing’s Dirt Content Experiences Sharp Decline in Popularity

What was once sim racing’s biggest long-standing April Fool’s joke has now officially made the transition from reality into relative obscurity. North American and Australian dirt oval racing fans rejoiced back in 2016 when they learned it would be none other than iRacing tasked with taking a shot at replicating Dirt Late Models and Sprint Cars – taking a very popular discipline of local auto racing into the hyper-competitive environment of the online motorsports platform – but now that this content has been out for a little over a month, the honeymoon phase has concluded, and some are going as far as calling it a waste of resources. Though we praised iRacing’s muddy adventure when it first launched, with the cars being objectively the most realistic and believable vehicles available for purchase on the service after years of confusing tire model updates, we questioned the staying power it would have among the userbase considering dirt oval racing is seen as relatively low on the global auto racing totem pole.

A recent thread on iRacing’s official SubReddit has proven our primary concerns were right on the money, if not profoundly accurate. Reports of over 7,000 active users signed into the iRacing servers for the launch of dirt oval racing have now been replaced by woefully pathetic car counts that struggle to eclipse 20 total participants for the most well-attended events. This is a pretty big deal, as iRacing’s format relies on an abundance of entrants for each race so the service can split people into multiple groups based on their skill level. With so few drivers to split, and a maximum car count of just twelve vehicles for each race, it’s leading to situations where races are total shitfests because the talent pool is so diverse; barely competent drivers are forced to drive against highly skilled veterans.

And it’s not a fun experience for those involved.

Though the two users above each offer their own explanation as to why there’s been such a sharp decline in popularity for the dirt content, I don’t feel either are accurate, so I’ll put my own spin on things.

Dirt oval racing is actually extremely difficult; the cars by nature are configured to be fundamentally broken from a setup standpoint, and the driving style required is essentially flat-out drifting. The sim community by and large simply do not understand car setups enough to get the most out of their virtual sprint car or late model – quite hilarious given these games are intended for a hardcore audience who should in theory be all over that shit – and most sim races do not possess the car control necessary to run thirty five straight clean laps while dead sideways among an equally crazy pack of cars. I’m under the impression many iRacers bought the dirt content out of curiosity, realized they had nowhere near the talent level to drive the damn things, and gave up on it after only a few days.

You would think that the dirt content would bring a whole host of new users to the iRacing service, especially with talk of how accurate these cars are compared to the rest of the vehicles on iRacing, but there’s a fundamental flaw with this hypothesis.

As it stands, dirt oval racing is a very niche motorsport in both North America as well as Australia; World of Outlaws events haven’t been nationally televised since Spike TV was known as TNN back in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, and currently the only way to watch these races live is through a relatively obscure website that locks footage behind several pay walls. I’m not saying DirtVision is shit, I’m just saying that the average auto racing fan has no idea it exists in the first place. So the potential audience is significantly smaller than it was ten or fifteen years ago.

By comparison, the Ratbag World of Outlaws game for the PlayStation 2 sold half a million copies because everyone with a basic cable television package could watch sprint car racing on a Friday night with a familiar set of announcers such as Steve Evans and Ralph Sheheen introducing outsiders to the sport, while little kids or teenagers could point at a PS2 game in Wal-Mart and instantly have an entirely new type of car racing to dive head first into because it wasn’t much of an investment. This doesn’t happen anymore; iRacing requires an elaborate steering wheel setup, beefy computer, and a serious mentality just to get some base level of enjoyment from the title. Neither your average short track audience member, nor their offspring want to get screamed at by some elitist iRacing cuntwagon for ruining his safety rating.

Those who do brave those elements discover they can’t make a lap to save their lives because the cars are so difficult to drive, and the cycle repeats.

So you have a situation where after the honeymoon phase has ended, there’s twenty people signing up for dirt events. And on the outset it looks like a waste of resources, but I’m actually here to defend iRacing and tell you why it was worth the year of development time.

In learning how dirt oval racing works, how track surfaces evolve, and how dirt tire compounds behave, what iRacing learned on dirt will slowly apply to the tarmac vehicles. I gave the brand new Porsche a shakedown at Dustin’s house when we were shooting photos with the race car, and while I’m not going to say it’s this night & day difference that’ll make me come crying back to iRacing, it’s certainly something that indicated a few eureka moments were had behind the scenes. If iRacing continue in this direction, along with allowing Steve Reis to really dig through the software and undo some of the past mistakes from previous staff members, the dirt content will be seen in hindsight as a necessary evil to get the simulation back on track.

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Sequel to The Crew Announced, But Does Anyone Care?

It started out as an ambitious project to re-capture the hidden magic of Test Drive Unlimited, but the end result was a run-of-the-mill open world racer with no compelling elements, and we’ve now learned through a message board post of all things that this sub-par package has somehow warranted a sequel. Though nobody will place a gun to your head and force you to buy The Crew 2 when it inevitably lands on store shelves for both major console gaming platforms and UbiSoft’s own uPlay service, it’s mere existence is the prime example of developers who refuse to see video games as interactive pieces of art, instead building an uninspiring experience designed solely to tick boxes of key features and distract customers from their own mundane personal lives for a few hours during the course of every evening.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am obviously not too thrilled about The Crew 2’s existence, but it has nothing to do with blind hate for a product I don’t entirely understand; I feel UbiSoft and Ivory Tower simply aren’t capable of making The Crew as an idea for a video game, into something you’ll be racing home after work to play for hours on end. I’d prefer for them not to waste everyone’s time with a second go.

Open-world driving games, when done right, can be fantastic. Need for Speed: Underground 2 and Rockstar’s Midnight Club Series blew the doors wide open on the sub-genre with stellar releases that allowed you to explore large environments at your own free will, with other developers scurrying around to try and attain some slice of the proverbial pie thanks to just how well gamers had responded to these all-around great offerings.

But there was a science behind the reason Midnight Club and Need for Speed had succeeded in a market dominated by Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, and Mario Kart; the driving model was something that could be understood and practiced to perfection by dedicated players, the customization – even now – was unprecedented, the environments were memorable despite their comparatively smaller size due to technological limitations, and the background narrative was just that – a loose story that sort of tied it all together, but wasn’t something the player even needed to pay attention to. That is your formula for a successful open world driving game, and it’s why the offshoot Forza Horizon was able to come out swinging in 2012 and immediately establish itself as one of the greats; Turn 10 paid close attention to the groundwork laid by Need for Speed and Midnight Club, while putting their own spin on it.

Ivory Tower failed to do any of this with The Crew, essentially embarking on one poor design choice after another that indicated the team hadn’t even bothered to understand why people might be drawn open world driving games in the first place. The driving model was often described as floaty and vague by wheel and pad users alike, meaning the core gameplay was something users “put up with” as opposed to learning and mastering, and that’s kind of important when your video game is all about cross-country marathons behind the wheel. Customization and progression had been intertwined with incessantly grinding for experience points – something that driving game enthusiasts have never taken kindly to in the history of the genre – while the giant map made it impossible for the team to ensure every square mile served a purpose; long, empty highways connected select areas of interest. And though there was at least some attempt at a generic Fast & Furious rip-off narrative, the story was just so over-the-top , intrusive, and forced that it worked against the game itself; you wanted it to go away so you could focus on other areas in The Crew, and UbiSoft kept throwing it at you.

It’s just a package that indicated UbiSoft needed a token open world driving game on their roster of products and just sort of shit something out. What’s even more surprising, is that UbiSoft Reflections were once behind the stellar Driver series of the late 1990’s, as well as the phenomenal Stuntman for the PlayStation 2; both entities known quite well for their stellar vehicle physics, so a regression between then and now is quite strange.

It didn’t help that the PlayStation 4 version of The Crew failed to support Logitech’s G29 racing wheel, considering racing games are universally much better experiences when under the command of a traditional car control input method and third party wheels are skyrocketing in popularity. The bugs and shoddy servers also threw a curveball into the mix; for a game that boasted tons of seamless online integration, UbiSoft struggled to ensure a smooth experience for gamers – something that should have been priority numero uno for a game of this scope.

But in my opinion, the most prominent display of UbiSoft’s lack of dedication to ensuring The Crew would be a successful venture, was in their stunning lack of creativity. The game’s first expansion pack,Wild Run, straight up copied the theme of Forza Horizon with a fictional automotive festival taking place in the middle of a vast rural area, while the second, Calling All Units, lifted police pursuit weapons from the 2010 reboot of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.

Furthermore, The Crew continues to make use of UbiSoft’s obsessive tendency to place objective towers within the game world as a means of unlocking new tasks or events. This sort of makes sense within the context of a third person adventure game such Assassins Creed, but the fact that it has been shamelessly copy & pasted into a racing game of all things when it clearly does not pertain to the subject matter in the slightest is pure laziness.

All of these little details add up to a racing game that was designed by a team that not only fail to understand what makes an open world racer fun, they are unable to polish the product so key elements work as they should, and shamelessly rip ideas from other teams and shoe-horn in repetitive elements from in-house franchises, regardless of how well those gameplay design choices will benefit the end user experience.

So with The Crew 2¬† confirmed, it’s hard to be even the least bit excited at what the sequel might bring to the table. UbiSoft were simply not interested in creating a good driving game with the first iteration in the franchise, clearly neglecting to research what constitutes as an enjoyable open world racing game in favor of shitting out a hodgepodge of ideas and design choices that actively worked against each other. This is not the result of impending deadlines and rushed segments of development, but a team actively making poor choice after poor choice when it comes to the creative vision of the game, and it’s a problem that can’t be rectified overnight. Unless there is a drastic re-construction of The Crew’s fundamental makeup, you can write off The Crew 2 before we even see it in action.

First NASCAR Heat 2 Details Surface

Though oval racing certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea around these parts, and the previous NASCAR Heat game was nothing short of a dumpster fire that spat in the face of every fan who had already suffered through countless years of mediocrity, details have began to float to the surface regarding NASCAR Heat 2 over the past couple of days. With the leading company changing names yet again – now operating under the moniker of 704 Games rather than Dusenberry-Martin Interactive – and promises of proper development cycle culminating in a September launch window instead of the rushed process that undoubtedly caused last year’s game to nosedive in quality, NASCAR Heat 2 will once again release on a trio of modern gaming platforms near the end of the actual NASCAR season. A lot of you may rightly assume it’s a bit counter-intuitive for 704 Games to ship a product so late in the year, but this is the exact launch schedule EA Sports would use during their time in possession of the exclusive NASCAR license, so at least there’s a partial effort to retain that same tradition.

Aside from the sketchy name change, which raised red flags when we reported on it a few months back here at PRC, details have remained pretty sparse in regards to what the actual gameplay experience will contain when NASCAR Heat 2 drops this September. With Heat Evolution generating such a negative reaction from fans, not a lot of people are actively seeking out teaser shots or inside information, resulting in a situation where all we know is that the cover athlete will be either Martin Truex Jr. or 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch – decided upon during segment two of the all-star race at Charlotte this weekend, with the cover position going to the higher finishing driver of the two.

However, to my surprise there exists a core group of dedicated NASCAR Heat fans who have actually busted their asses to find out as much as possible about the new game despite the company’s previous releases not warranting any sort of fanbase, and though the major sim racing sites haven’t picked up on it, information is starting to leak. So to the NASCAR Heat YouTube and Twitter community, thank you so much for your dedication.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Brandon Brown heavily implied in a short Twitter video clip that all three major NASCAR national series – trucks, muscle cars, and sedans for those who can’t be assed with looking up sponsor names – will be included in NASCAR Heat 2. This is a major revelation, as once Electronic Arts and Monster Games began implementing several different NASCAR-sanctioned series into their games during the PlayStation 2 era, any developer who failed to include these support series were automatically at a disadvantage and blasted by NASCAR fans for having less content than games released a decade earlier. It’s exciting to know the lower-tier trucks and muscle cars will make a return to officially licensed NASCAR games, as it immediately indicates career mode will be exponentially more expansive than¬†Heat Evolution and the Eutechnyx games were, presumably allowing you to climb the NASCAR ladder as an aspiring professional race car driver would.

This also indicates that all three series will have near-complete fields of real-world drivers if journeymen like Brandon Brown are talking about being in the upcoming NASCAR game, which is a major step in the right direction. Previous NASCAR titles by Eutechnyx and 704 Games – and Electronic Arts as well, though it wasn’t as big of a problem – routinely failed to acquire rights to all active drivers on the grid due to sponsorship or contract issues, leading to situations where feeder series drivers were placed in semi-fictional cars that never actually competed to ensure the 43-car fields would be populated entirely by real drivers. It was like if Codemasters could not get the rights to the Toro Rosso F1 team, so they shoehorned some random GP2 organization in it’s place – which pissed off fans who were hoping for the authenticity advertised on the box to actually be present in the software.

We’ve also learned a bit more about 704 Games, as what we originally speculated to be a questionable name change to get away from the nasty reputation the team once acquired appears to have warranted something much more beneficial – and we kind of wish we knew about this sooner, because it totally changes the atmosphere surrounding NASCAR Heat 2.

Fox 46 Charlotte have reported that the group are now located in the actual NASCAR office building residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, allowing team members in charge of licensing deals and miscellaneous authenticity quips to merely take a brief elevator ride directly to NASCAR representatives, in order to receive the green light for features, licensing approvals, and any creative freedom questions that may arise. Considering how much of the genuine NASCAR experience relies on correctly placed advertisement decals, unique car liveries, up-to-date track renovations, rule changes, and the other fine details of a racing series that many people correctly imply is this weird hybrid of professional wrestling and auto racing, it’s comforting to know that the resources to make a great game are literally two floors above them.

But it also means there’s no excuse if they fuck it all up.

It’s certainly not hard proof that NASCAR Heat 2 will be an overwhelmingly positive improvement compared to its predecessor, but so far it appears 704 Games have the tools in place to get the job done, and signs point to the return of additional series that fans have long requested to be implemented after years of being omitted despite their inclusion on inferior hardware. The key thing I’m looking at here is that on the outset, NASCAR Heat 2 will be enough of a change from the previous game to warrant a purchase and subsequent shakedown on launch day.

But if 704 Games once again release a product that is buggy, unfinished, and suffers from performance issues, their fall from grace will be even more tarnishing to the team, and most likely prompt yet another exclusivity swap. With the Eutechnyx series, at the end of the day you could blame the obvious lack of quality on a group of European game developers who obviously didn’t care about NASCAR and were pushing out a minimum viable product to generate a profit from loyal NASCAR fans. However, now that 704 Games are literally in the same building as NASCAR themselves, and have been graced with a full development cycle, there’s no excuse to ship a sub-par product. The classic Heat games of yesteryear were fantastic, with Dirt to Daytona still actively enjoyed by hardcore sim racers going through hell and back just to get Dolphin or PCSX2 running smoothly. If you can’t recapture this experience with modern technology and the full support of NASCAR, it’s a sign that more than a name change is needed.

SRTC Silently Pulls “Million Dollar Championship” Service Website, Leaves More Questions than Answers

Back in early February, we here at PRC.net ran a rather perplexing article focusing on SRTC’s brand new online racing portal, which promised a structured sim racing environment for rFactor 2 that supposedly handed out extensive cash prizes for partaking in various championships making use of the game’s vanilla content – and a popular third party mod or two.

With the cost of membership exponentially higher than what one could expect from diving into the deep end of the iRacing pool, prizes said to reside in the four to six figure range, and even a couple of elaborate trips to exotic locales such as Las Vegas and Barcelona offered to the most talented sim racers on the service’s leaderboard, the whole thing seemed too good to be true; select broken English wording and vague advertisements that didn’t really explain much of anything were merely the icing on the cake in a shitstorm of confusion.

https://pretendracecars.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/pricing.jpg?w=1572&h=916

Though a representative from SRTC appeared in our comments section requesting to be interviewed so he could set the record straight, it was incredibly hard to justify giving him the time of day considering the website alone painted a very questionable picture in regards to the company’s intentions. Good, honest businesses looking to provide a useful online racing service to sim racers do not continuously ask for your credit card information and proclaim there is some sort of premium membership experience awaiting behind a paywall that asked sim racers to fork out around $42 USD per month for the highest level of commitment, when the entire endeavor consists of shoddy Google Documents that can be accessed regardless of whether you’ve paid the company money, and empty servers registered on LiveRacers that show staff members tasked with testing the service had failed to turn even a single practice lap.

Yet despite their insistence that the SRTC service was a real, genuine effort to compose some sort of valid alternative to iRacing – the enormous prizes helping to offset the ridiculous entry fees – it appears our expository piece warranted some kind of action after the dust had settled.

SRTC have scrubbed the internet of their dubious One Million Cash Prizes service, with leaderboards linked in the original piece now issuing a classic 404 Error, custom mods they’d released on Steam to ensure a fair playing field no longer available, and the home page now re-directing to a generic splash page. Devoid of any references to the structured online racing service that was once advertised, we’re now told there’s going to be some sort of SRTC community meet-up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and that an online championship called the SRTC Pro Series will receive an accompanying website on June 17th, 2017.

Just like that, their entire endeavor has vanished into thin air.

But the internet doesn’t forget, and it has only made me dig even deeper.

The league’s Twitch account has just one follower and no recent activity, while their Facebook page is ripe with links to sub-leagues, such as SRT Poland and SRT UK, but these too lack natural activity you would typically see from an online league – most posts by the administrator have zero likes and zero comments. Furthermore, once advertised as the primary broadcast partner of SRTC, BenjxMotors have not covered an SRTC event since January of 2017. Though I’m not disputing the existence of Sim Racing Track – which appears to be a simulator cafe powered by rFactor 2 located just outside of Paris – I’m under the impression that something seriously fucked up happened to this whole creation between the time we first reported on SRTC, and, well, today.

Now you may be wondering why a random sim league suddenly closing up shop and killing their website is a big deal, as several grassroots leagues rise and fall with each passing month within the sim racing community; it’s really nothing new by any stretch of the imagination, just how our ecosystem tends to work. However, the shocker here is that a French sim racing blog was able to interview Oliver Floyd in person, and he has revealed some kind of a partnership between SRTC and Studio 397, which means this could have potentially been rFactor 2’s actual planned solution to organized, competitive online racing that they discussed a few months back – which would make Studio 397 look extremely retarded if they were at one point indeed willing to go along with this level of delusion exhibited by the SRTC camp.

Either that, or Floyd is about to get sued for implying SRTC and Studio 397 are linked professionally when they’re clearly not.

Extending through several different interviews that all reiterate the same basic rhetoric, six and seven figure cash prizes are liberally thrown around in the same paragraphs as the label of “professional sim racers” is; SRTC having their heads firmly in the clouds regarding their vision of a world-wide sim racing championship using rFactor 2. Preliminary marketing documents have also surfaced, discussing some sort of major television partnership, custom driver suits, and the chance to “drive our race cars”, turning SRTC’s pie-in-the-sky plans into the stuff of legends. You can read the two documents – one for team owners, another for drivers – in the following links:

http://simracingtrack.com/images/Boost-your-career-racing-driver
http://simracingtrack.com/images/Team-PRO-EN

It’s beyond confusing, though it makes perfect sense that this stuff suddenly went *poof* one day and disappeared; there’s no way a small outlet such as SRTC would be able to ensure all of this would materialize in the intended fashion.

So instead, they’ve upped the ante, because this is sim racing after all.

Within the past month, SRTC have signed some sort of partnership with the Trans-Am Euro Series, what looks to be the European counterpart to the highly popular SCCA Trans-Am Championship that has thrived in North America over the past fifty years under a variety of different rule changes. Alongside their SRTC Pro Series – an online championship we still don’t know much about and hasn’t been broadcasted since January, a pathetic race that included just eight cars on the grid – SRTC will also offer an accompanying virtual Trans-Am series, the winner of which will supposedly win an entire fully-funded season in the 2018 campaign, with podium finishers receiving track day driving experiences, and VIP guest passes to select race weekends.

This is alongside the aforementioned SRTC Pro Series, which will suposedly be broadcasted on Motorsport.TV and consist of several Top Gear-like segments that are so absurdly beyond what a little sim racing league is capable of, I’m genuinely shocked this hasn’t been reported on any sooner.

First, they’re promising a $1,000,000 sim racing championship (or $400,000 depending on the interview you read), yet their entire online racing platform was governed by Google Documents that could be accessed regardless of whether you were a member or not. Second, they promised a chain of sim racing tournaments in exotic locales, and this huge structured online racing community supposedly supported by Studio 397 themselves, but one day the entire thing is taken down without warning – extremely bizarre considering they were openly asking for sponsorship and affiliates with an equally perplexing and vague affiliate program, which you can still apply for as of this writing. All of this by itself is highly questionable on its own.

But now they are back, unable to launch a simple online racing service without coming across as an outright scam and having to trash the thing overnight, but in the same breath planning to launch some sort of television show with segments that will rival the production cost of Top Gear, as well as conduct two major world-wide sim racing championships, one of which will award the winner with a full time ride in the 2018 Trans-Am Euro series. If you can’t figure out why this sounds ridiculously fishy, may I suggest an Internet Safety course for seniors?

Older gentlemen plagued by wishful thinking and highly unrealistic pipe dreams are a cancer to our hobby. If you gave money to these people for any reason whatsoever, I advise you to get in touch with a lawyer as soon as possible. I would love to be proven wrong and have a sweet rFactor 2 Trans-Am league to participate in, but given their already sketchy track record, I expect that too, to vanish into thin air.

Brand New KartKraft Footage Leaked

Just under a month ago, I had no problem calling KartKraft vaporware. A hardcore grassroots racing simulator that had been in development under multiple names dating back to 2007 – and whose development team went through just as many alias changes despite leading man Zach Griffin remaining in charge throughout the duration of the project – it was heavily implied the project would see a release on Steam’s Early Access platform at some point during the summer of 2016. Unfortunately, as last summer came and went, the project failed to materialize, with social media posts from Black Delta seeing a sudden shift in tone, from claiming an initial release was just weeks away, to regurgitating the same basic indirect public relations babble, month after month – failing to inform users what had happened to the game.

The situation frustrated sim racers, as with so many young amateur karting personalities also dabbling in the world of sim racing, a game that seemed tailor made for their exact needs was instead appearing to be an elaborate ruse, stringing people along for almost a complete decade with little to show for it. Aside from carefully crafted preview videos released back when the Atlanta Thrashers were still a professional hockey team, KartKraft was turning out to be one of those projects that can only exist in the world of sim racing; vaporware ever so obscure enough for people to completely forget it existed in the first place.

Today, we can add another chapter to the story. Buried deep within an obscure French iRacing community lies three unlisted YouTube videos depicting the latest beta build of KartKraft. Initial impressions of the title from the user behind the three short gameplay clips are fantastic, claiming the closed beta experience surpasses KartRacingPro, which is seen as the definitive Kart racing sim currently on the market. The videos on the French message board are unlisted, so I’ve taken the liberty to mirror them on YouTube to ensure as many people can see them as possible; obviously someone’s going to get in a lot of shit with this article going live considering strict non-disclosure agreements are said to be in place.

Three videos totaling about six minutes in length depict three different karts on three unique Australian circuits, and it seems as Black Delta have even managed to nail some of the subtle leg moments that I’m sure everyone’s familiar with after tossing themselves around in a kart. It honestly looks really good, but so did the preview footage released in 2012.

At this point, however, I’m still left with more questions than answers. It’s fairly obvious this game still exists and is actively being worked on considering YouTube footage of KartKraft is being uploaded today, but it’s confusing as to why Black Delta have been so secretive about telling people what’s been going on with the project as of late after missing their original release window, and how visually the software still looks as it once did in 2012.

Regardless, if you’ve been looking for evidence that KartKraft is still a thing, there you go. It’s just a mystery as to why it’s taking so long to land in the hands of the public.