So… Where’s GTR 3?

For about a week in February of this year, RaceDepartment was set on fire. Proclaiming a revival of the iconic GTR brand on behalf of SimBin UK – an off-shoot of Sector 3 Studios – we were given several lengthy pieces and interviews with key team members promising us that yes, after many years of ideology changes and botched projects, GTR 3 was indeed a real thing. In a sim racing climate in which developers load up their respective pieces of software with as many unrelated vehicles and locations as possible in the hopes that something will captivate their audience, the community saw this announcement as not only a breath of fresh air, but a return to form; the days of single-series simulations we’d seemingly moved far away from were now on the horizon once more, potentially hinting at a second golden age like the one we saw in the early 2000’s was not too far off. Though the initial batch of images SimBin UK published were quickly ripped apart by internet sleuths, who noticed lighting irregularities and oddly placed car models, we were assured that by some point in 2018, we’d be playing GTR 3, and at the very least, the team would have a working game by the summer of 2017.

Of course, when some noticed how absurdly difficult it would be for SimBin UK to create a scratch-built simulation physics engine in Unreal 4 with just the four or five staff members they’d had on the payroll at the time of the game’s announcement, the metaphorical crickets could be heard in abundance – giving doubters such as myself the impression that a lot of people were being taken for a ride, and GTR 3 was yet another pipe dream; the team mocking up a few proof of concept shots and using their connections among the sim racing community to publish pseudo-announcements in high traffic areas, with the hopes of securing an investor to actually fund their vision.

In case you haven’t figured out from the plethora of coverage on YouTube from your favorite sim racing outlets, the Electronic Entertainment Expo is in full swing. This isn’t some sort of obscure gaming show by any means; E3 is ourWoodstock per se – the entire goddamn industry comes together for one giant event in southern California to demonstrate the products we’ll be playing either in the fall, or at some point over the next few years. Now, is it reserved for the giants of the industry? Of course not; Kunos Simulazioni flew out there to announce indie racing simulator Assetto Corsa on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the Kylotonn guys are there displaying WRC 7, and even 704 Games – the questionable team behind the modern NASCAR Heat reboot – brought a laptop and some Xbox controllers to debut NASCAR Heat 2. This is on top of the already stout lineup of Forza Motorsport, Project CARS, Gran Turismo Need for Speed, Formula One, and The Crew – though the latter isn’t a personal favorite of mine.

Absent from this list, would be SimBin UK’s GTR 3, possibly the only major racing game that’s been announced yet did not make an appearance at E3. Now you’re certainly not required to travel halfway around the world show up to the California-based convention to demonstrate your game – a simple YouTube teaser would suffice – but that too appears to be missing in action. When the world is focused on the gaming industry as a whole, and your entire collective target audience have their eyes locked on YouTube to take in the sights and sounds of all the new racing games, it’s certainly odd that there’s not been so much as a peep from the GTR 3 team.

Yes, that’s my “scoop” for today; SimBin UK have not shown off GTR 3 at E3 or at least taken advantage of the hype and pushed out a teaser trailer on YouTube, so I personally have a hard time believing this game exists, or that things are going smoothly behind closed doors. But before you call me an evil conspiracy theorist set to destroy other games, let’s take a bit of a journey around the internet to see what might support this theory, and make it significantly less of a wild conspiracy perpetuated by a sim racing “hate blog.”

SimBin UK’s own web page lists an abundance of job openings, and this is something you can navigate to and see for yourself. There are at least five active positions available to apply for on the SimBin UK company roster, most of them being very prominent positions that play a key role in the development of a multi-platform racing simulator. They don’t need random motherfuckers to bomb around the office and crank out car liveries every few days, they need senior programmers, C++ programmers, and network programmers. These are the kinds of positions you fill before announcing a game, slowly fleshing out the roster with supporting positions as the main guys fall into place and bust their asses on the heavy stuff.

How do you announce a game in February, proceed to whip all these different websites into a flurry of excitement, and then five months later still have openings for key positions on the team? This is like announcing you’ve started a rock band and are recording an album, but post on your official Facebook page that you need a drummer, lead guitarist, and singer.

Bruh.

Next, we travel to the team’s Twitter account, which is suspiciously quiet. Aside from seemingly being configured to retweet anything relating to RaceRoom Racing Experience, there’s virtually nothing about GTR 3’s progress. There are something like seven or eight posts in a row about the official Mercedes DTM competition on Sector 3’s RaceRoom simulation, but that’s clearly not GTR 3, it’s RaceRoom – an entirely different piece of software. In regards to GTR 3, there’s actually a whole lot of nothing – save for one custom tweet stating their new website is live.

That was back in March.

In an era of gaming where developers across the sim racing community sit on forums and social media virtually all day, bantering with customers and/or releasing teasers of upcoming projects or future updates, for SimBin UK to announce a major racing simulator earlier this year, and then put their social media on autopilot to regurgitate articles focusing on a game from their sister company, in combination with no progress or updates on their game in six months, no appearance at E3, not even a newer teaser piece, and a whole lot of important positions yet to be filled, is highly suspicious.

Links to the team’s other social media pages from the SimBin UK website, such as Facebook and YouTube, direct to pages that in some cases haven’t been touched in three years.

This kind of anti-progress and questionable chain of announcements seems to be something not specific to SimBin UK, but also extends to Sector 3 Studios themselves, a team responsible for an objectively good racing simulator with R3E. While the team have been openly talking about turning the online portion of their title into something that can compete with iRacing at a fraction of the cost – something that’s very well possible given the diversity and overall popularity of the content offered in RaceRoom Racing Experience – as of two days ago, long after this stuff was first announced, Sector 3 can be seen openly trying to recruit employees to actually build that element of the game. So between both Sector 3 and SimBin UK, I’m under the impression they’re both operating in a manner in which they announce upcoming features, and in some cases entire games, without actually having the staff necessary to build them. They then go “oh shit” and scramble around to fulfill their previously announced goals, hoping the sim racing community either forget the previous announcements they made, or vehemently defend them if they can’t be seen to completion because “muh small developer” and stuff.

I’ve been patiently awaiting the new online format for RaceRoom Racing Experience as I love how the title drives, and would not hesitate to purchase all the content the honest way if I woke up to news that the structured multiplayer format was set to go live in a few weeks, but the reality is that all we’ve got is a few new GT cars and some obscure Swedish tracks. I was told around September of last year that they were working on an iRacing-like multiplayer service, and nine months later we’ve gotten precisely no new info; only clues that they don’t even have the relevant staff positions filled to complete it in the first place.

And I believe that’s what’s happened with GTR 3 as well. Judging by what’s publicly available, the lack of any updates or teasers at what’s traditionally a time to take the covers off everything in the gaming industry, the awkward silence on social media, the abundance of open positions on the team’s official website, the difficulty in creating a high-fidelity simulator engine from scratch with a skeleton crew, and zero coverage from sim racing publications that were once happy to push the announcement of GTR 3 to the forefront, I have an exceptionally difficult time believing this game will see the light of day.

Again, I want GTR 3. The popularity of sports car racing is at an all time high and it would be sweet to have that flagship GT game where all you do is race GT cars, in the same manner that DiRT 4 is that all-encompassing off-road title for fans of rally racing. Warts and all, I don’t think it’s too hard for a non-traditional team to deliver some sort of niche sports car game; Milestone’s MXGP3 is proof that no matter how obscure the subject matter may be, a good racing game is a good racing game.

But in this particular situation, there’s a marshal holding a red flag in every corner. Radio silence at a time when even the lowliest of NASCAR and Isle of Mann developers are proud to demonstrate their software to the world, no social media activity, a blackout from the publications who once covered it, and prominent job openings when original interviews stated there’d already be an internal build operational in the summer. If you want myself and the other skeptics to believe GTR 3 exists somewhere other than the imaginations of SimBin UK, this isn’t the way to do it.

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Assetto Corsa Fails Tech Inspection with Xbox One Update

Pushing out post-release updates for software on current generation consoles can be a pain in the ass for even the biggest of development teams. With both Sony and Microsoft requiring each new package to go through a rigorous certification process prior to the update going live – as opposed to Steam’s rather relaxed set of rules that allows developers to mash the metaphorical update button – it’s not uncommon for smaller teams to run afoul of the inspection process, and be forced to announce that long-awaited updates to their game might not come on the scheduled launch date, let alone anywhere close to it.

This is the situation Kunos Simulazioni have currently found themselves in with the Xbox One version of Assetto Corsa. It has been revealed that the version 1.14 update for their indie racing simulator did not pass Microsoft’s certification process – a virtual tech inspection, if you will – and Kunos will have to make the required tweaks to the package and then re-submit all over again, beginning the process anew. It’s just one of those things that happens, and something I’m personally familiar with dating back to the days of NASCAR The Game 2011; Xbox 360 users received updates almost two months earlier than PlayStation owners, as Sony’s evaluation process was much more intricate in the previous console generation.

However, it’s certainly not something Xbox One owners of Assetto Corsa wanted to hear. The version 1.14 update promised much more than physics tweaks to the base simulation experience; features promised to significantly extend the lifespan of the game and had been left out by Kunos Simulazioni due to poor foresight and a lack of resources – most notably the ability to host custom sessions with your own personal settings – were set to be implemented with this update. With the version 1.14 update now back at square one, those who purchased Assetto Corsa for Microsoft’s flagship console are left with a game that is drastically inferior to both the PC variant, as well as it’s PlayStation 4 counterpart. Version 1.14 is essentially what Assetto Corsa on consoles should have been at launch, and this unexpected delay looks to be the final nail in the coffin for those who were berated on the official forums for supposedly not being patient enough with the progress of the game. Ten months later, their patience still hasn’t been rewarded with much of anything, and the already small userbase of this game on the Xbox One is certainly bound to drop to dangerously low levels knowing there is no set release date in sight.

Of course, this has not stopped the rabid Assetto Corsa defense force from promptly lashing out at Microsoft, with some RaceDepartment users believing that the electronics giant is intentionally sabotaging Assetto Corsa’s progress on the Xbox One due to a conflict of interests with one of their own intellectual properties.

Of course, this is simply ridiculous, but just goes to show the extent of which Assetto Corsa fanboys have been brainwashed into believing that the entire sim racing community is against them. Both Kunos Simulazioni, as well as their supporters, appear to be living on the borderline between their own fantasy vision of Assetto Corsa as it exists in their imaginations, and what Kunos Simulazioni have actually created. These hyper-fans genuinely believe Assetto Corsa has the footing to take on one of the biggest franchises of the current gaming era and is such a threat to the market share it’s actually forcing Microsoft to sabotage things behind the scenes, when in reality it took Kunos Simulazioni almost nine months just to add private lobbies – a stable of racing games dating back to the late 1990’s – into the PlayStation 4 version; the Xbox One servers boasting a pathetic 50 users per night according to RaceDepartment forum user MarkR while Forza Motorsport 6 boasts something like five million semi-active players.

This mentality appears to further extend into the professional circle, as the team can be seen giving a lecture on how to successfully launch and maintain a product on the Xbox One. We’ve covered this video already here on PRC.net in a previous article, so it’s kind of shitty to re-visit a prior topic, but in hindsight it’s a lecture that’s getting better with age, knowing how the team would eventually fail certification checks and piss off the remaining Xbox One owners who still held onto a copy of Assetto Corsa.

Where does Kunos go from here? That depends how angry the remaining customers are, and whether it’s actually worth continuing to support the game on the Xbox One. Though I don’t possess any hard statistics, I have a very difficult time believing there’s this substantial renegade group of Assetto Corsa owners on Microsoft’s console checking the official forums twice a day for any news on the version 1.14 update; your average gamer, unless they have serious psychological issues and an abundance of time to waste, will simply not be content with buying a game and then sitting around, not playing it for nine months because they’re patiently waiting for an update – that shit gets promptly returned to GameStop or EBGames within less than a month, if not the first week. So if Kunos do by some chance push out the update within the next month or so, I have to ask the obvious question here – who is left to play it?

But they’re also stuck in-between a rock and hard place, because if they cut their losses and don’t release the update, it’ll be a permanent black eye on the company for royally botching the Xbox One release, which will follow them to whatever game they choose to push out next; whether it be Assetto Corsa 2 or an unrelated arcade racer, the Xbox One owners will undoubtedly follow them across social media spouting things like “remember how they handled Assetto Corsa?”

It’s certainly not a situation I’d like to be in, but that’s the risk you take when you inexplicably believe a hardcore PC racing simulator with barely any features to reel in mainstream gamers is somehow worth porting to current generation consoles.

The White Spruce Enterprises (10)0

The moment I opened the door to the hotel room on Friday evening, I realized this whole touring late model driver gig was exponentially more glamorous on paper than what it would physically manifest itself as. Opting to leave my PlayStation 4 at home, wrongly believing the Prince George Sandman would be stocked with old school CRT’s and tacky mid-1980’s wallpaper, I instead discovered fairly comfortable accommodations, and had to quickly deal with the fact that I’d be watching infuriating government propaganda and a blow-out pre-season CFL match until I somehow managed to pass out. Yet while I encouraged some of my friends to join me on my seven hour trip to Prince George in an effort to try and offset some of the monotony of waiting for race day to arrive by just sort of walking around and getting into trouble, in hindsight it was probably a good thing their wives and girlfriends made them all stay home.

For us here at PRC, the WESCAR event in Prince George was a crash course in the harsh realities of campaigning a $40,000 race car that’s designed solely to go fast and turn left while still making use of rather primitive automotive technology. Though it wasn’t a particularly expensive weekend – on paper we may have actually earned enough to offset the travel costs, plus a bit extra – sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. Mechanical gremlins and the time it takes to fix them – a portion of auto racing not replicated on the computer screen – derailed our entire team’s evening.

That being said, however, it wasn’t all bad.

The first major landmark you come across as you enter Prince George, PGARA Speedway is a 3/8th mile oval like something out of NBA Street; weeds sprout through cracks in the tarmac, what’s left of the physical racing surface is rough and weathered – comparable to your local outdoor high school basketball court – while spectators can back their trucks almost right against the catch fence as if we’re in New York’s Rucker Park. Not looking particularly flattering from the angle above, the track comes alive when the gates open to the general public; the facility lined with trucks, SUV’s, and miscellaneous recreational vehicles all vying for a spot against the fence, with numerous bonfires lit as the sun goes down. This is short track racing in British Columbia.

And it’s not something that any racing simulator can prepare you for. Though iRacing’s laser-scanned short tracks such as Myrtle Beach, Langley Speedway, and the Las Vegas Bullring offer near-millimeter accuracy, while modders for other sims will artificially reduce track grip as a static all-encompassing number, nothing will ever quite replicate a racing surface so raw and unadulterated. This is not a NASCAR sanctioned track, where a minimum presentable standard must be kept at all times; PGARA is an open history book, each race week adding yet another chapter to the track’s legacy.

Practice began at one in the afternoon, although we’d been at the facility since eight or nine. After I was forced to sit out the first scheduled Pentiction event earlier this month due to a last minute engine problem, not to mention a couple of setup changes implemented since testing a few weeks prior, Dustin took out the #2 Slightly Mad Studios Chevrolet SS for a shakedown pass to ensure he’d made the right changes to the car, and promptly returned to the pits before he’d had a chance to properly open the thing up. Like Toyota in the 24 Hours of Le Mans this past weekend, our clutch was slipping. All of this hype with the website and the sponsorship, the social media posts and the excitement from family & friends alike, and on race day number one, our ride is up on jack stands as the other cars in the field are beginning to populate the track.

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Knowing how important it was for me to acquire seat time and get up to speed in traffic, I was promptly grabbed and tossed in the #56 Boyd Distributors Monte Carlo by Dustin’s grandpa, the car that would be piloted by his father later in the evening. With Steve’s late model career dating back to the 1980’s and featuring stints at Evergreen Speedway, he didn’t need three hours of practice time. I, on the other hand, was making my first start, so I understood why there was some level of urgency from the rest of the guys to get me out on the track in any car, just to log laps.

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Up until then, I’d done a pretty good job at keeping my nerves under control – even during pre-season testing. I came to terms with the fact that everything around me cost a significant amount of money, and anything more than a gentle nudge of the wall would result in many man hours I’d be forcing a good friend of mine to endure just to get the thing back together in one piece. But in this situation, I wanted to ensure Steve would have a car to race when the show started and not force the crew to work on two cars, so I clicked off an initial set of very bland, uninspired laps before bringing it in.

Dustin’s grandpa pulled me aside afterwards and essentially told me to not give a shit about keeping the car together in the next stint, but to go out and run hard. The following sessions, it wasn’t long before I started hearing stuff like “perfect” and “that looks really smooth” over the radio from Dustin, with cars further ahead of me remaining in roughly the same interval, lap after lap. My biggest fear was going out and being a rolling safety hazard, as some drivers happen to be when they show up for a night or two for econobox racing here in Edmonton with no prior racing experience, but that didn’t seem to be the case here.

Unfortunately, there’s no footage of me turning laps in the #56, as our priorities were on running a race team, not rushing around to turn all the GoPro’s on for our shitty YouTube videos. All I can say is that I logged a lot of laps, I was in the correct competitive rev range, and writing this out a day later, my body can certainly feel the effects of being in the car all afternoon. I’m sure photographs of the practice sessions will surface eventually; there was at least one solid photo guy there who introduced himself to me, so I at least know where to look.

One thing sim racing absolutely prepared me for was in the use of in-car radio. Once you get passed the whole “holy shit, this car is loud” element from cranking the engine over, exiting pit road, and bringing the car up to speed, there’s a strange sense of familiarity that comes over when your buddy from Teamspeak is suddenly ringing in your ears, just as he would in iRacing league races from years ago. With my push-to-talk button in the same place in the real car as it is on my Logitech G29, it’s like muscle memory took over and suddenly I’m bullshitting with my crew chief about corner entry speeds for a few laps at a time… Though there’s a very real concrete wall a couple inches from the car. Just knowing when to hit the button in relation to what angle the wheel’s at, and when to wait a few seconds to focus on the next part of the track before responding… That’s really stuff league racing taught me because all of the good drivers just sit on a main channel and either shit-talk each other or relay vital information for the duration of an event.

Radio communication is such a small part of the whole racing experience so it may seem redundant to talk about this, but a lot of people tend to get easily distracted by it because some guys treat the whole gig as if they’re an athlete and need to get into some sort of “zone” where nobody’s allowed to come in and break their focus. In comparison, I was actually telling Dustin to talk more over the radio to kind of put me in that semi-relaxed Teamspeak sim racing mindset, something that seemed to work as that’s when the best laps would arise. I also found myself naturally asking where people were on-track and general status updates you’d find yourself doing in games like F1 2016 with the built-in voice recognition technology, so sim racing does indeed prepare you with the session management skills you’ll need out on the real thing.

Prior to leaving for Prince George, I spent an evening on Grid Autosport of all titles. In the past I’ve mentioned that my taste in racing games has drastically shifted after turning laps in a proper purpose-built race car, and this has only continued in an increasingly bizarre direction now with quicker laps on a properly cleaned racing surface under my belt. The V8 Supercars in Grid Autosport are exactly how our car feels, even under braking – which is what I initially took points away from it for.

But that’s probably because I was bored enough to make setup changes this time and get the brake bias to where it felt reasonably accurate.

Here is what almost all modern racing simulators get wrong, that Grid Autosport does right: Race cars are incredibly responsive, period. The WESCAR rule set has late models running on grooved slicks, resulting in a situation where you rarely can put the throttle to the floor unless you’re on brand new tires. Despite wheel spin occurring from anywhere between 20% and 40% of the lap, at no point does the car suddenly give up and go into this weird quasi-stall that feels like you’ve hit a patch of molasses and need to hold on for dear life during the long, painful slide and subsequent wall impact; our late model feels like the car is on some sort of central rotational wheel, and you can hold the ass end out there all goddamn day if you wanted to just by managing your throttle and wheel inputs.

Yet take a guess what sim racers have complained about in regards to Codemasters games, all of which use the same physics engine – the car feeling like it’s on a central rotational axis.

The way Grid Autosport rotates around a center pivot point and still gives you such precise control of the car, even when throwing it around or under heavy wheel spin situations… That’s what our car does. No, tire wear is obviously not modeled very well in this game (aside from the endurance events, where it progresses in a linear fashion from fresh to worn), but the manner in which the car scoots under you during wheel spin and the ease you’re able to increase the angle or pull the rear end back from under you is identical to real life. In our car Dustin had to actually get on the mic and tell me to cool it down a bit, because there were a few laps I was being silly just to experiment with how out of line I could get the rear end, and even then I still thought there was a little bit more I could toss it out there. Mother Nature would receive a failing grade from r/SimRacing, as well as just about every other sim racing website that has a critical analysis element to work.

So if real life is as “simcade” as Grid Autosport according to some guy on a sim blog, why isn’t everyone a professional race car driver, you may ask? It’s the same reason some people shit their pants on the roller-coasters at Disneyland, and others are so bored by the experience they play chess for the token photo at the final drop of the ride. Not everyone can deal with what’s at it’s core complete and utter sensory overload. It’s loud, it’s hot, it smells funny, and mistakes are expensive.

And not everyone has the technological expertise to fix any mechanical problems that may arise when things aren’t working as they should. In between sessions, Dustin and the rest of the crew would go back to working on our #2 car, eventually discovering the clutch slipping was due to the clutch plate possibly being installed backwards on top of needing a new assembly, which was the root cause of the slip above something like 5300 rpm. It’s a pain in the fucking ass to remove a transmission multiple times over the course of the day for troubleshooting purposes, especially when everything under the car is ridiculously hot from the odd test lap or two.

Turning a final set of shakedown laps before qualifying was set to begin, Dustin took the car out for one additional check thanks to the track officials allowing us and another team some extra prep time, before I was scheduled to jump in and attempt to qualify a car that was completely different setup-wise to what I’d been running laps in all day. Yet while his three laps looked nothing short of amazing, with some of the sponsorship money being allocated to the exact suspension geometry adjustments we needed for a highly competitive car not just in British Columbia, but in additional regions across the western coast of North America, our engine had now developed a timing issue, and after closer examination, it wasn’t something you could start and park for last place cash, it was “park and spend the evening as a spectator.” WESCAR did give us our share of the winnings plus the customary tow money, as every effort was made to both run the car and prepare the driver by throwing me in a different car, so that was cool on their part.

Disappointed? No, not entirely. I mean, it certainly sucks to drive across the province and get sucked into all of the hype with your friends and family for your first start in a car of this caliber, only to have it all go down the drain at the very last minute as the cars are lining up for qualifying, but there are enough positives to come away at least somewhat satisfied with the experience in the end. These cars are satisfying and unique enough to drive on their own, where just the sheer amount of practice time I received was more than worth the trip seven hours to the west. I’m obviously not a fan of this particular group of sim racers, but it’s kind of in the same realm of how guys will just do solo laps in historic rFactor mods, pushing the car more and more each lap to explore it’s limits. Our sportsman late models have so much power under the hood and so little grip at their feet, every individual passage around the circuit teaches you something new about the ride or helps to refine something you’ve already got down pat.

My only regret is that we didn’t press record on at least one of the afternoon sessions, because I was extremely proud of how I ran and it would have been cool to take something home to my parents. Instead I basically have, like, Instagram photos plus the standard soreness from all the driving and that’s it.

Of course, we still had one car in the show; Steve notched second in the heat race and was starting on the front row for the main event, but as our team’s collective luck would have it, was unable to take the green flag. The car lost power as the field were about to take the green flag, leading to an extended parade lap period while the safety truck pushed Steve back to our stall. Several laps down already, the team managed to fire the car, believing some sort of ignition issue was to blame, and he managed to click off some solo laps until the half-time break at lap 50.

I’ve been playing with these things for a couple of months now, and GoPro’s are 100% worth the money. Unlike a lot of brand name items, the quality actually does justify the price, and the software it ships with by default is super easy to use if you’re not keen on pirating a copy of Sony Vegas.

Yet the gremlins kept coming. Following the halftime break, Steve’s car lost fire yet again under pacing speeds, and once more was pushed by one of the rescue trucks into the pit area for maintenance. The culprit really drilled home how technically intricate some of these cars are – something you’ll never see in the virtual realm within our lifetime – and here is when I gained an incredible appreciation for how quickly the Lengert family as a collective unit can be at diagnosing obscure problems across every square inch of their race cars; the throttle cable was merely rubbing up against a bundle of ignition wires. When Steve blipped the throttle in an effort to clear the carburetor before taking the green flag, the throttle cable moved just close enough to the ignition wires to mess with the ignition system.

This is also why a lot of sim racers feel cheated at the random mechanical failures functionality in modern racing sims, and why some strongly advocate against their inclusion, especially in online racing leagues. In real life, crew members can physically hunt around the internals of the vehicle with a near-unlimited array of tools to diagnose a mechanical problem, or take the necessary precautions beforehand in an effort to prevent mechanical issues from occurring in the first place. In racing simulators, these same failures are merely the result of a random number generator that the driver has absolutely no control of. It’s just really not fair in the virtual world, because unless you’re playing something like Brick Rigs, car building and car maintenance elements are non-existent. Failures from existing damage that occurred earlier in the race is one thing, because then the player can at least think “oh, I damaged a certain part and now it degraded to the point where it broke”, but truly random failures really shouldn’t be modeled unless a driver can take steps to prevent them ahead of time – which they typically can’t.

Field of view was actually a topic of discussion Steve and I talked about after the event had concluded, though he didn’t know in the sim racing world there’s a specific name for it and simple mathematics behind it, not to mention a lot of rigorous message board debates regarding how to use it effectively. As we were pitted on the entry to turn one, our entire day at the track was spent watching cars aggressively attack the first corner, sometimes in disbelief at the speeds some of them were attaining – even though our spotters both said we were hitting the corner at the same speeds ourselves when out on the track. This got us to talking about why as a spectator the cars look ridiculously fast, yet inside the car everything feels much slower – and it wasn’t in regards to some sort of athletic “in the zone” mindset; aside from the engine sound and some of the g-forces, racing doesn’t look fast from inside the cockpit. There’s almost no sense of speed; it’s really strange.

And I believe the answer was down to what us sim racers refer to as Field of View as it relates to a traditional PC monitor setup. You honestly can’t see shit out of a late model cockpit, hence the need for spotters, A-pillar mirrors, and then a giant rear-view mirror several times wider than what you’d find in a normal passenger car. With the chopped roof combined with the ultra-low seating position, the front windshield replicates what you’d get out of using a field of view calculator on a single monitor setup; your eyes are always focused so far off in the distance, and there’s so little you can see out the front windshield, the sensation of stuff whizzing past you just isn’t there. Factoring in the window net on the left side, not to mention the ultra wide stance that makes it feel like you’re looking across a small walk-in closet when glancing to your right hand side, it’s difficult to receive visual cues of the surrounding scenery in relation to the velocity of the car.

As a result, it’s like you’re playing on some sort of ultra-wide 21:9 single monitor setup built by an elitist iRacer who thinks he’s mastered the art of FOV calculations, but in reality it just feels really fucking weird and slow, and you’re wondering what off-beat Czech sim racing forum he got his instructions from.

Summarizing the previous weekend? Well, it’s sort of impossible. Honestly it sucks to build up all of this hype with the website and the sponsorship, not to mention the friends and family members all bombarding me with texts asking for results, only to come out and say “yeah… we didn’t even get to qualify and basically had to forfeit before the night started because of a technical issue.” I mean, people who know racing understand that this is all just part of it, no different than a football player tearing his hamstring in practice by accident – you don’t just sign up for the Super Bowls, you also get the spring training gaffes along with it.

However, away from the cameras, I got an enormous amount of seat time, we refined the setup on the #2 car everyone’s been losing their minds over to near-perfection, and the last piece of the puzzle – a timing issue – is being taken care of. This is the part of racing that sim racing doesn’t replicate, and most likely never will considering video games are supposed to be fun diversions from the monotony of the real world, not second jobs that suck the life out of you. When it rains, it pours, but thankfully our calendar has a pretty good selection of dates through the middle of September, so one event where nothing goes our way isn’t exactly going to hurt in the long run and beyond.

 

Everything Wrong with DiRT 4 – And How to Fix It

One week after being released out into the wild, there’s quite a mixed reaction surrounding Codemasters DiRT 4. While the game itself lives up to the previous level of quality set by earlier entries and spin-offs in the DiRT franchise, for every satisfied sim racer giddy at the prospect of limitless point-to-point rally stages and lighthearted team management aspects that strive to give meaning to your on-track conquests, there’s an equally disappointed customer prowling the forums, wishing Codemasters had put just a bit more time into the title. While DiRT 4 is still a phenomenal game and very well worth the $60 asking price for those needing a dose of virtual off-roading in their vidya library, Codemasters objectively dropped the ball in many key areas, and those unhappy with the experience are making some very valid arguments as to why this game could have and most certainly should have been so much better.

So to give sim racers who were underwhelmed by DiRT 4 a bit of a voice to support their collective arguments rather than allowing them to being dismissed on the various forms in which they discuss them, in today’s article we’re going to cover all of the elements Codemasters didn’t get right in their most recent racing simulator, and how they could improve upon them with post-release updates. With these reasonable fixes, Codemasters could easily morph DiRT 4 into what we’d all envisioned on paper, rather than remain in an “almost, but not quite” status until the inevitable forthcoming sequel.

Codemasters were dealt a very shitty hand after Milestone and Kylotonn both managed to snatch up semi-exclusive licenses for certain Citroen’s, Toyota’s, and the top tier WRC spec cars for their respective multi-platform rally titles. As a result of these licensing deals, DiRT 4’s car roster is equivalent to a slice of swiss cheese; the more classes you explore, the more holes you find in the car roster. The modern rally side of the game awkwardly tries to push the R5 class as it’s premiere professional category due to the absence of WRC rides, with the N4 production class that most entry level drivers will flock to features just two cars – Subaru’s brand new Impreza, as well as Mitsubishi’s latest iteration of the Lancer Evo X. While I can understand licensing restrictions preventing the high-flying WRC lineup from making an appearance – and therefore can’t really knock Codemasters in this department – it’s the lack of diversity in the classes thatĀ are featured that hurts DiRT 4 the most, and it’s an area that Codemasters should have had enough foresight to make the appropriate adjustments long before the title launched.

Given how much time sim racers will spend ripping around in both the N4 and R5 divisions, Codemasters should really make an effort to expand both of these classes to feature either older cars, or additional cars from manufacturers they already have a license for. The Open class division in real life – a sort of quasi-equivalent to N4 – features several older models of the Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Ford Fiesta, and considering how Codemasters already created these models for older DiRT games, they should really make a return as downloadable content for DiRT 4 to give some much needed-variety to the popular sportsman N4 category, in the same manner which tarmac developers would create semi-fake Ruf GT3 cars to expand their GT3 vehicle roster. Codemasters also feature vehicles from both Opel and Citroen elsewhere on the roster, so it’s strange the R5 variants of these cars aren’t present. I don’t think it’s necessary for Codemasters to pursue attaining all listed vehicles from the Group R wikipedia page, but the car roster in otherwise popular classes is severely hurting, and bringing back either legacy models from past DiRT games, or acquiring R5 spec entries from manufacturers they’re already on good terms with would be the easiest fix.

Next, I’d like to talk about the environment selection in DiRT 4. On paper the game has a pretty solid variety of race types and locations, but when isolated into their own specific realm, sim racers are left with four distinct race types that quickly become repetitive. The Monster Energy World Rallycross tier in career mode boasts just five circuits while Landrush comes in at a laughable three, and the Global Rally Series that adorns the cover artwork only visits a mere five countries – hardly a global championship, especially considering we never visit South America, or Asia. While the game’s procedural generation-powered point-to-point rallies dubbed Your Stage can quickly become repetitive, Your Stage isn’t DiRT 4’s specific problem; the issue is that there are so few environments, you’re racing championship after championship in Australia, Michigan, and Wales for the entire first half of career, so of course, you’re going to notice the same puzzle pieces that make up each track if you can spend three straight championships never leaving Wales.

The fix here varies from discipline to discipline. I feel the technology behind Your Stage works well enough where Codemasters shouldn’t need to worry about adding more chunks to each environment, they simply need more environments period. Three new environments – one tropical island, one alpine region, and one sahara desert – would be enough to give the game a “global” rally feel while straying far enough from the WRC license and providing some kind of proper contrast to what are otherwise very traditional rally stage layouts and environments. On the Rallycross and Landrush side of the title, once again I’d like to see legacy content from DiRT 2 and DiRT 3 make a return considering many of the layouts seen in Monaco, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and Baja, California were instant classics at the time of release, and there’s really no reason not to have them sitting on a hard drive at Codemasters HQ when their newest game is in desperate need of content.

I think for me personally, the biggest shock I received while playing DiRT 4 was discovering the length of the outlandishly short single player career mode. Within an hour of ripping off the plastic, the Landrush World Championship video had been unlocked, and by the middle of the following afternoon, I’d also conquered the 30-stage Global Rally Series tournament at the end of the rally ladder as well. DiRT 4 is criminally short regardless of what off-roading discipline you choose to specialize in, to the point where you’ll quickly find yourself replaying career events out of boredom for supplementary income and to further develop both your team and sponsorship prospects.

This one is probably the easiest fix suggested in the article; when the inevitable downloadable content wave hits, Codemasters need to insert additional events into each of the four primary Career ladders – which would go hand-in hand with the suggestion above regarding both more closed circuits, as well as more point to point environments being released as DLC. Codemasters have built a very stellar team management aspect into DiRT 4, but it’s possible to hit the finish line long before you’ve fully upgraded your team or wanted to put the title down. Considering online races don’t appear to count towards the day to day operations of your virtual racing entity, the ability to partake in more events would justify the team management features and how so much of the offline career mode revolves around finite sponsorships and team member contracts with a tangible expiration date.

What I’m getting at with the three suggestions above, is one can see everything DiRT 4 has to offer far too quickly, and there needs to be more for sim racers to do within the title given the game’s fantastic level of polish. PeopleĀ want to keep playing DiRT 4, but currently there isn’t a lot there after the initial day or two spent indulging in the title. More cars in popular classes, three new rally environments, and a cast of fan-favorite Rallycross & Landrush locales, plus a platter of new career events to make use of the aforementioned additional content, would keep people playing long after release.

I was pretty surprised that after DiRT Rally offered a Master level difficulty that made you truly nail each stage for a top time, the Tough option in DiRT 4 saw you leading sole stages by upwards of ten seconds, requiring you to merely keep the car in one piece for a championship victory in the latter stages of career. I’ve seen some argue that people are blowing out the AI due to infinite restarts and a platter of driving assists enabled, but I personally completed the final championship in the rally ladder with the restart option at zero for that sweet 95% winnings bonus, and the AI were simply never a threat in the slightest. This extends to the closed circuit ladders as well; the CrossKart AI is woefully off-pace, to the point where I was able to lap them with a lap or two spare, in heat races on tracks with basically two or three corners nonetheless.

I also noticed that Codemasters seemed to be self-aware of their AI not being fully up to par in DiRT 4, with the team throwing inclement weather at you in basically every event near the end of each ladder to artificially jack up the difficulty. Look, it’s cool that they’ve done a good job modeling every type of weather condition possible for DiRT 4, but the amount in which it occurs in the back half of campaign mode is just silly. You can’t honestly tell me the entire WRC or Rally America calendars are contested at night, in dense fog, or in heavy downpour scenarios, because that’s just not how mother nature works.

The fix for these issues is pretty simple; re-introduce the Master difficulty as was seen in DiRT Rally, and release a title update that clears up the weather just a tad for the penultimate events. I don’t think either of these are too much to ask for. The fog effects are great, as is the rain splatter on the windshield, but currently it’s to the point where Codemasters are clearly using it as a cheap tactic to increase the difficulty of the game.

Of course, who could forget the most controversial part of DiRT 4, the vehicle physics?

Look, DiRT 4 is without a doubt the easiest game in the entire franchise in terms of difficulty in piloting the car at maximum or near-maximum attack – you have so much grip, it always feels as if you can’t go fast enough, which is very strange considering rally driving in general is about underdriving the car and curbing your desire to push & take corners too quickly. Originally in my review of the game I claimed this was strictly limited to the modern class cars, but as I’ve explored more of DiRT 4, I have to come out and confirm that this extends to basically everything on the point to point roster aside from the Group B class. The amount of grip you have at any given time in this game is insane, with the big, lazy, arching slides of Richard Burns Rally and DiRT Rally virtually impossible to reproduce here; the vehicle instead awkwardly stalling out and losing forward momentum. Unlike what the Codemasters promotional material proclaimed, we certainly did not receive “DiRT Rally, but better” – these are rally tires so technologically advanced, they won’t be made available to professional teams until 2027 at the earliest.

So what’s wrong, exactly?

Take the BMW M3 E30 that’s part of the rear wheel drive 1980’s class. This car was awesome in DiRT Rally, as your throttle input dictated how sideways you wanted the car to be, and you navigated some of the more intense rhythm sections by rotating the rear end around purely via throttle management. Not only is this how you’re supposed to drive a rear wheel drive rally car, it’s how I drive my truck during snow storms here in Edmonton, and it’s how Dustin taught me to drive our late model. This isn’t a technique limited to one Codemasters game released in 2015, it’s a driving skill that’s universal to rear wheel drive vehicles.

In DiRT 4, rolling onto the throttle to try and rotate the ass end of the BMW M3 E30 on a gravel stage instead produces this weird understeer effect. It’s like the rear tires have such enormous forward bite and lateral grip, it manages to overpower the front end of the car and understeer like a stock car with a worn right front tire. Strangely enough, this behavior isn’t present on the tarmac stages in Spain, so I’m under the belief Codemasters simply need to revert to a previous iteration of gravel tires – something I encourage owners of the PC version to experiment with ahead of time if the file structure between DiRT Rally and DiRT 4 is found to be even remotely similar.

If Codemasters are willing to fix the gravel tire behavior – provided it wasn’t a conscience design choice made to help the normies pilot a rally car, but a genuine oops on their part – I think a lot of people will continue to invest long hours into DiRT 4 in spite of the shortcomings listed above. However, if Codemasters intentionally botched the gravel tires to accommodate entry level users not well-versed in the art of chucking a rally car sideways at 150 km/h, the rest of the issues and possible solutions outlined in this article are a solid way to ensure people don’t toss aside DiRT 4 after a month of casual play.

Forza Fans Tear Turn 10 a New Asshole After Pre-Order Announcement

So unless you permanently live under a rock and cling to your Pentium III running Windows 98 as if it’s some sort of metaphorical children’s blanket or teddy bear, obviously you know that E3 2017 is in full swing, and Turn 10 Studios have taken the wraps off of Forza Motorsport 7 – which will be landing on store shelves this November. Boasting upwards of 700 cars at launch – including Porsche and Volkswagen, which were either added in much later via downloadable expansion packs, or left out entirely – as well as something like 38 unique locations, dynamic weather, and avatar customization, Forza Motorsport 7 will easily become the most anticipated racing game of the next two years.

Considering the simulation will also be available on the Windows 10 marketplace for PC owners – a first for the core Forza Motorsport franchise – a whole lot of people are looking forward to messing around with the limitless Forza experience on home computers, as the sim racing scene has traditionally been dominated by no-nonsense software that has remained virtually unchanged since the days of F1 Challenge 99-02. Offering a full career mode, car collecting meta-game, extensive upgrading system, and unique community features that even the big titles like iRacing and Project CARS have yet to scratch the surface of, there’s a lot of hype for what Forza brings to the table – even if the driving model is a bit simplistic as we touched on in our review of Forza Motorsport 6: Apex.

Yet upon revealing the pre-order options to the general public – which offer three distinct ways to purchase the game, with an increasing amount of pre-order “perks” with each tier – Turn 10 is facing an immense backlash from the Forza Motorsport community, and as the title of this post suggests, they’re basically being torn a new asshole at this point. Comments on the official Forza franchise Facebook page are overwhelmingly negative, criticizing Turn 10 for blatantly ripping off their customers with a shady downloadable content plan that puts a time limit on the season pass people are paying extra for, resulting in two waves of DLC; the latter of which is not covered by the already expensive ultimate edition.

The hostility originally stems from how the massive studio handled last years’ Forza Horizon 3 pre-order bonuses. Like what has been depicted above in the Forza 7 pre-order breakdown, Turn 10 gave fans the option of paying a premium price – upwards of $100 USD – for an “Ultimate Edition” of Forza Horizon 3, essentially paying up front for all of the game’s car packs and expansion bundles, which would then automatically be downloaded into the user’s game the moment they became available. It’s obviously a steep price to pay for the standard video game entry fee of $60, but the additional price was advertised as a convenience of sorts; users making one sole transaction ahead of of time for all downloadable content that would be released for the game.

Yet in a highly questionable display, Turn 10 put a finite end to the Ultimate Edition’s perks. Users thought they would receive all Forza Horizon 3 downloadable content for the price of the Ultimate Edition they pre-ordered as early as July of 2016, only to discover the “car pass” that came with the Ultimate Edition was only valid for the first handful of DLC releases, and better yet, did not apply to both the Blizzard Mountain and Hot Wheels expansion packs. As one user on Facebook explains, he had paid $130 up front for an alleged premium edition of Forza Horizon 3 whilist under the impression all of this content would be included in his purchase, only to be stiffed by the company and told there was a second wave of DLC the premium edition didn’t cover, which took another $68 out of his wallet.

So for those who wanted the full Forza Horizon 3 experience, they were out a whopping $190 USD. This is an absurd price to pay for any video game considering the market has soft-locked the cost of a new piece of software at $60, and you can purchase an entire used console from this generation for roughly the same price as acquiring all content in Forza Horizon 3. And this wasn’t the first time Turn 10 had pulled this stunt; it also occurred in Forza Motorsport 6 – Turn 10 sold a premium edition of Forza 6 bundled with a season pass, only to continue pushing out DLC well after the season pass had expired.

It’s blatantly nickel & diming customers far beyond what they should pay for a single piece of software.

“If you don’t like the DLC, don’t buy it” – Forza Motorsport Fanboy/Shill

This is a common argument I see across the Forza Motorsport community, and here’s why I feel it’s not valid in the slightest.

The Forza franchise is at it’s core a game that relies on mass car collecting as one of it’s main gameplay elements. People love opening up the showroom, scrolling through a list of cars, and handing over the in-game credits to call one their own and put it through it’s paces. That’s just part of the fun in car culture games like Forza or Gran Turismo; it’s not so much the racing or the driving physics or the offbeat challenges; it’s the act of opening a virtual Hot Wheels display case, and saying “that one’s mine, and I’m going to upgrade it and draw dicks all over it.”

So the principle of placing a portion of this experience that’s the life and soul of the Forza franchise behind a paywall, and then doubling said paywall by imposing a bogus expiration date on the first paywall, is a diabolical way to manipulate gamers into giving Turn 10 far more money than that experience is actually worth. Remember, this same car culture experience that we saw in Gran Turismo 4, and previous iterations of the Forza franchise, has now been inflated to $200.

People generally don’t mind forking over an additional $30 for a season pass on top of a $50 game because they know in the end it’s at least adding to an integral portion of the game – car collecting – but going a step further and metaphorically tipping these individuals upside down so all the change falls out of their pockets and they wind up spending almost the whole cost of a console for a few more virtual Hot Wheels in their collection, that’s dirty as fuck. Come on, Turn 10. You are the leading racing game developer across the entire video game landscape, and yet at the height of your popularity, with the most money the company’s ever made in your history, you respond to your financial & critical success by “thanking” the fans who helped you get there with an intrusive DLC scheme that only benefits the company’s bottom line and makes your loyal fans question how much they’ll spend this year?

Naw dude. That’s not cool.

Here’s to hoping that the public backlash Turn 10 are receiving for the Forza Motorsport 7 DLC plan will make them re-calculate their approach and go back to a more reasonable all-encompassing season pass format in time for the game’s launch this fall. If not, they only have themselves to blame for the inevitable Jewish conspiracy memes that will no doubt flood their forums once the second batch of Forza Motorsport 7 hits in the spring of 2018, angering season pass holders who were under the impression their special pre-order perks would go a lot further than just six uninspiring car packages, conveniently running out just in time for the pricey title expansions.