The 2017 Sim Racing Silly Season

244210_20161223145919_1With only a few short hours left in the 2016 calendar year, it seems as if every major developer has gone out and made some sort of major announcement regarding their 2017 plans, just to ensure they can spend the first day of the new year with their families.  While 2016 hasn’t been the greatest year for sim racing as a collective entity – marked by yet another round of botched console releases, rehashes of the original rFactor, poorly supported mass market driving games, and even Image Space Incorporated themselves giving up on their flagship product – 2017 is already turning out to be a pretty wild and wacky year. We’ll obviously not know for certain what the new year brings until we’re deep into the summer months, but 2017 will surely be a turning point for sim racing, offering a landscape decidedly different than the current array of titles on the market – all of which have very little to offer.

There’s a lot to run through, so let’s get to it.

Porsche Meets iRacing

This is the announcement that pushed me to write this article in the first place. After years spent as a brand exclusive to titles pushed out by Electronic Arts, and appearing in the Forza Motorsport line of games as a dedicated expansion pack long after each game’s release, everybody is getting Porsche. The boys over at Kunos Simulazioni were able to snatch up the license a few months earlier than the rest of the sim racing developers all vying for the iconic German brand, but due to just how many sim racers call iRacing home, this is an acquisition that matters. While I’m obviously not a big fan of the product they put out, iRacing is undoubtedly the biggest name in sim racing, and for every person who rushed out to buy the trilogy of Porsche expansion packs for Assetto Corsa, there were ten people on the iRacing forums begging for Porsche to appear in their highly competitive online-only racing simulator. This is now officially a done deal; Porsche is coming to iRacing, bringing a trio of race cars to the popular service – the 911 GT3 Cup, the 919 LMP1 hybrid, and the Porsche 911 GT3-R, according to the launch video.

But before you head over to Dairy Queen and order a custom cake to celebrate the announcement in your own special way, there’s unfortunately a catch. The way iRacing has been coded only allows for a maximum of five different car models in each race, unlike isiMotor based titles where the model limit is exponentially higher. When iRacing inevitably introduces the Porsche GT3 entry into the Blancpain Sprint Series sessions, it will most likely be at the expense of another car, meaning one of the vehicles currently on the roster will be taken out of competition entirely, and those who purchased the replaced car will now own a piece of iRacing content that is completely useless to them. And if it happens to be a car you’ve grown attached to, then tough luck for you.

r3e-indycarRaceRoom Racing Experience Turns Into iRacing

I’ve known this was on the cards for quite a while, but I wasn’t aware when I was allowed to reveal it, so my apologies for not writing about it a bit sooner. Sector 3 Studios have been quietly working on a project to turn RaceRoom Racing Experience – a highly underrated simulator held back by absurd microtransactions – into a competitive online platform which offers a similar structure to iRacing, but (hopefully) at a fraction of the cost. Unfortunately, the information I’m not privy to is what exactly this will all look like when the public finally get their hands on it, though it’s nice to know the team at Sector 3 seemed to have been lurking around these parts long before PRC’s popularity exploded, and may possibly implement a few suggestions I published all the way back in March of 2015.

There are also plans to step away from the atrocious package that RaceRoom Racing Experience has become and pursue a traditional boxed product more in-line with GTR 2 or Project CARS, as Sector 3 Studios announced in October of this year that SimBin will be responsible with developing “cross-platform” titles created by Sector 3. Though I can confirm the upcoming game will probably be powered by a relevant version of the Unreal Engine, as indicated by the leaks earlier this year, pretty much everything else about the simulator is totally up in the air.

screenshot_ks_mazda_mx5_cup_ks_brands_hatch_20-12-116-21-10-30Prepare to Purchase More DLC for Assetto Corsa

Those who enjoy watching an online community fracture via additional downloadable content packs released for Assetto Corsa are about to enter a special kind of hell; Kunos Simulazioni have confirmed even more are on the way, with Laguna Seca, a special Ferrari bundle, and the Mazda 787b highlighting an admittedly strong selection of cars for the simulator which took the community by storm in late 2013. The team also plan to build a fantasy location similar to the Lienz hill climb festival for the original rFactor, which will include several layouts for endurance, tarmac rally, and drifting fans.

Beyond of the flurry of DLC, which more than doubles the cost of Assetto Corsa for those late to the party, the team have announced the opening of a second studio, as well as a partnership with SPARCO to bring what’s most likely either a dedicated racing wheel or seat to the consumer racing simulator market. Depending on how you feel about Assetto Corsa, these announcements can be viewed either as positives or negatives. The team are financially stable enough to significantly expand their operations, which is always good to hear in a niche genre with a fluctuating audience, but are doing so at a time when the console version of Assetto Corsa is still being blasted by owners due to the underwhelming experience contained on the physical game disc. Kunos Simulazioni are essentially announcing an abundance DLC to be released for the 2017 calendar year, while basic features such as custom lobbies are nowhere to be found, once again forcing users to sit in around in a virtual Buddhist temple and ask philosophical questions such as “what qualifies as a finished racing simulator?”

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Project CARS 2 Will Probably Hit Shelves in 2017

I think it’s safe to say that the sequel to 2015’s buggy yet fairly successful multiplatform racing simulator Project CARS will be in your hands within the next 365 days, at least according to a cryptic tweet from the game’s official Twitter account. Leaks initially discovered on 4Chan have indicated the team have acquired licenses to all major brands for the release of Project CARS 2, as Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, and Porsche can all be seen on track together, not to mention surprises such as the historic Daytona Beach Road Course from the beginnings of NASCAR, as well as the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit used by the Verizon IndyCar Series. Though I’ve made it clear I was no fan of the original game, credit must be given where credit is due – the sheer sales numbers have allowed the team to go out and acquire many lucrative licenses for pieces of content that just weren’t possible during the original project, indicating it will probably be worth adding to your collection if Slightly Mad Studios can afford proper Q/A testing this time around.

maxresdefaultSeveral Codemasters Games Were Removed from Steam

While there are rumors that the ladies and gentlemen from Codemasters are hard at work on a sequel to 2015’s sleeper hit, DiRT Rally, it appears all good things must come to an end. Steam users have discovered that DiRT 3, the original GRID title, and Formula One 2013, have all been removed from the Steam marketplace and are no longer available for purchase, presumably due to certain licenses expiring. While your average sim racer has most likely played each of these games to death at one point or another – as both DiRT 3 and Grid were quite solid titles in their own right – their removal from Steam marks the end of an era; most of us are old enough to remember when both of these games were brand new, and I actually recall DiRT 3 as the final game I purchased from Blockbuster before they went out of business for good.

You’re still able to obtain keys if you’re curious about what each title has to offer, but it’s just not the same, man…

untitled-2The NHRA 2 Revival Project Nears Completion

For fans of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, despite the tour’s appearance on Fox Sports as a live broadcast, and a decade-high spike in the number of television viewers, there is simply no modern virtual rendition of the world’s largest motorsports sanctioning body. Released in 2007 for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, NHRA Drag Racing: Countdown to the Championship features a roster of drivers who have long since retired or passed away, a season schedule boasting tracks no longer on the tour, and class performance specifications horrendously out of date. It simply isn’t cutting it for drag racing fans.

With no major developer set to unleash a fully-licensed NHRA title any time soon, NitroSim.com member Mike Russo has taken up the task of resurrecting NHRA Drag Racing 2 by means of a complete visual make-over, injecting all of the drivers and locations from the 2017 NHRA season into a drag racing simulator which first hit store shelves in November of 2000 – but is still quite a competent game on modern hardware. To make things short and sweet, the project will be completed at some point in 2017, and most likely be released as a free download for those curious about the sport of drag racing.

24913359419_6ce27afcfe_oWreckfest Will Be Finished

This one comes as a shock to many, but it’s understandable Bugbear would finally make a public statement on this matter, as the game has been sitting in Early Access since January of 2014. The team from Finland have admitted in a roundabout way that they used up all available capital to create Wreckfest and fail to push it out the door, announcing a few weeks ago that an investor has come on board to give the project an extra financial boost, which should see the spiritual reboot of FlatOut from the original developers finally make it into our hands as a finished product. The poster child of unfinished Early Access games, Wreckfest has sat in limbo for a period of years, offering a competent yet totally incomplete arcade racer that draws upon inspiration from the original Destruction Derby, but no matter how good it looks in screenshots or YouTube videos, everyone knew the game wasn’t done.

It’s supposedly going to be finished now, but Bugbear still have a lot of work ahead of them. There aren’t many tracks, there aren’t many cars, and there’s virtually no semblance of a career mode to speak of – as it stands right now, Wreckfest is little more than a fancy tech demo, so it remains to be seen what this game will actually look like after some sort of proper development cycle has been unleashed on this eternal science project.

test-drive-unlimited-pcKylotonn to Develop the Next Test Drive Unlimited & FlatOut?

This one’s a bit of a scary thought. Despite failing to impress sim racers not once, but twice, with the officially licensed WRC titles that were both buggy as fuck and incredibly underwhelming from a gameplay standpoint, it appears the shovelware developer – alongside publishing partner-in-crime BigBen Interactive – have secured the rights to develop both the next Test Drive Unlimited title, as well as FlatOut 4.

I’m not looking forward to either of these titles, and I have a damned good reason for that. The two Test Drive Unlimited games were both mammoth undertakings, as each developer had been required to essentially build a compelling experience around a serviceable replica of Oahu and Ibiza, which simply isn’t a task for a team whose only claim to fame is a line of yoga games, and a rally racer that most sane people refunded after less than an hour of playtime. My concerns are mirrored for Kylotonn’s FlatOut 4, as the franchise relied on an incredible damage model and competent artificial intelligence, neither of which Kylotonn are capable of producing as a team.

untitled-3World of Speed is Most Likely Dead

Those of you who eagerly followed the development process of Project CARS may remember a little game by the name of World of Speed; a free-to-play online racer created by Slightly Mad Studios, which used assets from Project CARS yet substituted the grueling real-world physics of a hardcore racing simulator to a package significantly more approachable for newcomers. The work was taken up by Slightly Mad Studios as a side project to acquire additional income and continue to fund the development of their primary product, but was eventually handed off to Lauda Interactive – headed up by Niki Lauda’s son. Yes, that Niki Lauda. He’s a video game designer now, I guess.

It’s been hard to follow what’s happened to World of Speed since then, as Lauda Interactive’s website hasn’t been updated in several months, and most dedicated driving game news outlets tend to cover simulators first, and leave any time left over for mainstream arcade games rather than stuff stuck in development hell. Thankfully, the English-speaking section of World of Speed’s official forums contains what’s supposedly a short official post from the Russian developers, indicating closed testing did not go well, they have no time frame for when the next round of testing will take place, and… well… yeah. This game probably isn’t coming.

823946118_preview_grab_059Studio 397 Released the Super GT Nissan GTR for rFactor 2

Mere days after I had published an article mocking Studio 397 for a relatively underwhelming December blog post, which indicated rFactor 2 would remain a fairly uninteresting simulator for the foreseeable future, the team now in charge of developing of rFactor 2 went out and released the exact car I had used as an example of ISI’s general ineptitude; the Super GT-spec Nissan GTR. Thanks guys, here’s your gold star!

On a more serious note, the timing of the Nissan GTR release displays just how far Image Space Incorporated had fallen off the map in the sim racing community, considering a completely random developer team were able to package the car and upload it almost upon request. The sim racing community has been loaded with obnoxious Jehovah Witness-like personalities begging to share the good news of rFactor 2 to anyone who would lend an ear, but the release of the streamlined GTR indicated just how bizarre it was for them to worship Image Space Incorporated as sim racing gods. ISI were truly sitting on their asses, almost reluctant to work on their own product as entire years flew off the calendar, and yet here comes a new team that was able to put out a car first announced in 2013 in a matter of days. Even though I’m the administrator of a private rFactor 2 league in my spare time, I still refuse to have this game installed on my hard drive, but I gotta give credit here where credit is due – Studio 397 knocked it out of the park on this one. It’s an admittedly small gesture to release a car people had been waiting on for years, but the timing of it was absolutely perfect – and hilarious.

Though like I said, it definitely brings into question what’s happening at Image Space Incorporated.

ams-2016-12-11-15-08-31-27Make no mistake, the 2016 calendar year was absolutely awful for sim racing as a genre. Quite simply, there were a whole lot of games either released or given substantial updates, yet not a single one of them stood above the rest, nor put up a valiant fight against the quality products released in other video game genres; each of them instead offered a half-baked experience that got some select aspects correct, but never the whole enchilada. It’s clear that many developers who call sim racing their home are running on fumes and pipe dreams, but unlike the previous 365 days, 2017 brings with it a glimmer of hope and optimism.

Provided the whole eSport trend catches on, there might be a lot more money circulating within the scene, and developers can afford to do more than just repackage rFactor, or continuously push out DLC while leaving a lot to be desired with the core selection of features. RaceRoom Racing Experience may possibly craft a legitimate rival to iRacing – something people have wanted for years within the genre – and the team at Slightly Mad Studios did reel in a whole bunch of money after selling over two million units of Project CARS, so provided their resources are allocated correctly, there’s a chance the sequel may be worth your time. As strange as those two scenarios sound, it’s at least a starting point, and it’s why I believe the dark ages are finally coming to a close, albeit very slowly. There may be a light at the end of this tunnel, but to truly reach the golden age of sim racing, we first need a glimmer of hope – even if it comes as a fake light mod which harnesses the power of the sun.

 

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No Review Copy for You!

wrc-6-screenshot-citroen-ds3This is the number one indication we really aren’t in the Golden Age of Sim Racing as some people like to think.

Review copies, let’s talk about them for a bit. I don’t think the concept itself is too hard to grasp, but I’ll briefly go over it so our younger or uninformed readers are brought up to speed. Traditionally, when you write for a more established and respected gaming news outlet (read: not PRC.net), you’re usually privy to early access of brand new video games, and this is primarily so you can compose your in-depth review and get the word out about the game to your audience prior to the game landing on store shelves. This in turn helps your readers make an informed purchase, generates additional traffic to your website for discussing the game during it’s highest period of relevancy, and if the game is genuinely good, almost acts as a free extension of the developer’s marketing campaign – which in some cases can lead to a relationship forming between both the author and the developer.

It’s not the most difficult concept to understand, really; it’s common practice for any sort of “big” gaming outlet to receive a game three weeks early for their writers to dig through and evaluate. Of course, during the review process other individuals on the team may be tasked with gathering gameplay footage to release on their respective YouTube channels as preview clips, but the general idea I’m trying to get across is that if you’ve somehow found yourself in the world of video game journalism – whether it be as an amateur blogger or a paid gig – you indeed get to play new games way earlier than anybody else.

The process of obtaining a review copy for your publication basically boils down to contacting the developer ahead of time, introducing yourself, talking a bit about your publication, and obviously asking if you can have an advanced key for whatever game they’ve got coming out in a few weeks. Sometimes they’ll say yes, other times they’ll say no. If you typically write positive reviews, your chances of getting a review copy increase because it’s free positive press for the developer. If you’re the cunt who runs PRC.net, you don’t get a review copy. This is unfortunately what pushes certain mammoth gaming sites to give exceptionally high scores to otherwise lackluster games; shit on a new IP from Electronic Arts because you found a bunch of embarrassing bugs, and the free copies of Battlefield, Madden, and FIFA stop showing up – meaning you can’t cover extremely popular games, therefore causing your site to lose traffic and significantly impacting the amount made off of advertisement revenue.

heatMy feelings aren’t hurt when we don’t receive review copies. We’re very proud of the loyal group of readers we’ve gathered over the past eighteen months here at PRC.net, but we’re also not blind; we have a tendency to outright shit on things, and it’s totally understandable that developers are reluctant to work with us in any fashion. Aside from Racecraft and RaceRoom Racing Experience, every game we’ve reviewed is something we’ve had to physically go out and purchase like every other regular customer. Yes, it sucks to part with $100 CDN only to find out Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo was a horrid technical mess, but at least we’re allowed to write what we want, and aren’t given the task of maintaining fragile relationships with hostile developers in a genre that has quite frankly fallen off the map.

wrc6_screenshot_studio_tour_2On the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got Inside Sim Racing – an outlet that stays well within the range of what’s considered politically correct for modern racing simulator reviews, and it’s pretty much a given they’ll have early access to virtually any driving game on the market. Usually when I bring up ISR I always sprinkle stories of Darin Gangi’s numerous message board antics, but for the topic at hand I have to give credit where credit is due; the pair of John Sabol and Billy Strange have done a fantastic job of making ISRTV relevant again, and I do find myself watching their videos of upcoming games from time to time.

The fall release season is upon us, and in most cases that would mean ISR’s general activity on YouTube would spike with a flurry of preview videos for DMR’s NASCAR Heat Evolution, Kylotonn’s WRC 6, and Milestone’s Ride 2. Now NASCAR is already out on store shelves, and admittedly there’s not much anticipation for the other two products listed, but with how little driving games we’re blessed with compared to first person shooters or dating sims, anything that hits the shelves with a race car on the cover is something for us to get excited about.

Unfortunately, Sabol was forced to upload a pair of strange commentaries mocking the situation at hand.

A few weeks ago, John Sabol mentioned during an episode of This Week in Sim Racing that DMR Games – the publisher in charge of NASCAR Heat Evolution – refused to provide the Inside Sim Racing crew with a review copy, and upon playing the game for himself, remarked it was easy to see why. Even Inside Sim Racing, a publication once notorious for plastering iRacing stickers all over the set and basically praising every racing game with basic steering wheel support, had no problem ripping on the new NASCAR console game because it simply wasn’t ready to be released.

ISR have now run into this road block two additional times, bringing the count to three games in three weeks. Both Kylotonn Games, as well as Milestone Interactive, have refused to give Inside Sim Racing an evaluation copy of Ride 2 and WRC 6. This is huge. The current lineup of primary ISR personalities are about the furthest thing away from a bunch of assholes who set out to destroy every racing game they come across; they’re actually the most-watched driving game news outlet on YouTube and are managed by a guy who’s been in this business for almost a decade. If ISR of all outlets have been shafted on review copies three straight times in under a month, something is seriously wrong with this genre. Several developers don’t even want respected racing game aficionados to evaluate their games.

We’re now at a point where racing games as a whole are such unfinished clusterfucks intended to make a quick buck and screw over their respective fanbases, multiple developers are scared to give review copies to a reputable genre-specific news outlet that only reaches a few thousand people each week. Even if Ride 2 manages to blue-screen the Xbox One and distributes malware to everyone on your friends list, Inside Sim Racing is so small in the grande scheme of things that a negative review (which is unlikely to begin with given ISR doesn’t do negative reviews) simply won’t hurt sales, so why shaft these guys? And better yet, if we’re in the Golden Age of Sim Racing as some like to say, why have these guys been ignored by developers three times in three weeks? In my opinion, the quality of their content has been getting better, and yet now they don’t have anything to review.

And this is before we talk about the Assetto Corsa console review embargo – which obviously served to intentionally delay criticism of the game and reel in additional sales before people found out Assetto Corsa on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 was an unplayable piece of shit.

054934Are we going to spam the email of the Kylotonn Games PR guy and beg them to give Inside Sim Racing a review copy of WRC 6? Well, no. I’m sure we all know the game isn’t going to turn out much different than their previous effort, and the same can be said for Milestone’s Ride 2. I’m more concerned with the status of the genre as a whole. Thinking back to the Nintendo GameCube days, oddball stuff like MX Superfly and Simpsons Hit & Run were just as exciting – and enjoyable – as the high profile releases by Electronic Arts and Acclaim Entertainment. When I see Ride 2, I don’t just think of “oh God, another unfinished Milestone product, that’s their third this year“, I remember back to an era where I could legitimately take a chance on a random motorbike game I wasn’t even following because it might be addicting as hell and a sleeper hit – as MX Superfly was back in the day.

Now? Developers won’t even let respected outlets try their games, and said outlets have to make these comedic videos explaining why there’s a complete lack of footage regarding upcoming releases. In our case, I understand why developers refuse to cooperate with PRC.net. We’re assholes, and we’re going to be the guys that write off a $66 CDN NASCAR game because it has a rear sway bar adjustment in the garage menu, and the real cars don’t. But Inside Sim Racing? These guys aren’t assholes yet are receiving the same treatment.

So what gives? Is this the first tangible sign our favorite genre is on life support, or are we looking at a coincidental string of three shitty developers all releasing sub-par products at around the same time?

Virtual Race Driver: A Critical Analysis

timthumb-phpI tend to stay away from sim racing-related eBook reviews here on PRC.net due to the massive conflict of interest that will undoubtedly arise, but today we make an exception to that rule simply because somebody asked us to. A sim racer by the name of Chris Newman hit us up earlier this morning to tell us about a project he’s been working on for a little over a year, and asked that we talk about it on PRC.net to generate a bit more interest in the endeavor – as it has also been featured on GTPlanet in front of a more casual-oriented audience. Operating under the title Virtual Race Driver, Newman’s new eBook is a free, constantly-evolving resource intended to help budding sim racers learn how to navigate this difficult hobby primarily through a compilation of driving tips from front-runners found across a multitude of games. Coming in at just over eighty pages in length, and featuring no less than eighteen contributors in its current form, the PDF file is not so much a complete guide that you can read from front to back in one sitting, but rather a bite-sized collection of general hints and tips from a variety of personalities within the greater sim racing community

You can download a copy for yourself HERE, with no registration roadblocks or other miscellaneous information tracking oddities to be found whatsoever. As the product is free, I encourage you all to make room on your respective hard drives for the three megabyte download, and form your own opinions prior to carrying on with this article.

storeEarlier in the year, we here at PRC.net released our own eBook – Black Flag: A Crash Course in Sim Racing as a gift of sorts to the inexperienced sim racers who struggle out on the virtual tarmac yet still frequent our website. Save for legitimate complaints regarding the lack of detailed car setup explanations and overhead maneuvering diagrams you’d normally find in a more traditional educational auto racing document, reception from our target audience was overwhelmingly positive, and I have no problem openly stating we 100% succeeded in what we set out to achieve with Black Flag. No, Prima Games have not contacted us to help work on the inevitable Project CARS 2 strategy guide, but I’d like to think the near-unanimous positive reception from those who purchased Black Flag indicates we’re definitely qualified to discuss what constitutes as a satisfactory piece of sim racing literature, and what doesn’t.

Putting one of these things together is extremely difficult and requires both extensive planning and a very concrete, tangible vision of the end product. This is not a project I’d suggest taking up unless you’ve got a whole bunch of free time, are familiar with programs like Microsoft Publisher, and can overlook every aspect of the package with the utmost of confidence in your own abilities – from the initial outline, concept, target audience, and format, to the final editing and re-organizing of the document. Writing a lot is only one piece of the puzzle; you have to both educate the reader as well as entertain them, while wrapping the entire piece up in a visually slick package. If mistakes occur at any point in your journey, or sacrifices have to be made because you’re not extremely skilled in one particular area, the whole project will suffer.

rfactor-2014-07-11-20-46-06-48I will gladly write a piece on any sim racing topic you guys Email me about, but I cannot lie to my readers and damage the relationship we’ve got going on with our audience: Virtual Race Driver as a sim racing eBook isn’t very good. Objectively, I think the concept of solely focusing on the advice of top sim racers was a unique approach that made for an enticing premise on the outset, but in execution the material itself is laid out too poorly and disorganized to be effective. This isn’t to say that Newman didn’t put effort into his eBook – apparently there’s been over twelve months of work on this project – but the results drill home the importance of planning and preparation in a document like this.

aVisually, the guide is unappealing. With current versions of Microsoft Publisher, you basically have free reign on the art style of your sim racing guide, yet Virtual Race Driver plays it safe with a very Microsoft Word-like approach. Many pages simply have too many empty spaces, the excessive use of stylized headings for each paragraph is a throwback to middle school essays, and the constant bombardment of the cover car – a generic blue open wheel entry – alongside disproportionate game logos give VRD a very dated and amateurish look. Each driver is introduced with a brief list of their accomplishments and a personal photo before diving into their unique sim racing advice, but it would have been nice to see their current online ride – I really don’t care what they look like in person; most of us are ugly as hell, but at least we’re in good company.

A screenshot of what they currently race in their game of choice would go a long way to displaying the diversity of drivers featured in VRD.

2We are not told why each contributor’s accomplishments matter. As I mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, the premise of gathering a bunch of prominent sim racers under one roof and getting them to share their secrets is actually a pretty solid idea on paper, but the key to making their advice hold weight is establishing who these people are in the first place. If you haven’t noticed, sim racing isn’t even a blip on the radar in the world of eSports, with iRacing’s premiere online championship, the Peak Anti-Freeze Series, reeling in a whopping 300 viewers during last weeks’ event in New Hampshire. We don’t have a Dyrus on wheels, so the readers need to be given the backstory of each driver involved.

Now I’m down to read about a prominent iRacing competitor’s practice regime – as are many sim racers – because you never know what kind of valuable tidbits he could produce, but I need to know why winning X championship established him as a “name” within the service, and the reason his advice matters. Keep in mind, I can also list myself as a multi-time iRacing & rFactor champion, so an extra paragraph introducing the driver – and thus filling up the blank space on the page – would go a long way.

In the most prominent example I can give without hurting anybody’s feelings, there’s a lone entry from Forza Motorsport 6 competitor Aurelien Mallet. The last time I checked, the competitive Forza scene was being completely ruined by excessive corner cutting, so how do we know his victories actually mean anything in the world of sim racing? Another section of VRD makes note of Mike Conti’s relatively young age, but doesn’t explain why this is so important – I mean, fifteen year olds with a ton of free time are usually good at video games. This is nothing new.

But the biggest sin this guide makes when it comes to presenting the personalities involved, is the extremely awkward and forced donation button at the start of each section. While VRD is free, there is an option to donate to any one of the eighteen drivers featured in the document by clicking either the PayPal or GoFundMe logo. It’s really awkward, especially as the length of contributions vary wildly from one paragraph to a few pages. I don’t think anyone is going to chip in a few dollars to a guy who wrote a paragraph telling people to “practice things they are bad at.”

structure4There’s no structure or cohesive order. When we worked on Black Flag a few months back, an integral part of the project was sorting all of our combined advice into a format that progressed in a linear fashion. We started with the absolute basics – finding the right hardware for your sim setup and determining an adequate car and track to train with – before progressing into practice techniques, qualifying strategies, and green flag operations; finally concluding the guide with advanced driving techniques and how to conduct yourself in an online league. Virtual Race Driver is sorted by sim racers who contributed rather than specific topics, making the entire document an extremely confusing read. You can’t just open up VRD, check the index, point to the topic that says How to Go Faster in Time Attack, and dive in. You are manually forced to go through the whole enchilada and basically hope one of the eighteen sim racers mentions something you were interested in.

Virtual Race Driver basically needs to be re-written in an entirely different format to be effective. Not that the advice given by each sim racer isn’t valuable; it’s just not organized in any fashion. Arranging each chapter by a specific topic, and then combining a list of quotes from each individual driver relating to said topic, would be a much more effective way of presenting VRD to the reader.

anglaisThere’s a pretty significant gap between English speakers, and non-English speakers. Entries like Michael Conti’s, as seen above, are heavily detailed and offer a lot of insight on how to be a successful sim racer. Thiago Careca’s submission, through no fault of his own, clearly display a less than adequate understanding of the English language for the task at hand. The difference in writing styles really interrupts the flow of Virtual Race Driver. This is when the process of Ghost Writing becomes extremely important, and it’s something I employ in many of the Reader Submissions you see featured here at PRC.net on a weekly basis. We have a lot of non-English speaking sim racers reading our site – and occasionally translating our posts into their native language, which is really cool – but when it comes time for them to write something into us, what we receive in the mail doesn’t read as smoothly as our traditional articles. There are many times I’ve basically ended up re-writing entire submissions, and while it leads to accusations that I fabricate submissions to create unnecessary controversy, the reality is that the source material was actually in broken English.

Newman needed to take creative liberties when it came to Virtual Race Driver, as many of the non-English contributors simply couldn’t match what the native English speakers could produce. This is not their fault, but for a project such as this one, it’s integral to the long term success to do a bit of ghost writing.

agLastly, some tips featured in Virtual Race Driver are more common sense than anything else. The section written by GT Academy finalist Florian Woithe includes an abundance of diagrams and genuinely useful information, but segments like these are contrasted by a set of nuggets such as the one above that really didn’t deserve to be included because they’re so bloody obvious. I’m personally under the impression that Newman contacted many a sim racer to contribute to the guide, and simply inserted what each person responded with into the document. The lack of quality control means that you’re often skimming through entire pages because some drivers either didn’t know what to say or totally half-assed their section to get it over with, which combined with no tangible format that splits each section by topic, makes staying engaged with what VRD has to offer quite quite a difficult task.

It’s hard to point the finger at who is to blame when it comes to this element, but given that Newman was the individual putting the guide together, merely asking the right questions to each contributor can go a long way. Rather than merely asking each personality for a generic list of sim racing newbie tips, narrowing the question down substantially and inquiring about  driving techniques or training techniques their teammates or friends thought were “odd” or “unique” about them would go a long way to improving the quality of said tips within the eBook.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-19-36-57-74Virtual Race Driver is a free 86-page PDF document, so I can’t sit here and tell you not to buy it because there’s simply nothing to buy. If you’re curious to check out what Chris Newman has created and hope to stumble on a piece of sim racing advice that will aide you in your own personal journey, I’ve provided a link to the project at the beginning of the article. The document is intended to constantly evolve over time, meaning how it appears as of October 4th, 2016, is not how it will look one or even two months into the future.

However, as the main driving force behind PretendRaceCars.neta website notorious for long-winded sim racing articles – and as one of three individuals who worked on a sim racing guide that was well-received by the community and brought in a surprisingly decent chunk of pocket change, I have unfortunately found many things that I feel were not done very well in Chris Newman’s eBook, Virtual Race Driver.

No Game Value

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Only a few short days ago, Paul Jeffrey of RaceDepartment.com pushed out a mid-season review of sorts for PC racing simulators Automobilista and Assetto Corsa, detailing how each simulator had evolved under the guidance of both Reiza Studios and Kunos Simulazioni respectively. The lengthy piece served as a solid positive recap that described the evolution of both titles throughout the 2016 calendar year, outlining the major changes fans of each game had been subjected to during the now all-too-common ongoing development cycles, which see products receiving major updates while in the hands of the consumers. However, in a rather shocking turn of events, some important individuals used the comments section of this celebratory article to voice their complaints with a genre that has unfortunately become a bit of a university laboratory, as finished video games have now been replaced with eternal science projects lacking any sort of completion date.

Sim racing YouTube personality Matt Orr, known better by his stage name of Empty Box, penned a highly uncharacteristic reply early on in the thread’s lifespan chronicling his lack of satisfaction with the genre as a whole. Orr draws attention to the lack of progress Reiza Studios have made on Automobilista – an issue some are basically choosing to ignore due to their allegiance to the developer – and voices his concern on whether Reiza 2017 will ever materialize within a reasonable time frame considering how racing simulator developers consistently struggle to meet self-imposed deadlines. Orr ends his post by listing a string of slow-to-be-implemented features in other titles, and finally states stating sim racing as a whole has “gone off the deep end.” Pretty shocking for a guy that many deem to be the ambassador of the community, the anti-PRC, if you will. This is someone who is supposed to enjoy sim racing for what it is, and right now, he’s not.

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But Matt wasn’t finished. After triggering a firestorm of comments that jumped on the popular YouTube personality for seemingly pulling a 180 in his stance on his favorite line of games, Matt responded with an extremely blunt take on the status of the genre. In an ironic twist of events, Orr believes the eternal quest for maximum simulation value to begin with – no, this is not a joke – has caused developers to basically ignore the traditional concept of finishing a game, instead pursuing a reality where “endless tire model updates” and “endless whatever updates” take precedence over creating a product that is enjoyable for customers to play, front to back. In Matt’s words, “game value is the problem with racing simulators.”

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And I have to agree with him. Drivetrain flex added nothing to iRacing, and it’s certainly not worth a fancy loading screen discussing the identical matter in RaceRoom Racing Experience as well. Most real life drivers were completely fine with how the beta version of iRacing’s New Tire Model handled back in the summer of 2011 – nobody in their right mind went on the forums and begged David Kaemmer to spend the next five years continuously updating the tire model at the expense of other unfinished or wonky elements in the physics engine. A whole bunch of people felt Assetto Corsa drove fine during the spring of 2014, and maybe needed a minor refinement or two based on user feedback – not ten fucking tire models while fans sat around on message boards asking for pace cars or night racing. And as Matt said in the posts I’ve supplied above, Automobilista is actually behind schedule right now. Reiza Studios are instead choosing to talk about a New ECU Model so two or three cars handle a bit better under acceleration – even though not a whole lot of people were complaining to begin with, and there is still much to be done according to Reiza’s outline for the sim – a title that has less than a year remaining in it’s lifespan before the next one is supposed to hit.

Does it look like the game they’ve described? Nope, not even close. It’s another rFactor. Still excited for those ECU changes? I think not.

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Simulation Value, in the most ironic chain of events, has basically ruined sim racing. Developers jerk each other off – as well as the community members whom they grow attached to – obsessing over details that are basically insignificant or impossible to notice for the average user, yet due to the size of their teams, not a whole lot else gets done to ensure the game itself is a complete and enjoyable product. Now, this would be fine if developers were releasing a re-package of NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona or Need for Speed Pro Street over and over again, but they’re not. There’s no career mode. There never is. There’s no tutorial mode or racing school, that’s now a thing of the past that only GTR 2 owners talk about. There’s nothing to unlock, no compelling artificial intelligence to race against when your buddies aren’t online, no in-house livery editor to throw together a nice ride at the click of a button, no XP level to grind out and swing around online as a massive virtual phallus, no upgrades to buy for your car or your shop, no cars to collect and switch between based on the location, no damage to repair as a punishment for your driving sins, no killer tunes by bands you haven’t heard of, and racing online requires gaining entry into a virtual tree house just to have a semi-decent field of drivers on the grid for one night out of the week.

Each new title is an old sandbox like the one before it. And there’s an increasing amount of people who’d like to do more than just aimlessly play in an empty sandbox, rather than be handed a slightly different shovel every two months.

 

Do We Really Need Four?

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Though the overall sales numbers imply titles like Project CARS and Assetto Corsa are dominating the sim racing landscape, comparing the data of active users listed on Steamcharts alongside the nightly count posted on the iRacing Member’s site has made one thing extremely clear: competing against people from around the world is what the majority of avid sim racers are interested in doing when they sit down in front of their plastic steering wheel for the night.

Combining scheduled start times with incredibly detailed stat tracking and progression systems, iRacing is in a league of it’s own when it comes to the overall Multiplayer experience, and it’s utterly fascinating that no other sim racing developer has bothered to try and copy their success. Halfway through 2016, it’s shocking that iRacing has established itself as a monolithic entity in our little hobby – completely uncontested, I might add – while simulators such as Automobilista, Assetto Corsa, and Project CARS are stuck using an outdated server browser that would be more at home in Counter-Strike or Battlefield than in a genre where practice and organization is every bit as essential to the virtual rendition as it is for the real thing.

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But because iRacing’s driving physics aren’t adored by everyone, even as the multiplayer component has achieved near-universal acclaim from even some of its harshest critics, and the resourceful sim racers among us have opted to try and replicate the magic formula of iRacing within their own favorite set of simulators – a task even the developers of these titles themselves haven’t bothered with. And it was cool to see a project like Race2Play come to fruition back in the day – a website offering an iRacing-like experience for owners of games powered by the ISI Motor engine – but it admittedly hasn’t caught on to the extent of the original inspiration. The site has seen much better days, and current car counts for the modern crop of racing simulators offered are abysmal. SimRacingSystem, an in-game application spawned by diehard Portugese sim racers and primarily intended to boost the competitive online racing scene within Assetto Corsa, barely managed to last a handful of months before they too also began to suffer from extreme car count issues, with only one or two races per day attracting a respectable field of drivers. Obviously, if you don’t live in a very specific time zone, you’re shit out of luck when it comes to these platforms, and both of them will be utterly useless to you.

So regardless of how great these two projects were on paper, as well as in execution, not enough people were using them at the end of the day, and both outlets faded into relative obscurity. In an era where sim racers are literally kicking and screaming for an iRacing competitor or clone for that matter, neither project did enough to reel in a sizeable audience past a simple Reddit post or two, and we’re basically starting from scratch all over again. Sim racers tried twice, failed twice, and still we sit here with no real iRacing competitor that a whole bunch of people have adopted – which in the end makes it worth while.

What’s the solution to this problem? I’ll rattle off a few suggestions that might sound good on paper.

  • Bandwagoning. No longer should RaceDepartment be advertising for their club races, it’s time for them to shill for SimRacingSystem, and work with the Portugese guys to hold officially sanctioned RaceDepartment championships through that application. Race2Play needs a massive presence and constant news articles on VirtualR. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about when I say bandwagonning. I don’t care which project we bandwagon, because in my opinion they’re both quite good and don’t suffer from any tangible flaws, but the entire scene – news sites and all – need to pick up the torch and say “we’re all going to use this solution for organized racing.” Absolutely everybody needs to be in on this, completely disregarding any previous financial arrangements. It’ll be worth it when we always have 20 people to race with after work, instead of waiting for Saturday morning to play R3E with the European dudes.
  • Acquisition. Word on the street is that Kunos Simulazioni paid a group of community modders something like $400 USD for the Nissan Skyline R34 model, and the Third Party Affiliate program created by Image Space Incorporated has been deemed a success by all twenty people still actively playing rFactor 2. Why stop there? Your average sim racer is not going to spend long hours on Reddit combing through month-old threads to find an obscure online racing app made by some random guys in Portugal. Is $600 to $800 really that much to throw at these guys in order to implement the basic Sim Racing System software into Assetto Corsa under the fancy name of Assetto World? If it’s an option in the menu, people are going to click on it, and dive head-first into this strange new way of playing a hardcore racing simulator. If it’s buried on page 8 of some message board that not everybody reads, of course people will abandon it after a month.

Both options sound pretty reasonable on paper. We’ve either got to bandwagon one of the two current options to the point where everybody knows about them, or a developer needs to come alone and snatch up one of these entities – as one basic financial transaction is a small price to pay to label yourselves as a genuine alternative to iRacing. With the diverse roster of cars and locations available in stuff like Automobilista or RaceRoom Racing Experience, who wouldn’t want an iRacing-like structure to the online format?

Your Sony Walkman hasn’t been in style for seventeen years, and neither are these clunky server browsers which serve no purpose for a highly sophisticated online racing environment. When one game makes a massive dent in the market and only continues to expand, it’s beyond retarded to ignore what made that game so special, and why people are flocking to it. iRacing proves that sim racers love racing against each other rather than artificial intelligence, and iRacing also proves that sim racers love when online races have meaning. It’s insanity to continue pumping out simulators that look, feel, and play no differently as a complete product than they did in 2006.

And it’s also insanity to keep churning out these third party online racing applications, praying that “this time, it will catch on, even if we offer nothing different compared to the application that came before us…”

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I’m not even going to do an overview of JustRace. I’m not going to name the creators, or explore the website in any meaningful way. Race2Play is dying. SimRacingSystem did not attract even a fraction of the audience that would make it worthwhile to use. Yet rather than evaluate why people aren’t using either of these two programs, already we’ve been hit with a third. Spoiler: People aren’t using it, either.

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Actually, hold the fuck on, now we’ve got four. Please welcome OVRTAKE into the ring, a premium online racing interface built specifically for Assetto Corsa. Whereas the three programs mentioned above are all free, you’ve got to pay for this one – and of course, there aren’t any guarantees that once you pay the entry free, there will be anybody to race with. I guess that’s what the free trial is for.

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This is fucking insanity. I want to shake my monitor and yell STOP at these colossal fucking idiots for over-saturating a market that literally doesn’t have an audience to begin with. Look at those servers listed above, just look at the multiple goose eggs in the screenshot I provided. Servers across multiple online racing programs are barren wastelands, save for five cars in a GT3 room, which is simply not enjoyable under any circumstances. We’ve literally got four fucking groups of people all building the same shit, and with sim racing clearly not having the overall community size seen in other genres like first person shooters or online battle arenas, these four groups are dividing by zero when it comes to attracting users to their application. There is literally competition over zero users.

I feel like this is some sort of indie art piece, that’s how obscure the concept of four groups fighting over zero users is to me. Race2Play is dying. SimRacing System fizzled out in ridiculously quick fashion. JustRace is dead on arrival. And now somebody wants me to pay to look at an empty list of servers on Ovrtake? What’s next? Is Assetto Corsa 2 a word document? The pre-order DLC for Project CARS 2 a signed picture of Ian Bell with his family? Will developers make us pay them to market their games?

Un-fucking-real. This is a special kind of hell.