Guitar Queer-o

16716053_1375071449232086_8758369761658143409_oWhile there was a bit of an uproar when it was revealed that DiRT Rally for the PlayStation 4 Virtual Reality headset would ship with additional content not seen in the vanilla package, those fears can officially be put to rest, though they now indicate that sim developers might not know how to craft a compelling and innovative experience for this technology. Introduced as a PSVR exclusive feature, DiRT Rally’s co-driver mode was kept heavily under wraps in the lead up to the title’s release, with many sim racers speculating about Codemasters creating some sort of online co-operative functionality just for this specific segment of the userbase – one which put you in the passenger seat and tasked you with reading out pacenotes to your buddy of choice as they flew through Sweden, Wales, or Monte Carlo – but the reality is unfortunately much different, and significantly more ridiculous than anyone could have envisioned.

Codemasters made a Guitar Hero mini-game for DiRT Rally.

Seriously.

thunderstruckInstead of pairing you with a friend riding shotgun – also sporting a VR headset from the comfort of his own home – tasked with reading out complex strands of stage notes at a lightning quick pace from the virtual passenger seat to ensure your success on any of the game’s twelve stages, DiRT Rally’s co-driver mode asks you to hand your little brother the Dualshock 4 so he can play a shitty knock-off version of Guitar Hero on the main monitor, where him successfully hitting each note translates to the correct visual directions being displayed on-screen.

There was a huge opportunity for Codemasters to go out and create a memorable diversion that could potentially show off the unique experience a VR headset can provide under the right conditions, and instead they’ve straight up missed it by a country mile. Inserting a simplified version of Guitar Hero into a game most of us have already played to exhaustion, and designing the mode in such a way where it only applies to bystanders who probably won’t want to sit and watch you play DiRT Rally to begin with, won’t get people to rush out and pick up a copy of DiRT Rally VR. We already know that racing games are an incredibly unique way to showcase what a virtual reality headset can do at its absolute best, but we’re at the point where developers need to innovate and take things to the next level.

This certainly isn’t it. In fact, it’s perpetuating the stereotype of VR-based titles being more of a fancy tech demo than anything else, with developers struggling to find out what to do with this technology beyond the initial application of first-person viewpoints.

Above, I’ve linked a twenty one minute compilation of Giant Bomb co-founder and former Gamespot persona Jeff Gerstmann struggling to understand how virtual reality will retain a long-term appeal, as he demonstrates numerous fully-priced PSVR titles that just aren’t very exciting pieces of software. While some of his experience is hampered by technological issues that make him visibly uncomfortable during his trial runs, Jeff notes that after you get over the initial “coolness” of physically existing inside a game world and being able to look around at your own discretion, the decline in texture resolution and lack of exciting quirks to make it more than just an extreme first person view isn’t enough to offset the obvious cons of the hardware.

To combat this, developers such as Codemasters need to push the envelope and offer genuinely interesting diversions to their software that really justifies the existence of a purpose-built VR title. A Guitar Hero spin-off isn’t that.

Codemasters, listen up. Let us walk around the car in the service park to inspect the damage, and make repairs by physically kneeling next to the vehicle and ripping the bumper off, or changing a few tires if it’s needed. Make the user nod their head up and down to indicate to the official to start the count-down clock for each stage. Create a co-op mode, where you can invite a buddy to your offline session, and his ass is thrown in the passenger seat, where he can look at his lap and read out pacenotes – which would actually be of use in DiRT 4, as the randomly generated stages will be impossible to memorize and actually require someone to get good at co-driving should this mode exist. And on closed-circuit off road races, make it so mud accumulates on the visor of the helmet, requiring the user to either shake their head, or wave their hand in front of the censor, for the virtual avatar to rip away a tear-off.

This is all shit I’m just pulling out of my ass on a boring Saturday evening, but I’m sure a large portion of the DiRT audience would appreciate these little elements to a Guitar Hero mode that will be used exactly once before promptly being ignored for the rest of the game’s lifespan. Otherwise, if this is the kind of “innovation” we can expect from the VR generation, don’t expected it to last very long.

 

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Not Very Exciting: The rFactor 2 February 2017 Roadmap

20170217175429_1I think before I dive deep into discussing what Studio 397 have talked about in their February 2017 roadmap for rFactor 2, it’s important to come out and say that I have an obvious bias against the number one eternal science project that’s just sort of been sitting off in its own little corner, regardless of who is currently responsible for its ongoing development. I purchased rFactor 2 during the spring of 2013, and since then it simply hasn’t evolved as a complete package in the way a lot of us expected it to; dated visuals, an AI component which has the tendency to go bonkers unless you stick to specific combinations, and a really poor selection of vanilla cars and tracks have done little to captivate me into dealing with the significantly smaller modding scene and barren wasteland of an online community. There’s nothing all that exciting to drive, not many people to race against, it doesn’t look very good, and the stuff it does do well, other simulators accomplish with about the same proficiency.

The only time I actually deal with rFactor 2 in any sort of meaningful sim racing fashion is when I’m paid to officiate private events at the local sim center, and even then, we’re already exhausted our options with the default array of content; you obviously need a commercial license to use certain freeware mods in a paid customer environment, and that’s not an easy thing to acquire when a large portion of rFactor 2’s content has been converted and/or ripped from other simulators.

20170217162351_1Studio 397 have been publishing these little blog posts once a month to kind of keep people informed on the state of rFactor 2, and I gotta give credit where credit is due, at least they’re trying to be transparent with the whole process. Image Space Incorporated were notorious for their slow development times, and we’ve even had some people come to us with info regarding what was going on behind the scenes, and long story short, it’s a very good thing they’re out of the picture now.

However, I still feel Studio 397 have inherited a sinking ship.

The blog post begins with Studio 397 revealing they’ve began work on implementing a virtual reality component into rFactor 2, which will accommodate popular consumer headsets such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Now at face value this indicates they’re doing their best to keep up with what’s new and hot in the world of gaming technology, but if you dig around the sim racing community, the overall reception towards VR headsets appears to be changing. Both Paul Jeffrey of RaceDepartment, as well as Shaun Cole of The SimPit, have uploaded pieces that draw attention to a very different side of the VR craze, hinting that these elusive headsets are on their way to being a passing fad that wasn’t quite ready for a large scale commercial audience.

Mainstream VR technology is still very much in it’s infancy, with issues surrounding the pixel density one of the main concerns from members of the public perhaps looking to upgrade from their current viewing solutions. As of today, no current VR headset can hope to match the graphics quality one can achieve with a standard monitor setup, let alone come close to the Ultra HD / 4k screens some lucky gamers have access to within their own gaming rooms. Couple this with the need to pack some serious hardware into your gaming PC in order to run the vast majority of VR ready title’s at a reasonable performance level, it quickly becomes clear that VR gaming has not quite reached the stage where everyone would be willing to take up the obvious advantages, despite the many remaining pitfalls of the technology. – Paul Jeffrey, RaceDepartment

While Paul’s article is more of a quasi-opinion piece that highlights both the positives and negatives of this new technology, concluding with an admission that the resolution just isn’t quite there yet, Shaun Cole’s comments provide very interesting insight into the public reception to VR technology. Away from his YouTube channel and the “online” sim racing community of sorts, Shaun is paid by simulator companies to help work their trade show booths and demonstrate elaborate simulator rigs, some of which include the use of VR headsets. Shaun notes that at a lot of these events, he’s made a mental note of the percentage of people that get sick from the headsets, or the number of times the Oculus units suffer from hardware failure… As he puts it, VR is a great experience for himself, but it’s not a great “shared experience” – it’s just not catching on and exploding like a lot of people predicted.

Coming back to how this relates to rFactor 2, Studio 397 have embarked on the task of implementing VR functionality into their main simulator – which obviously isn’t easy – at a period where its actual popularity is sort of in limbo. This might not pay off for them.

20170217170928_1There’s talk of implementing some kind of detailed stat tracking system that they’re calling “competition infrastructure”, but details are pretty scant at the moment, so we’re basically left to speculate on this front. My biggest worry, even if Studio 397 do manage to sit down and create a simpler version of iRacing that everybody unanimously agrees is a decent effort at organized online racing, is that rFactor 2 just doesn’t offer enough exciting content to warrant multiplayer series, nor does it have the userbase to make use of new infrastructure.

For example, taking an outdated Camaro GT3 car that nobody cares for to a track barely anybody is familiar with, like Atlanta Motorsports Park or the Tiger Moth Aerodrome, just isn’t going to get people excited when Sector 3 (and Reiza Studios as well, now that I think about it) will be introducing the same kind of experience to the market very shortly, boasting multiple seasons of GT3, DTM, and Group 5 racing.

And we haven’t even started to talk about iRacing or Project CARS 2, though in this instance, I shouldn’t need to.

Running events at the simulator center, I’ve seen this problem manifest itself firsthand. Currently we’re making use of the URD cars in a WTCC style two-race format, with a 40 minute practice and 10 minute qualification process to kick off the evening. People wanna run Laguna Seca, Road Atlanta, Infineon Raceway, Watkins Glen, and instead there’s like… the Charlotte infield road course, this weird fantasy track called Loch Drummond, or this knock-off Top Gear track, so instead we’re forced to run Interlagos & Estoril twice.

So Studio 397 are working on some sort of competitive online format, but there’s nothing in rFactor 2 that you can’t already find an abundance of in a rival simulator, all of which plan to offer their own online competition stuff in the near future if they don’t already do.

rf2-gfxThe next main topic I’d like to discuss is the change from DX9 to DX11, which unfortunately isn’t the major leap people were expecting. I get this is primarily for under the hood stuff and designed to future-proof the software, but rFactor 2 at the moment has this horrid, washed-out look to everything, and they desperately need to do something drastic in an effort to move away from this sterile vibe they’ve got going on. Instead, their comparison shots have basically jacked up the contrast and put a blue filter on everything, which some people have been able to re-create by photoshopping the DirectX 9 image supplied by Studio 397.

To my surprise, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the base software wasn’t so visually unappealing; for example, iRacing will be abandoning DX9 support very shortly, but their software already looks half-decent for what it’s used for, so people don’t need to be kicking and screaming for some sort of massive graphics overhaul with DX11. However, rFactor 2 is cemented into the bad part of 2012, and the rest of the industry has moved on. It’s fairly disappointing to see this big reveal warrant a blue filter and some darker shadows that in some instances – such as the first image I’ve inserted into this post – have actually made the game look more cartoonish due to the increase in contrast.

eventinfosectorsThere are plans to re-do the user interface, plans to insert radio functionality – sort of pointless when everyone’s already using Discord or Teamspeak – as well as plans to create this private modding forum to help bring all these modders together and train them on how to create content for rFactor 2 more effectively.  And I mean, some of this sounds good on paper, but unfortunately, the last element is just too little, too late. There simply aren’t enough people making stuff for rFactor 2 as it is for this to be even the least bit beneficial. We’re just not seeing the massive mods for rFactor 2 that encompass entire grids of vehicles that we were once privileged enough to receive from talented community members for the original game.

20170217165301_1NOLA Motorsports Park will be released on February 28th, marking the addition of yet another empty, uninspiring racing facility to rFactor 2 that will nicely compliment other tracks people promptly push aside, such as Palm Beach, Atlanta Motorsports Park, Mores, Toban, Mills Metro Park, and the multiple infield road courses featured at Homestead, Charlotte, and Indianapolis.

God that’s a horrible track list.

Obviously we’ll continue to monitor the development of rFactor 2 as it’s a modern racing simulator still trying to earn its piece of the spotlight, but as you can see, it’s just extremely hard to get excited about this title, and I’m left wishing Studio 397 would just start over on an entirely new project. I’m honestly confused as to what they’re trying to salvage here, though to their credit, at least they’re trying.

Death Race 2000: The Leading Simulator’s Lack of Realism

indycar-daytonaFor a service that advertises such a realistic online racing experience to outsiders; one which demands customers to hand over their credit card for each individual car and track after already paying a hefty base subscription fee compared to other games in the hopes of receiving something leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, iRacing’s weekly track selection certainly serves to contradict the entire purpose of the simulator – and I’m surprised this issue hasn’t received more coverage.

So let’s talk about it.

Those of you who haven’t bitten the bullet and adamantly refuse to sign up for the mammoth online sim racing entity known as iRacing for any number of reasons may be unaware of a problem hidden away from the public eye, though for dedicated sim racers who place realism above all else, it’s certainly been a difficult pill to swallow during their time subscribed to iRacing. While there are indeed a plethora of relevant laser-scanned auto racing facilities available on the iRacing service for both North American stock cars, as well as traditional circuit-based cars, the manner in which the service operates doesn’t adequately make use of the entire circuit roster.

iRacing itself runs as a massive virtual sanctioning body which conducts twelve-week service-wide championships that anybody with a subscription can participate, in which every race for a given week is held at one specific track, which in theory leads to a situation where you can compete in just a single event, or as many as you want based on how much free time you have, in an effort to increase the number of points you come away with at the end of the week. It’s like flex scheduling on an enormous scale, partially aided by the fact that there’s an alleged userbase of 60,000 members spread across the multiple series. So even if you can’t race with your Tuesday night regulars that you’ve come to recognize over the past month because your kid has some shitty dance recital, you can pop on Wednesday morning, run a race at the same track, and still score points for the championship – or just for fun, if you don’t give a fuck about the overall standings.

Now most of the time, this format works as intended; sim racers are given a whopping seven days to learn a track and participate in multiple thrilling races with a field of opponents who also have come to learn the circuit over several sessions of sim racing. Yet because the iRacing userbase itself has seen a tangible shift over a number of years from hardcore drivers who want the utmost of realism from the software, to an all-encompassing “big driving game feel” as if it were the PC’s answer to a mass-market title such as Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo, the iRacing staff have adjusted the schedule accordingly.

untitled-3What this means, is that for seven straight days, iRacing have sent the Dallara DW12 IndyCar to Daytona International Speedway, a track in which neither the Verizon IndyCar Series, nor any other major American open wheel racing championship in the history of the country, have ever held a race at. Official, ranked races that count towards the service-wide IndyCar championship on iRacing and are part of the vanilla competitive experience all IndyCar fans are forced to partake in if they desire to drive the Dallara DW12 within the service against live human opponents, are currently being held at a track that would simultaneously kill multiple drivers in real life were an accident to occur at race speeds, and causes nothing but carnage and frustration within iRacing’s servers.

This is supposedly the ultra-hardcore experience you receive when paying an arm and a leg for iRacing.

And it’s been going on for far too long. Looking back several years to the spring of 2013, iRacing experimented with sending the Dallara IW05 to Talladega Superspeedway – an even more absurd circuit than tackling Daytona in these cars – and the results were obviously disastarous. Everyone voiced unanimous disapproval over seeing this circuit on the schedule, and the racing was insufferable. Not only has the Verizon IndyCar Series never once mentioned trips to Daytona or Talladega were in the preliminary planning stages because these cars obviously weren’t designed for superspeedways of this nature, the racing itself saw cars run in tight packs, only for 85% of the field to be completely decimated less than three laps into each race.

Regardless, iRacing kept putting these events on the schedule, totally contradicting the hardcore mentality fueling the simulator.

Now, it’s one thing for a league organizer in any simulator to put an odd-ball track on the schedule to keep drivers on their toes, as it’s the beauty of sim racing – you can go out and do shit that wouldn’t be possible in real life thanks to scheduling conflicts and miscellaneous organization problems. However, iRacing have promoted themselves since their inception as this ultra-realistic racing simulator with heavy penalties for crashing or even basic contact, and for several years they’ve held ranked events that aren’t just frustrating for the end user due to how much carnage follows after the green flag is dropped, they’re completely unrealistic and don’t even appeal to IndyCar fans. They’re wide open crash-fests designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator – the same Xbox Live kids people signed up for iRacing to avoid.

iRacing’s bipolar approach to realism isn’t just specific to the handful of different virtual IndyCar Series operating within the service, either. When the simulator first introduced the highly prestigious Monza circuit to customers for purchase, the unused Monza Oval – which hasn’t been maintained nor seen any competition action in around fifty years and is obviously unsafe for any kind of meaningful modern auto racing event – was thrown into the package as a bonus layout – which is fine, I’m personally not against developers throwing bullshit goodies into the mix.

However, the retired Monza oval was promptly placed on the schedule for all major oval racing series available in iRacing, which lead to a complete clusterfuck when people actually tried to race on it competitively; TeamRitter’s video below showcases a field of trucks unable to complete a single lap before the horrid racing surface mixed with a lack of concrete barriers detonated a tactical nuke within the middle of the field. Some have speculated Monza was haphazardly placed on all prominent iRacing oval calendars to try and shake even more money out of a crowd who otherwise wouldn’t care for a road racing circuit release by forcing them to buy it just to race for the week, and in this instance, I tend to agree. No reasonable sim racer wanting an enjoyable, hardcore experience from their software of choice would send NASCAR trucks to an oval that hasn’t been raced nor maintained in fifty years.

So for a game to sit there and proclaim they’re this ultimate be-all end-all solution for sim racing, only to treat paying customers expecting a hardcore experience as if they’re on Xbox Live and messing around with stupid car/track combinations in ToCA Race Driver 3, it really speaks volumes about the direction iRacing is heading in. It’s as if they used the hardcore crowd to get the brand off the ground, but years later have no problem catering to the lowest common denominator by essentially conducting races you’re forced to take part in if you want to play iRacing at fantasy combinations that don’t even occur in real life… Which sort of defeats the whole point of the simulator aspect they’ve been pushing for several years.

And I could stop there, but I won’t.

nick4You’ll often hear of iRacing conducting these marquee events that bring the entire service together for a weekend of racing outside the traditional roster of races you can enter each day, such as the 24 Hours of Daytona or 24 Hours of Le Mans, but what isn’t so front and center are the technological shortcomings that make these races a bit goofy to participate in when you’ve actually hit the track.

And I’m not talking about the constant server outages.

First, and probably the most hilarious aspect of these endurance racing events, is that iRacing does not feature any sort of 24 hour weather or lighting cycle, meaning those who enter these events are subjected to running the entire 24 hour event in either daylight or midnight conditions. While a large challenge of endurance racing in real life is watching the track transform from a vibrant auto racing circuit to a mystifying battle against treacherous shadows and lack of visibility, this element simply doesn’t exist in iRacing. There are no moments where you’re at Sebring, Le Mans, or Daytona taking in some sort of virtual sunset or sunrise, nor are you discussing among your teammates who happens to be the best driver in a low visibility environment. You’re driving in a horrendously static environment, one which iRacing themselves, as well as their broadcast partners, are careful not to mention.

Codemasters’ Race Driver: GRID, released in 2007 and designed to be this goofy little arcade racer with licensed cars and tracks, featured a full day/night cycle for the Le Mans 24 Hours event in the game’s career mode, but a hardcore auto racing simulator can’t do the same? Oh please.

cwrhes2weaaqozzThe service also dictates the cars you’re allowed to drive as well. While iRacing features a serviceable roster of GT3 machinery, the game’s hard-coded five car model limit means sim racers who have fallen in love with a particular race car may not even have that vehicle at their disposal during these races. The underlying software has been written to accept no more than five unique car models in-game, which while fine for oval racing – as not once in the past two decades has NASCAR featured more than four distinct manufacturers on track – obviously causes problems when it comes to multi-class sports car endurance racing. iRacers who had paid money for either the Ford or RUF GT3 entries found themselves shit out of luck and forced to buy yet another GT3 car just to participate in the event, simply because of iRacing’s shortcomings.

drivethruThe last element I’d like to touch on this evening would be iRacing’s complete inability to conduct even a semi-realistic pit stop procedure within their simulator. Executing a successful pitstop is one of the most challenging parts of modern auto racing, as you’re tasked with maintaining a very specific speed while navigating through an entire pack of cars bobbing and weaving between their respective crew members, who are busy scurrying around each car with a surprising amount of athleticism and precision. It’s fucking nuts to watch both on TV and in person, as one wrong move by any individual occupying pit road during a round of stops can lead to someone being sent to the hospital, or even under the most ideal of circumstances, has the potential to drastically change the outcome of a race.

This challenge is non-existent in iRacing. Upon entering pit road, everybody’s collision detection is temporarily turned off, meaning you’re free to roam the strip of asphalt as you’d please, driving through as many cars as you’d like both en route to your stall, as well as during the exit process. Basically what this means is that upon your virtual crew ripping out the jack from underneath the car, iRacers can just mat the throttle and drive straight through the cars ahead of them as if they don’t exist. So while you can at least drive your car onto pit road manually, and skid into the stall like the real deal, you’re not even asked to avoid the 39 other cars on pit road – which is like, the entire challenge of pit stops in the first place.

pits-lolololThis is pretty embarrassing when it occurs on top iRacing broadcasts, as the hosts will dedicate painfully out-of-place monologues to shill for how realistic the simulator is, only for all the participants to drive through each other during the first round of pit stops. I’ve noticed that in certain Peak Anti-Freeze Series broadcasts, cameras were strategically placed by the crew to avoid actually seeing this goofiness play out on screen, but in doing so, it just makes iRacing look extremely dishonest more than anything. Here you’re advertising this hardcore simulator that’s officially sanctioned by NASCAR, but the cars are literally driving inside of each other during pit stops, and with the ability to fly anywhere on the race track for a shot, you’re instead intentionally obfuscating an entire stretch of asphalt so the audience – as well as potential customers – don’t see this.

You’d think this would be down to technological limitations, but the last piece of software released by the team at iRacing prior to embarking on their mythical online only journey – NASCAR Racing 2003 Season – had contact between cars enabled on pit road, and you were just supposed to deal with it like a normal driver would.

Fourteen years and several million dollars later, this strategic element is now missing entirely from iRacing, and the team actively try to hide it on important broadcasts with “artistic” pit entry/exit cameras that curiously omit the entire pitstop process.

nr2003-2016-03-13-11-38-17-004Obviously I think a lot of iRacers will be quick to jump to the game’s defense, again labelling me as some irrational autist who started PretendRaceCars.net solely to rip on iRacing, but you can’t really deny what’s being presented here. You’ve got this company going out and charging people exponentially more than any other simulator on the market and justifying it by saying it’s the most advanced racing sim in the world, but then forcing customers to drive in ridiculous events which aren’t even close to being realistic, such as sending the trucks to Monza or IndyCars to Talladega, conducting 24 hour races without a 24 hour day/night cycle, and allowing people to drive through each other on pit road despite their last game doing the exact opposite.

Okay, if iRacing was like, a $60 game, a lot of this can be forgiven. DiRT 2 let you take hill climb cars to rally cross tracks, in the Eutechnyx games, you can’t even control your own car on pit road; the game does it for you, and Forza Motorsport 6 doesn’t have time progression either; like iRacing, you just sort of pick whether you want to race during the day, or at night. It’s fine, it’s $60, and the three aforementioned games aren’t trying to do anything special.

But this is iRacing, a game where just existing on the service for a month is something like $12 USD, and each and every piece of content is another $11.95 USD, meaning just to compete for twelve weeks in one class of car (of which there are MANY), it starts getting pretty fucking retarded from a financial standpoint if you want to explore what the video game has to offer. And they justify this by saying it’s this elusive hardcore experience, an option for when you’ve exhausted what all other simulators offer. And that’s fine for them to do that, it’s their marketing campaign after all, but as you can see above, they’re not actually delivering on that front. Hardcore sim racing isn’t sending the trucks to Monza of all places for twenty laps, nor is it throwing modern IndyCars on Daytona and letting everyone wreck the shit out of each other. This sounds like something you’d do with your buddies on Xbox Live at the end of the night for a laugh. And hardcore certainly isn’t locking people out of their favorite car because the software can’t handle it, nor is it allowing people to drive through each other during pit stops – that’s just laziness.

So for a service that advertises itself as the most hardcore sim racing experience available, why does all of the evidence point to the contrary?

Running on (Vaporware) Fumes

42A wonderful, feature-length interview conducted by Paul Jeffrey of RaceDepartment with Chris and Allan Speed of Sector 3 Studios and SimBin UK respectively has warranted significantly more questions than answers in what was originally meant to be a very celebratory article. Announcing to the world of sim racing that the highly anticipated follow-up to GTR 2 is in development yet again, and giving virtual sports car enthusiasts a rough online as to what they should expect when the multi-platform simulator launches in 2018, there’s actually been a bit of confusion over the exact information revealed in the piece at RaceDepartment, which went live earlier this morning. There is supposedly a game in the works, but contradictory responses from the Speed brothers have already revealed a bit of troublesome insight into GTR 3’s ongoing development hell, which has been a focal point of sim racing coverage dating back to its first publicly unveiled iteration in late 2011.

Don’t get me wrong, I personally want to see GTR 3 happen, as I’m fed up with smorgasbord games that offer a vast array of cars and tracks to explore, but rarely manage to string together a cohesive experience in the end product. GTR 3 represents a throwback to a time when video games shipped as finished, feature complete simulators, and I desperately want that mentality back in the genre of sim racing, represented by a stellar package that captivates a large portion of the community. However, some of the answers given by Chris and Allan Speed make it hard to believe as an outsider that this game is even coming at all, or there must be a complete disconnect between what’s being discussed in the interview, and what’s actually happening at SimBin UK.

It’s not appropriate to call these guys liars because they’re obviously still very early in the alleged development cycle, so realistically there isn’t much of anything for them to show potential customers who are incredibly enthusiastic about GTR3, but there are an absurd number of red flags popping up for a title that was literally just announced, and already has this grassroots campaign behind it.

gtr3-1First, the early material released under the GTR 3 tag had no relation to the actual GTR 3 game in development – it was a selection of vehicles and locations from RaceRoom Racing Experience, thrown into the Unreal 4 Engine. As an end customer who will obviously be following development of the game very closely, because I want to know if it’s worth picking up come launch day, I find it odd for a new team to announce an entirely new game by using heavily manipulated artwork that by their own admission has nothing to do with the game they just announced. This would be like if Kunos Simulazioni had announced Assetto Corsa with photoshopped screenshots of netKar Pro assets thrown into Unity. This sounds asinine on paper, so I’d like to know what purpose this serves with SimBin?

Yes, I understand SimBin UK have labeled these “proof of concept” shots, but if there’s this brand new game being worked on we should get excited about, why can’t you show us relevant material relating to this game? I really don’t care about seeing RaceRoom Racing Experience assets in the Unreal 4 engine; Sector 3 did this already in the spring of 2016. Why can’t we see GTR 3 during a major announcement and interview for GTR 3?

That’s red flag number one.

umRed flag number two is when Chris Speed mentions SimBin UK are yet to decide on how they’re going to fund the GTR 3 project, also adding they’re still in the process of hiring people. I would like to know what company begins working on a major multi-platform release without knowing how they’re going to afford it in the first place, and to the best of my knowledge don’t even have a solid foundation of staff members to help bang out the project because they’re talking about hiring staff members – you know, something basic to get the company  functioning as a legitimate game studio  – for the next two months.

That’s a lot of variables, intangibles, and “eithers” for a project that is supposedly “100% coming.” This would be like if I’d gone out and announced that my rock band were set to put out our first full EP in late 2017, but we had no idea how we would pay for studio time to record the album, and we were still in search of a lead guitarist, drummer, and bass player.

untitled-2The third red flag pops up when Chris is asked about potential licenses for the upcoming simulator. Rather than drop subtle hints and imply we should get ready for a big surprise in the near future, Speed talks in “aims” and “goals” – their “aim” is to have an official series license, and they’ve been in “talks” with a few partners, but nothing has been confirmed or even hinted at as of yet. Isn’t this something you secure before you start work on a game?

fourOur fourth and final red flag boils down to a portion of the interview I can see many racers skipping over because it doesn’t have any of the exciting, colorful details you’d want to hear about GTR 3, but instead boils down to staff member logistics and the state of the gaming industry in the United Kingdom.

Allan Speed claims there is “not much happening in the UK at the moment”, which is one of the most absurd statements from a developer I’ve ever heard given the context of his comments. Yes, Evolution Studios were shut down as a company, but a majority of the team were absolved by Codemasters, and they have promised a new IP in the future, along with announcing the long-awaited DiRT 4, set for a June 2017 release. There obviously is a lot going on in the UK, so I don’t understand how the head of a video game studio with direct ties to the industry itself could be this far out of the loop when this stuff was headline news and genuinely got people excited over the future of Codemasters and therefore racing games out of the UK.

Allan also mentions SimBin UK consists of just four people at the moment, with three more set to join sometime in February or March. By comparison, Kunos Simulazioni – the masterminds behind Assetto Corsa – clocked in at around twenty individuals, with coding wizard Stefano Casillo being a fundamental key in how the team were able to operate as such a small outlet, because like him or not, let’s give some credit where credit is due, the guy is an absolute genius when it comes to coding. So you’re looking at a team that’s less than half the size of Kunos Simulazioni, with no Stefano equivalent to pick up the bulk of the work, claiming to be well on their way to churning out GTR 3 for a multi-platform release complete with all the bells and whistles of a feature-complete product, something Kunos Simulazioni were unable to do with double the people, as the recent 1.12 update for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One renditions of Assetto Corsa have still failed to include things like leaderboards and custom lobbies.

Um… Yeah, no.

p45_01So to recap, we have a team announcing GTR 3, but releasing screenshots of a totally different game’s assets placed within the Unreal engine. They are unsure how they will fund this new project, the current team as of this writing only consists of four staff members, and they have not announced the acquisition of any licenses that would actually attract people to buy the game, but are willing to go on public record with a sim racing outlet as large as RaceDepartment to say this game is 100% coming, there will be an internal demo in six months, and the end product will boast an experience similar to what people can expect from the mass-market Formula One games developed by Codemasters.

I can’t be the only one who finds this all incredibly sketchy.

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RaceDepartment to Revive GTR 2?

rd-leagueThought it hasn’t been officially announced on the parent website – only mentioned casually on the brand’s Facebook page – the gang at RaceDepartment appear to be working on putting together one last grand finale for GTR 2 – the critically acclaimed FIA GT simulator which marked the end of sim racing’s golden age, in which developers pushed out incredible feature-complete packages focused around one specific auto racing series. Details are obviously scant at the moment, but RaceDepartment rarely tease these things without following through to completion, so it appears we will soon see a lot of sim racers dust off their copy of GTR 2 – or nick it from the Steam marketplace for a mere $8 USD to avoid obvious Starforce bullshit – to partake in a throwback series of sorts.

In my opinion, it’s a great move for the website to host such a championship, as many modern sim racers we see currently clogging up the message boards were simply not around during the title’s original heyday in the late 2000’s, or were just too young at the time to become heavily involved in the competitive side of the GTR 2 community. Rather than telling these sim racers how things used to be in the world of sim racing and hoping they’ll understand the rants of veteran sim racers dissatisfied with the current crop of eternal science projects, they’ll be shown what a complete racing simulator offered in a setting where these elements are made use of, such as a 24 hour day/night cycle, fully animated pit stops, and even wet-weather racing. While it’s an extremely bold move for any website to start an online championship with such an old product, there are certainly enough people chilling out on RaceDepartment on a daily basis to guarantee a large field of cars for the first event on the schedule.

243552-gtr-2-fia-gt-racing-game-windows-screenshot-time-to-admireHowever, as with every older simulator running on modern hardware and operating system combinations, there are of course mammoth potential problems that could dismantle the whole thing before it even starts. Facebook user Jim D. notes that he had tried to administrate an online league for himself and his acquaintances using the excellent Power & Glory mod for GTR 2 – a package focusing on historic GT vehicles from the 1960’s and 1970’s – but was eventually forced to give up due to the massive amounts of technical issues relating to mismatches. This is something RaceDepartment will have to figure out long before initial qualifying rounds begin, as the website traditionally only allows paying premium members to enter in multi-race championships.

Also throwing a dastardly curve ball into the mix would be the Prodrive-backed Ferrari F550 GTC – which drastically altered the online playing field when GTR 2 was once a prominent player in the sim racing landscape. While Slightly Mad Studios had done their absolute best to faithfully re-create every single vehicle entered in the FIA GT Championship, as well as some of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa entry list, the Ferrari F550 GTC as constructed by Prodrive exhibited Mercedes-like dominance throughout the 2003 and 2004 campaigns, with this ridiculous performance accurately being reflected in GTR 2’s virtual counterpart. If RaceDepartment don’t attempt to neuter the F550 GTC for league play, 95% of the grid will be running this car, defeating the purpose of the very diverse vehicle roster.

maxresdefaultAs RaceDepartment are known to have somewhat close ties with Sector 3 Studios and the SimBin operation as a whole, my own personal speculation is that drivers who finish well at the end of the GTR 2 RaceDepartment championship will receive some sort of advanced access to the allegedly upcoming GTR 3, provided the recent announcement is set to materialize in the distant future and not what appears to be a subtle attempt at securing funds for the project behind the scenes. As the CEO of SimBin, Chris Speed, has revealed in a prior interview with RaceDepartment, they intend to have a rough draft of the game ready in only six months time, so I can see a GTR 2 league on none other than RaceDepartment contested throughout the spring being the perfect pre-game meal into an onslaught of promotional material.

We hope to see a more official announcement about this online championship in the coming days.