Stage 3 Upgrades

previewRiding high on the momentum Assetto Corsa’s 1.11.3 patch produced, we ended the weekend here at PRC.net with a lengthy positive review of Burrito’s Mercedes Benz-Sauber C9, a phenomenal piece of Group C machinery from the late 1980’s. Though rather unspectacular when you first acquire the car legitimately through Assetto Corsa’s original Dream Pack DLC, burrito’s allegedly approved modifications to official Kunos content brought the car in-line with what actually competed during the 1989 World Sports Car championship season. Due to supposed licensing constraints – which forced Kunos to model the low-downforce Le Mans special rather than the car which dominated the 1989 campaign – the Sauber C9 available as premium downloadable content for Assetto Corsa is unfortunately quite useless within the popular racing simulator, considering Le Mans isn’t featured on the roster of circuits. I mean, you can try and take it to Spa or Mugello, but it’s going to be an understeering pig. And you can definitely go out and acquire a third party version of Circuit de la Sarthe, but let’s be real here – Kunos make phenomenal tracks the community can rarely match. You didn’t buy a modern racing simulator to mess around on yet another rFactor conversion from 2007.

Veteran physics modder burrito, who had recently pushed out a phenomenal third party vehicle in the Ferrari F2002, set out to rectify the issue, claiming to receive approval from Kunos to use the low-downforce Sauber C9 as a base for the WSC-spec car most people wanted to begin with, and release it on RaceDepartment as a free upgrade that actually required you to own the relevant DLC package before the car would load in-game. Yet in just under a day, Kunos Simulazioni staff member Stefano Casillo demanded burrito to remove the car, claiming he didn’t have permission to begin with, and that he was “finished” with Kunos Simulazioni – which led many to speculate whom exactly Kunos had working on the physics of official content behind the scenes.

I can see both sides of the argument. Kunos isn’t in a position to fuck around with major licenses and admit they basically gave out sensitive race car data to some random modder on the internet who hadn’t been contractually obligated to keep his mouth shut, but at the end of the day, Assetto Corsa was advertised primarily as a modding platform, and the data.acd converter is so easy to use even I can bust open encrypted car files and go to town. I’m not a fan of how Stefano unloaded on the guy over at RaceDepartment instead of merely saying “hey man, you did a really nice job, but I checked with the team and we changed our minds after looking through some of the contracts” – though at this point between the random restructuring of the official mod community, the numerous tirades on RaceDepartment, and excuses such as “football season” to explain the delay of the console game (which ended up being a disaster), it’s stuff that should really go in one ear, and out the other.

previewNo matter which side you take on that argument, at the end of the day Assetto Corsa owners – those who didn’t fetch the car from our latest post and prefer to stick with official content – still don’t have a relevant version of the Sauber C9 to mess around with. And this is actually quite silly when you explore what else Assetto Corsa has to offer.

Some over on RaceDepartment are claiming Kunos simply didn’t acquire the rights to the World Sports Car variant of the Sauber C9 – you know, the car that would be enjoyable to drive on the default roster of tracks instead of being a supersonic understeering piece of shit – but just by clicking around the menus, there might be more to this story. Kunos were more than capable of building a circuit-spec Sauber C9, they just didn’t bother.

challengeWhile Kunos did not acquire the rights to the Ferrari 458 Challenge series – a private championship for Ferrari owners campaigning somewhat equally prepared track variants of the Ferrari 458, Kunos instead got around the lack of a license by modelling a Stage 3 Performance Package on the default Ferrari 458, and basically admitted in the description it was a Ferrari Challenge car. Taking advantage of the game’s Stage system, which allows content creators – or the developers themselves – to start with an existing vehicle and slap on 3D model adjustments or performance tweaks, Kunos included a Ferrari challenge car within Assetto Corsa – it just wasn’t called that in the menus. In the official forums, most people acknowledged it was a Ferrari Challenge car, and during the Early Access period I recall it was one of the more popular cars in the game – but it drills home the point that Kunos at one point were absolutely, one hundred percent willing, to work around a license they didn’t have for the benefit of their audience.

lmThe Ferrari F40LM was a beast of a GT participant in the mid 1990’s, but once again, Kunos simply couldn’t acquire the rights to model the exact car for use in Assetto Corsa. Rather than admit defeat and hope modders would get to work on the F40LM once the game came out, Kunos instead heavily implied the Stage 3 Ferrari F40 was in fact an F40LM – or as close as they could possibly get to it without pissing off Ferrari, according to the vehicle’s description. It sure didn’t look the part of an F40LM, relying on the street car 3D model, the inevitable influx of 1990’s GT liveries from the community, and a convincing set of physics to get the point across, but everybody knew what they were getting with the Stage 3 F40.

f1But these tongue-in-cheek nods to cars Kunos were unable to license for Assetto Corsa straight up stopped with the Stage 1 variant of the Lotus Exos T125. Prior to landing two modern Ferrari Formula One entries in this year’s Red Pack DLC bundle, the only professional category open wheel car on the Assetto Corsa car roster was hidden in the upgrades menu for the consumer-spec Lotus Exos T125. Designed as the ultimate toy for elite track day snobs, the Exos T125 was basically a Formula One car that a rich asshole could run at his local track with the help of a few buddies. Kunos used this vehicle as a base to sneak an actual Formula One car into Assetto Corsa when they didn’t have the rights to any at the time, creating a Stage 1 Performance Package rendition that was basically the 2013 Lotus Grand Prix car. Though some would argue the car’s on-track performance and underlying physics figures were merely estimations, the work Kunos had done previously for Toyota and Ferrari on both Ferrari Virtual Academy and netKar Pro suggested they weren’t exactly taking shots in the dark.

16549421029_51b86b99c9_oSo now we revisit the drama surrounding the Sauber C9, with this additional bundle of knowledge.

I’m really perplexed as to why Kunos couldn’t model a Stage 1 variant of the legendary Group C prototype to begin with, when they seemed to have no problem doing so previously with other cars on the roster – including vehicles from Ferrari and Lotus, of whom the former is known for being notoriously difficult to deal with when it comes to video game licensing deals. This was basically the entire point of Kunos creating the Stage system for vehicle selection – allowing multiple versions of the same base vehicle to co-exist within the application. Marco Massarutto also confirmed in a live stream that Le Mans is not going to appear in Assetto Corsa, so why intentionally go out and model the Le Mans-spec variants of certain cars knowing full well there isn’t actually a use for them in your game? The whole scenario is just really silly.

But what’s even more bizarre, is for someone like Stefano to go out and chastise a respected modder of their game for essentially doing the exact same thing the actual developers of the game did. Just as burrrio ended up not having permission to create the high-downforce WSC-variant of the Sauber C9, Kunos didn’t have permission to create the Ferrari 458 Challenge Series, the Ferrari F40LM, or the 2013 Lotus E21. These cars have been in the game as far back as early 2014, and they have never caused problems. They’ve also demonstrated that licensing doesn’t mean shit in this situation – contrary to their claims in forum posts regarding the matter – and Kunos were very well capable of building a high-downforce C9 themselves by merely calling it a Stage 1 upgrade, they just chose not to, and instead chased after someone in the community who did.

 

Forbidden Fruit: The 1989 Sauber C9 Sprint Variant

244210_20161225211020_1Throughout the course of auto racing history, some vehicles have become almost synonymous with their respective series due to their near-unstoppable performance out on the race track. Mention the 1970 NASCAR Grand National season, and even the most casual of stock car racing fans will be struck with mental images of the rule-bending Plymouth Superbird, sporting an enormous rear wing and pointed nose which essentially caused NASCAR to temporarily chase Chrysler away from the premiere racing series in the United States. Bring up American Open Wheel racing prior to the extremely hostile split, and the Penske PC-23B – otherwise known as “the Marlboro car” piloted by Al Unser Jr. – adorns virtually every piece of memorabilia you can purchase online from the 1994 CART season. And though I’m not the biggest fan of MotoGP in this neck of the sim racing world, Valentino Rossi’s #46 Yamaha is professional motorcycle racing.

Representing an era of endurance racing where factory-backed teams were encouraged to build absolute monstrosities that stopped just short of horrifically maiming their occupants should they make an error behind the wheel, Mercedes’ collaboration with the Sauber F1 team, dubbed the C9, is the poster-child of Group C Prototype racing. Sending roughly 800 horsepower to the rear tires under a shell fifteen years ahead of it’s time, and sporting a simple retro livery that required precisely one crayon for any small child captivated by its brilliance to faithfully reproduce on a scrap sheet of paper, the Sauber C9 won all but one race on the 1989 World Sports Car Championship schedule.

Aided by the stellar co-driving of Jean-Louis Schlesser and Kenneth, Atcheson, German ace Jochen Mass piloted the car to victories in Jarama, the Nurburgring, Donington Park, and Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, while Mauro Baldi captured the top spot on the podium at Brands Hatch and Spa. After a tumultuous 1987 season spent ironing out numerous bugs in the brand new race car, and a patchy 1988 campaign highlighted by the Mercedes team’s withdrawal from Le Mans due to their lack of confidence in Michelin’s tire compound, Mercedes and Sauber ensured their third full championship with the C9 would render it useless for the competition to even bother showing up.

Unfortunately, this is not the car you’re allowed to race in Assetto Corsa.

244210_20161225210011_1Licensing deals can be a bit of a mess, and while there is indeed a Sauber C9 available as official content for Assetto Corsa – found within the first of three “Dream Packs” on the Steam marketplace – the version Kunos Simulazioni have modeled with the assistance of Sauber and Mercedes is a car that failed to score a single point throughout the 1989 season. The 1989 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans was not considered to be part of the actual World Sports Car schedule, but rather a one-off exhibition race – a giant automotive festival of sorts. As a result, Mercedes brought a minimal-downforce variant of the C9 to a little town in France, destroyed the competition, set a trap speed record of 250 miles per hour – which forced organizers to construct two chicanes on the Mulsanne straight in 1990 to keep speeds at a safe level, and never ran the car again.

Now I’m all for Kunos going out and injecting a bunch of one-off odd-ball cars into Assetto Corsa, because it’s cool to learn about a piece of motor racing history through the plastic steering wheel attached to your desk rather than dry Wikipedia articles, but there’s just one problem: Le Mans is nowhere to be found within the vanilla roster of content, which makes the inclusion of the Le Mans-spec Sauber C9 almost completely pointless. The one track this car has been prepared to compete at, is not available in the game, and it’s going to suck everywhere else. To make matters worse, Kunos were able to acquire both renditions of Sauber’s primary competitor – the Porsche 962c – for use in Assetto Corsa. Given that you can actually turn competitive times in the high-downforce 962c, the Le Mans flavored Sauber C9 is essentially relegated to the status of a virtual trailer queen. It sits in the menu and looks nice on the car roster among several unexciting Alfa Romeo sedans and pointless Lotus roadsters, but it’s simply not a practical car to drive by any means. You’ll take it to the Nordschleife once, spin out, realize you can’t adequately dial in the setup for any of the locations in the game because the car simply doesn’t generate enough downforce to be effective, and permanently park it.

hdf1Veteran Assetto Corsa physics modder burrito set out to rectify the obvious problem. Drawing upon his experience from helping out with another fantastic third party release, the Ferrari F2002 – which is one of the highest rated mods ever uploaded for the game on RaceDepartment – burrito built a car that most Assetto Corsa owners agreed was desperately needed within the simulator. Claiming to receive permission from Kunos Simulazioni themselves, and requiring the first Dream Pack DLC for the car to load up properly in the game – while encouraging sim racers to support Kunos and take advantage of a Christmas sale – burrito used the groundwork Kunos had laid out in the Le Mans spec C9 to build what’s undeniably the best car ever made for Assetto Corsa. This is the Sauber C9 that should have been in the first Dream Pack.

244210_20161225211522_1Driving this beast evokes a feeling similar to your first trip to the local water park at the tender age of eight years old. You stare up at the older children in disbelief as they happily rush up the stairs and subject themselves to the perils of the tallest, steepest slide on the property, while it takes you a solid afternoon just to become comfortable with the attractions intended for your specific age group. This is the high-downforce Sauber C9 from burrito in a nutshell; you don’t just jump in and light the Nordschleife on fire – it’s a machine that takes time to learn and become proficient with. Never does the car exhibit unrealistic behavior – there’s simply so much under the bonnet, your own level of talent dictates how fast you go.

As someone who’s driven every type of modern GT3 entry under the sun within a host of relevant racing simulators, what shocked me about the Sauber C9 was how familiar it felt. Despite its legendary status both within the endurance racing world, as well as on other platforms such as Gran Turismo 6 and NASCAR Racing 2003 Season’s Redline GTP mod, burrito has captured the essence of exactly why Mercedes dominated the 1989 World Sports Car Championship schedule. The car was simply fifteen or even twenty years ahead of it’s time. While it’s a fair bit stiffer – and thus slightly skittish – compared to your traditional Audi R8 LMS or McLaren 650s, it feels as if Mercedes and Sauber were really looking into the future of what sports car racing would become in the early 2000’s. More often than not, the car is pretty planted, but occasionally you’re reminded that this car was constructed in 1987. Not every rhythm section is smooth sailing as it would be in a Ferrari 458 GT3, and the car’s reliance on downforce is immediately apparent when the front end occasionally washes out in some of the more technical sections of each circuit. As if your buddy sent you a shitty GT3 setup, the Sauber C9 is – in a word – manageable.

It also helps that the vehicle’s bodywork has been constructed in a way where you can see out the damn windshield, and your field of view is not obstructed by intrusive wheel arches as it would be in a 2016 Porsche 919 Hybrid.

244210_20161225211253_1But while I could spend all day gushing over the phenomenal mechanical grip the high downforce C9 exhibits, there’s another area which deserves our attention.

As I’ve said earlier in the article, the Sauber C9 sends 800 horsepower to the rear tires, and is aided by a turbo charger straight out of 1987. Whereas a modern GT3 entry is not a rocket ship by any means, and accelerates in a constant, predictable manner, the C9 just keeps accelerating and really doesn’t give a shit if you’re ready for it. A McLaren 650s will lean out around the 240 mark and slowly build momentum until you enter the 260’s, but from the sheer acceleration of the C9, you know you’re destined to smash the 300 barrier long before exiting third gear. In the same manner that the controversial street drug fentanyl is for those who think heroin isn’t a hardcore enough experience, the Sauber C9 is almost a boss car for the field of GT3 entries in Assetto Corsa. When the car isn’t glued to the race track, and the digital speedometer isn’t shooting into the 260’s with relative ease, you’re forced to fight horrendous turbo lag – potentially the only aspect of the C9 which shows its age. Throttle control is key here, but it’s the kind of throttle control that puts a bit of hair on your chest; each time you come out of a corner victorious over the ancient turbocharger and temperamental set of racing slicks on the rear wheels, you learn a little bit more about who you are as a sim racer.

It’s not a car that bites; it’s a car that nips at you every so often, begging you to make a mistake. The good drivers wrap a nuzzle around its mouth and keep it firmly in line. The bad drivers end up in the wall.

244210_20161225204710_1 I had to map a few buttons to my wheel so I could flip through turbo settings on the fly, because there are for sure times where the engine is beyond what’s necessary for the situation, and that’s what makes the C9 such an enjoyable drive. You can indeed hit the track with 60% boost and complete a set of moderately quick laps with little to no issue, because structurally it has a lot in common with mid-engine GT3 sports cars that most of you have already turned countless laps with due to their popularity. But the fun part is pushing for ridiculous lap times, cranking up the boost for sections you’re comfortable with, and dialing it back ever so slightly to preserve the engine and keep the rear end under control. There’s a strategy to it not seen in many other cars, where you can just unload and click off laps like nothing.

timesTo my surprise, the performance of the car is also fairly accurate. The high downforce variant of the Sauber C9 is not an official Kunos creation, but a car engineered by burrito using the Le Mans-spec C9 characteristics as a base from the Dream Pack DLC, and allegedly given the thumbs up by Kunos themselves prior to its release on RaceDepartment. I took the high downforce C9 to the Nurburgring Nordschleife, and in qualifying trim clicked off a lap two seconds faster than Stefan Bellof’s real life world record, set in 1983 with his Porsche 956c.

While some may scoff at this comparison – the C9 was six years newer, never turned a competition lap at the Nordschleife, and never raced against the 956c – I was pleased to see that a newer Group C prototype was able to register what many would consider a legitimate hypothetical lap time for the Sauber C9, had the Nordschleife been on the World Sports Car schedule for 1989 in place of the newly-constructed GP circuit. Under realistic session settings, a 1989 Group C prototype was only a few seconds faster than a 1983 Group C prototype – as it should have been – and never exhibited any bizarre behavior that made me stare at the computer monitor in disbelief.

It’s really a fantastic car; the absolute perfect vehicle for those who love sports car racing, but feel modern GT3 entries have become a bit bland and boring – driven by rich motor racing enthusiasts rather than the highly skilled automotive fighter pilots of yesteryear. The high downforce Sauber C9, as originally created by Kunos and edited with permission by burrito of the Ferrari F2002 mod, is in my opinion the greatest car ever made for Assetto Corsa. This is Assetto Corsa at its best – a piece of auto racing history conveying all the subtle nuances of the real thing at competition speeds, from the comfort of your unique PC racing simulator setup.

Unfortunately, not everyone shared in my enthusiasm.

he-said-it-was-okayShortly after launching the modified version of the Sauber C9 on RaceDepartment, which requires the Dream Pack DLC to function, and even encourages those who don’t currently own the content to take advantage of a Christmas sale and purchase it – essentially free advertising for Kunos SimulazioniStefano Casillo ordered RaceDepartment moderators to remove the file. The greatest car ever made for Assetto Corsa – and allegedly created with permission from the developers – was removed at the request of the developers after a little less than a day, because one of the staff members threw a tantrum. Casillo also implied that because of this, burrito would no longer be receiving any contract work to help out with future Assetto Corsa DLC packs.

Which is a shame, because burrito built something extremely special with his high-downforce Sauber C9, and the early comments left in his release thread on RaceDepartment convey the same message I’ve left in this article – this car is simply phenomenal, and a whole bunch of people are happy he created it.

greatSadly, this is the price you pay with Kunos Simulazioni. Though burrito claims to have received permission to release the championship-spec Sauber C9 as a free add-on for Assetto Corsa, even going the extra length and requiring users to own the appropriate DLC package for the car to function in the first place, the car has been removed at the request of Stefano Casillo, and burrito has been scrapped from whatever partnership he had with Kunos Simulazioni behind the scenes.

I’m hoping there’s a different side to this story, and burrito really didn’t have the appropriate permission to release the car – maybe his buddy just made up a story because he wanted to see the project out in the wild as soon as possible – but as it stands right now, it appears as if Kunos Simulazioni essentially got upstaged by a modder who created an awesome fucking variant of an official DLC car that was otherwise useless within their game, and they weren’t happy about it.

You can download Version 1.1 of the High Downforce Sauber C9 HERE (ignore the 1.0 Zip File name).

1.11.3 – The Best Christmas Present

244210_20161224171856_1Tuesday marked the release of Assetto Corsa’s substantial Version 1.11 update, and by Thursday evening, we had an article up on PRC.net ripping apart the tenth iteration of the game’s continuously evolving tire model. A driving experience that seemingly aimed to replicate the classic nonsensical ice skating behavior of early iRacing builds rather than the high-downforce European sports cars featured within the simulator, the talented Assetto Corsa drivers among us were bewildered at what was occurring on their computer screens. No on-board footage matched up with the handling characteristics exhibited by GT3 cars in Assetto Corsa – they were floating all over the place, as if their tires had been yanked straight out of Grand Prix Legends. It made absolutely no sense, and on top of the bizarre car performance, some of the guys I talk to on a regular basis were notifying me of irregular heat cycles they’d discovered during simple lapping sessions. It made me speculate that Kunos had either botched a line or two deep within the tires.ini file, or they were merely firing blindly – allowing the rabid fanbase to bury valid criticism of the update under a sea of pathetic ass-kissing.

I let Assetto Corsa re-install through Steam overnight, determined to replicate the oddities for myself and possibly put up a lengthy article about it, which would center around questioning how a developer with real world data could spend a number of years constructing several different tire models for their racing simulator and never managing to get it right – as well as elaborating on what exactly is an eternal science project. I tend to drop that phrase around here a lot, and it’s more than just the Assetto Corsa community who swoon at otherwise redundant patch notes, so I figured that would be the article people came back to after the Christmas break.

I had Ethan fire me the exact Mercedes AMG GT3 setup he was using to produce the ice skating-like tire behavior on corner exit, but upon booting up the game, I noticed Steam had recently downloaded a small eight megabyte patch for Assetto Corsa, dubbed Version 1.11.3. Flipping through the garage area tabs, the numbers were what I deemed to be acceptable for a baseline setup, the tire pressures seemed reasonable, and I think the only adjustment I made was sending the brake balance towards the rear at 58% from whatever his stock value was. I also turned off Traction Control entirely, intentionally creating a situation that would see the rear end slide all over the place and magnify Ethan’s complaints about the car’s behavior.

Unloading the AMG GT3 at the Nurburgring GP circuit after the obligatory calibration period, I honestly thought the setup he’d spent the previous few days complaining about was instead absolutely wonderful

244210_20161224170445_1The car was phenomenal. Once the soft compound tires began to lose a bit of their composure, the old Assetto Corsa feeling – one I hadn’t experienced since the spring of 2014 when the RSR Live Timing leaderboards were the only source of competition – had returned. You could go out and drive at 92% attack without much trouble, and in my opinion it felt very similar to RaceRoom Racing Experience in that focusing on your fundamentals – much like Women’s basketball – was the key to clean, consistent laps. But as you pushed for that extra tenth or two out of each corner, the grip/slip/re-grip behavior exhibited by the outside rear tire demanded a level of throttle control and subtle steering inputs that only skilled sim racers posses. There was no longer an invisible hand of God keeping the car pointed in the proper direction, even with worn tires and a heavy right foot. Assetto Corsa, the Assetto Corsa that a lot of us fell in love with many years ago, has been resurrected from the grave.

244210_20161224170642_1So I urged Ethan to jump in a relatively empty pickup server at Silverstone, and turn some laps under racing conditions with the exact same setup which once frustrated him, just to confirm that hotfix released earlier this morning indeed rectified something within the tire model since the article shitting on it went live a few nights ago. The quote I received was “night and day.” While the Assetto Corsa fanboys immediately took to our comments section and blamed Ethan’s frustrations with the car on failing to use the proper traction control setting or incorrectly adjusting the setup to compensate for the new tire behavior – mistakes a driver as competent as Ethan wouldn’t make under any circumstances – behind the scenes, it appears Kunos did make some sort of error with the tire update deep within the game’s code. The exact same setup for the Mercedes AMG GT3 went from being atrocious on Tuesday evening, to bloody brilliant after a simple hotfix found its way into our Steam update queue.

This is the absolute best Assetto Corsa has felt in years.

244210_20161224172126_1In past articles discussing Assetto Corsa, both myself and our boy Sev have commented that there are certain turns in the default roster of tracks where you could just crank the wheel, plant the throttle, and the car would effortlessly navigate through the corner. One of these corners is Luffield at Silverstone International Raceway – a giant hairpin that should in theory require a lot of patience and delicate throttle control to prevent from melting off the left rear tire. Prior versions of Assetto Corsa have allowed you to lazily navigate this corner with little regard to any sort of skilled pedal inputs, and this was basically our ultimate test when it came to finding out what Kunos had done to the tire model after each update. Version 1.11.3 finally forces us to roll on the throttle and carefully manage the state of the left rear – a welcome change of pace from the hand of God keeping us perfectly balanced and letting us mat the throttle far before we could see the AstroTurf at the exit of the corner.

luffield

My stance on Assetto Corsa as a complete package won’t change, because quite frankly there are other simulators out there with a higher level of customization and functionality built into the vanilla package than what Kunos Simulazioni offer with Assetto Corsa. However, a major complaint I’ve had with this game is the team’s endless pursuit of tire model perfection, especially after getting it right so long ago, and then pointlessly wandering off in another direction for multiple years. With the 1.11.3 hotfix, I feel Kunos have finally achieved what made the GT3 entries feel so special when we first started becoming obsessed with the game, and on top of that, the numbers used in the garage screen directly correlate with what real life GT3 teams are running.

I’m extremely happy with the driving experience conveyed by Assetto Corsa Version 1.11.3, but I’m also very concerned. If the next major Assetto Corsa update brings with it Tire Model Version 11, and the handling characteristics of popular cars change all over again, it’s a surefire sign that modern racing simulator developers are taking shots in the dark and relying on the praise of overzealous fanboys to shout louder than the critics.

This one gets our stamp of approval. Please, for the love of God, don’t change it. The numbers are correct, and the behavior is right in line with that old school Assetto Corsa feel. Put this tire model in a glass display case for all to see, lock it up, and flush the key down the toilet. It’s been a long time since Assetto Corsa has felt this good, and it would be a shame if it was only temporary.

244210_20161224172953_1

Another Tire Model, Another Batch of Issues

screenshot_mclaren_mp412c_gt3_ks_nordschleife_20-12-116-19-45-20How many roads must a man walk down, before he admits he’s lost? That’s the question I’m left asking today, as Kunos Simulazioni’s highly anticipated Version 1.11 update for Assetto Corsa isn’t receiving much praise from those who are actually talented enough to push the physics engine to its limits. While the brand new patch comes packed with an array of features that are objectively nice additions to an otherwise barren simulator, and brings with it the third entry in a series of downloadable content packs centering around Porsche sports cars – which until recently were restricted to games created by Electronic Arts and Turn 10 Studios – the raw driving experience has suffered.

Once again, the legion of Kunos disciples have already gone and loaded every relevant sim racing message board with songs of praise for the Italian developer, claiming the cars are more alive than ever, yet before I start ripping them apart in the manner you all expect me to, I’d actually like to take a moment and thank Kunos.

screenshot_urd_egt_darche_spa_21-12-116-17-49-27For the tenth time since the game’s release on the Steam Early Access Platform in the fall of 2013, a large part of this recent update revolves around how Kunos have drastically adjusted Assetto Corsa’s underlying tire model – no surprise given the eternal science project status of the game. However, in an article I published a few months back, I revealed that the tire pressures used by real GT3 teams – in particular the guys working on the Gainesco McLaren 650s – were far lower than what was hard-coded to be an ideal hot tire pressure in Assetto Corsa’s GT3 cars, despite Kunos’ claims of using “real data” to build the numerous GT3-spec machinery in their simulator. Kunos have actually gone out and rectified exactly what was addressed in that article for the Version 1.11 patch. Good job guys!

tiresBut there’s a catch. Though some of the numbers are now correct, driver feedback is not looking good. Now obviously there will be guys on every message board who are five seconds off pace and still give it the thumbs up regardless, but reception to the Version 1.11 update from my own personal connections tell a drastically different story. My buddy Brian first hit me up claiming to have cooked the tires at Monza, and I mean, I figured he just got the setup wrong. After all, Aris himself noted that you’ll be doing a bit more tweaking in the garage to refine your vehicle’s balance, so a bit of a learning curve was something to be expected.

brian2And then my boy Ethan began complaining about the exact same thing. Now unlike Brian, who falls firmly into the Gentlemen driver category, Ethan is currently slugging it out with the one and only Tim O’Glock for bragging rights on several Automobilista time trial leaderboards – and a few years back he was actually my primary competition during a period when the only online element to Assetto Corsa was the RSR Live Timing app. It’s safe to say he knows what he’s doing not only behind the wheel, but setup-wise as well.

screenshot_urd_egt_darche_spa_21-12-116-17-47-0Along with his rants – which closely aligned with everything Brian said above – he ended up firing me a short video to display just how bizarre this new tire model was performing under duress. Despite running with traction control set to the maximum level, and the track grip operating under the “fast” configuration, his Mercedes GT3 entry is literally skating around as if he’s messing with an early build of iRacing prior to the New Tire Model revolution – and that’s with the soft compound tires brought up to optimal operating temperature.

GT3 cars simply don’t handle like this. Numerous teams often invite random automotive journalists to take a few laps with their respective babies at speed, and none of them report an experience synonymous with sliding around on a knife’s edge, barely managing to keep the car in check. Hell, Mercedes themselves offer random scrubs the opportunity to pilot one of their older GT3 combatants in a private track day setting, and there’s even a solid story on MockRacer.com of a fellow sim racer putting down the money to participate in Mercedes’ AMG driving academy at EuroSpeedway Lausitz. These cars clearly aren’t trying to kill people, so with an abundance of real-world data powering Assetto Corsa, why is what’s happening within the simulator vastly different than the on-board GoPro footage?

Better yet, how are we at this point after ten different tire model iterations? Even if I do my best to accept that Assetto Corsa is a heavily work-in-progress simulator that’s subject to change on a monthly basis, I’m a bit lost at how a developer claiming to have all this real data and support from several manufacturers is managing to endlessly refine a tire model which produces a number of unique driving experiences on totally opposite ends of the spectrum. One build, the cars are fairly enjoyable to drive and closely align with in-car YouTube footage, as early versions of Assetto Corsa in Early Access very well did. A few months later, the cars are too planted and almost monotonous to drive – nearly impossible to spin despite a heavy right foot and intentionally poor steering inputs. Now, we’re at a point where the numbers are correct in regards to heating, cooling, and overall pressure behavior, but the GT3 cars are nonsensical death traps on par with initial builds of iRacing prior to 2011.

And this is before we factor in all of that other stuff. This is what Kunos Simulazioni are choosing to spend time on – refining a tire model for the umpteenth time and still failing to get it right – while console owners are growing increasingly agitated at their inability to create private online races for their friends, as they’ve been able to do in basically every other console racing game on the market not named Assetto Corsa since 2001.

244210_20161220202623_1For everyone’s sanity, let’s hope this strange GT3 behavior is the result of a misplaced number or two deep within each car’s individual tire.ini file, and not the beginning of many sim racers discovering Kunos Simulazioni don’t actually know what they hell they’re doing, buying time with pointless revisions and buzzwords to keep the army of fanboys blissfully unaware of internal struggles.

Reader Submission #129 – A Corkscrew Too Far?

assetto-corsa-laguna-secaThere have long been rumors swirling around about Kunos Simulazioni regarding their trigger-happy approach to scooping up unauthorized third party conversions and injecting them into Assetto Corsa without the public’s knowledge, but this has been something that’s been incredibly difficult to prove. We know for a fact that Kunos indeed do lurk the modding community supporting Assetto Corsa, and occasionally recruit talented individuals or teams to help build pieces of content for future Downloadable Content packs – such as Virtua Simulazioni – but the concept of Kunos accidentally paying for a stolen creation is more of an urban legend than anything else. There’s a chance it could happen, but we’ve always assumed Kunos are smart enough to tell when they’re dealing with a genuine model up for purchase, as opposed to a shady individual.

If today’s Reader Submission is any indication, this might be much more than just an urban legend, which could have very interesting ramifications on the future of Assetto Corsa. Numerous pairs of eagle eyes within the official Assetto Corsa forums have spotted that Kunos Simulazioni are using what appears to be a hastily ripped version of Laguna Seca in their official on-location Porsche simulators, from a content “creator” notorious for ripping models from other popular racing simulators, and selling them as third party payware add-ons for Assetto Corsa. Based on what has been presented to us in the submission, this is a pretty big oops on the part of Kunos. I don’t want to outright confirm this one because I don’t want to believe no developer is truly this stupid, but it’s really not looking good.


unnamedGood evening, PRC!

If there’s anything Kunos Simulazioni seem to be proud of, it’s their new relationship with Porsche. Some weeks ago, the Italian developer organized several trackdays, borrowed cars from the Porsche museum, and invited Porsche employees, as well as gaming journalists, to this lucrative press event, which seems to be par for the course with Kunos as of late. The overall theme of this party was something like “Porsche and Assetto Corsa – We Belong Together.” And at first glance, there is little to contradict this. Kunos are the first developer to bring Porsche sports cars to their game without paying Electronic Arts a substantial fee for a long time, though I guess we’ll never know the details of the Turn 10 thing for the Forza Motorsport Porsche Expansion packs.

Anyways, for this event, Kunos built special simulators for the sports car company, powered by Assetto Corsa, and these simulators are what I want to talk about today.

The picture above shows one of these simulators in action, so yes, it was a very fancy event, all kinds of Porsche stylistic details to enclose the cockpits, that sort of thing. But what’s interesting is what’s on the upper screen. If you scale up the monitor’s display, you recognize the pit lane exit of Laguna Seca in Monterrey, California. Now we all know that Laguna Seca was more or less announced to come to Assetto Corsa sometime in 2017, so I just assumed these employees were given an advanced version of the track to play around with. It seemed absolutely normal that Kunos’ major customers are the first to enjoy this track, as Black Cat County was used in Maserati promotional gigs before becoming official content in a free update.

2But then people on the official forum discovered that the virtual reproduction of the California race track used in the commercial simulators has a whole bunch in common with a popular yet supposedly illegal third party modification of Laguna Seca for Assetto Corsa. And if that wasn’t enough, another user proved that this exact version of Laguna Seca is actually an unauthorized conversion of a track originally released for rFactor many years ago, converted by a user who has been profiled in the past on PRC.net for selling ripped content – aspec7878. Go to his homepage and you’ll see what I mean; his entire store is nothing but ripped content from Project CARS and Forza Motorsport 4, locked behind a paywall. The same guy busted trying to sell the 3D model of Assetto Corsa’s Maserati Levante is the one to contribute a track used in a public simulator which Kunos was obviously paid for.

1What do you think is going on here? This looks to be a major slip-up on the part of Kunos; accidentally using an illegal conversion in a commercial display. My mind is blown that this may indicate some of the rumors about Kunos might be true, I can’t believe they wouldn’t have any foresight here.


maxresdefaultAlright so let’s back up a bit and trace what we know about this version of Laguna Seca, because this story gets monumentally more hilarious the deeper you dig. The first rendition of the track, created by Com8 for rFactor all the way back in 2006, was originally converted from TOCA Race Driver 3 – and I’m not pulling this out of my ass, you can literally go back to rFactorCentral, and it’s the first line in the description. So while I’m not saying Alex Hummler didn’t do a good job on his conversion, the roots of this virtual rendition actually lie in an old Codemasters game, which Alex certainly didn’t get permission for back in the day, but hey, that’s rFactor circa 2006 for you.

rf-ripA user by the name of aspec7878, who as I mentioned is notorious for taking ripped Forza Motorsport 4 models and charging for them as if they’re premium payware mods, hastily converted this decade-old version of Laguna Seca into Assetto Corsa. Now as many of you who play Assetto Corsa on the PC have found out, yanking a track from rFactor and dropping it into the Kunos Simulazioni title produces all kinds of fucked up shit; the road mesh simply doesn’t transfer over properly, and it’s like driving on giant blocks of concrete. In fact, many users on the RaceDepartment forums – as well as on the tracks’ resource page where you can leave a proper review – actually complained about the quality of the track aspec7878 had converted, with the obligatory Kunos drones showing up to berate anyone who criticized what was obviously a hastily ripped mod.

Generic Assetto Corsa defense force comments aside, this essentially shows you why eyebrows are being raised at an aspec7878 rip being used in a commercial event. His content – if you could even call it that – just isn’t very good.

lel3So what I’m trying to convey, is that the official Porsche simulator, powered by Assetto Corsa, was using a ten-year old rip of Laguna Seca from TOCA Race Driver 3 to show off their new licensing agreement in front of members of the gaming press during a private promotional event. Not only that; the track was converted for use in Assetto Corsa without any sort of fundamental quality control, and uploaded by a guy who currently sells one hundred percent illegal payware mods for Assetto Corsa – which use entire assets from other simulators, and passes the cars off as his own creations.

Yeah, that’s a bit of a disaster.

But is this the fault of Kunos? That’s a very difficult question to answer, and I’m sure this article will travel far enough for someone like Stefano or Marco to comment on the matter directly. There is a chance that the guys working the Porsche Experience merely hit up RaceDepartment prior to the event commencing, and downloaded as many popular tracks as they could so the journalists were provided with a significantly greater list of locations than what’s available in the default package. But given how much of a stink has been made about this high profile licensing deal, and how “official” everything has been made out to be – including the event itself – it’s hard to imagine Kunos just sort of threw a bunch of Assetto Corsa Steam keys at the Porsche organization in charge of putting on the event, and said “go nuts.”  With how protective Kunos are of their baby in situations such as this one, it’s certainly out of character for them to give the thumbs up on something like this.

Don’t run over to the official Assetto Corsa message board with pitchforks just yet, but this looks really bad on their part.