Wheeling It: The Theories Behind Exploiting Force Feedback

16472989_10208194146706819_3054346279305608142_nWith so much misinformation and rumors floating around on the forums regarding how you should set your force feedback and wheel rotation settings, I wanted take a bit of time today to clear up some misconceptions about modern force feedback wheels and what they’re trying to convey to the end user, as well as breakdown what top teams are doing with wheel settings in the iRacing world. It’s certainly not the kind of information that makes its way out into the general public, as configuring your equipment in a very specific way can produce a greatly tangible performance advantage out on the virtual track.

Now, I have to make our readers very clear, most of my various tips and insights will be predominantly be pulled from iRacing, because I’ve spent the most time on it, and it’s also the most competitive sim racing platform currently available. But hey, who doesn’t want a leg up on the competition? Immersion and realism doesn’t pad your iRating.

niswc-12-daytona-4Working with some of the biggest and best teams in iRacing for the past five years, I’ve heard all kinds of different wheel settings to try and combat the faults in the iRacing software or just to find an exploitative advantage. One thing I can say with one hundred percent confidence is that no one wheel setting will give you a massive advantage over the competition – everyone has their own style – however, some adjustments do help make it easier to find that extra speed, or save the car in a sim that is notoriously hard to save cars in without dealing with a massive tank slapper.

Let’s start with the most common and effective setting of the two that I’ve used personally, and what I know many of the top iRacers are using,  as they seem to fall into two camps. The first can be described as a very non-linear setting that seems to provide more feel, while making saving the car extremely easy but effectively having a larger ratio in the middle when you need to be smooth on the wheel.

This consists of running whatever wheel you have at anywhere from 200 to 540 degrees in your external profiler application, and then setting the in-game rotation at 1080 or more. What this does is give you a very smooth rotation through the center, and then ramps the steering ratio exponentially towards the edge of the wheel, so you are at full lock way faster then you should be based on your center ratio. To simplify, it allows you to run, say,  a ratio of 16:1 in the middle to really nail your steering inputs, but then when you’re forced to go hand over hand to save the car, the sensitivity is jacked skyward.

gen6-screenshot-3The other most common setting is just running 900 to 1080 degrees depending on wheel and running 1:1 with the sim. The debate then comes to running force feedback or not. At 900 degrees, a centering spring is a big no no, as there is way too much rotation to be fighting a centering spring all the way through the corner, especially if you are trying to counter steer at all. However Some of the fastest sim racers on the service, including my own driver Ryan Luza, run a completely dead wheel with zero feedback of any kind. The rest such as myself run a slightly non linear profiler setting such as 105-110% primarily to get rid of the massive deadzone, and give a slightly faster response time on Logitech wheels, with zero other effects and no damping.

iracing-phoenix-crashAll of this is a fine place to start, and many people out there run any combination of these settings, but of all the teams I’ve worked with, these were the most common and used by the best drivers on the service, yet a lot of it comes down to hardware as well.

Belt driven wheels such as the Thrustmaster T series wheels or the Fanatec stuff that has been hit or miss on reliability, have become the new norm for anyone wanting to run force feedback in the way it was intended, as it provides a much smoother and faster response to what you are seeing in front of you; whereas the non linear ramping settings, or non-FFB drivers tend to all be Logitech users. However, belt driven wheels aren’t worth the extra money if you aren’t going to use the force feedback they were designed to excel at, so don’t bother if you are a dead wheel kinda guy.

The other option is DD wheels such as the Accuforce or OSW, or perhaps a Heusinkveld option in the future. James here at PRC has been very outspoken against DD wheels, purely for price reasons, but the fact is they are the best wheels available for your sim racing “experience”, however, I can tell you right now that other then a few road pro drivers, none of the top iRacers are using them. The benefit just isn’t there at the moment for the price, the current belt driven wheels have more then enough bang for the current big market simulators, and it clearly isn’t a must have for speed if almost none of the top drivers in the highest competition sim aren’t using them. If you do have the expendable cash to afford the luxury then by all means go ahead, you are essentially future proofing your sim rig for when the direct drive wheels can be utilized better, or you can crank to wrist-breaking levels of FFB when you want to make a trip to the hospital for a day off work. I just personally wouldn’t recommend them at this point, as they aren’t necessary to be competitive, especially if you have a tight budget .

richmond2-1500The other consideration with wheels is both your simulator of choice, and the speed between that simulator and the wheel; almost all the major sims are using a different force feedback system from one another, and they all run on different physics engines at different frequencies. The speed your wheel receives information from the software is very important, as is the quality of the information. iRacing uses the slowest rate out of all the major sims that I know of, but yet every sim claims they are the best at the information they send to your wheel. So I’ll just focus on the speed to your hand and try to generalize the variables.

The most important element to care about is how fast your wheel reacts to what you’re seeing from your virtual car on screen if you are choosing to enable force feedback at all. This is why belt driven wheels have become so much more popular in sim racing because, they don’t necessarily make you a faster driver; they make it easier to be consistent and catch mistakes due the response speed of these modern belt driven wheels. You could have the strongest direct drive wheel in the world, but if the response time is slow none of it matters.Logitech G series wheels are notorious slow and haven’t improved the technology much at all since the Driving Force GT. This may be the reason many of us have gone to exploiting non-linear setups or simply turning off the force feedback completely – our wheels are just too out-dated. This is also why certain sims feel better with certain wheels, it all has to do with the frequency the sim puts out, and the quality of the information that is being sent. The fact that many people with older wheels in iRacing simply start clipping at very small amounts of force feedback that the Logitech wheels seemingly can’t handle in 2017 starts to muddy what information you do get, and why simply turning it off and driving visually seems to help a lot of people as it would with any sim that the wheel can’t handle.

Hopefully this will help many of you in trying to dial in your wheel settings so you can get the proper sim experience you are looking for, and maybe even gain time for a lot of you; I know among the top iRacing divisions a bunch of people keep wheel setting close to their chests, but if you look hard enough the information is indeed out there, and keep in my mind that no magic setting will help you, but that consistency is key. Don’t change something just for the sake of changing it unless you plan on spending the time to stick with it and get used to it before you see any results.

 

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The Cynic in Me: A Review of the First Porsche Pack

ss_410b1a16cf4edb8756d2311360dbee7c3bcabeb9The day has finally arrived; a brand once restricted to the chaotic world of Need for Speed has returned home, and my, what an an absurd trip it has most certainly been. After an exclusivity deal was attained between Porsche and Electronic Arts somewhere between six and eight years ago, sim racers stopped seeing the legendary German car manufacturer appear in PC-oriented simulators, instead confined to the high speed police chases and car collecting meta-games of casual-oriented console offerings. By some act of God, as if He himself descended from the heavens and threw the hardcore virtual racers a much-needed bone, Kunos Simulazioni shocked the landscape by announcing they would be the lone developer responsible for bringing Porsche back to the consumer simulator market for their flagship racing simulator, Assetto Corsa. Sure, the pessimists among us may bring up that the exclusivity deal is set to end at the conclusion of the 2016 calendar year, but the fact that a developer not named Microsoft actually managed to jump through every last loophole in an effort to please customers around the world is no small feat.

Unfortunately, the product this landmark accomplishment has resulted in – a bundle of virtual Porsche automobiles for Assetto Corsa, with two more packs to follow in the future – does not live up to the magnitude of what Kunos have achieved on the negotiating table. As a massive fan of Assetto Corsa’s Japanese Pack – an analysis that rightfully shocked regular readers of PRC.net – I was expecting an equally captivating experience to match the ridiculous anticipation we’ve been dealing with over the previous few months since the license acquisition was first announced. Instead, what I received for my purchase felt like a set of cars that had been artificially manipulated to appease the casual audience who have only recently discovered Assetto Corsa. Whereas the Japanese Pack felt almost spot-on given my own real-world experiences with certain vehicles included, the new set of Porsche automobiles exhibited blatantly unrealistic levels of understeer, lacked several essential garage menu tuning options to reduce unwanted handling characteristics, and felt as if they had been designed with some kind of ulterior motive in mind.

I get that some street cars come pre-loaded with understeer-heavy setups to prevent your average Joe from hurting themselves in a high-performance vehicle, but it appears as if the depictions of popular Porsche models in Assetto Corsa were fine-tuned for controller users and other talent-less monkeys who can barely keep the car pointed in the proper direction. If you see people praising this package anywhere, it’s because they can’t drive, plain and simple. Any sim racer with any sort of ability to push the car will immediately spot bizarre vehicle behavior that shouldn’t be there, and some are already voicing their complaints on mainstream outlets such as RaceDepartment. I can confirm that these guys aren’t wrong; something is seriously amiss with the Porsche pack.

The first time I entered a high-speed kink at the classic Silverstone layout with the speedometer reading upwards of 100 km/h, my car pushed straight off the race track. Even ripping the wheel 90 degrees into the corner and lifting off the throttle to intentionally upset the car did virtually nothing but send me into a lazy slide that was easily recoverable by mashing the throttle – this from vehicles with heavy rear weight bias. For a developer to get the balance of each car found in the Japanese Pack so right, I’m really left wondering how they got it so wrong only a few months later.

Despite the new tire model update – version ten to be exact – the usual annoyances found in Assetto Corsa still remain, such as the way tire pressures work in relation to heat and the stupid excessive drag on running low tire pressures, along with the need to redo the alignment on almost every car in the game because the default setups are laughably out of whack. No, clicking “default” does not give you the precise manufacturer-spec setup when the car leaves the showroom floor – in some cases it’s just the value in the center of what Kunos has defined as the minimum and maximum values for each adjustable option, and traditionally, they aren’t very good. Are there at least some reasons why you’d want to spend the $8 on this pack, or possibly on the Porsche Pass bundle? Most certainly, yes. The GT4-spec Porsche Cayman is phenomenal, and the Moby Dick Group 5 car was decent, but I expected much more out of what many called the absolute craziest race car to drive in the history of auto racing.

gt4-caymanI’ll start things off by discussing the car I enjoyed the most, the aforementioned Porsche Cayman GT4. Out of the box, you can point it into a corner and balance the amount of oversteer it exhibits with your right foot. The brakes provide just the right amount of stopping power to slow the car down while requiring you to wheel it just a tad, and off the throttle the thing corners pretty well. Maybe it’s due to the weight distribution being a lot more balanced than the rest of the cars, but it actually felt like a proper race car and provided the most fun in terms of raw driving experience, which is what many Assetto Corsa fans are after. After tinkering with the limited setup options, I just basically ended up making the car as soft in the front and as stiff in the rear as the simulator allowed me to, then it was right where I wanted it.

The Cayman GT4 is more or less an advanced-level Spec Miata for those who want to go a bit faster and look a bit cooler, but still want something they can tame rather than struggle with. This is the lone the car that will validate your decision to buy the pack.

steamcommunity-comThe vehicle in the pack that I’d like to discuss is the 911 Carrera S. I found it interesting that as soon as I hit a kink at over 100 km/h, the car decided it didn’t feel like turning, and went straight off the track. Completely dumbfounded, I actually went through the process of remapping my controls, only to discover it was actually how Kunos Simulazioni believed this car should drive. This is easily the worst car in the pack; you can slam all your inputs together at once like a confused toddler placed in daddy’s sim rig, and it still won’t matter – it’s as if Kunos just wanted a car you could flick with a control stick and not die, and as a wheel user what happens is that the car feels like a lazy mess – which takes no talent to drive.

ss_a4ee067900e574d43acb5a48fd5a17c4c1e5ffc5The 918 Spyder, serving to complete the trifecta of modern hypercars in Assetto Corsa, didn’t fare much better, mirroring the handling deficiencies found in the Carrera S mentioned above, albeit with more power and the ability to break the rear tires loose to rotate the rear end around on corner exit. It’s not the absolute monster Chris Harris made it out to be, which is disappointing as there aren’t many games you can drive these cars in to begin with.

I won’t even discuss the Panamera.

ss_8c12069fab5ab4a65ff9ec42caf805d1406355a0-1920x1080By the time I started experimenting with the platter of historic cars found in the pack, I was already a bit ticked off. I’d given Kunos Simulazioni money for content that in no way matched the overall quality of the Japanese DLC release, and to add insult to injury, there are already two more on the way whether you like it or not – with Kunos channeling their inner Electronic Arts by way of implementing a Season Pass of sorts just for the Porsche vehicles.

It’s hard for me to sit here and not directly address the rumors that Assetto Corsa is being crafted to accommodate the influx of casual users discovering the game for the first time, as a portion of the cars are so neutered you feel as if you could wheel them with your Xbox pad, and the season pass stuff really starting to get out of hand. Is there raw evidence we can point to of Assetto Corsa’s overall direction changing behind the scenes? Well, no, but there’s definitely been a tangible shift between the vehicle dynamics of the Japanese Pack, and what I’m experiencing with the Porsche pack. Will many Assetto Corsa fans notice the difference? No, but given how I’ve grown accustomed to spotting minor physics variations thanks to my time spent building setups for PEAK Series teams on iRacing, what Kunos have done with the Porsche content is drastic.

ss_9b98842ccb2d94aa4b057f69ba11841f66183dbf-1920x1080My first stop with the historic content was the most wild of the bunch, the Porsche 917/30. This race car was built during the height of Can-Am’s popularity, a late 60’s/early 70’s North American prototype series where there was virtually no rule book, and teams were encouraged to design literal deathtraps in the pursuit of glory. The car suffers from preposterous levels of understeer effects that are simply absurd for a car from this era, and it’s almost as if Kunos threw everything they’ve learned from creating previous pieces of content out the window in favor of a Forza-like experience.

The one bright spot with the 917/30 is that you can’t stop on the throttle like a moron; you have to wait for the turbo spool, which is admittedly the best part of Assetto’s physics engine and why I wish more sims would adopt the way they model turbochargers. Once you spool up the turbo, you’re tasked with holding on and managing wheelspin as best as you can, which was a really enjoyable challenge for a talented driver like myself, but setup-wise I still couldn’t manage to free the car up in the corners even with an intentionally hectic setup thrown into the garage screen.

ss_6c88bbc2c40dad2c67974693d88d0c7843c91b4fThe Porsche 911 RSR .3.0 is definitely one of the better vehicles in the pack, requiring some talent to driving and biting you for mistakes, but I expect nothing less from what’s basically a detuned RUF CTR Yellowbird, as that’s pretty much what it is – a lot softer and less jumpy. A good overall car for those that prefer historic stuff in Assetto Corsa as opposed to modern race cars like the Cayman GT4, so I expect people to flock to this bad boy and for it to become established as one of the clear favorites of the pack.

ss_98c3df68b80af9f969fcb2b21e48781c7f5b7efaLast but not least, let’s talk about the Porsche 935 Moby Dick, a car notorious for being absolutely insane to drive and part of the turbocharged Group 5 era of touring cars that have been featured in every racing sim under the sun, from the popular DRM mod released for the original rFactor, all the way to the Group 5 pack for Race Room Racing Experience – where the alternate brand Fabcar is used to avoid licensing complications. In real life, this car was fucking nuts, but the Assetto Corsa version is just a little too easy to plant the throttle to the floor and make minor adjustments to the steering wheel on corner exit when using the default setup. With your own set of custom numbers it becomes a bit more lively, but not to the extent that’s been portrayed in other simulators, so for me it was a slight let-down. I’m sure some will report back to the forums claiming they couldn’t keep it in a straight line, but at that point you have to question the nut behind the wheel, because this thing certainly doesn’t reflect the authentic Group 5 experience that other simulators do.

maxresdefaultIn conclusion, compared to the near-perfect Japanese pack which was released earlier this year for Assetto Corsa, the first of the three planned Porsche bundles is a giant leap in the opposite direction, and certainly makes me question what’s going on behind the scenes at Kunos Simulazioni. I know James has told us over Teamspeak that certain car manufacturers make special requests when dealing with Kunos, and a few informants have supposedly semi-confirmed there’s indeed been a shift in direction towards the console audience, but it’s hard to measure this in a tangible manner where we can present raw data and say with the utmost of certainty that concessions have been made for the casual crowd. However, after driving the Porsche pack, I’m beginning to understand why this is even a rumor to begin with; some of these cars honestly aren’t very good, and do not reflect the quality of other Kunos releases when it comes to the raw driving dynamics. About half of the vehicles found in the Porsche pack are so un-Porsche-like that it accidentally gives credibility to some of the rumors which Kunos angrily race to dismiss.

Is it nice to see Porsche back on our side of the fence? Absolutely, no questions asked on that part. But I feel as if the content itself simply hasn’t lived up to the hype surrounding it, and in many instances proves that some of the cynics going around with stories of Kunos altering cars to cater to other crowds may be onto something. Many sim racers may not be able to push each respective car to its limits and discover the simplicity compared to other Kunos efforts, but as a talented sim racer, I can confirm that most of the cars, with the exception of the Cayman GT4 and 911 RSR 3.0, are lazy, unresponsive, and uncharacteristically difficult to steer or spin compared to what we know about their real world counterparts. Given how much of an emphasis Kunos Simulazioni place on recreating the feel of driving a car – any car – to the absolute limit, many cars in this pack go completely against what they hope to accomplish with Assetto Corsa as a piece of consumer software.

The DLC is too easy to drive, very limited in regards to garage menu options, and straight up lazy in every sense of the word. I’m not happy with it, and hope they re-examine the Japanese Pack to understand why many people – including myself – believed it to be the pinnacle of what Assetto Corsa can be as a performance driving simulator.

My Summer Car: Welcome to Early Access

14555631_935693083241528_348919626_n-pngI’m not sure what attracts the people of Finland to PretendRaceCars.net; maybe it’s our shared understanding of harsh Northern winters, our love of alcohol, or our dark sense of humor. Regardless of the fact that we’ve almost gotten half of their country banned off the iRacing forums for simply posting topics discussing PRC.net articles, we’ve somehow still managed to get our hands on a copy of My Summer Car shortly before it hits Steam’s Early Access platform thanks to Johannes from Amistech Games.

To be honest with our readers, I’ve been looking forward to the release of this game ever since I saw the first Twitch streams that our friendly iRacing Finns shared on the official forums. Our first glimpse of the game came over a year ago with what looked like just a basic backroads driving simulator, with the ability to get hammered and flip people the bird at 100 km/h like I assume Kimi Raikkonen or Jari-Matti Latvala had done ever so frequently in their teenage years. Along with the hilarious commentary from Johannes himself, it looked like this really niche, obscure, odd-ball indie title that nobody knew they wanted, until they saw it in action. Above all, it looked FUN, something that’s been missing in sim racing for an exceptionally long time.

I’m happy to report that the game itself is extremely enjoyable once you invest yourself in the premise; a game that capitalizes on the niche appeal of Gearhead Garage with the added bonus of a proper plot, actual gameplay, and unique brand of humor from a country who is incredibly proud to be who they are.

You begin the game with every part you need in your shop aside from a fan belt, and you need to physically walk to the store to keep your character replenished with food, as well as purchase essential fluids for your vehicle. It’s a bit of a goofy gameplay element, but I enjoyed the fact that I always had something to do within the game world. The guide located on the game’s quasi-official Wiki gives a pretty easy set of instructions to build the car, even if you know nothing about cars, and also gives you ever wrench/spanner size needed for the project – and I think it’s really good Amistech have provided this, as let’s be honest – not everybody knows how to build a functioning vehicle.

During the process of building your car, you’ll receive random phone calls for side missions, which pay well and can be used to upgrade your vehicle, and these are quite nice as they serve to flesh out the game world and feel like you’re living in a dynamic environment that’s had some serious thought put into it. Some of these missions, such as the Sewage truck event, aren’t always clear on what you should be doing, so unfortunately I was forced to look up YouTube tutorials just to progress through these events, but overall, the quirkiness of the project offset some of the design elements that confused me.

maxresdefaultOnce you’ve finished building the car, you can configure your toy steering wheel and take your creation for a test drive, and treat the game world like an open sandbox from there on out. Physics-wise, the car drove very nicely, and despite the fact that I couldn’t get my force feedback settings configured properly – something that will surely be fixed in a future pass once the masses openly discuss it – the vehicle dynamics themselves didn’t feel all that far from reality, and it didn’t do anything unexpected.

This was the biggest shocker I found while putting time into My Summer Car; the car actually felt decent in terms of physics, and the change between surfaces is very noticeable – which increases dramatically during a storm as well. It really impressed me for such a simple game to see how much detail was put into the driving model itself, and for those worried that it’s more of a first person adventure than a driving game, you have no reason to fear this title – the hard work put in building the car at the beginning of the game gives way to a very satisfying driving model. The best part of My Summer Car by far is completing the project and using the open world around you – a mix of rural trails and paved highways – to rip around like a hammered Finnish teenager, and then physically fixing the damage you’ve done on your joyrides after you limp it home to the garage.

map_v1I’m extremely optimistic for this title for these reasons, as the overall premise and gameplay elements work well together as a cohesive unit – it’s definitely not a flavor of the week indie game. Additional missions, a multiplayer element, and heavy third party mod support would go a long way to extending the game’s replay value. It’s not so much a basic unity game that promoted itself well through a goofy YouTube video with hilarious commentary, but instead a really creative and well thought-out Finnish automotive Minecraft.

I didn’t start any proper missions until after the car was built to earn some juicy upgrades, and although pretty repetitive and a bit of a grind, the missions aren’t too bad, the payoff in being able to upgrade your car offsets the time spent breezing through side quests.

But, of course, being in pre-Early Access, there are a few problems, and it’s only fair to talk about them so people know what they’re in for.

14800291_935693243241512_1278731660_o-pngFirst things first, the version of My Summer Car I’ve been privileged enough to evaluate was receiving a daily dose of patches, and was pre-Early Access, so some of the problems I’m about to report on are probably already fixed. However, one thing annoyed me to no end – there are always fucking mosquitos in the background. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working on the car, taking a piss, or getting hammered; the mosquitos are still there, just begging to be killed, but you can’t. The store clerk agrees. I’m sure this is typical Finnish humor, but there are a few instances, as is the case with the mosquitos, where the joke overstays its welcome and doesn’t translate all that well to an international audience.

Another problem I’ve dealt with, is the overall hitbox on some of the nuts and bolts when working on your car. Yes, you’re basically building a vehicle from scratch in My Summer Car, manually turning wrenches on the thing in a kind of endearing restoration project. I don’t mind this concept, I think it’s really unique, but it’s super difficult to hit some of the bolts. It would be greatly appreciated if some of the parts, such as the radiator hoses and exhaust, had a bigger hitbox for placement, especially when filling up the car with fluid – which was a massive pain in the ass to find the sweet spot.

When it comes to driving physics, there seems to be a ton of chassis flex to the point where if you hit 120 km/h in the van, the whole vehicle went into an uncontrollable speed wobble. Considering perma-death is a very real possibility in My Summer Car (with an equally quirky game over screen), this is something I feel needs to be fixed, as otherwise it’ll be a quick game over if you consult your inner Sebastien Loeb while behind the wheel of the van rather than the car.

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The only other major problem I’ve had with My Summer Car, is with some parts physically vanishing out of the game world. First, my clutch went through the floor when I dropped the engine block on it, causing it to transcend our universe and migrate to another plan of existence. None of the disappearing parts happened on my second play-through of the game, but that could have been a quick patch rectifying the issue, or a careful set of hands ensuring I didn’t make any major mistakes.

For those wanting to invest some serious time into My Summer Car, SAVE OFTEN, especially after trips to the store – as they can take a while – or any key part of your car build. In my case, basically anything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and nothing is worse than being two hours into a game and losing a key part of your car that forces you to restart. It’s not a very big game, but it’s a complex game considering you’re building a car from scratch, and one minor glitch can fuck up your entire progress.

Overall, this sneak peak at My Summer Car was incredibly enjoyable, and I say that as someone with a background in building and maintaining race cars. It’s fairly simple to build your vehicle in a couple of hours provided you’ve got the size chart handy, and driving around to test out the fruits of your labor is extremely satisfying thanks to the overall competence of the driving model. I was particularly impressed with the size of the game world and the abundance of options given to the player, especially for an Early Access title created by one guy in his free time. You shouldn’t expect an AAA title out of this, but for what it is – a small game from the heart of Finland – it does a lot of stuff well, and can be either super rewarding or immensely frustrating based on your style of play. For once, we have a car game that actually punishes you for being too aggressive, and I think it’s a really neat idea to explore the concept of forcing players to manually turn every bolt and physically make repairs after an off-track excursion. If this game receives any sort of multi-player component, we’re looking at the ultimate sim racing time waster. I’m really impressed in how well My Summer Car works as a game.

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The Weeb in Me: A Review of the Japanese Pack

62052a34079c8606487323e46d2eb3b7I’ve always been strongly drawn to Japanese Culture in general; I guess that makes me a bit of a closet weeb. Maybe it was due to growing up in the 1990’s alongside my younger brother, the after school anime like Pokemon and Dragonball Z that introduced me to this strange, colorful world on the other side of the pacific – full of life, art, and inspiration unlike anything North America has to offer. Oh, and cars. Lots of cool, unique cars. Growing up in a racing family, of course cars would be the center of my attention growing up, and although I was primarily a NASCAR-oriented child, also honing my skills at Greg Moore Raceway while rising up through the ranks of various racing series, the first time I ever laid eyes on a Mazda RX7 FD, I fell in love. Japan knew a thing or two about how to make downright sexy cars, that also performed quite well when pushed to the limit.

ss_5a6cbb424c36510787e83f90c57bc7e9f99cf622.1920x1080A little game named Forza Motorsport came along at some point during the 2000’s, and inside the massive roster of cars, were these peculiar Super GT entries. High speed, high downforce, and staying true to the original body lines of each car, most of my days on Forza prior to my inevitable jump into the world of online racing had been spent flinging the numerous GT500 offerings around the locales of Suzuka and Tsukuba in Career mode. However, my adventure into the hardcore side of Japanese car culture never really started until I acquired an Xbox Live membership, and found myself stumbling into one of Forza’s several classic online drift lobbies. I was hooked almost instantly, doing everything I could to perfect this strange yet beautiful  art of driving sideways, and by sheer luck I was able to watch the drifting community within Forza Motorsport 2 blossom into something beautiful. I looked forward to racing home after school each day to join custom lobbies dedicated to 8-man tandem sessions – though the community was inevitably shattered when Forza Motorsport 3 arrived and reduced the functionality we were once allowed in the previous game.

Then the rFactor phase began. After following both D1 and Formula Drift events for a period of time, I started looking for a proper drifting simulator once I had gotten back into hardcore PC sim racing through iRacing. I stumbled upon rFactor’s Project D mod and the several offshoots available, yet while the community was quite nice and accommodating, the competition never reached what Forza Motorsport 2 had during its heyday. You essentially would join public lobbies, look around for the one other kid on the property who knew his shit, ran a few laps with him, and parted ways. rFactor 2 was intended to be this mammoth modding paradise and I personally hoped it would attract the drifting crowd, but the way Image Space Incorporated handled the game’s release led to an environment where there wasn’t much of anything available – even now as we sit here halfway through 2016.

jdm4_3_jpg_1400x0_q85Assetto Corsa, however, blew everything out of the water, and welcomed this form of motorsport with open arms. An improved modding platform, built-in drifting mode, and the ability for drift mod teams to easily shoehorn all of their data into Assetto Corsa made for a literal explosion in the volume of drift cars available within the simulator. The only problem was that we were dealing with a particular sim racing platform that wasn’t entirely finished. Drift rooms could be a hassle thanks to netcode, poor track conversions and half-finished cars populated many rooms, and sound fixes required nearly every build got pretty annoying, so as a result, I temporarily shelved the title.

But then the Japanese Pack came out, and it’s like “hey… what’s this?” No longer would I be required to mess around with shoddy mods and sound fixes for said mods; Kunos themselves put something out that a whole bunch of drifters would be flocking to, and it was time to get with the program. Obviously, being a contributor for PRC.net, I’ve heard a lot about how flawed Assetto Corsa can be when it comes to purpose-built race cars, but when it comes to throwing around street cars with friends, there isn’t really a better sim on the market, and it’s nice to get a break from the hyper-competitiveness found in your average iRacing server. So when I purchased the Japanese Pack from Steam, I hoped Kunos had gotten at least the basics right.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

ss_1d58da334b45d5063f9a9f597950cb74f3f2137b.600x338The first car that stood out to me as being quite good was the Toyota Corolla AE86, a car I’ve driven multiple times in real life, and test driven many mod iterations across other simulator platforms. Assetto Corsa has gotten this one absolutely perfect . The Mazda RX7 FD, my dream car and something I’ve been driven around in by a friend of mine both stock, as well as with a 550 horsepower motor under the hood,  is also one of the better cars available in Assetto Corsa. And of course, who doesn’t enjoy a Supra or Skyline R34? What really impressed me the most with all these turbocharged cars, is how above and beyond Kunos have gone to model the turbo systems. Most games seem to just use a torque map that matches a turbo dyno run, while Assetto requires you to actually spool the turbo and keep boost loaded to ensure the maximum amount of torque at all times, just as you would in real life. This is especially noticeable in the Time Attack Supra.

ob_f812a4_jdm027The Mazda MX-5 Cup, a car recently released on iRacing and built directly alongside a race team in development for 2016, is a car I really wanted to try first just to compare between the two simulators. Knowing a couple of MX-5 Cup racers through iRacing teams I’m told that although the new MX-5 was much better than the old one, it still had flaws, and as usual with iRacing, you never get much “feel” – driving is a very vague experience. Assetto Corsa, however, is known for a superior Force Feedback effects system, and despite the balance being quite similar, in Assetto Corsa you can physically feel the MX-5 Cup move around in your hands. As this is a 50/50 weight distribution car, you can pretty much do whatever you want to the setup, and drive it however you’d like, but no matter what situation I put the Assetto Corsa version into, the car behaved as it should, and felt pretty close to what guys have described the real thing felt like.

Assetto-Corsa-Japanese-Car-Pack-RX-7-2The Mazda RX7 was next. Now I’ve heard the horror stories when this pack first came out about how Assetto Corsa added rear steer to this car, and it was completely backwards since this car had none. I assume those individuals were referring to an active system such as HICAS, and I myself was also ready to throw this car out the window until I “read a book” as Stefano would say, and learned that rear steer is extremely minimal – what you’d expect out of a wishbone car with stock bushings. All Kunos appear to have modeled was a passive system with flex that gave minimal rear steer, much less than any HICAS system, for example, and even less than the 3-link in my Late Model.

So now that I was willing to actually try the car, while still skeptical I was surprised when it put a smile on my face almost instantly. Assetto’s phenomenal Force Feedback made the car feel  planted as it should. The car listened to inputs extremely well, and you can physically feel the car plant through the center of the corner. Being in a couple of these cars, I knew the exact feel I was going for, and was able to achieve it almost instantly. If you’re too aggressive, it steps out like it should, but otherwise it’s pretty planted and feels set inside the track – never giving you that ice skating feel like many cars in other sims.

JDM9-7I saved the Corolla AE86 for last, and knowing this car inside and out in real life, I knew exactly how I wanted it to feel in Assetto Corsa to live up to my own standards. Although I felt this car didn’t have enough kick when it reached the 4500 RPM mark because of the TVIS system – which was very noticeable in real life thanks to the seat of the pants feeling – in the simulator it wasn’t all that present in Assetto save for the audio effect. Handling wise, this car is exactly the same as its real-world counterpart. Aggressive, heavy braking on entry makes the rear end get light and slightly step out, but with a little power input and a tiny bit of counter steer, it gathers itself before any big problems arise.

If you throw the car into the corner and stomp on the throttle, you can get some really nice power-overs with almost the exact same technique used out on a real track – at least in my experience. I’ve also owned a 1985 Toyota MR2 when I was younger, and it’s almost an identical car with a lot more lift oversteer, and much more grip under throttle thanks to the engine being planted firmly behind me. The Corolla in Assetto felt similar to my MR2, just without the heavy ass dragging around. So yes, I’m quite satisfied with the AE86 – the virtual rendition lives up to the real world legacy.

JDM9_03All of these cars of course are on Version 7 of Assetto Corsa’s ever-evolving tire model. Although I can’t speak for any of the purpose built race cars in the game – I use Assetto Corsa for hooning rather than racing – the street tires in this game are very good. I can understand Kunos dedicating many hours of research and fine tuning to street tires, as almost any trackday participant will be able to tell if they’re complete shit or not thanks to the abundance of street cars and semi-rich dudes present in the official forums.

27064716596_cc16ea8068_hSo let’s go over what Kunos have gotten right with the street tires. First, they actually take time to generate heat, and if you come straight out of the pits like a bat out of hell, you’ll slide around a whole bunch and it won’t be a productive set of laps. The car is a bit dull on cold tires, only coming alive when you’ve generated enough heat – and this is really apparent in the Time Attack Supra. Once you’re at the proper operating temperature, the tire feels amazing. It reacts quick to your inputs but still has enough flex to give you the sense that you’re on a real tire – a huge piece of rubber that bends, twists, and flexes under varying levels of load. It gives way and screeches when you ask a bit too much, but you still have grip – it doesn’t just instantly disappear as it would in other simulators when you push too hard.

On corner exit, you have to really work your way onto the throttle and play with the edge of the tire to find the most speed, and it feels incredibly satisfying to get it right in the high horsepower offerings of the Japanese pack. You can drive each car in a way where you point to the apex, get on the brakes a tad, let the car roll through the center of the corner, feed throttle on exit, all while driving by the feel of the edge of the tire. This is something we’re severely lacking in other games. It also gives up when it should, in the forgiving matter a street tire should – it’s not an on/off switch. It doesn’t just snap and whip you around; you feel it give, especially in places where heavy braking takes place. You can manage it when approaching a total loss of control, but if you’re too aggressive, it still bites and sends you into a slide.

ob_8d582a_jdm039aAfter a full day of messing around with the Japanese Pack, there are three specific things I absolutely love about the product Kunos has created for my fellow Weebs and I. Tire Model  Seven, at least as far as the street tires go, is superior to anything else on the market. The Force Feedback, again, with these cars, is top notch. And the way the turbochargers are modeled – it’s fucking fantastic. The turbocharger is now a dynamic component that you have to nurse and exploit to your advantage. Kunos has really gone out and put a bulls-eye on the drift community, saying “we’re going to build something that you’ll love”, and they’ve achieved what they’ve set out to do. This pack is a real treat for fans of Japanese automobiles, and as a bonus for those who have made it this far into the article, I’ll throw in my personal Toyota Supra Drift Setup so everyone’s got a nice starting point for online drift sessions.

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iRacing Build Review – Season 2, 2016

kensethdgI’ve been busy, but don’t worry; I still lurk. As someone who’s involved with the iRacing.com Peak Anti-Freeze Series on a technical level, certain sim racers rely on me to push the software to its limit in order to be successful when the green flag drops, which means I can’t always be giving everything away on PRC.net. However, with a new build landing in our hands just a few short days ago, it’s time for me to give my impressions on what iRacing has to offer in March of 2016.

Now, as is the tradition with how iRacing operates, a brand new build during the off-season brings us a bunch of new cars, and for the oval guys, the low downforce aerodynamic package you’ll see on Sundays in the real life NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. But before I scrutinize the current oval racing physics model, I’d like to go over what the other half of iRacing’s userbase are in for.

For starters, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Playboy Cup car has finally arrived after months of hype and fanfare. According to iRacing’s own preview, the car was developed alongside a Mazda MX-5 team building their cars for the 2016 racing season. The extra effort in development appears to have paid off; this is the absolute best car I’ve ever driven in any sim as far as fun factor goes. In real life, Mazda achieved a perfect 50/50 weight balance, and the handling characteristics have carried over into the virtual world of iRacing. Unlike many iRacing vehicles that seem to be prone to astronomical levels of understeer, the 2016 MX-5 allows you to flick the car into the corner with a snap of the wrist. There’s no more bullshit of cranking the wheel 90 degrees just to make it through the corner. The harder you drive it, the more it wants to turn, and when it finally gives up grip, it enters a perfect four-wheel drift like a proper race car should.

The only downside to this car seems to be the fact that as a rookie car, a lot of people are struggling just to find out how to drive a car that’s prone to oversteer throughout the entire corner. Don’t get me wrong, it’s manageable, but for the rookie road racers just starting out in iRacing, they’re in for a bit of a rude awakening.

Alongside the MX-5 came two all-new GT3 cars; the Audi R8 LMS, and the Mercedes AMG GT3. Both of these cars feel very much like the other GT3 cars already available – they’ve got tons of grip and they’re extremely hard to get out of shape. As usual, iRacing tends to struggle with low-speed grip levels in high powered cars, even with traction control at the max setting, and the updates to how traction control is processed by the software have done little to rectify the abundance of wheel spin in first gear. Luckily, we’re not in first gear all that often, and most of the fast guys turn off TC regardless thanks to excellent throttle control on their part.

Compared to the rest of the GT3 entries available, including the BMW z4 which received an update this build, the new cars seem slower almost everywhere. This is to be expected, since iRacing has decided to wait how people adapt to the new cars before working on the Balance of Performance settings prior to the start of the Blancpain Pro Series.

Lastly, the endurance racing guys will love to know we’ve now got the ability to flash the high beams at other cars, allowing them to signal for lapped traffic to move the fuck over.

formularenault20_iracing_4To Sev’s dismay, the Formula Renault 2.0 has been released, and already iRacers are comparing this car to one of the first cars ever available in iRacing, the Star Mazda. The Formula Renault 2.0 drives very similar to the old Star Mazda, albeit with an abundance of grip thanks in no small part to the extensive research iRacing has done on their ever-evolving tire model. The new amateur open wheel car is exactly what most people expected it to be – a nice step up for all the Skip Barber drivers, and a refreshing European-based series for all the Star Mazda fanatics who may not enjoy the oval tracks on the Indy Lights schedule.

Now the FR 2.0 isn’t without its flaws. The car does seem to have too much grip overall, especially in low speed corners, but that just seems to be the typical iRacing issues where cold tires are for whatever reason producing more grip than they ever should. Once the tires generate some heat, the car’s overall behavior tends to balance out to a realistic level.

Sadly– and I’m going to get shit on here by the fanboys – iRacing tends to have a problem with being good on only one side of the software, and never both at the same time.

12194568_10152760306082395_7888604449760807600_oThe Xfinity Series car finally received bump springs as per 2016 NASCAR rules, which will allow us to stop using the same stale setups we’ve been using for about two years now. Other than that, the car hasn’t gone through any fundamentally different changes, and drives relatively the same.

The Generation 6 Sprint Cup car received a full overhaul, featuring the new low downforce aerodynamic package, as well as some adjustments to the tires. However, iRacing has seemed to have gone overboard, to the point we have what seems to be no grip whatsoever – as if the only grip we’ve ever had to begin with was from the aero itself. After PEAK Series testing at Phoenix, we soon learned that the cars in iRacing were over two seconds slower than the lap times being run in real life, and this is at a track where aerodynamics don’t play an integral role in the car behavior. iRacing’s physics guy Eric Hudec believes rectifying this is too time consuming, as per PEAK Anti-Freeze Series driver Michael Conti:

roeperSpeedways are affected by these issues to a comical extent. The cars have literally no grip whatsoever, to the point where the only way to go fast is to set the car into the corner with the brake, and then go into a half-throttle input drift. Among the top drivers we’ve had nothing but complaints, but on the flip side you could argue that there’s more talent involved with the actual driving aspect.

1And that would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that this car has always suffered from insane understeer, and now the problem has been made worse. It’s at the point where you can run 40% cross weight and a 7000 pound right rear spring, and yet still be cranking the wheel in the middle of the corner begging the right front tire to finally generate some grip so it doesn’t just snap sideways when you get on the throttle. Basically, this setup would be a genuine safety hazard when applied in real world conditions, and in iRacing, it plows.

This, combined with the huge fall-off that was introduced with the new surface model and NTM V6, creates quite a difficult car to drive after ten laps at any track, and makes the people who can build a good, balanced car for a long green flag run get a huge advantage. This advantage is limited, as you can’t do a whole lot to stop the car from pushing in the corner. Sadly, the low downforce package has seemed to demonstrate how many flaws iRacing’s tire model still has.

trooxHopefully, next build we’ll receive a major tire model update that responds to heat better, as the current one is all about driving slow early on and giving up a bunch of spots just so you don’t have to pit every 25 laps. Meanwhile, on the road side, you can abuse the tires every single lap so long as you keep the temperature below the 240 Fahrenheit mark, as the tires never really fall off past the first five laps or so until they start to cliff around lap 20. Every iRacing World Championship road race has been won by a 1-stop strategy thus far, highlighting the fact that the tire model still needs a bit of fine tuning.

All in all, the new iRacing update fixed some stuff, broke other aspects, and eventually highlighted the eternal tire model issues which serve to plague the sim. The most we as sim racers can do is hope enough people complain to warrant iRacing having a look into some of what I’ve addressed above.