Off Into the Sunset: DiRT 4’s Demise

Despite autumn bringing with it much cooler weather which entices people to stay inside, and franchises such as Forza Motorsport or Project CARS renewing people’s interest in virtual race cars by releasing their latest iterations in rapid succession, the most technically competent off-road racer in recent memory boasts just a few hundred active users on a cozy Friday evening. Codemasters may have struck gold by complete accident with their niche offering known as DiRT Rally in the spring of 2015, but a refined mass-market variant pushed out a few years later has already descended to the ranks of obscurity just a handful months after launch.  DiRT 4 received stellar reviews from mainstream gaming publications, and visually is the closest a third-party team will come to recreating the overall graphical fidelity seen in something like Forza, yet the masses eager to try it out have now totally lost interest, and Codemasters have seemingly jumped ship from the project as well.

DiRT 4 wasn’t a bad piece of software by any means, it just wasn’t the massive all-encompassing off-road experience that was advertised in pre-release promotional material, leading to a situation where the fourth game in the franchise which once proudly donned the namesake of Scotland’s finest rally driver couldn’t be listed as a tangible improvement over the former three iterations. The roster of vehicles didn’t shrink or expand, it merely substituted some cars for others. We revisited locations fans of the series were already quite familiar with, while swapping out unique stage layouts for bland & repetitive procedural generation functionality. The game’s semi-fictional take on hill-climb racing was scrapped, with rally racing split into two distinct disciplines (historic & modern) to fill the gap, whereas rallycross racing mostly regurgitated the same selection of content from DiRT Rally, and short course off-road truck racing was an afterthought at best; three tracks, all of which look about the same and sport an identical horseshoe layout.

It was a sidegrade, not an upgrade.

Yet for all it gets right – as a lack of content does not necessarily mean the core game is inherently broken or unsatisfactory – a close friend of mine states he can still find unopened copies of DiRT 4’s Day One edition, now heavily discounted, at his local supermarket. And though it technically has still out-performed Kylotonn’s officially licensed rally offering by a ratio of 3 to 1 and numerically has become the go-to rally game, DiRT 4’s active player-base explains why Codemasters have more or less ended this chapter prematurely. There was a period of time in which Race Driver: Grid was in the household of everyone with even a passing interest in race cars on the Xbox 360, and those are the kinds of games Codemasters specialize in maintaining. Their company did not aspire to build a game that three hundred people will play sporadically, and as a result they clearly have moved on from DiRT 4.

The series’ official subreddit features discussion almost exclusively centering around DiRT Rally, which has been out on store shelves for over two and a half years. A rogue post has noticed that community updates straight from Codemasters ceased in early August, and we’re now getting into the thick of October without any word regarding the future of DiRT 4. The game’s lone piece of downloadable content – something it desperately needs in abundance considering no one series within the package can boast a robust array of content – is instead just a pre-order bonus car that was eventually made available for everybody to purchase.

While I’m normally not one to advocate for downloadable content – I’m a loser who bitches and moans about the lack of PlayStation 2-era “feature complete” – DiRT 4 features just five rally locations and three short course off-road tracks; Codemasters would be forgiven if more appeared as additional purchases. This has not been openly discussed nor hinted at. By comparison, DiRT 3 featured such a plethora of downloadable content post-release, it ended up justifying a re-release of the entire game with this content on the disc by default, and dollar-for-dollar it’s still one of the best racing games money can buy.

Patches to fix nagging in-game problems have also been for the most part absent. There are still bugs with how the game calculates your prize winnings; you can finish an entire championship in career mode without ever leaving the track, only for a sponsor to pull a random vehicle reset number out of their ass and claim you’ve failed their bonus objective. Mechanical wear and tear, even in longer events, is for the most part non-existent; you can get away with a skeleton crew running your operation as you approach the final championships in all four of the game’s career arcs. Call it a reward for clean driving and keeping your nose out of trouble, but it’s possible to complete entire rallies without once making use of your crew members to enact repairs on your vehicle; strange given DiRT Rally a few years prior forced you to really think about how you allocated your time in the service area.

There’s also the highly controversial topic of DiRT 4’s “hidden steering assist”, which fans noted at launch felt like a hand of God was constantly generating understeer and preventing the cars from getting too out of control for the average user. While I do agree something has been done behind the scenes in order to make DiRT 4 more approachable to a wider audience, in my own recent travels my buddy and I have discovered that the game’s toe values are actually inverted. By merely setting a rear-ward brake bias and using positive toe values in place of negative values (and vice versa), I was able to salvage and actually have a lot of fun with a couple of cars I’d once deemed to be broken. The problem here is that the average DiRT 4 owner will not once touch the garage menu during the complete duration of their time spent within the game, meaning for every person like myself who can experiment with solutions to unwanted handling characteristics, there will be ten more who promptly ask for a refund on Steam.

I am unsure why Codemasters were unable to sit down and push out a brief default setup update across all three platforms to free up the cars and generate handling characteristics more in line with that of a traditional rally game, as this would have gone a long way to preventing a lot of the backlash against from the community. Yet for what is an adjustment that would take a Codemasters employee anywhere between two and four hours to implement across all 45 cars or so in the game, this option was not explored. Instead they have perpetuated the trope of racing simulator developers bundling their cars with atrocious preset configurations that no sane person would ever hit the track with.

A buddy of mine recently acquired his first decent PC steering wheel, and DiRT 4 is what we’ve been slugging it out in over the past few days, which is partially what inspired me to write this piece. Upon playing through the title a second time, Codemasters actually did build a really good rally game in DiRT 4, or at least one that was good at launch. But instead of fleshing out the game world with free updates that added more events to career mode, pelting the userbase with a stream of downloadable content to enhance the vehicle classes and racing disciplines already in the package, or just tidying up loose ends after their loyal community went out of their way to report any problems that came up, the DiRT 4 you played in July of this year is virtually unchanged four or five months later. I’ve not seen a company drop a game this hard in years; even the shitty Eutechnyx NASCAR games had some sort of comprehensive post-release plan that kept you at least partially engaged in the title’s evolution.

That isn’t to say DiRT 4 is inherently a bad game. For a discounted price, you can generally buy it and have a lot of fun with it, especially compared to Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo and WRC 7, both of which have been plagued by technical issues and the general sloppiness you’d expect from inferior teams. It just seems like structurally, Codemasters built a very good core experience to later expand upon, but then for whatever reason didn’t enact any sort of post-release support and immediately shifted their focus to Formula One. That’s great for Formula One fans, as F1 2017 is objectively one of the greatest racing simulators ever released, but this simultaneously means a whole bunch of rally fans have been stiffed for merely being interested in the wrong kind of racing game.

I would love to be proven wrong, and wake up to news of a DiRT 4: Rally Hysteria expansion or some shit, but there have been zero indicators any sort of thing will happen. Codemasters have recruited a lot of talent from the now defunct Evolution Studios – makers of DriveClub if you’re a bit out of the loop – but these guys were said to have begun work on a new intellectual property, something that DiRT most certainly isn’t. I clicked the “New Post” button on WordPress at around 8:30 PM local time, and saw Steamcharts tell me that just over one hundred people were playing DiRT 4 on PC. This is a dead game in every sense of the phrase, and it’s something Codemasters could have easily prevented, but for whatever reason, didn’t bother to.

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The Benchmark

When we look back on the history of driving games as a whole, certain pieces of software have established themselves as landmark releases for their ability to push the boundaries in what is on the outset a very rigid and concrete genre allowing minimal innovation. With only so many ways to depict a high performance car traveling around a closed circuit from the comfort of your own home, games such as Grand Prix Legends, Richard Burns Rally, and GTR 2 have become notorious for their technical fortitude and ruthless authenticity – often at times when the technology seemingly didn’t allow for such a hardcore experience to be replicated on rudimentary hardware.

Yet despite home computers progressing far into the future – now possessing the ability to render each individual hair on Mario’s mustache while taking into account a gentle breeze in the area – racing simulators have become lifeless shells of what the future once promised them to be. The joys of rushing home to a feature complete $60 game a decade ago have now been replaced with eternal science projects, message board wars, and rampant apologist rhetoric – brainwashed supporters bending over backwards to defend what in any other market would be blatant anti-consumer practices.

It is for this reason that Formula One 2017 not only succeeds in being Codemasters’ finest grand prix racer to date, but establishes itself as quite possibly the greatest racing game that has ever been released to the general public. In an era where simulated motor racing is an embarrassingly bleak hobby to enter, Codemasters have constructed a package so anti-status quo and so pro-consumer, I’m honestly left wondering why other developers would even bother trying to compete with a game so polished and robust. Finally matching the abundance of bells and whistles crammed onto the DVD with an equally satisfactory on-track experience, Formula One 2017 is absurdly good, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you intentionally ignore what Codemasters have created.

Though DiRT 2, DiRT 3, as well as the hardcore spin-off DiRT Rally all offered a set of driving physics that were equally satisfying regardless of whether you commandeered your rally car with a generic gamepad or pricey toy steering wheel, this integral portion of the core gameplay experience never once carried over to Codemasters’ officially licensed Formula One games on the other side of the studio. From the series’ inception in 2010 (I don’t count the awful Wii game), flashy graphics and a robust career mode were never enough to distract you from the abhorrent driving physics – which despite praise from Formula One personalities past and present, never once resembled the real thing. Year after year, Codemasters would put out a game that looked great on paper, all the way up until you started turning laps for yourself after paying the pricey entry fee.

Enter David Greco, a real life racing instructor and avid sim racer, who was recruited by Codemasters in the spring of 2014 to help inject some element of simulation value into the high profile Formula One series. While the first few releases were shaky, Formula One 2017 signifies the exact moment this partnership has paid off. This is no longer an awkward Codemasters grand prix game, complete with strange wheelspin physics, insanely high lateral grip, and a very uncomfortable feeling on the edge of adhesion; out on the track, F1 2017 has more in common with the PC simulators Greco plays in his leisure time than any other game in the Codemasters library, past or present.

Does that mean the cars are now total death traps to control for all but the most talented of sim racers? Well, no, it’s quite the opposite actually. Rather than sim racers being forced to learn and understand all of the typical Codemasters quirks we’ve seen over the years, what’s now happened is that the cars are predictable, intuitive, and responsive at the limit. Driving deep into a corner, laying on the brakes for the minimum amount of time needed, and then rolling into the throttle while the back end struggles to plant itself is now a natural feeling, and you can really wheel the cars for that extra tenth or two, as opposed to years past when this was all down to car setup and approaching corners in the way the physics engine wanted you to. There is still a limit to what you can get away with – whether that means plowing through a corner or smoking the wall – but unlike past iterations, it’s something you can jump in and grasp, rather than being turned off by it.

The sensation behind the wheel in F1 2017 is comparable to my time spent in Reiza’s Time Trial of the Week competition for Automobilista earlier this year. Once a kind alien had provided me with some of his private setups for the Formula V10 we were all turning laps in for that particular week, I went from white-knucking the car around the circuit, to being surprised how easy it was to wheel it with a proper setup by someone who understood what they were doing in the garage area. F1 2017 doesn’t feel like there are hidden aids on to assist the car in remaining stable, it just feels like a good dude in the community gave you his entire setup collection, and out of the box the car is working with you, rather than against you. Some of the older sim racers among us will spend the next few months screeching that Formula One cars shouldn’t be this intuitive to drive, and a Codemasters game should never be considered a simulator, yet the minuscule list of fatalities in the series since 1994, coupled with unprepared personalities like Yuji Ide appearing on the grid in the mid 2000’s, gives more weight to the idea that maybe what Codemasters have produced isn’t all that far off.

So while hotlapping is fun, the time trial mode benefiting from a diverse array of cars from the 80’s and 90’s on top of the absolutely wild 2017 machinery, not to mention a few additional short layouts like Suzuka East and Silverstone National to pad the track count, where Formula One 2017 shines the most is where it previously drew the most criticism. Again, while the off-road games from the studio were traditionally bundled with exceptional artificial intelligence, past Formula One entries have been an absolute disaster when it came to racing against a field of computer opponents during any of the game’s offline modes. Though F1 2016 made slight improvements in this area, Formula One 2017 is practically an entirely different game in the way you’re able to race the bots door-to-door, lap after lap. Rather than being ruthless cunts who refuse to give you an inch, and would often flat-out wreck you for not yielding when they felt they had a position, the AI cars have now been programmed to operate under a “player first” mentality – though their aggression has not been compromised as a result. Poke your wing under the tire of an AI car, and though it would be virtually impossible for them to know you’re there in reality, the bot will provide you with just over a lane to work with, and allow you to maintain your line until somebody concedes the position.

It’s an AI behavior that I feel could be easily exploitable in the hands of a skilled player – merely throw the car into a corner and the AI will always yield to your presence so long as you enter their predetermined safe space – but the pros in this instance far outweigh the cons. Insane opening lap wrecks are a thing of the past, pack racing during the first few laps is exhilarating, and the traditional single file procession produces exponentially less bullshit scenarios when an AI driver attempts to take the position from you, or vice versa. This doesn’t mean the AI have been slowed down, however; at the same time, I’d say they’re more aggressive than in years past. Cars no longer contemplate their life choices and awkwardly twitch back and forth before setting up for an overtake, and cars/drivers that are outright quicker than you, whether it be down to equipment or driver skill, will still manage to hold their own and reclaim the position if you force them to run an alternative line.

Combined with the introduction of a traditional numbered difficulty slider rather than named preset skill levels, and you’re looking at a grand prix game that isn’t just an improvement compared to previous iterations in the series; you’re looking at something that will undoubtedly challenge Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix 4 as the undisputed king of offline racing.

And obviously, that’s a pretty big deal when you consider that Formula One 2017 was constructed primarily as a single player experience. Sure, there are plenty of online options for those wanting to tackle a season with their buddy, set up a quick session, or host a multi-week online championship, but the reality is that the meat of Formula One 2017 lies in its extensive career mode and its overarching presentation. With elaborate TV-style introductions for each session, copious amounts of lighthearted paddock shots, complex research and development trees, equipment degradation, quality assurance checks on developed parts, and no shortage of in-game personalities holding your hand through the on-site team headquarters, it’s hard to believe that on the other side of the genre, sim racers are being wooed by mere custom championship tools. Again, the simdads will cry foul at all of these distracting elements supposedly taking away from the core driving experience, but when the rest of the genre is permanently stuck somewhere between 2006 and 2008, it’s absolutely bewildering to be graced with a game that exhibits this level of detail and immersion. Formula One 2017 is not merely just a game that features F1 cars and tracks from the current season; it’s our equivalent to FIFA or Madden, and something we as a community can be genuinely proud of.

And then there’s the classic cars. While the inclusion of 80’s/90’s/00’s content isn’t anything new – we saw most of the same vehicles appear in Formula One 2013 a few years ago – what is new is how they’re handled. Though promotional material claims you’ll be able to drive these in easy-going Career mode challenges after being discovered by what’s essentially a sugar daddy, the reality is that Codemasters have essentially gone and recreated an unlicensed version of BOSS GP for you to dick around with at your leisure if you never plan on touching the main campaign mode at all – and of course, all of these cars are unlocked from the start. Drawing inspiration from the real-world Big Open Single Seaters Grand Prix series, where wealthy gentlemen purchase retired F1 and Champcars for use in short multi-class competition events, Codemasters have provided players with the ability to partake in several offline championships with these cars to get some additional use out of them. In short, the hype surrounding their inclusion is actually justified, as an entire portion of the game has been dedicated to them.

While the 2017 cars are every bit as crazy and exciting to drive on their own, having a fleet of highly recognizable cars from the 80’s, 90’s, and of course the 2000’s just adds to the already stellar package Codemasters have created. Given how enjoyable the driving experience is compared to years past, blasting around these ultra-high fidelity circuits in something absurd like the Ferrari F2004 is the proverbial icing on the cake. These cars all have their own individual character as well, so the high-horsepower cars on grooved slicks may reach impossibly high top speeds, but also take a bit more to slow down, and some setup work to plant the rear end when you get on the power. My lap at Australia in the F2004 was a full second faster than the real life pole time, but in taking the same car to Sao Paulo, I only clicked off a lap just five tenths faster than Barrichello, so in terms of the almighty simulation value we all bitch endlessly about, Formula One 2017 is right in line with the other pieces of software the diehards hold in such high regard.

But of course, even though this game ships with dynamic weather, a dynamic racing line, dynamic drying line in wet weather conditions, puddles on the race track, a voice activated race engineer, engine degradation based on the five key components of the engine, fuel mixture management, parc ferme rules, weekend tire selection, engine component management between races, a comprehensive R&D tree, animated pit stops, a formation lap, three types of yellow flag periods, manual race starts, manual pit lane control accompanied by a pit limiter toggle (new for this year), wheel tethers during accidents, dirty air, tire punctures, and unique practice programs to automatically generate a custom-tailored pit stop strategy to your needs, elitist sim racers will still sperg over the mere mention of this game on hardcore-oriented simulation websites, implying this is a game for teenagers to pretend they’re some kind of pretend Formula One driver and nothing more.

No.

Fuck you.

Formula One 2017 is the greatest racing simulator that has ever been created. This $60 purchase is impossibly good, and while we’ve had to suffer through some abominations from Codemasters in previous years, this one has been well worth the wait. This is the absolute pinnacle of driving games, and ignoring this modern masterpiece in favor of ultra-stale simulators that offer little more than “here are some cars and some tracks” is only reinforcing the stereotype that sim racers merely use their favorite genre of games as an elitist masturbatory tool. In a rare instance, the unanimous glowing reviews surrounding Formula One 2017 are not the work of paid shills, but rather the result of perseverance from a team who certainly got their shit together.

Reader Submission #145 – Can Liberty Media Get eSports Correct?

I think after Formula E’s Visa Vegas eRace disaster and subsequent dedication to a larger campaign in the future despite the obvious clusterfuck of an event, we all knew that the boys over at Formula One Management would jump into the fire sooner rather than later, hoping to go above and beyond the standard glitchfests we’re used to seeing from amateur efforts. Though details are still pretty scant, and Formula One 2017 won’t be in our hands for another day, Liberty Media have recently unveiled their plans for an adjacent eSports series using the officially licensed Codemasters title.

While there have been numerous groans over the title’s apparent lack of simulation value – a topic that at this point is pretty debatable given the so-called hardcore simulators’ lack of authenticity – our reader submission today comes from a user who believes that if anyone can pull this championship off successfully, it’s probably Liberty Media. Not relying on independent efforts, Liberty have actually gone out and recruited the correct people for the job, so there’s an actual chance this might not be a complete shitshow.

But will it result in sim racing finally landing a place in the eSports kingdom after what’s now several awkward years of botched events and a totally uninterested audience?

Hello PRC, it is I, MaldonaldoFan420. I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Formula One are looking to delve into eSports using Codemasters’ F1 2017 to hold a championship.

I completely understand if this sets alarm bells ringing throughout the sim racing landscape to a chorus of “here we go again”. Sim racing as an eSport is not a new concept, with iRacing pushing the “original eSports racing game” tagline for a year or two now, and yours truly still suffering from Vietnam-type flashbacks to the Visa E-Race. Attempts to bring sim racing to the forefront of eSports to join the likes of Rocket League, DOTA, and Counter-Strike have failed miserably and often have been downright embarrassing, so I completely understand any apprehension. However, reading through the press releases actually paints something of a positive picture.

First and foremost, this is Formula One themselves wanting to put this on.

iRacing have a pretty impressive roster of names on their service; NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, World of Outlaws and more are all available on the simulator. However, they appear to be little more than glorified licensing deals instead of legitimate sanctioning; maybe I just have no idea of what sanctioning actually is, but it just feels like a regular licensing deal and the aforementioned names don’t actually give much of a shit beyond that. I was able to find a Peak Antifreeze series schedule/results sheet on NASCAR.com through Google, but I couldn’t find a way to this through the main page. If you want to become a premier eSport of a certain series, it’s a bit of a problem when those series don’t actually advertise and promote beyond World of Outlaws occasionally tweeting about the WoO iRacing race going on that night.

Turning to Formula E, there’s no doubt they were behind it, but you can’t compare the popularity of F1 vs Formula E. It’s a series where washed-up F1 drivers go to die if they’re not good enough to go anywhere else, and the live events are questionable. It just isn’t popular, and if nobody wants to watch real Formula E, there won’t be an audience for a poor virtual rendition. Well, that’s not entirely true; there was an audience for the Visa E-Race, but they mostly came to laugh. The whole thing was an embarrassing memefest.

So Formula E lacks the popularity, and iRacing’s series have comparable popularity but they seem to not give much of a shit about iRacing; F1, however, is a titan of the motorsports realm whether you like it or not, and they are actively seeking to make this thing happen. And they’re into it; Liberty Media (F1’s new owners) are all about tackling new ideas to engage fans, particularly the younger demographic, and managing director Ross Brawn has straight-up said that F1 sees a lot of potential in sim racing as a test-bed for new rules and regulations. It certainly sounds like they’re dedicated and are taking this seriously, as opposed to doing a little sideshow to promote their game and then fucking off.

So F1 is huge, and they want this to happen. However, there’s a further hurdle to surmount in that this all has to go off without a hitch. We were all watching the Visa E-Race when it was plagued by technical issues, and it was fucking embarrassing. Thankfully, F1 planned out their shit and have brought Gfinity onboard to handle the technical proceedings of the competition. Gfinity know their stuff; they routinely hold LAN events for a roster of games including Rocket League and CS:GO, all broadcast live on UK TV channel BBC Three. Bringing on-board an established eSports organization like Gfinity, with experience in administrating live events for television, goes a long way to ease my mind that F1’s series will actually be well-run instead of a mediocre glitchfest.

That leaves everything down to the game itself, then, and time will tell when F1 2017 comes out in a few days. I would be massively, massively worried if they hadn’t fixed that crippling tire bug with F1 2016, but they did, so hopefully Formula One will be working with Codies to make sure everything is sound and exploit-free for a fair competition.

What do you think, PRC? Could this be it? It’s hard to have my hopes up too high, but there are many more positive signs this time around.

My bold prediction is this.

I think from a viewership standpoint, it will do very well. Unlike the aforementioned iRacing championships and Formula E disaster, Liberty Media have, oh, I don’t know, the biggest potential audience in the world for an eSports equivalent to Formula One. For example, if these guys were to put up the live feed of a race for their 3.6 million Facebook followers alone, the audience numbers would dwarf all past sim racing events combined, and then some. That’s before we factor in the inevitable coverage of the races from SkySports F1, the YouTube streams, the highlight videos, all of that fun shit which comes with holding a premiere eSports championship. The numbers are absolutely there for the suits at Formula One to say “we spent X amount of money and our product reached Y amount of eyes like we had planned.”

But will it be the final catalyst to help catapult sim racing into the spotlight?

I don’t believe so. At the most, it will be a somewhat solid online championship with no major controversies, one which is used as a testing ground for future Formula One rule changes. That’s it.

This is something we haven’t covered on PRC until now, but the guys over at Sector 3 partnered with Mercedes-Benz a few years ago to conduct a similar eSports championship, and these are races that are still going on to this day – the most recent being Sunday’s round at Zandvoort. With events streamed on the official Mercedez-Benz Facebook page – boasting a whopping 20 million potential viewers – the broadcast itself reeled in 155,000 individual views, an impressive statistic for any online championship, regardless of the game being played. These are FIFA or Super Smash Bros. tournament numbers, so a job well done to Sector 3 on this regard. Numerically, they are the undisputed leaders in the sim racing eSports scene at the moment. That’s right, in a surprising twist of events, the guys that built Race 07 are slaughtering iRacing at their own game, while not even bragging about eSports in their promotional material.

But despite 155,000 eyes on the software – objectively good numbers – what if I told you that this has done absolutely nothing to generate interest in the game, and that interest in the title has actually fallen dramatically over the past couple of months. The audience size equivalent to a full-capacity soccer stadium are taking in these events, but at the end of the day, only a couple hundred people are playing RaceRoom Racing Experience when all is said and done – a number even more shocking when you consider this game is actually free of charge and has pretty reasonable system requirements. So all of the dickwaving over view count means precisely nothing, because in this particular instance – even though the game is fucking FREE –  it’s declining in popularity.

This is proof that regardless of whether your title can be obtained and played by anyone for free so long as they have a modern internet connection, the on-track product is good, and partnerships have been made with marquee car companies and/or racing series, the average gamer just outright doesn’t care and probably will never care for sim racing. It’s too difficult for the normies to pick up because you basically need hundreds of practice laps just to get any sort of enjoyment from the software, and at the end of the day, real world racing exists. Why would a normal person whose interest in motorsport can be described as “passing” watch and get involved in fake DTM, when they can just watch real DTM and then go on with their day once the race ends?

And it’ll be the same with Formula One’s eSports championship. The average person, one who’s not already a simulator enthusiast, but rather a semi-casual auto racing fan, would rather watch Lewis Hamilton in a real car for a few hours and then continue with what they were doing previously; Greger Huttu is not going to inspire him to pick up F1 2017 and dive head first into the competitive world.

The Simulationing

This week, the sim racing community will be split into two very distinct groups of people, as it is with each passing year at around this time. There will be those who brave the “mass market bells and whistles” of Codemasters’ officially licensed Formula One game, F1 2017, discovering a very modern, well-rounded racer that’s already receiving rave reviews from fans & critics alike, and there will be those that scoff at the title, unwilling to accept anything other than a bland, boring piece of software in the pursuit for unparalleled authenticity.

While brands like Electronic Arts experiment push the envelope with each new iteration of their yearly sports franchise, this year giving Madden fans three distinct gameplay styles and a narrative-driven piece on top of seemingly endless features and refinements that reflect an authentic game of professional football, the sim racing landscape is the only sub-genre of video games in which members actively call for new releases to remain stale, dated, and lifeless, while criticizing showcase elements that actively engage the user within the virtual world. These gentlemen do not want unlockable vehicles, they do not want elaborate single player career modes, they do not care for modern visual fidelity – though this is probably down to their outdated computer specifications being unable to handle it – and the thought of a car that isn’t trying to kill them in every corner, at least in their eyes, places the game into the same category as Need for Speed; a distraction for children and teenagers.

As if there has been some sort of hidden contract signed by a portion of the community, no matter how genuinely good Formula One 2017 ends up being when the routine patches stop and we’re left with a game that is considered “complete”, sim racers are not allowed to like anything that doesn’t fit the status quo of being a bland, uninspired package with some cars and tracks that are somewhat realistic. Just look at the responses from sim racers after Liberty Media revealed there would also be a small Formula One eSports championship taking place during the back half of this season, with bigger plans obviously in the pipeline for next season and beyond. I wouldn’t call it a complete meltdown, but it’s obvious the community takes offense at the mere thought of a racing game that goes against the established norm of what a simulator has traditionally been composed of in the past, being called a simulator by the biggest racing series in the world.

Is Formula One 2017 a little bit easier to drive than the real thing?

Very few of us sim racers have driven a Formula One car (hi Max, care for an interview?), so we can’t really sit here and give a definitive answer. But it’s certainly plausible Codemasters have sat there during the game’s development and said, you know what, the average consumer needs just a bit of assistance that we’ll code into the game’s tire behavior. Not a lot, but a little. And that’s perfectly understandable, because this game is not advertised but as a hardcore simulator that’ll crush your balls and force you to donate a portion of your paycheck to some financial dominatrix in Russia, but instead a reasonable virtual representation of the pinnacle of motorsport – and the surrounding activities as well.

And does Formula One 2017 offer a set of distractions that maybe pull you in a different direction and serve to entertain you rather than encourage you to focus on perfecting your speed, car setup, and racecraft?

Well, absolutely.

But does that give hardcore sim racers a justifiable reason to scoff at the title?

Not at all. And they won’t like the answer as to why.

Above, I have compared an iRacing qualification lap from Esterson Motorsports in preparation for the 2017 24 Hours of Daytona, versus the qualification charts provided by IMSA.tv for the real deal. In a simulator that advertises itself as the absolute pinnacle of authentic, accurate motor racing from the comfort of your own sim rig, the lap times produced within this software were profoundly inaccurate – the virtual Mercedes running a blistering five seconds faster than the quickest real-world team campaigning the same car. Yes, there might be some balance of power going on, and yes, the weather conditions within the simulator may have been a touch different than the real event, but five seconds is still five seconds. For the absolute top of the food chain to produce such a massive discrepancy, after years upon years of the marketing department – and other sim racers – parroting this elaborate pretense that all of the world’s best drivers use iRacing to practice for upcoming events, the discrepancy between the real thing and the virtual counterpart is equivalent to that of a Codemasters game, if not more so.

And this isn’t even an alien time, with Esterson’s YouTube account not appearing to display any sort of footage that indicates they’re at the peak of the virtual racing ladder. This is one of the more talented average Joe’s in the community, who maybe race for fun and because they’re good at it, but do not have an elaborate Facebook fanpage conducting mock interviews with their drivers.

Five seconds.

We now move on to Automobilista, a game many including myself believe to be the best commercial usage of the isiMotor engine and the absolute best “traditional hardcore” simulator you can buy with little aside from an active Steam account, eclipsing ISI’s own rFactor 2 in the process. Several weeks ago, as part of a community-wide competition, Reiza challenged all owners of Automobilista to attack the Suzuka Grand Prix circuit with their knock-off 2002 Formula One entry, code-named the Formula V10. Michael Schumacher’s pole time for the 2002 Japanese Grand Prix, set during what was arguably his prime years behind the wheel, was blown away by four seconds by a flock of nerds sitting in their basements – one hundred and thirty one nerds, to be exact. The other nineteen professional race car drivers on the grid (give or take a few pay drivers) wouldn’t even be in the ballpark if their real world laps were to be submitted to the Reiza leaderboards.

This is a game that sim racers recommend if you’ve exhausted basically all of the “mainstream” simulator options, and want something that offers maximum simulation value, though with it comes maximum obscurity as well. And yet Schumacher’s impeccable speed – which should be absurdly difficult to match for all but the most talented of sim racers – is a lap time that any moderately talented driver can obliterate.

To me, that sounds like an arcade game.

And then there’s Studio 397’s rFactor 2, which has recently partnered with McLaren themselves to hold some kind of elaborate eSports competition – the ultimate reward being a job as McLaren’s in-house simulator driver. The audience, admittedly, has been very nice – surpassing what genre front-runners iRacing have been able to do with their championship series – but the authenticity aspect is up for debate. rFactor 2 was chosen partially for it’s status as an ultra-hardcore PC racing simulator, yet the top drivers – and many more that follow in the extended leaderboards – are turning laps three seconds faster than the Blancpain GT series pole time. Yes, again there’s balance of performance that we maybe don’t see in rFactor 2, and maybe some track conditions at play as well even though these sessions are held in a public server that can’t be manipulated to produce insane grip levels…

But three seconds is three seconds, and this is a leaderboard full of professional race car drivers. To be blown out this badly by computer nerds who in some cases don’t actually possess valid drivers licenses, is not simulating much of anything. Either the real world drivers should all be fired; their jobs given to names such as Enzo Bonito and Risto Kappett, or maybe the whole thing is no more or less accurate than a Codemasters game.

Lastly, we get to Assetto Corsa, again a game with it’s own flock of followers who praise the indie racing simulator to high heavens, and during the game’s on-going botched console release, can actively seen belittling those who do not understand what the fuss is about as “console children” who cannot appreciate authentic car physics as the game’s bread and butter.

I have not chosen to consult the popular RSRLiveTiming leaderboards to compare lap times, as these laps are often completed in what drag racers call “mineshaft conditions”, in which users manually opt for insane track grip and temperature settings outside what would occur in reasonable competition.

In a SimRacingSystem GT3 event, Polish sim racer Jakub Charkot posted a qualification lap almost three seconds faster than the Mercedes AMG GT3 pole time set during the 24 Hours of Spa earlier this season. Kunos have already balanced the cars among one another, and this lap was set under authentic race variables; imperfect track grip, other traffic to contest with, and realistic fuel consumption.

Give Jakub a ride? Or re-consider your perception that these hardcore simulators that boast unparalleled levels of authenticity and realism are really no better or worse than a Codemasters Formula One game.

Though everyone will obviously have different tastes when it comes to the precise way they enjoy their pretend race cars, the elitism that a portion of sim racers hold in regards to titles like Formula One 2017 is simply not justified.

On top of having Formula One cars that are marginally accurate, the F1 series from Codemasters has an actual game built around the experience. There are stunning visuals that you can show off to the general public and they won’t crack jokes about it – as per the Visa Vegas eRace stream – there are practice training regimes, a team of mechanics that can respond to voice commands and have a simple conversation with you, there are unlockable bonus cars, dynamic racing lines, a full TV-style presentation, animated paddock area with individual characters who act out a predefined role, research and development arcs, cooperative championship play against a field of AI bots, and last but not least an artificial intelligence that’s compelling to race against.

Hardcore racing simulators, on the other hand, have marginally accurate cars and confusing menus. And then the excuses come.

  • It’s not supposed to look nice, it’s a simulator, think X-Plane but with cars.
  • I don’t care for good AI, I just like to test drive the different vehicles and better my lap times
  • The developers don’t have enough money for flashy gimmicks, but I don’t care, I just want to drive, those other modes are a distraction and take away from the driving anyways.

So if they both provide the same objective experience behind the wheel – the same marginally accurate vehicle performance that can be deconstructed with a quick trip to the results sheet of any major racing series – why is the complete game scoffed at, whereas the elaborate tech demo praised?

Jealousy.

Enjoy Formula One 2017. For those who are unwilling to, ask yourself why you put up with this abomination when the on-track product is the same.

Reader Submission #142 – The Front Wing is Too Damn High

No longer confined to select press releases and vague teaser shots, the covers have been fully removed from Codemasters’ upcoming open wheel racer Formula One 2017, but the diehards have managed to spot some oddities – and we’re praying it’s not indicative of the rest of the game’s quality. Coming off a stellar outing in F1 2016, a title many fans considered to be Codemasters magnum opus once the tire wear issues had been rectified for online play, expectations are high for what the UK crew can achieve with their next outing, yet in the preview shots that have been released by first party sources, questionable findings were discovered that really shouldn’t have made it into promotional material at the very least.

Today’s Reader Submission here at PRC comes from Australian kart racer Tyler W., who has summarized the oddities in the officially released footage quite extensively for us. Though it’s not a clear indication that Codemasters are on pace to dropping the ball a second time this year after DiRT 4 failed to impress, the Formula One series has been constructed primarily for die-hard Grand Prix fans, and the game will live and die not by it’s content, but by it’s polish.

 

Hey PRC! I’m getting in quick before the rush of emails start coming regarding this topic, but some Formula One 2017 gameplay with Max Verstappen has officially dropped, showcasing him turning laps around the short layout of Silverstone. Now, I have watched a few E3 videos of the classic cars, and it didn’t seem that bat, but now with outside views of the cars, I have some cause of concern regarding the game. And I don’t say this lightly as I’m someone who has been playing Formula One games for about as long as I have lived.

First, for some reason the 2017 RB13 has a front wing so high that Snoop Dogg would be jealous. Problem is, no way would any F1 car run a wing that high at any time, as it would have no downforce properties in order to be fast.Then, we move onto the RB6 from 2010, and it looks even worse. For some reason, the car looks to be running on the ground with the wheels looking abnormally high compared to the car itself, making it seem like a botched open wheel mod for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. It’s like there’s a horrendously soft suspension setup on it, and it’s not realistic at all compared to how the car sets through the corner in real life. While it’s compressing, the tires are still pretty low compared to the chassis.

I might be overreacting and worried over nothing, as what Max drove may have been an earlier build, but it’s a bit scary that the game comes out next month, and there seem to be some pretty glaring model issues, on top of the horrid external V8 engine noise – almost worse than what F1 2010 had, if I’m to be completely honest. By the way, how do you screw up a model that you’ve had since 2010?

What are your thoughts?

On one hand, I’ll gladly bring up Van Halen’s Brown M&M’s tour rider clause, where if one precise detail was botched – such as the color of M&M’s in the candy dish – the rockstars had every reason to believe exponentially larger mistakes were made when assembling the stage. So inaccurate car models and ride heights could point to other issues behind the scenes with F1 2017, problems we won’t discover until we’ve actually got our hands on the game and start screwing around with it. However, past examples have shown a racing game featuring inaccurate car models does not necessarily equate to a bad game. The EA Sports NASCAR Thunder games shipped with woefully inaccurate Chevrolet Monte Carlo bodies – they were too tall, too narrow, the front clip was nowhere near close, and the headlight decals were outdated by a few years – yet those games are still considered the absolute pinnacle of officially licensed NASCAR titles save for that small blemish, and it’s just something the diehards have to deal with every time they fire up the game.

Yet I do wonder how Codemasters were able to film promo pieces knowing such glaring oddities still existed with their car models. This is a team who are fully aware that die-hards are going to scrutinize everything and everything in the weeks leading up to the game; Formula One isn’t Mario Kart, it’s consumed exclusively by those who eat, breathe, and sleep grand prix racing, so why you’d pull the trigger on promotional material knowing it would be ripped apart is pretty perplexing. In my opinion, this one’s on the marketing team for not stepping in and saying “um… guys… are you sure you want this out there?”

There’s also the chance that Max was allowed to dick around with the game for a bit prior to filming, and he’s running some nutty exploit setup he figured out because he’s talented like that. I know in testing for Project CARS 2 I’ve been running some crazy shit outside traditional setup techniques for certain cars in the garage area, and it’s received some pretty interesting reactions when people either take a look at the values or try it for themselves, so that’s a distinct possibility.

Regardless, I wouldn’t write off the game just yet – Codemasters had a stellar blueprint to build upon thanks to how phenomenal last year’s game was – but yeah, I’m not sure why the promo team gave the thumbs up to put out footage with irregularities most F1 fans can spot from a mile away.