The Rebirth of #ForzaCorsa: Kunos Simulazioni Has Been Sold!

ac-soldWell, this is a bit awkward.

The 2016 calendar year over here at PretendRaceCars.net was incredibly successful for us both as sim racers and shitty amateur journalists, though it wasn’t without one major blemish to our reputation. Acting solely on the word of a prominent third party modder within the Assetto Corsa community supplying us with what I believed at the time to be genuine top-secret information which wasn’t supposed to see the light of day, I pushed out an article claiming Kunos Simulazioni were in the process of being completely acquired by Turn 10 Studios, potentially as a means to help create a hardcore variant of the Forza Motorsport franchise for dedicated PC sim racing enthusiasts – as Dan Greenawalt did announce during an interview at E3 that they were working on a third Forza experience. We turned into the laughing stock of the community within twenty four hours, as Kunos Simulazioni staff members, and even other sim racing outlets, publicly roasted us and claimed we were mentally ill for even daring to post such a ridiculous story in the first place.

Fast forward nine months into the future, and it turns out the only thing we got wrong was the name of the company. Revealed earlier this afternoon – much to the dismay of dedicated Assetto Corsa fans who hoped Kunos would remain an independent entityReuters is reporting that Kunos Simulazioni have been purchased by an Italian investor group known to the world as Digital Bros, a partner of 505 Games. The group of Kunos Simulazioni staff members are no longer a wild bunch of sim racing rebels doing their best to push the genre forward by any means necessary, but rather puppets tasked with adhering to the strict demands of their overlords at Digital Bros, in exchange for a hefty payday of course.

Stefano Casillo and Marco Massarutto will remain with Kunos Simulazioni in their current positions for the time being, though with the transfer of ownership also comes the transfer of power. Kunos Simulazioni as a company is now owned and controlled by an investor group, and they have the power to remove Casillo and/or Massarutto if they aren’t satisfied with how they’re handling the company on a day-to-day basis. They can even even change the entire direction of the franchise if they see a justifiable reason to do so, or kill it outright, as we’ve seen happen to entities like Criterion Games or Maxis when taken under the wing of Electronic Arts.

It’s undoubtedly a difficult pill for fans of Assetto Corsa to swallow. Kunos Simulazioni have spent several years amassing a following of loyal supporters since Assetto Corsa’s humble beginnings in 2013, and the sale to Digital Bros – which hands control of everything to an investor group playing by cold, hard numbers – does not bode well for a game living in an already niche environment. Let’s be honest with ourselves, developers don’t get into sim racing to make money; they do it for the love of virtual auto racing, and passion isn’t something that can be analyzed in a board room by a group of Italian suits obsessing over pie charts and other metrics. Because of this, it’s certainly hard to imagine a situation where Assetto Corsa 2 continues on the path created by the original. These games don’t make a whole lot of money.

If there’s an Assetto Corsa 2 to begin with, that is…

ac-is-doneWhat you see above is the third time I’ve received this information in the past month, though I originally held off on posting it the first time after consulting Stefano directly, who warned me that Assetto Corsa fans are still trying to fuck with PRC by submitting fake news. This obviously says a lot about Assetto Corsa fans to begin with, as viral marketers and obsessive fanboys are making it their mission to ruin some sim racing blog’s credibility for giving their favorite game a bad review, but given we were nine months early to reporting the sale of Kunos Simulazioni after everyone and their dog called us crazy, I feel it’s the correct time to bring it up, because there’s a chance this is in the ballpark too.

Assetto Corsa 2 might not come at all. According to our source, who again may not be entirely factual, supposedly once every piece of downloadable content planned for release in 2017 is out on the marketplace, support for Assetto Corsa as a franchise is finished, and I was told by another sim racer that “unless someone puts down the capital to make it happen, they’re done, as they mortgaged their homes to make the original Assetto Corsa, and they certainly don’t want to go through that process all over again.” There will allegedly be no new modes or additional features that fans have been requesting for several years – which is sure to sting those patiently waiting for Kunos to polish up Assetto Corsa to the level of other simulators in terms of functionality.

I’m not saying this is accurate, but I’ve heard it about a month ago from somebody I trust, and now I’m hearing it again from an entirely different user who resides in a totally different section of the community. All of the time you’ve spent waiting for Assetto Corsa to become more than an elaborate supercar hotlap simulator – whether you’re playing it on the PC, or current generation consoles – will potentially go to waste.

ac-porscheNow that we’ve got the news portion out of the way, it’s time for me to elaborate on how I feel about this whole announcement.

Though it wasn’t the exact brand we claimed nine months ago, Kunos Simulazioni as a company was indeed just sold off to an investors group. While everybody was calling us crazy last spring for daring to suggest Kunos were even thinking of “selling out” to begin with, we had the balls to say “hey guys, this might be happening.” And it just did. Like, right now.

These kinds of endeavors – with millions of dollars and ownership of an IP on the line – don’t just happen overnight; they take months, maybe even an entire year of careful consideration and meticulous planning, especially given Kunos Simulazioni are a team of professional software developers, as opposed to a single guy making a shitty 2D indie game in his apartment. Suffice to say, they’ve been working on a deal to sell the company for a while.

One theory that has been run by us, is that Turn 10 indeed approached Kunos Simulazioni to acquire the company, but backed out when it suddenly became front page news on several sim racing websites – which would explain Stefano’s immense hatred of us; there’s a possibility we inadvertently screwed them out of a jaw-dropping acquisition. Digital Bros offered ’em four million dollars; I’m sure Microsoft and Turn 10 could easily generate a deal that eclipsed that figure, hence the animosity. It’s public knowledge that Turn 10 shopped around for a developer to create the original Forza Horizon back in 2012 before settling on an all-star lineup of at-the-time jobless racing game developers now known as Playground Games, so this isn’t much of a stretch. I’ll let that ruminate with y’all for a bit.

ac-gt-cupBased on the multiple people who have said Assetto Corsa is finished, I believe we’re not seeing AC2. However, if the franchise does continue on, it’ll certainly be met with a shift in direction. I wouldn’t mind for them to try and recapture what Enthusia Professional Racing did on the PlayStation 2, but any deviation away from what a PC simulator represents will most likely be met with backlash from the community, effectively destroying any fan base this game currently has, therefore making the hypothetical AC2 the last in the series because nobody bought it.

I can see Stefano taking the money and getting out of this altogether; the guy can do the work of ten people when it comes to coding, but he’s demonstrated time and time again that he can’t maintain any sort of positive customer relations, and that’s sort of essential in the current gaming world. People are going to come to your official forums, and some of them aren’t going to treat you like a Rockstar, nor will they find your nickname of Lord Kunos all that funny. You can’t routinely cuss these people out, and given how much of a problem these outbursts have been for him during Assetto Corsa’s lifespan, I can see him throwing in the towel. It’s nothing to be ashamed of in this case; it’s for the best.

15502-1920x1080But in the grande scheme of things, if we distance ourselves from just Assetto Corsa and take a look at Kunos Simulazioni as a whole, I’m beginning to question why this company managed to achieve such a positive reception within the sim racing community in the first place. The acquisition of Kunos Simulazioni by Digital Bros is basically the final nail in the coffin for their credibility, which dates all the way back to 2006.

We start with Stefano’s numerous netKar Pro meltdowns, which eventually resulted in a situation where users were abandoned with a broken game because the team literally weren’t in the mood to work on it. The netBikes experiment which followed failed to gain any sort of traction, all while the netKar Pro community grew frustrated with Kunos over their lack of support, whom eventually did return to fix netKar Pro a year later. Ferrari Virtual Academy, while enjoyable, was a glorified hotlap simulator that didn’t give anybody hope that Kunos could put out a complete racing simulator experience compared to other titles on the market. Kunos had built three games, and hadn’t proven they could finish any of them.

Finally, we reach the whole Assetto Corsa debacle. The game honestly had so much potential, but got lost in development and fell into the lure of big money. During the height of Assetto Corsa’s popularity, Kunos Simulazioni were spearheaded by a good coder couldn’t handle anything but being pampered with the finest grain baby talcum powder and maybe couldn’t further develop the game, a good marketing guy nabbing the licenses, and a physics developer who is poorly perceived by the expert sim racing modders. At what point do we as a community look at this situation unfolding and say “okay, maybe these guys don’t have their shit together in the slightest, and relied on a cult of personality to get them this far?”

Oh, right. It’s the point where they sold off the rights to their operation to some Italian investors group. And that point is today.

Another Year, Another Stefano Meltdown

screenshot_ks_ferrari_sf15t_monaco_20-12-116-17-20-43An old mentor of mine once used the term “terse eloquence” to describe what I should aim for in articles here on PRC.net, and for this entry I believe it’s the perfect time to challenge myself with an alternative writing style. There will be no fancy introduction, no elaborate set of links to older articles of ours, and no recap of events which have transpired over the past year or so. Once again, Stefano Casillo of Kunos Simulazioni has done irreversible damage to his company’s reputation by aggressively attacking an Assetto Corsa owner simply for suggesting an alternative approach to the game’s complicated tire model, and the whole thing gives some credibility to the rumor that Kunos simply surround themselves with yes men who shower the developer team with praise, rather than challenge them to create the best product possible.

The Assetto Corsa owner in question happens to be Fredrik Sørlie, a Norweigan stunt driver, former Porsche & AMG performance driving instructor, amateur drifter, and sim racing enthusiast; an automotive personality who has spent the past three decades as a professional driver while also taking up the modding side of sim racing as a hobby dating back to 2003. Not only is this guy a complete wheelman in adverse conditions – as evidenced by the video below – he’s also a mammoth computer nerd; the absolute best kind of person to give feedback on a modern racing simulator. With Porsche, Mercedes, Hollywood, and sim racing’s own Niels Heusinkveld coming to Sørlie for advice, Fredrik is an anomaly within this niche genre. This is someone who has not only dedicated their entire life to the art of driving an automobile to the breaking point, they fucking love video games, too.

Within the official Assetto Corsa forums are numerous sub-sections dedicated to ripping apart the game in a fashion that the Kunos Simulazioni staff can use to evaluate and improve the Assetto Corsa experience as it travels through its post-release lifespan. In a thread dedicated to discussing poor steering response in corners, as well as the process of creating his own modification for Assetto Corsa, Fredrik mentions that there are indeed some irregularities with how tires in Assetto Corsa behave under certain conditions as a whole. To readers who aren’t all that concerned with how Assetto Corsa operates under the hood, it’s obviously an extremely boring discussion between hobbyists splitting hairs in the name of realism, but for modders, this is the kind of stuff that tickles their fancy.

fredFredrik also makes a quick one-liner about needing to use values other than the digits Kunos have provided when it comes to their tire physics file for each car, as they don’t always produce accurate on-track results. A seemingly insignificant piece of banter, Stefano Casillo promptly arrives to claim Fredrik Sørliea professional performance driving instructor employed by both Porsche and Mercedes – knows nothing about vehicle dynamics, and has been writing:“dogshit” on the message boards for the past several weeks. All for suggesting to try a different set of numbers in a very specific physics file, because to a professional driver, those values produced an experience that aligned more closely with real life than the default values.

dogshitThe thread instantly descends into chaos, with Casillo being verbally abusive to Fredrik while the Assetto Corsa army religiously upvote all of Stefano’s posts berating the professional driving instructor. I encourage you all to check out the thread for yourselves; there are some absolutely astonishing quotes in there once things pick up. Halfway through the second page, Casillo has already labeled Fredrik Sørlie as a delusional individual – no insult is off-limits.

Fredrik, just wanting Assetto Corsa to be the best simulator it can possibly be, brushes this horrid encounter off and contacts Stefano in private, the results of which are nothing short of legendary. Fredrik properly introduces himself to the Kunos Simulazioni coding master, and dives deep into his own discoveries with Assetto Corsa’s tire model calculations after detailing an extensive automotive pedigree. Citing past collaborations with sim racing physics guru Niels Heusinkveld, Fredrik explains the very specific changes he had made to the tire physics files in Assetto Corsa, and while fully acknowledging the numbers weren’t one hundred percent correct when used in the current algorithm created by Kunos, they produced a satisfactory driving experience which mirrored his experiences in a real car, and he wanted Stefano to look into why his guesstimated numbers improved the simulator’s tire behavior.

Essentially, an accomplished professional driver with a thirteen year background in sim racing modding came to a member of Kunos Simulazioni and said “hey man, I love your game, here are all of my real world credentials, I made some unique changes to the tire file, I know they don’t make a lot of sense, but to me it feels more realistic than what you guys had by default. Can you look this from your end? It might help.” Whereas most racing drivers will spout random crap about any racing game in pursuit of a paycheck, here we had a driver modding the game. That kind of customer loyalty doesn’t come around all that often.

Rather than responding with a simple “thanks for the feedback, your fix isn’t realistic but it might highlight a problem in our simulation, I’ll check it out sometime this week when I have a moment,” Stefano proceeds to cuss out Fredrik for the next hour, because this is a totally rational thing for any developer to do.

open-a-fucking-book-and-readIt’s a truly impressive piece of post-modern art. The holy grail of racing simulator development is receiving feedback from real world drivers, as data and numbers don’t always manage to convey the sensations a human being experiences pushing an automobile to the limit. Yet after marketing campaigns which saw Kunos constantly mention their Vallelunga offices allowing them to pick the brains of professional race car pilots fresh off the tarmac by placing them in their simulator for feedback, and partnerships with Ferrari, Porsche, and Lotus ensuring the team would model each vehicle as close to the real thing as possible, the above screenshot paints a vastly different picture when it comes to how Kunos Simulazioni operate behind closed doors. In reality, Kunos are actually berating real race car drivers, telling them to get lost, and that only the numbers matter.

It’s extremely fucked up, to put it lightly. Here you have a developer bragging about all of the feedback they’ve received from professional pilots who endlessly praise the quality of Assetto Corsa’s driving model, but in the span of an hour or so, one guy is able to provide evidence to the contrary – Kunos Simulazioni not only become emotionally compromised over a single sentence joke buried deep within a thread surrounding car physics, they’ll aggressively attack you on their own message board for merely providing any sort of feedback whatsoever – and then let their fanboys pile on for good measure. Keep in mind, these verbal sparring matches with genuine fans of the game span multiple hours and take legitimate effort to participate in, when virtually none of this was necessary to begin with. What’s so hard about telling a guy “thanks for the feedback?” Why is there a need to instantly shit on him and make him out to be this delusional autist who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, when his YouTube channel clearly demonstrates he might have a clue?

And that’s the scary part. Rather than busting their asses to improve their game, members of Kunos Simulazioni are sitting around on the forums monitoring every last thread for even an ounce of criticism, promptly pouncing on those individuals regardless of their real world credentials. That’s where their time is being allocated, if you’re curious about when certain future updates will be released.

Personally, I’d like to know how some of the bigger brands featured within Assetto Corsa feel about this behavior. Auto makers such as Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren don’t exactly fuck around when it comes to how their brand is represented in the public eye. Are Porsche even aware that the game developer they just partnered with and made a whole media circus about throw autistic shitfits and lash out at their own customers when real drivers giving feedback on the simulator make a joke on the forums? This is the kind of shit that would get you fired from any commercial storefront job, and cause sponsors to back the fuck out of major partnerships.

Better yet, what real driver would be willing to work with Kunos Simulazioni after seeing this? They’ve made it explicitly clear that unless you blow sunshine up the asshole of Stefano, they will just sit around and call you names until you eventually leave out of disgust.

screenshot_mclaren_mp412c_gt3_ks_nordschleife_20-12-116-19-56-13The whole thing is downright embarassing for Kunos Simulazioni, and further reading on the subject can be seen on Fredrik’s official Facebook page, the SimRacing subreddit, and RaceDepartment, all of whom have spent the better part of today discussing Stefano’s childish antics. Regardless of how you feel about Assetto Corsa, this is simply unacceptable behavior for a developer to exhibit. And I wouldn’t be surprised if more people come out of the shadows to reveal their own absurd encounters with select Kunos Simulazioni staff members.

Placebo, or Steam…?

24022478400_d1543c843a_hLet’s add the final chapter to this saga, shall we?

Readers of PretendRaceCars.net who gladly call Assetto Corsa their sim of choice were taken aback on Christmas morning, when we published an entry stating a tiny hotfix was the final piece of the puzzle required to push the simulator’s newest rendition into territory that was extremely close to sheer perfection. Drawing upon observations from other talented sim racers within our posse, we had mentioned that the basic 1.11 upgrade of Assetto Corsa deployed earlier in the week brought with it a set of physics that closely resembled those found within iRacing – the GT3 cars skating all over the place in a manner that simply did not resemble how these cars drove out on the real track – but a small patch deployed just in time for the holiday festivities brought balance to the universe. The raw driving experience is really fucking good right now.

Despite the positive overall feedback we gave to the tire model in its current state, the majority of Assetto Corsa fans believed we had completely lost our minds. Though the footage we provided clearly displayed a car not connected to the track as it should be, and a select handful of readers echoing our findings, a whole shitload of Assetto Corsa owners promptly arrived to tell us any major handling discrepancies were merely the placebo effect in action, and the hotfix didn’t even address an aspect of the game that would dictate how planted the GT3 cars would be at speed. It was a very confusing time to be in the PRC teamspeak, as our roster of sim racers swore that the 1.11.3 update changed something drastic, but a solid 90% of our readers told us otherwise.

I’d like to extend a special shout-out to a sim racer by the name of Ville-Samuli Mutanen, who rather than insulting us, took the time out of his day to record a comparison video between the two versions, letting the footage speak for itself. We admittedly got our shit pushed in for the time being – there’s clearly no difference between the two builds.

However, with his video, came an interesting set of observations in the comments section. Ville-Samuli Mutanen, the same guy who had absolutely blown us out of the water thanks to his comparison video, actually came to  our defense. He too had experienced builds of Assetto Corsa after the launch of Version 1.11 on December 20th, which produced the same exact ice skating-like vehicle dynamics we had discovered earlier – car behavior which Assetto Corsa fans vehemently stated was the result of our own delusions. Mutanen rectified the problem with a Steam integrity check; both he and another user leaving a comment on his video speculated that Steam, for whatever reason, hadn’t been downloading updates properly, and it was up to the user to manually verify their install with the server.

youtube-commentsSo what most likely happened to our readers such as Kondor9999 and Ethan was that the integrity of the update they downloaded for Assetto Corsa via Steam was compromised in some fashion. And if you’ve been at your PC for any length of time over the holidays, you probably already know why this is a plausible scenario; Steam was both attacked and taken completely offline by a group of hackers directly during the period Kunos had been rolling out hotfixes for version 1.11. We simply pushed out an article stating Version 1.11.3 was the magic fix that rectified everything, because that was the first update for Assetto Corsa our friends managed to successfully download without the contents of the update being compromised thanks to a DDoS attack, and Valve’s subsequent server maintenance period.

steam-ddosWhile we were wrong about the 1.11.3 update in particular being this euphoric hotfix of sex, drugs, and Italian sports cars, select individual’s installs were indeed corrupted with borked physics most likely due to a Direct Denial of Service attack interfering with the integrity of the update, and the tire model still is very good. Two out of three ain’t bad.

However, this actually brings up a very valid question: How deep does this rabbit hole go?

Steam is traditionally a very reliable gaming service, more so than Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network; a fairly impressive feat given how many more people use Steam than the two biggest console gaming services on the market. If the potential for the integrity of updates to become compromised for one of several reasons is a very real thing that happens, and bugs can be relegated to the installs of just a handful of specific unlucky users rather than the entire user base, where are software developers even supposed to begin with this scenario?

For example, let’s look at Project CARS. The game objectively shipped with a record-breaking amount of bugs and niggles, many of which were reported on the forum. Though Slightly Mad Studios obviously did their best to support the game after launch and iron out everything with the tools they had available, it’s a reasonable question to ask how many users discovered bugs exclusive to their specific install, and had no fucking idea what to do when the developers couldn’t reproduce the problem themselves, because at the time nobody knew updates were getting partially corrupted during the download process? Is this a possible explanation for why there’s such a discrepancy between Project CARS owners who claim they’ve never run across any bugs, versus others reporting it was the main reason they shelved the game?

pcars-discrepancyIt’s a very interesting scenario to contemplate, especially if these compromised updates aren’t just due to extreme DDoS situations which cripple the entire service, but are commonplace with the average lengthy file transfer process.

Sev is a ***** and Other Tall Tales from the Forum

screenshot_ks_porsche_918_spyder_spa_23-12-116-15-33-48It’s really shitty to start the year off with multiple posts revolving around generic message board drama, but unfortunately this has become the norm within the greater sim racing community. It’s a never-ending nerd fight, and you’re all invited. Bring popcorn.

We closed out the year here at PRC.net with a rather surprising entry that caught many of our readers off guard. No, it wasn’t a paid advertisement, nor an intentional cease fire due to the rather convenient timing of the post – Christmas morning – Kunos Simulazioni really did knock it out of the park with Assetto Corsa’s flash 1.11.3 update. After some of our buddies had complained about handling oddities exhibited by the fleet of GT3 vehicles featured on the Assetto Corsa car roster, I was pleasantly surprised to re-install the simulator and discover a patch released only a few short hours earlier seemed to have killed all of the unwanted behavior I had been warned about. Checking in with those who first supplied us with the information, they too confirmed something drastic had changed practically overnight, and we posted a celebratory article that Kunos had recaptured the magic which made us fall in love with Assetto Corsa many years ago. It was a great deal of fun to kick back and enjoy the holidays hauling ass on the virtual track with friends, rather than picking apart deficiencies as is the norm here at PRC.net.

Yet even a genuinely positive article complimenting the work done by Kunos on the new update seemed to send the Assetto Corsa disciples into a tizzy. And once again, we’re reminded of why this hobby really fucking sucks sometimes. Everyone indeed has their role within the community, but a lot of times it feels like there are a whole bunch of people here to try and achieve a sense of belonging they could never quite capture out in the real world.

244210_20161224172126_1Some guy within the official Assetto Corsa forums created a thread under the admittedly hilarious title of “it was a good year after all for Assetto Corsa”, where he linked our article praising the stealth 1.11.3 update – as it’s sort of a big deal when the biggest online critic of your game gives you a shout-out for a job well done on Christmas morning. Despite a highly positive article, the thread instead descended into chaos, with many Assetto Corsa owners begging forum users never to link to PRC again, and for others asking the site’s URL to be automatically censored by the moderators. The first page of comments are mind-boggling to observe, because we literally came out and said “holy shit, this update rocks to drive, thanks Kunos”, and it’s like this short circuited an entire portion of the sim racing community.

Over the next four pages, there were a lot of shots fired at us, developers chimed in with their own two cents, and eventually a moderator had to come in and clean up the whole thing, because for a thread created to celebrate a positive article from Assetto Corsa’s biggest critic – us – it was anything but. People wanted links to PretendRaceCars.net outlawed, many were convinced we had some sort of irrational vendetta against Assetto Corsa, some suggested it was mere placebo effect and the positive article was the result of an underlying personality disorder I suffer from… It was pretty epic to see Assetto Corsa owners react harshly to a positive article, but at this point I expect nothing less from the sim racing community. It’s a whole bunch of people who have never belonged to anything meaningful in their lives, trying to belong to something. If you’ve got a registered forum account in their neck of the woods, head on over there and take a look. It’s worth a read regardless of whether you support us, or if you’re vehemently against us.

screenshot_lotus_49_ks_silverstone1967_20-12-116-18-20-32Now within that thread, there are a few posts calling us out which I’d directly like to respond to, partially because Sev thought it would be hilarious if I did, and he couldn’t be assed to cover this story from his point of view.

At some point, Stefano Casillo of Kunos Simulazioni chimed in with a lengthy rant picking our little operation apart to the very core; a portion of which we featured in a story last week where he had claimed the team did not encourage members of the gaming press to give positive reviews of the Assetto Corsa despite an overwhelming amount of evidence stating otherwise. Responding to an Assetto Corsa forum member inquiring about the long-standing animosity between PRC.net and Kunos Simulazioni, Casillo states we had simply chosen to lash out at the Italian developer for rejecting an interview request almost two years ago, as we were first getting started.

As much as I’d like to perpetuate the story and create a bit of cheesy entertainment for the sake of our audience, that tale simply isn’t true. We did send off an interview request along with ten fairly interesting questions, and it was rejected by Marco a few days later. However, the change in tone towards Assetto Corsa was not due to a personal vendetta – later that year, the AI cars were literally driving head-first into barriers during single player races, and this highlighted a long list of technical issues plaguing the simulator, some of which still remain to this day. I’m not in the business of sugarcoating bullshit to play nice with developers. If you’re selling a piece of software advertised as a racing simulator for sixty dollars, I think it’s well within reason to expect some sort of competent artificial intelligence to race against – not one which smacks into barriers as if they’re a small child learning how to ride a bicycle without training wheels for the first time. And if a year and a half later some of these issues still exist, yet suddenly there’s quadruple the amount of premium downloadable content available for the title which jacks up the price of the whole enchilada by more than double, yes, I’m going to write negative articles about your video game. The screenshots are worth a thousand words, or in the case of PRC.net, five thousand.

01It’s very disappointing to see a sim racing developer completely unable to comprehend why someone might write bad things about his video game – chalking it up to a perceived vendetta rather than blatantly obvious screenshots of show-stopping technical issues. Many Assetto Corsa owners log onto the official forums each day and report bugs in the hopes of them being fixed. Comments like this – where a developer chalks up legitimate criticism accompanied by numerous screenshots as an irrational vendetta – sure won’t give them any faith that the product will improve in a meaningful way if they take the time to report obvious problems with the software.

But we’re just getting started.

I’m not the only one calling the shots here at PretendRaceCars.net, though by my own admission I do end up writing most of the articles – and that’s okay, I enjoy this stuff. The supplementary writing staff of this little outlet consists of Dustin Lengert, a former ASA OK Tire Series driver-turned-crew chief, and Severin Austerschmidt, an amateur German racing driver who lives about an hour from the Nordschleife. While the lot of us on TeamSpeak know Sev as that guy who loves Breitbart and Pepe the Frog memes, away from the keyboard he’s a actually fairly accomplished amateur driver – successfully testing for both Audi’s TT Cup driver development program, as well as the BMW M235i class within VLN endurance events after a fairly stout partial schedule in a Formula Renault 2.0 – a car many of you have driven within iRacing.

In April of 2016, Sev penned a piece for us questioning what had happened to the driving model featured within Assetto Corsa, stating the GT3 cars had received an increase in overall grip that did not reflect how a racing slick behaves under duress. As someone with real world racing experience in a car found on the Assetto Corsa vehicle roster, Sev basically wrote an article telling our readers that from his point of view, he was unsatisfied with what Kunos had done to the tire model of the various GT-spec cars based on his own seat time, and wished it would revert back to a previous version from around a year earlier, when we initially conducted a lengthy interview with him.

Though Kunos Simulazioni often reach out to real drivers at the Vallelunga circuit for feedback on how Assetto Corsa reacts behind the wheel, Sev unwilling to sugarcoat his opinion to keep the developers happy warranted  Stefano calling him a *****, and claiming Sev doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It made a lot of us behind the scenes stop and contemplate what happens behind the scenes at Kunos headquarters; are other real-world drivers not satisfied with the tire behavior promptly called names and belittled on the official forums as well? Getting this kind of feedback from someone with proper seat time – whether positive or negative – is basically the holy grail of racing simulator development. What dumb motherfucker lips off a real world driver who took thirty minutes out of his day to give his feedback on a tire model update for your game because he didn’t blow sunshine up your ass?

02So a Kunos Simulazioni developer calls our resident European road racer and overseas Donald Trump supporter names on the official forum for writing his honest opinion on the tire model based on his real life experience. Business as usual, right? Sometimes Stefano gets mad and does this stuff. We’ve learned to accept it.

Kunos then roll out a fundamental tire model update six months later, directly addressing Sev’s exact complaints. You know, after they told him he was an idiot and didn’t know what he was talking about. According to Aris, the cars are “more agile, move around more, bounce a bit more., and need more inputs to go where you want them [to go].” Stefano has no problem belittling a real-world European race driver for ripping apart their tire model and stating “thousands of people are telling him he’s wrong”, but six months later Kunos boast about redoing the tire model for the precise cars and in the precise manner Sev had made negative comments about earlier in the year.

What real-world driver would willingly give these guys feedback in the future if all they’re going to do is attack you on the forums, and then begrudgingly implement your suggestions? What’s so hard about hitting up Sev and saying “hey man, thanks for your writings, can you go into a little more detail for us, we haven’t had someone make these comments before?” Why does there need to be so much emotional hemophilia over a real-world driver not endlessly praising your software?

It’s just absurd, man. It’s not needed, especially when input from real drivers is highly sought after by all developers within this genre.

unaware-how-to-turn-off-tcYet despite the recent tire model update – Version 10 to be exact – suddenly modifying the rubber behavior to fit Sev’s very specific wishes (and of course, this is only a coincidence, nothing more), and a user even agreeing with Sev’s assessment of a prior build, Assetto Corsa disciples still go on about him being wrong in regards to the perceived abundance of grip – blaming his lack of faith in the tire model on the PRC gang’s inability to switch off traction control. I mean, this Berry dude on the right side of the capture above straight up says he wasn’t cool with how the cars drove in certain builds, but then immediately snaps back to the hivemind mentality and claims it was all in his head and to not question dear leader the physics. This totally does not resemble a cult or anything of that nature.

This is pretty much the perfect example of how bizarre sim racing forums can get; Assetto Corsa fans state the three of us, all licensed race car drivers, are too dumb to figure out how to disable TC in a genre of games we’ve been playing since we were kids, when some of us actually hold world records on the RSR live timing leaderboards. You can’t achieve these kinds of ridiculously quick times by limiting power to the rear wheels, but what you’re looking at are the professional-caliber mental gymnastics exhibited by simulator nerds who cannot fathom that maybe PRC.net is occasionally more than tabloid trash. Kunos have re-engineered the tire model to address Sev’s exact complaints, and some of us have posted the times you’re aspiring to knock off the top of the ladder, but nope, we supposedly just had traction control on the whole time and it was clouding our judgement of the game. Yeah, no.

If anything, this should teach you to always question the advice you receive on various sim racing message boards.

changes-confirmedAnd you should always question the shills, as well. Upon publishing the piece praising the Assetto Corsa version 1.11.3 update, in which I claimed a small hotfix was the final piece of the puzzle needed to truly make Assetto Corsa handle like a dream, many anonymous sim racers arrived at PRC to claim the article was little more than the result of the placebo effect. Truth be told, I hadn’t turned laps within the simulator for a while, so it was possible that I’d forgotten what the game felt like as a whole, and was re-discovering it all over again.

But as you can see above, mclarenF1papa came out and mentioned that the 1.11.3 update fundamentally changed how any car which produced lift handled. Basically, not only did damaging the car make it faster – an incredibly amateur mistake for Kunos to make – the weird loose-off tendency of the Mercedes AMG GT3 reported by our boy Ethan was allegedly generated by fucked up aerodynamic values, rectified by the 1.11.3 hotfix pushed out Christmas morning.

So our bad, it wasn’t a minute change to the tires that dialed out the strange ice skating behavior, it was an aero adjustment. Oops. Sorry guys. We got it wrong.

244210_20161223151137_1Of course, this is PRC, and you’re probably expecting a big moment to end the article by now, so here goes.

I received word that in one of his more reserved comments within the thread in question, Stefano Casillo of Kunos Simulazioni mentioned he would enjoy sitting down for a one-on-one sim racing debate of sorts, and citing my refusal to talk to Ian Bell as proof that I’m a “total pathetic loser where he answers to himself posing as readers.” So, I mean, I shot him a message to see what was up.

debate-me-christians

Aside from the fact that he clearly missed our interview with Ian Bell, there’s a very real reason I can’t commit to a spectacle like this. I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on the complete opposite side of the globe as Italy or the Netherlands, and don’t own a webcam. I know a lot of people love to circulate the story that I’m some fatass sitting in a dingy basement with no job because it admittedly makes reading PRC even more hilarious than the vanilla experience, but I’ve unfortunately been a slave to a popular rental car company for over three years, and it’s not practical for me to wake up at three in the morning so some developer can yell at me via Skype.

Hell, let’s backtrack for a second: this is sim racing, not an Atheism versus Christianity debate. There’s no purpose in challenging someone to a debate with your superior intellect; the root of the discussion is virtual race cars, not an existential crisis. And this goes out to all devs; I don’t have an issue sitting down for ten minutes and firing you a set of questions that directly take aim at topics you want to address, no matter how controversial they are. I enjoy that sort of thing, it’s why I run a shitty sim racing website people read while on the toilet at work. The whole process of putting together articles that ruffle feathers, editing reader submissions, and helping my bros on TeamSpeak to become better writers is fun for me. I’m not some pseudo intellectual trying to prove the existence of God to an atheist, we’re just here to talk about race car games.

atheist-debate-meWithout the PRC hat on, it’s very frustrating to take part in a community like this, and fairly eye-opening as well. Developers throw hissy fits if real race car drivers don’t sugarcoat certain pieces of feedback, challenge you to debates that are much better suited for Atheism versus Christianity circles, and claim you have an irrational vendetta if your valid criticism gets under their skin, which makes me question why these individuals are propped up to be the supreme overlords the average sim racer makes them out to be. On the other hand, the community itself will literally agree with any justifiable complaints you voice, but then convince themselves you’re wrong anyway, and later in the day question why sim racing isn’t growing at the rates of other genres. It’s a really shitty environment to be a part of.

Unless I’m wrong, and this is all just restricted to the following of on particular title.

mental-midgetErm, nevermind.

Shilltastic

244210_20161223153810_1You know, usually when I make posts like these, I have everything all planned out in advance within a notepad document, but today I’m a bit off my game. The other guys here at PRC thought all this info was worth putting into an article, a few friends were eagerly anticipating what I’d have to say about it in full, and after the boys over on Reddit were given a brief glimpse of my findings, they were left wanting more, but unfortunately I’m not firing on all cylinders here. So my most sincere apologies go out to any of our readers who feel a bit underwhelmed by this piece.

Let me start off by saying that I’m a supporter of the #Gamergate movement. No, I don’t align myself with the few rogue man-children who made shitty fake Twitter accounts and emailed bogus bomb threats that perpetual victims such as Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian took seriously for reasons only God understands (it’s the internet, very few death threats are even the least bit genuine), but there’s no point in ignoring the elephant in the room: actual video game journalism has turned into third party marketing, and it really sucks. I’ve made enough smart decisions in life where the act of purchasing a new video game at my leisure really isn’t a big deal, but to many people on this planet, $80 is a lot of money to part with, and they rely on both mainstream and independent outlets to guide them in the right direction. I feel it’s wrong to fuck with those people, and blatantly lie about the product they’ll receive after busting open their respective wallets. And as a gamer, I enjoy reading about video games while taking a dump or chilling in bed – not sitting through extended length commercials thinly disguised as video game reviews.

Yet as mainstream outlets ignored the legitimate concerns raised by the GamerGate movement, and instead claimed it was some coordinated harassment campaign by a bunch of angry nerds, part of why I started PRC was to prove that even in a genre dominated by men – where women were removed from the community almost entirely – the values GamerGate campaigned for were still every bit as relevant; which would in-theory totally decimate the whole“GamerGate is just anally devastated virgins mad at women on the internet” thing. Fuck you for perpetuating this bullshit, a whole bunch of gamers are tired of blatant advertising masked as genuine reviews. That’s the GamerGate movement in a nutshell.

reviewsThe 2016 calendar year featured no better example of the concerns raised by GamerGate than the release of Assetto Corsa on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and in particular, how major gaming outlets evaluated the title. For those who are tired of hearing this on a semi-regular basis here at PRC, I’ll try to keep this short while covering all the bases: lots of people love Assetto Corsa and play it every day, but the game is objectively unfinished in terms of features, and buggy as fuck on a technical level. Unless we evaluate each title based on the pure driving experience behind the wheel, in no way would Assetto Corsa ever hold a candle to something infinitely more polished such as Forza Motorsport 6. This isn’t really up for debate. In Forza, you’ve got a mammoth career mode to explore, thousands of car customization options, and a fairly robust set of online race types. Assetto Corsa won’t even let you create custom online lobbies, nor can you track fastest laps among your friends with built-in leaderboards; there simply aren’t any.

So when the console version of the popular-yet-flawed PC racing simulator launched in August of this year, I immediately began claiming some of the reviews listed on Metacritic were dishonest, and the result of either bribery or intense nationalism, particularly from outlets within the exact same countries which publisher 505 Games called home – Italy and Spain. And as you can see above, there was a pretty major discrepancy between publications flying under the same banner – IGN Italy rated Assetto Corsa five points higher than Forza Motorsport 6, while the American office fared thirty five points worse. This raised a few eyebrows, and I promptly called it like I saw it, because while I occasionally both fall for fake stories and grossly over-react to them (which is hilarious for our spectators), I’m not this stupid. Clearly, something shady was going on.

stefano-quoteStefano Casillo of Kunos Simulazionithe guys who made Assetto Corsa – ended up getting really upset at my assumptions that the only positive press the game received on consoles had been bought by the studio and wasn’t genuine. For proper formatting’s sake I’ve taken his quote and pasted it over a pretty picture of Assetto Corsa my buddy took – because the quote is part of a much larger rant that doesn’t lend itself to proper cropping all that well – but what I’m trying to convey is that a member of the developer team who built the game got genuinely mad I accused them of bribing certain review sites. According to him, they simply couldn’t afford it – which essentially admits this practice does exist, but that’s besides the point. Now I understand why he’d become emotional over such an accusation to begin with, because indie game developers with small audiences care about indie gaming blogs intended for said audiences, but the smart way to handle what has the potential to turn into a grand shit-flinging competition it is to just show our readers why I made those conclusions, and let people decide for themselves where they stand.

ksdemonA few days prior to the launch of Assetto Corsa on consoles, a guy from what I presume to be Destructoid arrived on the Assetto Corsa subreddit, completely bewildered by the sub-par quality of the product. His posts were instantly brigaded by the community, but they paint a picture of a game with framerate problems, glitches that should have been ironed out months earlier, and an experience that simply did not live up to the fanfare. The guy genuinely believed he didn’t configure the options menu correctly, because the game was so drastically different compared to the one Assetto Corsa lovers commonly discuss across various enthusiast forums. KSDemon’s pleas and comments mirror release day gameplay footage, where the Xbox One version of the title can be seen struggling to hold a framerate that’s even remotely playable.

Despite this, over ten different gaming outlets – again, all from the same locations as the headquarters for 505 Games – praised Assetto Corsa as one of the best racing games ever, and conveniently failed to mention these show stopping technical issues, despite the North American outlets ripping the game apart, and Kunos Simulazioni themselves quickly issuing a news update saying the team were looking into the widespread performance problems. I mean, guys from these websites were literally taking to Reddit in absolute confusion and begging the community for help, yet a chain of websites from an extremely specific region of the globe where both the developer and publisher happen to be located, completely ignored a show-stopping technical problem that even Kunos Simulazioni admitted existed. This simply doesn’t happen without some under-the-table bullshit, and I didn’t feel it was wrong of me to make those assumptions.

comparisonSo I did some digging, and by digging, I mean “spent five minutes on YouTube and Instagram.”

The Kunos Simulazioni headquarters are located at the Vallelunga Circut – an Italian race track which is hardly a run-down facility by any means – a location which plays host many regional auto racing championship events, alongside being used as a test track by the German Touring Car series – which most people know by it’s acronym of DTM. None of this information is a shock to anyone, nor is the fact that Kunos occasionally have been holding private events for members of the gaming press to come out to the facility, check out a preview build of Assetto Corsa, and ride along as passengers in a fleet of luxurious supercars. Yes, gaming journalists are being wined and dined by an indie team which Casillo claims can’t afford this sort of thing – so that’s a bit sketchy – but both videos of the event are sitting out in the open (seen HERE and HERE), and it’s hard to knock what’s objectively a really enjoyable day at the race track. Cars, video games, food. As a car guy, this is my kind of day. I’d prefer to be driving, but you know, insurance costs and stuff.

But it’s what I recently came across on Instagram that brings it all into perspective, and basically confirms that all of this positive reception in the face of a technically unstable piece of software was clearly paid for.

party-packageBased out of Sydney, Australia, Jack Huddo is a 25 year old generic YouTube personality – one of thousands which cover modern video games for his small yet dedicated group of followers. On his Instagram account from shortly before the console game hit store shelves, he can be seen showing off a fancy press kit he claimed to have received at one of the Assetto Corsa events at Vallelunga, featuring a hat, model Lamborghini, free copy of the game, and some candy, all given to him by the Assetto Corsa team. This dude only has two thousand followers on Twitter – meaning he isn’t exactly swimming in YouTube money – and lives on the exact opposite side of the globe as Italy, indicating he certainly couldn’t foot the bill himself to jet across the entire fucking planet, just to cover some obscure racing game he hasn’t mentioned on Twitter in months. The guy basically posts about Monster Energy and Overwatch. This doesn’t sound like your typical sim racer.

So who did foot the bill?

Stefano Casillo claims Kunos Simulazioni cannot possibly pay for positive coverage of Assetto Corsa, yet here on Instagram there’s a much different story – they’re flying out random motherfuckers from the other side of the planet (which obviously costs thousands of dollars) to hang out at the race track for a day and maybe get an Instagram shout-out or two – so imagine what they’re doing for review outlets? Now, maybe Stefano’s technically correct on this, and it’s 505 Games paying for the arrangements instead, but when you join forces with a publisher to put your game on the market, every idiotic move they make reflects poorly on you, and every idiotic move you make reflects poorly on them. You’re a cohesive unit bringing out a video game to the masses. This isn’t a rock band, where Paul Stanley of KISS can go on CNN and shit on his bass player for not sharing the same political beliefs. You really don’t have an option here.

Not only does Casillo look a bit silly for attempting to play the victim and claim Kunos couldn’t possibly pay for positive coverage of Assetto Corsa, we actually know what was inside the complete press kit each journalist at the event received as a parting gift. So not only were a whole bunch of social media personalities and journalists flown out to Rome and given an all-expenses paid track day at a fancy Italian motor racing circuit, they left with a pretty cool gift bag as well.

But those glowing reviews that conveniently left out major technical issues? Oh, maybe they just really liked the game in spite of its faults and other numerous shortcomings?

Sure, sure…

25-per-post