iRacing Finally Living Up to Expectations with Dirt Content

Dear God, they’ve pulled it off. A year after the original April Fools’ announcement, which most saw as a cruel joke until the staff at iRacing uploaded a collection of genuine teaser trailers indicating that yes, dirt oval racing would indeed be coming to the online racing simulator, iRacing have now released their monumental project out into the wild. Many were skeptical, as preview videos showcased weird steering inputs and drivers struggling to keep the cars under them, but I can now safely say this was mostly a combination of visual errors thanks to netcode, and poor driving by some of the internal testers. iRacing haven’t been known to listen to its members in the past, which also lead to some skepticism if they could pull this off correctly, but for now, you can allow your fears to subside: it’s really good.

Before we get into what the dirt update has to offer, I’d like to start with the new update of the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series car, as there was a lot more than just new content that came with the build update a few days ago. The Generation 6 stock car had a major geometry update along with a significant aerodynamic revision to match up with the 2017 rule packages, and there are also some changes to what we’re now able to do in the garage.  As with any radical adjustment, people have already been making several complaints on the forums that these cars are too easy to drive now, yet ironically some of these drivers are more than three tenths off pace, so I’m under the impression a lot of guys haven’t been able to bring the car to 100% both on-track and in the garage area just yet. The car actually requires you to turn the car with the front end now, as before it just slid the nose and almost every fast setup required just setting the nose where it got the most aero and turning the car with the rear end. Following complaints from Tony Stewart, when he tried the car in the Mobil 1 event last year, the car seems to be much more in line with real driver feedback, even if it seems a bit too gripped up in its current state.

This car is going to be a long-term project, but former Penske engineer Steve Reis has been very active in the public forums about working on this car as much as possible to get it in the most realistic state they possibly can. This build is a big move in the right direction, but it will be a multi-step process to get this car where it should be, though overall I’m happy with the initial impressions Steve has made in comparison to other developers tasked with working on the NASCAR cup car. One major part of this update is the removal of some unrealistic setup options that many Peak teams were abusing as early as 2015, such as pre-binding the left front spring with massive swaybar preload, and anywhere from 300-400lb spring to keep the splitter sealed at all time around the track, as well as Max rake on the track bar to promote skew in the rear end. Steve Reis has given us something we haven’t had in a long time, maybe ever on iRacing, and that’s someone who is willing to work with the community and keep us in the loop of what exactly is wrong with the current cars and what they will need to improve, even helping people who have questions about the new dirt setups. It definitely seems like iRacing is starting to head in the right direction in terms of just who they bring on board, and the kind of relationship they’re willing to have with the community moving forward.

Now onto the big deal, dirt oval racing. This is what you’re here for, right?

We had a few insiders from the beginning with real life experience who were brought into the alpha environment. and were giving us a few nuggets here and there as to how development was going and that iRacing was actually listening and getting major feedback with professional drivers such as Christopher Bell and Rico Abreu, as well as many drivers all the way from World of Outlaws to your average local short tracker. This was a full community coming together to make the best product they could, a drastic departure from iRacing’s close-minded approach to certain pieces of content in the past.

We are still very early in the honeymoon phase, of course, but so far nothing broken has been found on setups. They aren’t completely realistic, nothing ever is, but they are very close currently. You can seen this if you go into any test server. All of the guys with real life dirt experience have been slaughtering people in test rooms with very good lap times that imply iRacing is very close to the driving style of reality in these things. All of the feedback I’ve received from real life drivers on our team, as well as various friends on Facebook, have also backed this up.

Everything form the 410 Sprint Car to the Legends car require some very finesse driving to get the most out of the car; you need to be aggressive, but you really need to balance the angle you have for speed through the corner, and getting to the power to get the fastest laps out of them. What is really amazing is when the track starts wearing in. On a complete clean track, everyone is pretty much hugging the bottom to get the most speed until the top layer gets worn off, then everyone starts moving around up the track as the track dries, and they start looking for moisture in the track. At this point you can run pretty much everywhere and guys start going to the bottom or top looking for the last bit of moisture in the track. Eventually the track starts getting that notorious black groove dirt oval fans are familiar with; it gets really slick, and you need to start running the wall where the cushion has now hopefully built up enough from people running up there, or get right on the wall on the bottom and try to hook whatever little bit of moisture is left there. Really, at this point in the race its just a free for all (as it should be), and in stuff like the 410 you just hold on and hope you don’t die.

Now to the cars themselves, I have been nothing short of amazed. All the cars react very well to your inputs, and for once in iRacing the cars feel like they actually want to turn; you no longer have to fight them to do something as long as your car is setup decently. Every car has very unique characteristics and requires very different driving styles, some guys might be amazing in the Late Model and terrible in the Sprint, or vice versa.

The Camping World series Truck , considering it was built for asphalt, is the worst of the vehicles by far to drive, although thanks to the feedback from Bell and Abreu seems very close to how it looks watching the trucks fight around there the last few years. A buddy in Teamspeak described it as “Yacht Racing,” these tanks do not want to slide whatsoever let alone turn around a tight dirt corner, and the power they put out with the extreme lack of grip means good luck getting anywhere near full throttle on anything but a perfect tacky track.

The Legend Cars are surprisingly fun for such a small under-powered car. You are pretty much full throttle around every currently available track, but it really forces you to perfect your steering as you try to keep your momentum up as much as possible at all times. They also make for some amazing brawling as the field is relatively close and the dynamic tracks provide many lines as it wears in.

The Street Stock is very much like the Truck, in that you feel like you are driving an oil tanker, but with much less power it ends up being way easier to drive off the corner; making it a much better rookie car as it forces you to be smooth and learn throttle control but not to an extreme that you can’t drive it around the track. This car also requires a ton of brake just to slow the car down for corners and get it angled properly on corner entry, so you can get on throttle and drive it off the corner.

Now we get to the purpose-built beasts, the Late Models and Winged Sprint Cars. The late model gives you a very good starting point in the Limited variant, which looks to be modeled after a crate engine car with no spoiler. These things are very forgiving and much easier for the asphalt driver transitioning to learn what these are about, they have very little power so you can pretty much floor it throughout a whole race, but without that rear spoiler it can still get hairy at times if you aren’t completely dialed into the track. As you step up in power through the Pro and eventually Super Late variants, the power gradually increases; in the super you are definitely not in a full throttle and hang on mode if you want to be fast. You have to manage throttle as this thing can spin the rear tires at any time, and setup becomes very important as you look for the right combination of sliding to turn, but being able to get bite and throttle up off the corner. This car is my favorite by far even though I hated it at first on the default setup.

The Winged Sprint is just a beast, the 410 especially; this car actually feels like the fire breathing monster its described as in reality. Anything other than a perfect tacky track requires some insane amount of wheeling just to keep it wide open, the car wants to be thrown in sideways to get the air on the big ass wing on top, and then you just try to balance it throughout the corner as you try to minimize the amount of angle you need to hold your line but still maintain as much speed as you can, especially in the 305 which is a major momentum car. The 360 seemed to provide the best racing so far, as it allows most people to stay somewhat competitive and close enough to throw a lot of moves on each other without just trying to hold on and not die, while also being fast enough that people make mistakes and you get passing opportunities.

Anything but a perfect track, all these cars become insane to drive, with massively distinct characteristics from one another. I haven’t spent ten hours straight on any racing simulator for a very long time, but this certainly brought iRacing back to life for me, as all I was doing over the last two years was signing on for Peak Anti-Freeze Series testing, or the odd race here and there when I was in the mood. The dirt content is such leaps and bounds ahead of everything else on the service, it was very hard to pull myself away from running just one more lap – which hasn’t happened in a long, long time.

Hopefully, iRacing will be able to bring the rest of the cars on the service up to this level of quality, as dirt oval racing is just a portion of what the simulator offers, and the reason my participation on the service has been spotty is that this profound attention to detail showcased in the brand new dirt content does not always carry over to other cars. It also remains to be seen how long the popularity of the dirt oval content will last, as previous iRacing releases, such as the Lotus 49, were marketed to the moon and back thanks to the legacy of Grand Prix Legends, only for it to currently be one of the least popular cars on iRacing in the long run. Not that I think this will be the case with dirt as the reception has been overwhelmingly positive.

I’d also like to make a point about what iRacing has done with the NASCAR iRacing Peak series broadcasts as of late. I watched my first complete race this year after what was an amazing event at Auto Club Speedway on Tuesday, as I usually am in server during the race and don’t get to partake in the end user broadcast experience.

In my opinion, the quality of the broadcast has gone up drastically this year; the camera angles they have come up with, as well as the amazing broadcast team consisting of Evan Posocco, Andy Kessler, Cam Walsh, and Tim Terry, along with what is probably the most skilled and cleanest set of Peak series drivers we’ve had yet, all combined to create a very professional looking and enjoyable viewing experience. I feel this is what we need to actually push sim racing further. While the first two rounds of the season experienced some difficulties on the officiating and event management end, the broadcast itself is top-notch; it’s something you can sit down with a bag of chips and watch on a Tuesday evening.

In conclusion, its seems iRacing has finally started listening to what us, the racers on the service, actually want. They got a ton of real drivers involved in the alpha testing process – everyone from full-on pro drivers to average local track guys – and the results speak for themselves. This was an entire community coming together to strive for the absolute best in sim racing, and it’s to the point where many rFactor dirt racers I’ve kept in touch with over the years are now abandoning their dedicated dirt oval installs for an iRacing membership.

The rFactor dirt community now has a new home, the current crop of active iRacers have an abundance of brand new, extremely high quality content to immerse themselves in, and the way the project came together showcased the full potential of what iRacing has been striving to be as a piece of premium software for almost a decade, but never quite managed to get right until now. It’s very, very good, and I hope the passion in which the dirt content was created with translates to the other pieces of content on the service.

Advertisements

Has iRacing Missed their Marketing Target?

By now, I’m sure everyone has seen the sudden influx of iRacing shill pieces lately, published on a multitude of outlets from AutoWeek to NESN, often implying that drivers are getting picked up by major racing teams for simply using the service and being good at sim racing. While it’s nice to see iRacing actually trying to market themselves in a broad fashion compared to the past where they relied primarily on word of mouth, there’s still one major problem with their approach: iRacing do very little to cater to the road racing side of the experience – all of the advertising is directed primarily towards oval drivers and oval cars in oval series.

No wonder the costs of subscription and content suddenly went up as well.

iRacing recently announced a partnership with Kasey Kahne to be all over his Sprint Car, as it competes on the Craftsman World of Outlaws Series tour, they’re continuing with Ty Majeski into the NASCAR Xfinity Series, they’re on Clint Bowyer’s dirt late model, yet there is absolutely nothing to represent the other 50% of the service. The biggest market in auto racing, with mass world-wide appeal, is something iRacing has worked very hard to make lots of content for, and yet they seem to have no interest in actually going out and attracting that audience, at least from the public viewpoint – instead focusing everything on a very segregated series from the rest of the world, with both declining numbers in track attendance and TV ratings.

Oops.

At this point, they are just doubling down on a market that has the most local appeal to them, but yet almost any oval racing fan or driver I’ve talked to already knows about iRacing, they don’t seem to be gaining anything from advertising to local short tracks, and then of those who are reached by the marketing campaigns, how many local racers look at it once, complain about the paywall that most people don’t bother to look past, and never take a second, more in-depth look?

Yes, you can get a three month trial for free with certain promotions, or free cars on top of the base subscription package, but you are advertising to people who most likely don’t have a wheel, and they’ll be forced to spend upwards of $200 or borrow one from a friend – who most likely already has an iRacing account himself to go along with said wheel – and in that case has already done the free advertising for you himself, again making your investment pointless. It just seems like money being thrown into a market they have already tapped, and the gains are now at a point where they’re just not going to match the investment.

Any oval racing fan already knows about iRacing, and on top of that, most of them have already made the choice to sign up for it or not. It’s all a bit silly at this point; double down on the oval advertising when there’s an entirely separate discipline of auto racing they’re ignoring, despite building an abundance of content for. I appreciate the fact that they are giving back to local racing… sort of… but they’re at a point where they’re trying to grow the service by preaching to the choir.

The other major flaw with iRacing’s marketing department that I’d like to discuss in this entry, is how they push their software as the “original eSport racing game,” or sometimes just as “the original eSport,” though I think that tagline was quickly rectified. Here is a place where I feel iRacing seem to have no idea what the eSport audience actually is, and their claims show just how little they know about the eSport landscape itself. First of all, the very beginnings of what we now know as eSports can be traced back to either the Nintendo World Championships in the late 1980’s, or the mass appeal of online Quake or Counter-Strike matches from the late 1990’s – and even then some of the older folks among us will override our claims with Pac-Man challenges in the early 1980’s that local taverns or arcades held, all of which were well before iRacing started handing out $10,000 prizes for their championship wins starting in 2010. In terms of being the first eSport racing game, that tagline is also incorrect; Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo both beat it to the punch by a significant margin, with Forza’s Showdown and GT’s Academy.

Another major part of the story iRacing marketing has seemingly omitted is the fact that every large eSport which they’re aspiring to be, has a massive userbase in the millions, mostly due to being free-to-play games or one time $60 purchases, all of which are designed with mass customer appeal in mind. iRacing can barely maintain 3,000 people online at once without servers crashing and the staff blaming it on a DDoS attack (when it’s really just iRacers mashing F5), yet they somehow think they are equal to League of Legends, reeling in 200,000 viewers for a TSM regular season match. Oh please, I don’t know if it’s just pure arrogance from the small team in Bedford, maybe being sent a blank cheque from John Henry gives them that kind of ego, but the fact is iRacing seem to have completely missed the mark, not only on WHO they are targeting, but what that target even represents.

One element all “simulator” games seem to have missed, is that if you are going to build an eSport, you first need the userbase to support said eSport, and massive paywalls are not going to get you the audience needed to support the marketing world that surrounds the current state of eSports. The only racing game with the potential to attain a decent eSport following has been Gran Turismo, offering a full private racing school followed by a legitimate Nissan contract, just for buying a $60 game. Forcing people to pay upwards of $400 in the cost of in-game content alone, for a chance at making $10,000 – a portion of which is taxed by the US government – seems laughable in comparison.

Games like League of Legends make almost nothing from the average player, but they compensate for this via optional in-game microtransactions that are mostly cosmetic changes to existing gameplay elements. This allows them to actually make way more money and massively increase their audience than they would ever make from a simple $60 purchase or a monthly subscription fee without being pay to win, or pay to play. How many people would play League of Legends if merely competing in lower tier competitive ladders generated a three figure credit card bill? Not many, and iRacing doesn’t appear to understand this. If iRacing were to drastically reduce the costs of the service, they would actually increase the size of the userbase and generate more revenue from loads of smaller purchases, as has been proven over almost a decade with numerous free-to-play titles.

As usual, sim racing tends to be stuck in the past, refuses to adapt, and we always have another one waiting to take the #1 spot. Sim developers all greedily fight for this small portion of the market, while console users hand over their wallets to companies like Electronic Arts or Slightly Mad Studios, all while complaining that the games aren’t realistic enough, yet scoff at the idea of paying anything over $100 for a sim. Not to mention the massive PC investment or the periphreals needed. Stuff like JJacoby88’s estimated $20,000 USD credit card-maxing sim rig, shouldn’t be praised; it only drives away people on the fence who go “yep, I’m never paying that much money no matter how good it looks”, and crawl back to their consoles.

Sim developers desperately need to realize who their target audience is, stop throwing money at targets they already have acquired, and stop the ridiculous paywalls that drive away any sort of casual audience they need to keep their games alive. Gran Turismo has already proven it’s possible to have both a quality sim with massive appeal that can attract the audience needed to support a full TV series, as well as get a major manufacturer involved in finding talented drivers, and that’s all while paying a much bigger team to work on their game off a simple $60 purchase.

The math speaks for itself, a $60 game multiplied by one million sales nets a greater profit than $600 in subscription and content fees, multiplied by only a thousand hardcore sim racers, and if you create a cosmetic item department, then the whales show up and you get the best of both worlds, all while leaving the casual, low income user unaffected and able to enjoy the full game experience – and thus generation more interest in watching the product they actively use.

That’s how to grow sim racing as an eSport. This stuff has to make sense financially for people on the fence, and right now, iRacing – the company with the best shot currently at establishing themselves as a legitimate eSport – doesn’t.

HSO’s CART 88 Unleashes the Full Potential of rFactor

It was a little over a month ago we started hearing from a frequent user of our TeamSpeak server that a new rFactor mod was on the way, and it would blow everything else out of the water. The be all, end all creation for rFactor, if you will – one which attempted to stretch both the functionality and authenticity of the software’s underlying physics engine to the absolute limit. Obviously, we were a little skeptical at first for somebody shilling for their own product; I mean, how genuinely good can an rFactor mod be at the end of the day, right?

Yet after getting our hands on it ourselves and giving a full shakedown of the mod over multiple tracks and evenings of testing, the hype has been one hundred percent justified, and then some. If GP79 was the first rFactor mod to act as a showcase of what the platform could be used to create, CART 88 by the Historic Sim Racing Organization is a stunning final chapter in what Image Space Incorporated once envisioned for their sandbox simulator.

Lets face it, rFactor is a simulator that has been beaten to death; from the glory of the Porsche Carrera Cup 2007 and CARTFactor releases, to Project D2.0 or the VHR Stock Car mod, everything that could be done, has been done in some shape or form, several times over. From the Historic Sim Racing Organization – or HSO for short – comes the 1988 CART championship, a season that was dominated by Penske in reality, and had many manufacturers of drastically differing qualities all of which are represented in this very in-depth mod. Every engine and chassis has very distinct characteristics that each driver in the HSO league will have to learn and deal with throughout the season, and looking at preseason testing, when the rides are dished out and the fast guys are forced into backmarker cars, it should equal some very competitive racing throughout the season.

Preseason testing has currently hit three distinct locations – Sebring, Michigan and Milwaukee – all of which have served to showcase the extremes of what each car in the mod can be capable of. Overall, the cars themselves are very, very, twitchy, producing anywhere from 600hp to 700hp depending on the powerplant, with the ground effects tunnels that were so familiar in the 80’s helping to produce an extremely fun driving experience. The cars (especially the March) constantly try to kill you when you are pushing, but they are actually manageable over the limit, although the window for mistakes is very small; you have to trust that the faster you go, the downforce is going to do its work and hold the car to the ground; much easier said then done in the backmarker cars, which try to snap loose and kill you if you’re unable to keep the car balanced and working in unison with the aerodynamics.

The in-house Penske car, on the other hand, is almost easy in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still as much of a beast as the others, but the stability is on a totally different level, almost easy to push in comparison, and the Chevy powerplant gives such smooth power output it almost feels slow until you realize you’re going 175 mph down the backstretch at Sebring.

The level of detail put into the mod between each car and engine combination is simply amazing, the differences are clearly recognizable after just a few corners, and overall the mod just feels very complete. Aero effects are very significant in these cars, and within a second of another car you will feel the aero change drastically underneath you, sometimes even producing a tangible change in force feedback at high speeds.

The tire has a very recognizable edge that you need to flirt with to reach optimal lap times, and at that edge every input feels like its been exponentially magnified; the car dances and slides around slightly, you try to squeeze the pedal in minute increments to not shoot all 700hp to the rear wheels and it just feels downright amazing. The car will snap over the edge, but yet the grip seems to stay just enough for you to have a chance of gathering the car back up, and this is even more noticeable on ovals where you have a giant pad of asphalt to work with in an attempt to retain control of the car.

The rewards are high but so are the risks, and the laptimes in testing so far show just how big the difference is between pushing and risking a virtual fatality, or riding around comfortably.

The trademark staleness of the original rFactor seems to have been swept away with CART 88; the cars feel alive, the tire feels super responsive yet flexes as rubber should, and the aero effects are very pronounced and will be fun to play around with in a giant at Michigan or the high speed corners of Road America. This is the most time I’ve spent on any sim car for a long time and actually enjoyed every minute of both the driving experience and the depth of the mod, with the very distinct characteristics of each car bringing it out even more. The March 88 has been my preferred car of choice, as though its probably the slowest widely-used chassis of the 1988 season, its definitely the least stable and fairly difficult to drive consistently, but when you get it right it gives a a sense of accomplishment that displays what sim racing is really about at its absolute best – mastering a car you’d have a snowball’s chance in hell at driving in real life.

CART 88 is a spectacular accomplishment in just how well rFactor can perform when a single mod team working purely for the love of sim racing stop at nothing in the pursuit of absolute realism, and as we move into the future generation of simulators, is a solid final goodbye to a landmark piece of software. Though the mod has not been released in a final, public fashion as of yet, those desperate to turn laps in these glorious machines can pick up a pre-release build of the package over at HSO’s official website, though you’ll be forced to create an account under your real name before the download links become available. It is well worth the few hoops you’re required to jump through to obtain this mod, just be very aware that these aren’t exactly easy cars for budding sim racers to adapt to.

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.

 

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.