Advocating for Stagnance

Once again, the sim racing community displays their bizarre mentality which prohibits the genre from moving forward.

While racing simulators can be a traditionally dull affair, devoid of life, fancy progression systems, and interesting diversions aside from the sterile on-track experience, the men and women at Codemasters are making an effort to change that with the upcoming DiRT 4. With a portion of the team – who have grown quite large since acquiring a major slice of Evolution Studios – working hard to make the simulation physics even more realistic than the sideforce-heavy driving model in 2015’s DiRT Rally, another part of the gang are hell-bent on crafting a compelling campaign experience to go along with the ruthless rally driving sim racers are eagerly anticipating to get their hands on this summer.

Codemasters’ latest blog update details the in-depth Team Management feature which will be available in DiRT 4, adding elements not seen since 2007’s Race Driver GRID into the core gameplay experience. Not only do we anticipate DiRT 4 to be the most realistic and authentic off-road sim ever created, but users will also be able to acquire crew & staff members, sign sponsors, design their liveries with a large roster of in-game templates (akin to the original GRID), buy & sell cars, as well as develop facilities to upgrade your vehicle at a quicker rate. You’re no longer just a rally driver; you’re running your own rally team. The giant inflatable Monster Energy cans and avant garde menus of past titles that shot you right into the action will now be replaced by a comprehensive meta-game that will serve to compliment what you accomplish behind the wheel, and sure, some people will have more money than they know what to do with only a few days into owning the game, but the existence of such management features greatly helps to flesh out the world of DiRT 4.

However, this hasn’t sat well with some sim racers.

Codemasters are going above and beyond with DiRT 4, introducing several elements which serve to substantially lengthen the longevity of the game and give some sort of underlying purpose to your on-track activity, and sim racers are actively saying they would rather have a mundane simulator devoid of life and meaning. While mainstream sports games such as FIFA, NBA 2K, and Madden are praised for their pseudo Twitter feeds, extensive visual customization, financial negotiations, in-game radio shows, and even cutscenes to enhance the immersion factor, a racing game developer attempting to add genre-appropriate elements like managing a pit crew, signing sponsors, designing a livery, and keeping an eye on your finances, have been scoffed at by snobbish sim racers, who would seemingly prefer these games to be permanently stuck in 1998.

It’s a very confusing phenomenon, to say the least. In terms of raw staff size, Codemasters may possibly be the single biggest racing game developer thanks to their recent acquisition of the staff from Evolution Studios, so it’s not like the simulation elements are being cut from DiRT 4 in favor of the management meta-games – it’s merely the icing on the cake of an already impressive package thanks to a random stage generator, 50 vehicles, and three distinct racing disciplines. Yet sim racers are actively voicing that they don’t care for these features in the slightest.

It’s extremely ironic how hardcore auto racing fans, who obsess over real-world silly season sponsor announcements, draft up fantasy liveries for their favorite drivers, and use sim racing as a way to live out their childhood dreams of running a race team with their friends, actively dismiss a solid attempt by a developer to include these elements in their newest game; instead crying that these features aren’t welcome.

This is proof that the sim racing community is absolutely off the rails, and I pray to God that developers are selective in what community feedback they choose to take into account; sim racers are whining that a developer went above and beyond to create a well-rounded experience from the paddock to the podium, instead implying the genre should remain stagnant. Thank you, Codemasters, for making a very tangible effort to create a compelling experience both on and off the track. Please don’t listen to these clowns, you’re on the right track with DiRT 4.

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Guitar Queer-o

16716053_1375071449232086_8758369761658143409_oWhile there was a bit of an uproar when it was revealed that DiRT Rally for the PlayStation 4 Virtual Reality headset would ship with additional content not seen in the vanilla package, those fears can officially be put to rest, though they now indicate that sim developers might not know how to craft a compelling and innovative experience for this technology. Introduced as a PSVR exclusive feature, DiRT Rally’s co-driver mode was kept heavily under wraps in the lead up to the title’s release, with many sim racers speculating about Codemasters creating some sort of online co-operative functionality just for this specific segment of the userbase – one which put you in the passenger seat and tasked you with reading out pacenotes to your buddy of choice as they flew through Sweden, Wales, or Monte Carlo – but the reality is unfortunately much different, and significantly more ridiculous than anyone could have envisioned.

Codemasters made a Guitar Hero mini-game for DiRT Rally.

Seriously.

thunderstruckInstead of pairing you with a friend riding shotgun – also sporting a VR headset from the comfort of his own home – tasked with reading out complex strands of stage notes at a lightning quick pace from the virtual passenger seat to ensure your success on any of the game’s twelve stages, DiRT Rally’s co-driver mode asks you to hand your little brother the Dualshock 4 so he can play a shitty knock-off version of Guitar Hero on the main monitor, where him successfully hitting each note translates to the correct visual directions being displayed on-screen.

There was a huge opportunity for Codemasters to go out and create a memorable diversion that could potentially show off the unique experience a VR headset can provide under the right conditions, and instead they’ve straight up missed it by a country mile. Inserting a simplified version of Guitar Hero into a game most of us have already played to exhaustion, and designing the mode in such a way where it only applies to bystanders who probably won’t want to sit and watch you play DiRT Rally to begin with, won’t get people to rush out and pick up a copy of DiRT Rally VR. We already know that racing games are an incredibly unique way to showcase what a virtual reality headset can do at its absolute best, but we’re at the point where developers need to innovate and take things to the next level.

This certainly isn’t it. In fact, it’s perpetuating the stereotype of VR-based titles being more of a fancy tech demo than anything else, with developers struggling to find out what to do with this technology beyond the initial application of first-person viewpoints.

Above, I’ve linked a twenty one minute compilation of Giant Bomb co-founder and former Gamespot persona Jeff Gerstmann struggling to understand how virtual reality will retain a long-term appeal, as he demonstrates numerous fully-priced PSVR titles that just aren’t very exciting pieces of software. While some of his experience is hampered by technological issues that make him visibly uncomfortable during his trial runs, Jeff notes that after you get over the initial “coolness” of physically existing inside a game world and being able to look around at your own discretion, the decline in texture resolution and lack of exciting quirks to make it more than just an extreme first person view isn’t enough to offset the obvious cons of the hardware.

To combat this, developers such as Codemasters need to push the envelope and offer genuinely interesting diversions to their software that really justifies the existence of a purpose-built VR title. A Guitar Hero spin-off isn’t that.

Codemasters, listen up. Let us walk around the car in the service park to inspect the damage, and make repairs by physically kneeling next to the vehicle and ripping the bumper off, or changing a few tires if it’s needed. Make the user nod their head up and down to indicate to the official to start the count-down clock for each stage. Create a co-op mode, where you can invite a buddy to your offline session, and his ass is thrown in the passenger seat, where he can look at his lap and read out pacenotes – which would actually be of use in DiRT 4, as the randomly generated stages will be impossible to memorize and actually require someone to get good at co-driving should this mode exist. And on closed-circuit off road races, make it so mud accumulates on the visor of the helmet, requiring the user to either shake their head, or wave their hand in front of the censor, for the virtual avatar to rip away a tear-off.

This is all shit I’m just pulling out of my ass on a boring Saturday evening, but I’m sure a large portion of the DiRT audience would appreciate these little elements to a Guitar Hero mode that will be used exactly once before promptly being ignored for the rest of the game’s lifespan. Otherwise, if this is the kind of “innovation” we can expect from the VR generation, don’t expected it to last very long.

 

…And THIS is DiRT 4 in Action!

While members of the global sim racing community now cautiously await the fourth rendition of Codemasters’ high profile rally racer, the pair of individuals at Erased Citizens have uploaded a mammoth fifteen minute video of the 2017 racing simulator in action. Earlier this morning, when news of DiRT 4‘s existence first broke, many of us were unsure as to what exactly we would be receiving when the game finally drops in June – as Codemasters have routinely displayed they are more than comfortable catering to both hardcore and casual audience, seen in 2012’s DiRT Showdown and 2015’s DiRT Rally – the concerns of hardcore rally racing fans can now safely be put to rest. Like Codemasters themselves have claimed in their introductory blog post, DiRT 4 will merely flesh out the underlying experience they’d originally created with DiRT Rally, which now looks like it was designed as more of a “trial run” for a full-blown offering than a quirky offshoot of the series.

firefox-2017-01-26-16-21-01-82DiRT 4 boots up immediately asking you which physics engine you’d prefer to power the experience, meaning the casual audience returning after many years of absensce from DiRT 3 will have something they can pickup and play with a controller, whereas the hardcore sim racers among us can essentially flick a switch and be playing a proper sequel to DiRT Rally.

firefox-2017-01-26-16-21-14-38Progression through the game’s extensive career mode will come easy for the hardcore sim racers among us, as hefty difficulty bonuses will be handed out to those who play DiRT 4 on a higher setting. I’m assuming the Fearless mode will completely disallow restarts and max out the AI driver difficulty for the ultimate challenge, though successful championship runs will undoubtedly open up more of the game in a shorter period of time.

firefox-2017-01-26-16-21-25-10Like Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo, it appears the main portion of DiRT 4 will revolve around your own virtual rally career, in which you purchase cars, sign sponsors, and enter championships of increasingly higher prestige. Though DiRT Rally attempted to include some sort of progression element via hiring crew members and using race winnings to purchase cars, it was admittedly laid out in a clunky manner – constructed in such a basic fashion that the process of partaking in these odds and ends was more of a chore than anything else. Judging by the completely revamped presentation, these miscellaneous text adventures will most likely play a larger role throughout the game’s campaign mode than they did in DiRT Rally.

firefox-2017-01-26-16-21-36-28The list of modes seems fairly predictable for any modern racing game, though there now seems to be a proper rally school mode similar to what we saw in Richard Burns Rally over a decade ago. This time, however, Codemasters have partnered with Dirt Fish Rally School in Washington state, so there’s a chance that the tutorial portion of DiRT 4 will feature an actual rally school location that can be unlocked upon successfully completing each lesson, as opposed to recycling stages from the main campaign with generic text overlays. It’s a very nice inclusion considering even experienced sim racers picked up DiRT Rally back in 2015 and really didn’t know what the hell they were doing.

firefox-2017-01-26-16-21-41-12While it’s too early to talk about the exact cars and tracks which will be available in DiRT 4, it appears everything except hill climb racing and trailblazer events are set to make a return. Codemasters sill have the rights to the official FIA Monster Energy World RallyCross series, meaning we’re getting a host of licensed circuit racing content, but the main bulk of the point to point rally events will be held under a fictional Global Rally Championship moniker. With the World Rally Championship License locked up by Kylotonn Games, it’s highly doubtful we’ll see any of the truly ludicrous 2017-spec WRC entries from the likes of Ford, Hyundai, Citroen, or Toyota, though Codemasters did manage to include a partial selection of modern rally cars provided they steered clear of official liveries.

Super 1600 buggies and two classes of short course off-road trucks (2WD and 4WD) will make up the final portion of the core DiRT 4 experience, again operating under the fictional moniker of Land Rush. Codemasters claim there will be a portion of Land Rush tracks located in Nevada, California, and Mexico, though we’re unsure if they will be using real-world circuits seen in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series as they did for the original DiRT back in 2007. I believe I saw a glimpse of what appeared to be Chula Vista when the footage above cut to a brief shot of Super 1600 buggy action, but I’m not well-versed in short course off road stuff to make a proper judgement on that.

firefox-2017-01-26-16-22-25-84DiRT 4’s most anticipated feature, dubbed Your Stage, is already in a semi-completed state and can be seen in action during the fifteen minute raw gameplay piece by Erased Citizens. Governed by just two sliders, Length and Complexity, the feature appears to work as advertised – and quite quickly, I must add, spitting out a phenomenal looking stage in mere seconds. This is going to kick all kinds of ass for online leagues – which are now cross-platform – as none of the aliens among us will be able to memorize terrain exploits and ideal lines to earn a leg up on the competition. I’m really looking forward to an online environment that rewards driver skill rather than memorization. firefox-2017-01-26-16-25-18-33The overall presentation has received a much needed facelift, with a shot of your car inside the service area now totally replacing a generic floating cluster of menus with panoramic shots of each environment in the background. One of the main complaints I had with DiRT Rally when I reviewed the title in late 2015 centered around the outright lack of any life in the software, and it appears Codemasters have directly addressed these concerns, giving you a sweet shot of your crew hard at work on your race car in between stages. It’s the little stuff like this that keeps the game from getting stale.

firefox-2017-01-26-16-25-33-12Codemasters have also included their sim setup-oriented cockpit view, allowing users to receive a much clearer shot of the road out their front window, instead of being forced to look at a virtual steering wheel when they’re already holding one in their hands. After playing DiRT Rally earlier this afternoon, I’m hoping Codemasters will implement the ability to adjust this camera in the same manner of a traditional cockpit view, as some of the dash cameras were literally focused on the hood, and some of them – such as the 1999 Ford Focus – weren’t even aligned properly with the steering column. Your head was essentially resting on the side window.

firefox-2017-01-26-16-24-49-90The stages look spectacular, and to everyone’s surprise, the legendary Nicky Grist will be returning as the game’s co-driver, with both the in-house navigator and female co-pilot Jen Horsey (whom I personally preferred) relegated to minor roles. This is something many have wanted over the years, as the casual co-pilots seen in previous DiRT games were often criticized for their lack of detailed instructions.

firefox-2017-01-26-16-23-54-83Sim racers have every right to be cautious about what Codemasters are building in DiRT 4, but judging by what’s been leaked to the public only an hour ago, Codemasters have blended the underlying driving experience and serious atmosphere of DiRT Rally, with the vast array of content that turned 2011’s DiRT 3 into one of the most well-rounded driving games you could purchase for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. While I’m a bit choked that the Trailblazer and Hill Climb disciplines seem to have been neglected – those cars were fucking awesome – Codemasters appear to have figured out that the Monster Energy dude bro crowd won’t stick around for long, and at some point, you have to create something that ticks every last box in the eyes of your loyal fans. DiRT 4 looks seriously awesome, and we can’t wait to play it.

This is DiRT 4

hammering-a-subaru-across-the-outbackWe knew Codemasters were building something behind the scenes, we just weren’t sure when it would see the light of day. After the unexpected success of their internal side project DiRT Rally – an uncompromising rally simulator heavily inspired by the sim racing cult classic Richard Burns Rally – Codemasters have announced the fourth entry in their flagship off-road franchise that once sported the Colin McRae namesake many years ago. Yes, DiRT 4 is happening.

There are both reasons to get excited about the game, and reasons to be skeptical. The main line of DiRT games churned out by Codemasters have always received widespread critical acclaim for being packed full of content and features while exhibiting impressive graphics, but sim racers have often turned up their collective noses at the title for relatively short point-to-point rally stages, and a flashy festival-like atmosphere aimed primarily at a casual audience. In some instances, the games could feel as if they were an elaborate advertisement for Monster Energy – a drastic departure from the unlicensed WRC offerings of the early 2000’s which helped Codemasters achieve worldwide recognition.

Yes, DiRT Rally was a hardcore variant aimed at a very specific subset of fans, but I can’t imagine a situation where Codemasters will continue on with this simulation-centric approach for a mass-market release. Unless you owned an elaborate racing wheel setup, very few people could even stay on the track in DiRT Rally, and for a main franchise release, that’s not something that’s going to sell very well.

416142-dirt-2-windows-screenshot-the-main-menu-of-the-game-is-integratedHowever, there is genuine hope for what Codemasters plan to bring to the market in time for a June release. According to the reveal post on the official Codemasters blog, DiRT 4 will ship with an innovative rally stage generation tool that supposedly allows for an unlimited number of tracks in the game, using a system that sounds like a cross between V-Rally 2’s stage creation tool, and the track editor in Gran Turismo 5. So even if the game’s physics have been simplified for consumption by a general audience – as opposed to the diehards who flocked to DiRT Rally – you won’t exactly be running out of things to do.

“DiRT 4 features a game-changing system called Your Stage; an innovative rally route creation tool that allows you to produce an almost-infinite number of unique stages at the press of a button. You choose your location and set the route parameters, then Your Stage does the hard work to create a unique rally stage that you can race, share with your friends, and then challenge them to beat your time. Your Stage allows experienced rally players to create longer, more technical routes, whilst newcomers can create simpler shorter routes as they hone their skills.”

This is a major addition to the series, as the most common complaint surrounding any rally title of the past twenty years is undoubtedly the lack of stage variety. Part of the fun that comes with purchasing a rally title is being forced to drive flat-out into the unknown, and the initial fear and challenge that comes with sitting down with DiRT Rally or Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo for the very first time and attempting to post competitive laps quickly diminishes once you’ve learned the general layouts of each stage. Codemasters are attempting to rectify this exact problem with what they’re calling Your Stage, though we have no idea how this tool will work in execution – only that it exists, and you use basic parameters to churn something out. If you want a preview of what this may look like in action, I’d suggest looking up videos of V-Rally 2’s track editor for the Sega Dreamcast, or rally racing in Gran Turismo 5. It’s not precisely how Your Stage will work in DiRT 4, but it’s a start.

It’s an exciting time to be a fan of rally racing, that’s for sure. No major developer has implemented a feature this ambitious in a racing game for quite some time, so we’re all looking forward to seeing how it’ll turn out – and the best part is that we don’t have to wait very long. DiRT 4 is scheduled for a June 2017 release, so we’ll be playing it just as summer rolls around.

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Codemasters to Fix Controversial Tire Wear Bug in F1 2016

f1-2016-crashThere’s a sense of optimism in the air today for fans of Formula One 2016, a game that’s been hailed the absolute best in a series of otherwise forgettable entries from the team at Codemasters. A few months after the release of the officially licensed open wheel quasi-simulator, users discovered a crippling exploit which utterly destroyed competitive league racing for the time being: depending on the tire compound you selected for the start of the race, wear rates for all other tires would be scaled accordingly. If you were a cheeky asshole and made aware of the problem before it was brought into the public spotlight, you could start a race on a harder compound than the softest variant available, and receive reduced wear on all subsequent tires you fitted after a pit stop.

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This essentially let clever drivers skip out on an entire pit stop cycle, decimating the field in the process. Unless league administrators used the trusty honor system to force everyone in their series to start with an identical tire compound, online racing in F1 2016 had been dealt a crippling blow. There was simply no way to ensure a level playing field.

Despite widespread outrage over the glitch when it was first brought to light by several prominent F1 2016 YouTube personalities, Codemasters awkwardly danced around the issue, and hinted that the problem wouldn’t be fixed until the release of F1 2017 – basically making people wait nine months and spend an additional $60 to play in a fair online environment. Though the revelations proved to be extremely controversial and generated an incredible amount of uproar from the F1 2016 community, I could at least understand where Codemasters was coming from – the base EGO Engine powering F1 2016 doesn’t natively support elaborate tire wear calculations, meaning it most likely wasn’t a simple fix. This is an engine that was originally created for arcade racers such as Race Driver: Grid and DiRT 2; it’s not exactly the best platform for a full-on Formula One simulation, or at least something close to it.

p1However, there’s been a change of heart behind the scenes. Codemasters have announced that an experimental patch is arriving on Steam today for F1 2016, primarily to try and rectify the tire wear bug that has since completely ruined the competitive element of online racing in F1 2016. If the patch is deemed to be a success – which you can check on the progress of HERE – it will be rolled out for all other platforms as soon as possible, therefore saving the world of F1 2016 online racing.

p2It’s great to see Codemasters listening to the community and busting their asses on a much-needed patch, instead of forcing them to fork over another $60 just to play a product that should have worked correctly in the first place, as this will allow the hardcore F1 fans among us to conduct highly competitive online leagues within F1 2016 all the way up to the release of F1 2017 this fall. Good on you, Codemasters! This is the kind of post-release support we appreciate.