Reader Submission #132 – Vaporware Cars in Asphalt 8

maxresdefaultI don’t think it’s appropriate to sit here and pretend as if we care about mobile phone games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne here at PRC.net, but today’s Reader Submission brings up a fairly interesting topic regarding some of the fastest cars in what’s becoming a very popular franchise among casual gamers. The Asphalt series is more or less a low-quality knock-off version of Criterion’s old Burnout franchise from an entire decade ago, though there’s an increased emphasis on micro-transactions and other modern bullshit designed to reel in a userbase who maybe don’t possess the memories of superior arcade racers on the PlayStation 2 – ones which didn’t intrude your wallet.

FMecha has taken a break from running our unofficial but totally hilarious Twitter page to let us know of an interesting situation regarding Asphalt 8’s extensive car roster. Elaborate licensing deals have seen various vaporware supercars establish themselves as some of the best vehicles available in the game, despite some of these cars being little more than a hyperbolic art project for a ragtag team who couldn’t possibly build a car to the specifications they’ve claimed. And diehard Asphalt players – yes, they exist, and there’s a lot of them – are growing tired of what’s essentially product placement for cars created by middle eastern sheiks. I mean, everyone knows Asphalt 8 is simcade and has no simulation value – that’s the whole point of an arcade racer – but even the most simple-minded gamers can see what’s happening.


screenshot_20160206-153104Hey James, I’m here with a Reader Submission about a game that most of the readers at PRC probably won’t care for, but I think it’s a unique topic. I’m here to talk about Asphalt 8: Airborne.

Seeing it’s a mobile game, I’ll chose not to talk about the pay-to-win shenanigans, since complaining about that is like living in Chicago and complaining about heavy snowfall – it’s just part of the deal. Instead, I want to discuss something plaguing the game’s car lineup: vaporware cars by no-name startup car makers. Some of those car makers brak about being a “boutique” car maker, and may (or may not) produce their car in very limited numbers. They also like to make outlandish claims that may rev up automotive journalists’ bullshit meters, and may also end up only as a render – without any real, functioning car scooting around in real life. Sorry, engine-less shells don’t count.

I’d like to draw attention to an article from CheatSheet that partially inspires what I’ve written today.

csThis article basically highlights those no-name supercar companies going for a horsepower (and technology) arms race with promises of four-digit horsepower numbers (after what Bugatti did with the Veyron), and tells it is foolish for those startups to create over-ambitious cars, warning that they may reek of scams, as well. Out of the cars mentioned as “never going to happen” in the article, the Trion Nemesis (a top-tier car in Asphalt 8), Falcon F7, and Devel Sixteen Prototype (the devilish 5000+ horsepower car that seriously revved up the bullshit meters of automotive journalists, although it’s engine builder did manage to actually build one example of Devel’s engine) are in Asphalt 8. The Lykan Hypersport is also mentioned, as in Asphalt, as well as Project CARS, but I don’t list it here since they apparently have sold three out of the seven they’ve built, including one variant to Abu Dhabi’s police force.

asphalt_8_airborne_25_10_2015_20_21_29Some other suspected vaporware cars in Asphalt 8 include the Kepler Motion (a hybrid supercar limited to 50 models that was supposed to begin delivery in 2014), the Lucra L148 (from the makers of the Lucra L470 kit car that does indeed exist), and the Weber Faster One (widely ridiculed as an ugly car).

maxresdefaultThe nanoFlowcell electric cars in the game – Quantino and Quant FE – the latter widely ridiculed by Asphalt 8 players as “The Boat” due to how bad the car handles in-game, is something so big I have to separate them from the list above. The nanoFlowcell cars rode on the alternative power sources bandwagon by utilizing new technologies; salt water battery and flow cell system that leads to an outlandish claim – not large horsepower, but rather large amounts of efficiency and electrical range. This also leads to inevitable skepticism by not only car journalists, but also scientists. Of note, Nunzio Laveccia, the supposed technology founder, is apparently a musician without any experience in engineering, either.

vector-w12_w8lm-editionIt really bugs me about how and why those questionable cars made it into the game. Looking long-term, those questionable cars can create a legal problem; for instance, the Vector cars, also widely labeled as a vaporware car maker, are the big blockade that prevents any re-release of Gran Turismo 2 (in fact, the description for the Vector M12 in the game says that Vector’s company history would make a good movie plot. Well, at least Gameloft didn’t bother adding the highly questionable Lyons Motor Car LM2 Streamliner.


asphalt8_rev_02I agree that the influx of vaporware cars in modern arcade racers is a bit silly, especially when their appearance in Asphalt 8 establishes them as some sort of marquee vehicle at the top of its class. People are eventually going to find out the real thing is literally just a giant full-scale model that doesn’t exist as a functioning vehicle, thus leading to a situation where both the developer of the game, as well as the car maker, look quite stupid in the end. Now, it’s one thing to have preposterous cars like these as an end-of-game reward – Electronic Arts and Bizarre Creations had these sorts of vehicles locked away in older Need for Speed & Project Gotham Racing titles for the player to earn – but Asphalt 8 are going a step further and not just charging a premium for them; they’re the best cars in the game. That’s shitty.

Let me explain why.

506As you explored Project Gotham Racing 3 and naturally acquired certain Kudos point milestones just by progressing through the game, you were rewarded with a whole bunch of these vaporware concepts – and from what I remember, about half of them were from Ford. What Bizarre Creations did right, unlike GameLoft with Asphalt 8, is that they were not essential pieces of your car collection that you absolutely needed to have. The Ford Indigo and GT90 were awesome looking remnants of the nineties, but when you went online, they weren’t the be-all, end-all leaderboard cars you were required to unlock before you even stood a chance online. And not only that, the overall attributes of cars such as the GT90 weren’t space-age figures that left everything else in the dust; they fit right in with the other twenty or so cars in their respective classes. Rolling up to the grid with a GT90 was more of a way to get everyone reminiscing about the good ol’ days of Windows 95-era Need for Speed rather than an indication you were about to stomp everybody.

That’s good game design.

maxresdefaultElectronic Arts took things a step further with Need for Speed II, but there was a method to the madness. EA openly acknowledged the theme of the vehicle roster was primarily homologation specials mixed with 90’s hypercars and one-off concepts, with entries such as the Indigo and GT90 establishing themselves as natural additions to a list populated by vehicles such as the McLaren F1 and Elise GT1 rather than being absurdly over-powered bullshit cars that guaranteed an easy victory. In fact, part of what makes Need for Speed 2 so special was the atmosphere EA had created – the elaborate art projects from Ford and other design firms were treated as “just another vehicle” with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses, giving a sense of legitimacy to their inclusion. Again, good game design.

At the end of the day, however, we’re discussing Asphalt 8: Airborne, a game primarily built to make money off of idiot kids who have been given unrestricted access to mom’s credit card. Unlike classic Need for Speed titles, or the amazing yet short-lived Project Gotham Racing series, this isn’t a game that has been built with any sort of passion or cohesive direction. What you’re looking at with cars such as the Devel Sixteen appearing in Asphalt 8 is nothing more than product placement that puts some $$$ in GameLoft’s bank account.

 

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Autogen: The Future of Arcade Racers?

innsbruck-11-e1480610092315I’ve foregone the tradition of writing a mammoth year-in-review article to close out 2016 here on PRC.net, in favor of instead looking towards the future and brainstorming how developers can craft a much more enticing experience for fans of both arcade racers and hardcore simulators alike. And I think I’ve figured it out.

What you see above is a screenshot of X-Plane 11 by Laminar Research, in particular the town of Innsbruck, Austria. Beautiful, isn’t it? This is a modern Flight Simulator where 99% of the time is spent thousands of feet above the terrain, and yet the city below has been crafted in such a phenomenal way that it puts even the greatest BeamNG or Assetto Corsa free roam maps to shame. In X-Plane, as with all flight simulators, you’re meant to be replicating the route of a commercial airliner, or shooting around the continent at the speed of sound in an early 2000’s fighter jet, but the city depicted above just begs to be explored in your favorite Ferrari or Porsche.

ll22-thumb-jpg-977670f7193af541912dee81fe9fd52cAnd it’s not just Innsbruck that has been given this kind of treatment. Whether we’re talking about Microsoft’s own Flight Simulator X, the Automobilista-like offshoot known as Prepar3D, or Laminar’s X-Plane, all three major players in the virtual aviation scene rely on what’s called Autogen scenery to power the landscape below your aircraft. To put things into extremely simplistic terms, neither Microsoft nor Laminar have gone out and meticulously modeled the entire globe, because that’s fucking insane. Each developer simply makes use of a specialized algorithm within their software that imports roadways from resources similar to Google Earth, and constructs the correct type of buildings around them. The result is an environment that, while not accurately placing every last 7-Eleven convenience at its exact location in the virtual rendition of Phoenix, Arizona, still manages to come pretty fucking close. Third party modders working to refine the Autogen behavior – some of them creating stuff for free, others bundling their masterpieces as part of payware packages – have churned out some truly amazing artwork for use in X-Plane and Flight Simulator, and again, they’re all meant to be admired out the window of an aircraft.

Even though this kind of stuff is common in the world of flight simulators, never do you have the chance to rip around something like this in a GT3-spec BMW Z4. And that sucks, because… well…

d_bremen-jpg-78ee63af40728332f65b808b8a6ae466Autogen scenery is the norm in Flight Simulators, yet over in the world of driving games, the biggest problem affecting many arcade racers who have chosen to stick with the free roam format is undoubtedly the map size. Whether we’re talking about the recently-released Forza Horizon 3, the final rendition of Rockstar’s Midnight Club series on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, or the timeless classic Need for Speed Underground 2, free roam driving games eventually lose a large portion of their appeal once you discover every nook and cranny of the map. I remember when stuff like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was brand new, and people would have these mammoth road tips across the map to venture out into the unknown – but by the end of the game, everyone had began to see through the lighting tricks. Combined with the artificial speed limiter placed on each car, the map honestly wasn’t that big, and most can still probably navigate from Los Santos to Area 69 with relative ease.

t80sb4vSo while I admire the insane graphical fidelity of the 2015 Need for Speed reboot, and think it’s cool Ubi-Soft tried to build a scale replica of the United States for The Crew, part of me still wants to rip around in a 1:1 reproduction of a large American city – suburbs and all. Given what the Flight Simulator community have been able to do with Autogen technology on a hobbyist level, I think it’s time to push aside the highly detailed yet extremely condensed fictional cities seen in stuff like Burnout Paradise and Grand Theft Auto V, in favor of a large real-world environment fueled by actual geographical data. Obviously there would be some work required on part of the development team to iron out the rough edges and make the landscape highly functional – but the novelty of racing through every last suburb in Detroit or Denver would be a huge draw in a genre where each open world racing game resembles the ones which came before it.

img_neighborhood_webNow a lot of people are probably sitting here thinking this is exactly what  both Test Drive Unlimited games have done in the past, but the key difference is that the TDU franchise was a massive Triple-A project created during a time where Autogen wasn’t a household name, and the technology simply just wasn’t there yet. According to an interview from over a decade ago, the Test Drive Unlimited team started with a satellite scan of Oahu, and then sent a team of researchers on an assignment similar to what Google does for their Google Street View images – physically driving around the island themselves, and creating their own reference material. The Autogen capabilities that we see from Flight Simulator X, Prepar3D, and X-Plane would essentially allow developers to chop fifteen months off the modeling process, instead letting the team refine the model the game spit out via the algorithm, and then build a compelling experience around that world.

untitled-2In my opinion, Autogen is the future of arcade racers. I’ve played enough open world driving games to know that the game only retains your attention throughout the exploration period, and it’s a hard sell to keep pushing onward until the end if the game world has nothing new to offer. However, give gamers a mammoth area to explore that they can’t possibly cover in any traditional length of playtime, and they’ll keep coming back. This is why Test Drive Unlimited is considered a cult classic – you simply can’t take in all of what’s available to do in Oahu (or Ibiza) in one sitting. So now that technology such as Autogen scenery has progressed to the point where it looks fucking phenomenal in simulators that don’t even make use of the actual terrain, let’s try it again in an open world racing game.

How Many Times Can You Sell the Same Broken Game?

encore-headerIf at first you don’t succeed, keep selling the same product over and over again, in the hopes that customers will finally buy it out of curiosity. This seems to be the approach Nordic Games, Rainbow Studios, and THQ have taken with MX vs. ATV Supercross Encore, an entirely forgettable motocross racer that bares little resemblance to the phenomenal entries in the series from around a decade ago. Originally arriving on the PS3 and Xbox 360 as a budget-priced, bare-bones dirt bike bash before being ported to both the PC, as well as current generation consoles, Nordic are now set to release the same game for a third time – albeit with a slightly different set of tracks.

Though Nordic Games haven’t secured the official American Motorcycle Association license, and therefore will not paint the in-game banners in the colors of the Monster Energy Supercross Series, physical track designs for the annual championship – to the best of my knowledge – fall under a much easier to obtain license, and as a result MX vs. ATV Supercross Encore for the PS4 and Xbox One will be re-released in a manner akin to the old Monaco Grand Prix games on the Sega Dreamcast. They can’t call venues by their real names such as Lucas Oil Stadium or Sam Boyd Stadium, nor will the game’s championship mode fall under the Monster Energy Supercross namesake, but everyone who picks up the game will be greeted with the exact tracks the series visits. THQ also appear to be playing along with this grey area, as their own press release and box art mentions “officially licensed tracks”, but they are careful not to mention the AMA sanctioning body or Monster Energy – just that they’ve licensed “the same tracks the pros race on.”

It’s a pretty big deal for motorcross fans. Aside from the officially licensed Supercross titles on the original PlayStation from both 989 Sports and Electronic Arts, modern motorcross games typically rely purely on fantasy track layouts within a mix of both real-world and fantasy stadiums, and this turns the level of authenticity down a notch compared to other racing games available for each respective console. While sim racers are used to being given a platter of real life tracks to select from in each modern simulator, motorcross game developers have traditionally struggled to acquire licenses, creating an experience similar to rFactor 2, where you’re ripping around the MX vs. ATV equivalent to Joesville or Toban, instead of real circuits like Daytona and Laguna Seca. Sure, MX Superfly from many years ago had a handful of circuits from the national tour like Glen Helen and Washougal, and the Milestone MXGP series have landed the entire European championship license, but American Motorcross seems to be a bit of a great white buffalo when it comes to video games.

Yet finally acquiring a portion of the licenses required to produce some kind of authentic game based on the 2017 professional supercross season means jack shit if the underlying experience isn’t satisfactory.

reviewThe MX vs. ATV series used to be a formidable off-road racer, and right now, it’s anything but. Reviews such as the one above outline an experience that quite frankly isn’t worth spending money on, with Steam users claiming the PC version of Supercross Encore suffers from numerous performance issues and poor design choices or fundamental mechanics that haven’t been rectified after a little over a year on the market as a fully-priced product, with a portion of that year spent in Steam’s Early Access program to sort of “cheat” the negative reviews that obviously popped up. Though the game was shipped as a finished product for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in October of 2014, Nordic were still working on optimizing the game after it had landed in the hands of PC players an entire year later – leading the hardcore motocross gaming crowd to feel like elaborate beta testers.

This extremely negative YouTube review from motocross gaming personality The White Guy was uploaded in October of 2015, though he has continued to answer questions about the current state of MX vs. ATV Supercross Encore as recently as three weeks ago, indicating the game is a pointless addition to any motocross fan’s library.

ayyIt’s really not in a good state from a gameplay perspective, and to make matters worse, rather than fixing the complaints the community have made about the title, they’ve pushed out $150 CDN worth of DLC for the game.

insane-dlcAll of this, for a motocross game that quite simply doesn’t meet a base level of quality customers have every right to expect from their transaction. Again, Nordic have more or less pushed aside all customer feedback in favor of announcing a special edition of the game bundled with an additional set of tracks inspired by the upcoming 2017 Monster Energy Season – also planning to release these tracks as downloadable content for those unwilling to buy a new copy of the game – and it all just looks really fucking bad.

Here you have a game where basically everyone whose bought it has said it needs serious work to be even remotely enjoyable both from a gameplay standpoint, as well as a technical standpoint, and the developer has responded by basically throwing such an absurd amount of downloadable content and re-releases at the user base it’s as if they’ve permanently stuck their fingers in their ears.

What’s sad about all of this, is that there aren’t multiple competing motocross games on the market, where if you don’t like one, you can check out the rival title. This isn’t one of those deals where you can go out and get a refund for Project CARS and exchange it for something similar in Assetto Corsa; your options as a motocross fan are exploring the modding scene of MX vs. ATV Reflex – which most want to move on from given it’s age – or diving into MX Simulator, a game far too hardcore for most motocross fans.

mx-vs-atv-supercross-10So while it’s cool for the Motocross community that Nordic are essentially putting out the first Supercross game in fifteen years to feature an entire championship full of authentic track layouts, in the end it doesn’t mean much considering the game itself hasn’t garnered any notable positive reception in the three years it’s been on the market. In fact, a lot of people hate it, and they’re deeming this gesture as a giant slap in the face to those holding out for a solid dirt bike game.

Shockwave Arrives in Brick Rigs with Latest Update

812563367_preview_ss2016-12-04at11-27-17Originally conceived in the mid 1980’s by Les and Kent Shockley, the Shockwave Jet Peterbuilt has been a staple of airshows and International Hot Rod Association events for the better part of two decades, cramming three jet engines into the back of a purpose-built exhibition semi, producing over 36,000 horsepower and capable of speeds approaching 375 mph on a standard length airport runway. While the truck’s virtual debut may have come as a rival AI vehicle to be defeated in one of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X’s Oshkosh Airshow missions, monster truck livery designer Ash Robertson has unveiled his stunning virtual recreation of the truck for the Steam Workshop portion of Brick Rigs, a relatively cheap physics sandbox fueled by blocks which are in no way related to the Lego toy company we introduced to the readers of PRC.net about a week ago.

The creation of Shockwave as it has appeared at race tracks in 2016 serves to highlight the new features present in an update released earlier today for Brick Rigs; one which brings airplanes, jet engines, and a multitude of new construction blocks to an indie game which has consumed our every waking moment since learning about the title. Application stability issues have also been ironed out with the latest update, allowing for some of the more elaborate creations available on the Steam workshop to function flawlessly within the game world without throwing a curve ball at your CPU when it explodes into a million pieces upon contact with a concrete wall.

810231397_preview_ss2016-12-01at09-35-28The rate at which Brick Rigs is being updated gives serious hope for the future of this title, as the game offers a lighthearted yet extremely deep approach to messing around with what are traditionally considered to be a children’s toys, removing the first person shooter element seen in other physics engine sandboxes  such as Garry’s Mod in favor of focusing exclusively on the construction and piloting of motorized vehicles. With online play already implemented, the Steam Workshop blowing up thanks to numerous high quality creations, and the possibility of a map editor on the horizon, we’re looking at what’s easily going to turn into the ultimate time waster for serious sim racers who just can’t shake their love of virtual race cars.

809638280_preview_ss2016-11-30at11-37-53

All Possible Simulation Value: The Review of Brick Rigs

brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-27-18-43-40-38At first glance, Brick Rigs is one of those budget-priced Steam games which appears to only exist for one sole purpose: suckering in YouTube personalities to cover the game for a short fifteen minute episode, in which they drive head-on into barriers and showcase the lighthearted driving simulator’s incredible physics & damage model – one which allows you replicate the process of throwing your son’s Lego Star Wars models across the living room without the accompanying tantrum. And provided you don’t drop the equivalent of a meal at Subway on what’s billed as an open world physics sandbox with no association to the LEGO toy company whatsoever, only choosing to base your opinion of the game off some teenager smashing the default set of vehicles into various stationary objects scattered around the three available, you’d be right. If you don’t have any sort of imagination, or a group of friends also willing to part with $16 CDN and dive into what the game currently has to offer – even in Early Access – Brick Rigs will barely hold your attention span.

But a combination of iRacing teams spontaneously splitting up, as well as the endless pain and suffering which comes hand in hand with waiting for race car parts to arrive, meant there were a whole bunch of us sitting around on Teamspeak with absolutely nothing to do. Brick Rigs caught my eye, and within about an hour, developer Lukas Rustemeyer had made a whole bunch of money off of us and our buddies. Retail therapy? No doubt about it, but seventeen hours later, we’re still not done with the game.

And that says something.

brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-27-18-20-21-96The Steam store page lists Brick Rigs as a dynamic driving and destruction physics sandbox powered by the Unreal 4 engine and centering around what’s essentially Lego cars – giving you free reign to blast around the map in a variety of toy cars, all of which shatter into a million pieces should you run out of talent in the middle of a corner. It’s as if someone took what made BeamNG’s Drive successful – the extensive damage model and acceptable driving physics – and blended that overall package with none other than Lego Racers. Then they went a step further and enabled customers to share their virtual creations with others, and race each other online, basically creating the ultimate kindergarten classroom shitfest where every student is over the age of twenty, and Lego dragsters are required to go through a legitimate tech inspection process prior to making a pass down the quarter mile.

Those who haven’t dug into their box of Lego since they were still in grade school have the ability to pick from a variety of generic pre-built vehicles, or hit up the Steam workshop to download other users creations – all of which barely take up any hard drive space whatsoever – but let’s be real here: you came to build a goddamn Lego race car, and Brick Rigs lets you build a magnificent contraption that spectacularly falls apart in the precise ways you ask it to.

brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-27-18-44-38-25It took about an evening to become accustomed to the garage screen in Brick Rigs, and this wasn’t due to a clunky menu or unorganized brick sorting structure. Brick Rigs basically lets you build whatever the hell you want while not offering any sort of tutorial that would otherwise get in the way, so your imagination does dictate how much enjoyment you get out of the title – for better or worse. If you don’t give a fuck about looking uncool in front of your friends, and invest a bit of time into learning how to build stuff in Brick Rigs – which is fairly straightforward even without a tutorial – the stuff you can build is incredible. And unless you’re building a massive tank with multiple moving parts, and stick firmly to race cars or other miscellaneous automobiles, you deal with any pesky brick restrictions as seen in the old Lego Racers games. But if you go into the title a bit removed from messing around with the popular children’s toys, or just don’t have the brain for creating something captivating, Brick Rigs is something you’ll uninstall in thirty minutes, possibly less.

brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-27-18-23-33-88Provided you do churn out something half-decent, the game’s physics engine handles your creations quite well. I’m not going to say this is some hidden gem of a simulator, but controlling your vehicle with a standard Xbox 360 pad warrants an experience similar to BeamNG or Rigs of Rods, in that you can rip around the map and actually have fun with what you’ve built – spinning out more often than you would in a legitimate arcade racer, but it’s still fun nonetheless. Weight distribution comes into play depending on where you’ve placed each block on your car, the damage engine allows you to limp around sans bodywork – running over the various pieces that you’ve left behind on the side of the road – and there are even options to change basic spring settings in the garage menu for that extra bit of mechanical grip.  There are timed circuit races to partake in, an entire city block to explore, and even a proper cockpit view based on the perspective of your mini-figure if you fancy some kind of modern racing simulator experience.

brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-27-18-21-31-73Oh, and there’s a full day/night cycle alongside optional rain and snow conditions, if you were waiting for the obligatory“random early access Lego knock-off sandbox game built by one guy has more simulation value than Assetto Corsa” joke.

brick_rigs_3However, it’s one thing to joke about Brick Rigs having more simulation value than almost any modern racing sim on the market; it’s another to actually go out and prove this not-so-lighthearted jab to be one hundred percent factual. Despite being little more than an Early Access game which will certainly get its creator in hot water due to the uncanny resemblance to a popular interlocking plastic brick brand, Brick Rigs features a fairly comprehensive multiplayer mode. You can show up on one of the game’s three maps with your buddies in tow, and do whatever the fuck you want, for however long you want.

Many of you will undoubtedly spawn a couple of fire trucks and hold a spontaneous demolition derby, admiring the game’s phenomenal damage model in the process. And that’s okay, we did it as well with a fancy Stock Car Dustin had built. Even online, when you’d think latency would be a genuine issue in determining proper collision velocities and all of the fun stuff that makes Brick Rigs such an enjoyable tool of destruction in isolation, the experience is translated almost flawlessly to the online portion of the sandbox. It’s amazing to spawn a few identical cars with your friends, rip around a portion of the map in a tight pack, and watch everything go to shit in a chaotic chain reaction collision. It literally doesn’t get old.

But after we were past the initial crash into each other phase, a bunch of us discovered the drag strip had a working Christmas tree which had to be manually activated by someone playing the role of an NHRA starter, and scoreboards which displayed basic quarter mile time slips – just the elapsed time, and the trap speed.

What followed was absolute insanity. This shitty indie game none of us at PRC.net had ever heard of suddenly turned into the ultra-hardcore toy drag racing simulator we never knew we needed until now. We all regret investing this much time into a virtual Lego sandbox that glitched out on us every ten minutes or so, requiring a full server restart and each individual user giving the thumbs up from their end, but holy shit it was so worth it. brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-27-17-02-20-42We began our adventures by building extremely basic rail cars, which made use of the thinnest, longest bricks in the game to create a rudimentary looking dragster, and placed the mammoth V8 engine – along with its supercharger add-on – behind the rear wheels. I wasn’t kidding earlier when I said weight distribution actually has an effect on your car’s performance in Brick Rigs; we were making several test passes to determine the perfect shift points & engine placement, and counter-balancing the rearward weight bias with ballast blocks on the nose of the car. Every few minutes, we’d sign off from the server, head back to the garage, make design changes to our cars, re-upload them to the Steam workshop, and then head back online. We were almost replicating the exact evolution of the sport of NHRA drag racing – minimalist front-engine roadsters which were totally out of control, yet occasionally hooked up and produced speeds which easily surpassed the game’s default dragster.

As you can probably imagine, wrecking at speeds over 300 km/h looked absolutely hilarious. The finish line judge would have to dodge a partially intact, flaming chassis screaming at him from thirty feet in the air, and the whole thing was one big clusterfuck of people shitting themselves over the mic.

brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-28-19-08-09-57In what we later nicknamed the X-Car class due to their aesthetically horrifying designs and ludicrous speeds that resembled what happens when you give a six year old a bucket of Lego, the two creations you see above ended up dominating our original set of online drag racing meets to the point where we began joking about creating some sort of rule book to keep things fair and exciting between the lot of us. I’m not a mechanical whiz by any means, but I found out that loading up the rear end with as many blocks as possible – including the engine – while running the absolute bare minimum of anything on the front half of the car was practically unstoppable, and nobody else had gotten to that point in their experimentation efforts yet. So it was understandable that in order to keep people interested and wanting to play online Lego drag racing with each other, a set of ground rules might be required.

The jokes about needing a rule book just to play some shitty online Lego game stopped really fucking quick when Dustin actually threw one together, and we were told to start building on the spec chassis he’d just uploaded.

brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-28-19-02-24-84There were minimum weight requirements, strict rules regarding how the containment cell for the driver was constructed, and even a complete restriction on wheelie bars – as this would encourage the creative use of bodywork and ballast blocks to counterbalance the rearward weight bias, compared to the simple workaround of relying on a basic wheelie bar. It was pretty insane given the game we were playing, but it made absolute perfect sense at the time.

To those whose minds are absolutely blown at what they’re reading – yes, this game drove well enough, and the physics engine was competent enough where all of this little bullshit mattered and was noticeable on-track at the power and speeds we were running at. During my testing periods, adding or removing a single ballast block under the nose would drastically change how much the front end would pitch up when I’d shift from second to third gear at around the sixty foot mark, and I needed a near-perfect weight distribution configuration to get the rear end to set at the proper angle and the drag slicks to properly hook up to the asphalt. This is how good the core engine of this fucking game is. I literally had a stash of ballast blocks under the nose bodywork that I was adding or removing after each pass based on how it ran.

15218432_10206319425225007_574264684_nWe all hit the online servers at the same time with wildly different contraptions, and this is where the sheer beauty of Brick Rigs was exhibited. We started with a spec chassis and a set of guidelines to prevent things from getting too far out of hand, and all showed up with radically different contraptions.

4x-roadstersEthan brought a roadster, Dustin whipped up a traditional dragster complete with a gigantic rear wing, Travis threw as many bricks as he could on the rear portion of the vehicle, and I did what I could to stretch the rules by messing around with a widebody slingshot dragster. Everyone was in unanimous agreement that my car skirted far too many of the predetermined rules, and we’d need to go back to the drawing board after the session had ended to ensure we all had something that looked a bit more dragster-like, but there was still the process of manually making passes both solo and against each other to determine who still retained their Lego skills after all these years.

brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-28-18-43-31-27The panel-van inspired vehicle Travis had built was last on the board with an 8.79 at 191 mph, a respectable top-end speed hindered by poor acceleration due to choosing aesthetics over functionality. Ethan picked up almost two tenths of a second on Travis, posting a time of 8.62 at 197 mph in his orange roadster, yet earning the honor of the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier with his inaugural 8.64 second pass – the first run recorded on the server with our new rules package. Dustin failed to register a 200 mph effort despite a blistering 8.53 second run, clocking in at 199 mph over the speed trap thanks to a blown shift at the eighth mile mark.

The more we raced the clock, as well as each other, the more we realized there was a mighty impressive physics engine under the hood of Brick Rigs. Missed shifts played a huge role in how races turned out. The art of lifting off the throttle and re-applying power, or short shifting in a last-ditch effort to regain traction, became a valuable tactic. Running in chase view, you could physically see when the rear tires lost traction and throttle back accordingly.

brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-28-18-56-28-31But once again, I ruined yet another Brick Rigs drag racing class with an 8.16 second effort at 204 mph, a sign that we basically needed to start from scratch and do our collective best to ensure there were virtually no loopholes with the next spec chassis or set of rules. It’s not fun when one guy blows out the field, with a car that was admittedly barely legal.

brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-28-18-59-43-44Myself and Dustin sat down to combine what we’d learned from what was quickly becoming many hours in Brick Rigs, into the second version of a spec chassis we could all use to build cars that were not only incredibly fast, but produced extremely close races. Compared to the X-Cars we started with – the minimalist rails that were essentially a chassis and an engine – the roadster platform we’d been building on for the afternoon saw our elapsed times slow down by almost a second, and our trap speeds fail to breach the 200 mph milestone.

brickrigs-win64-shipping-2016-11-28-21-20-43-74The end product was what you see above; a sleek Car of Tomorrow platform resembling a traditional dragster frame that was both easy to build on and aesthetically pleasing. Minimum weight restrictions would be reduced from 150 bricks to 110 to prevent people from padding the brick count via excessive bodywork, reworked cockpit rules forced us to create extremely cramped and realistic containment areas that would end up making the game’s first person view a legitimate option should we have chosen to use it, wheelie bars were still outlawed, and basic measurements dictated how tall, wide, or long your rear wing was allowed to be.

We ended up creating three incredibly unique dragsters under the revised rule package and spec chassis, all of which ran in the 7.9 second range at roughly 215 mph – much faster than both the default dragster and our X-Cars – and threatened to blow over like Eddie Hill in Pomona if you weren’t careful.

4x-rail-carsAnd none of this was accomplished in a hardcore auto racing simulator as it should have been, but in a Lego vehicle physics sandbox intended primarily for younger audiences and YouTube personalities. This shows you just how far the sim racing genre has fallen from where it once was over a decade ago – you can load up Brick Rigs, a sixteen dollar steam game whose lone creator is probably going to get sued by Lego at some point, and receive a more compelling hardcore racing simulator experience than racing-oriented titles which retail for almost quadruple the price.

Brick Rigs wins the award for PRC.net’s Best Racing Game of 2016, simply because no other modern simulator on the market made us sit down as a group on Teamspeak and have extremely serious discussions about the very specific minimum weight requirements and containment zone dimensions of our Lego drag racing league vehicles, yet also allowed us to piss ourselves laughing at the sweet damage model when it all went awry. Lukas Rustemeyer, you’re a bloody genius. We want more.

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