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.

Advertisements

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

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).