Soon I’ll Be Pro: Someone Made a Sim Racing Rap Album

verbal-chicaneryI’ll be the first to admit, I was ready to tear Verbal Chicanery a new asshole. I regularly cringe at some of the extra-curricular side projects avid sim racers tend to dabble in from time to time, such as creating audition videos for sponsorship contests typically reserved for real drivers, or filming their wives/girlfriends turning idle-speed laps in their simulator rig, so an entire album rapping about the obscure hobby of sim racing immediately struck me as the absolute pinnacle of how bizarre our collective community could get. I was in high school during Eminem’s resurgence of sorts, so I’ve seen what happens when a whole lot of delusional pasty white kids get their hands on entry-level audio recording programs, and combining that with the often-times embarrassing behavior of sim racers was as if I’d entered a special kind of hell designed specifically for me and about thirty other people.

To my surprise, however, Verbal Chicanery by Rhys Gardiner transcends many late-night ideas tossed around on TeamSpeak that should have been abandoned, if not entirely forgotten the following the evening. Featuring acceptable instrumental packages, creative phrasing, and an underlying lyrical theme that explores some of the shittier parts of sim racing which mirror a lot of PRC sentiments on the topics addressed in each piece, I’m actually left wanting more. Rhys found a sweet spot between comedy and insightful exposition, writing genuinely hilarious songs that also double as a commentary on how far off the rails sim racing has traveled. This is not an album intended to serve as a soundtrack of sorts to our virtual racing adventures; it instead openly mocks certain portions of the community with reckless abandon, continuing to dig into uncomfortable topics with the throttle pedal pinned firmly to the floor.

Split into two distinct sections, Verbal Chicanery is structured in a very dynamic fashion, with the first six tracks focusing solely on sim racing, before a half-time narrative piece setting the stage for the back half of the record – dropping the extremely niche subject matter in favor of broader topics acting as a throwback of sorts to pseudo-artists such as John LaJoie. The flow of the record is very cohesive, each song digging a little bit deeper into sim racing insanity before peaking at the very center of the record, and proceeding to dial back absurdity with the final six tracks, acting almost as a sampler of sorts for Gardiner’s other work.

The introduction piece is a little shaky, but Everybody LookVerbal Chicanery’s second track and first proper song – firmly establishes the album’s theme and stance. Gardnier is not here to tell us about the joy of these very obscure video games obsessed over by a fraction of a fraction of Steam’s overall userbase, but immediately begins ripping into sim racers who refuse to do anything other than participate in offline hot lap sessions with poorly-filmed YouTube videos of their escapades, or cherry-pick online races with a small field of competitors to prevent their egos from shattering after a defeat. Gardiner’s commentary on the subject is much appreciated, as despite the 16,000-member strong Reddit sim racing community, many titles that are routinely praised by the group feature pitifully small online server browsers, with games such as Automobilista struggling to attain more than 20 total drivers across all active sessions outside of league hours. It’s hilarious hearing someone put this passive-aggressive dick-waving contest into lyrics.

The following piece, Running Default, discusses the overwhelming amount of sim racers who seemingly have no fucking idea how to drive despite months of practice, and promptly accuse those faster than them of cheating when the driver in question tells them he only made minor tweaks to the supplied setup. This is a problem I’ve noticed myself across many online racing leagues, even when handing out setups to ensure people at least had a decent starting point with whatever car we were driving that season – there are a whole bunch of sim racers in our hobby who just don’t fucking get how to drive a car at competition speeds, and they can’t deal with it. It’s obviously frustrating to experience it first-hand, but hearing it described with tone & rhythm adds another layer to the message itself; it’s fucking annoying. Running Default benefits from great delivery and a simplistic backing beat, with Gardiner hitting his stride and feeling confident in his abilities as a random guy messing around with recording software. The combination of Everybody Look and Running Default was a great way to start the record.

Verbal Chicanery sputters a bit with Lights Out, a track nearly saved by featuring one of the better instrumental beats on the record, but after the very distinct theme set with the first two songs, the non-critical vibe of Lights Out contrasts too much with the overall tone being conveyed with the record. Lights Out lacks the one-two punch of humor and insight on the pitfalls of the sim community, instead being an underwhelming filler piece that is more along the lines of the corniness I first expected from this project. The lyrics try to address the nerves of making it through opening-lap chaos unscathed, but it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the album – it’s too serious, too corny, too “oh my God, you’re rapping about sim racing, please stop.”

Soon I’ll Be Pro, however, absolutely nails the concept of sim racing comedy rap with flying colors, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if some sort of accompanying YouTube video will follow in the near future. This is the pinnacle of Gardiner’s creativity and it’s clearly the song that fueled the whole project; Soon I’ll Be Pro takes extremely specific shots at sections of the iRacing community and specific individuals in particular, who spend copious amounts of not-always-disposable income on absurdly high-priced simulation gear in the hopes of making it into one of two $10,000 iRacing championships, or landing some sort of real-life ride from their sim racing exploits. Had this been released as a single on the iRacing forums, or any sim racing forum for that matter, people would actively demand Gardiner’s head – it’s that good, or bad depending on your inner fanboy.

It’s clear Gardiner had a lot of fun both writing and performing this track, as the rich lyrics and uncomfortable, very direct knocks & impersonations take the piece to spectacular heights. If someone were to make a video compilation of all the cringe-tacular happenings in the world of sim racing, from Jason Jacoby’s eternal love for Domino’s Pizza and monolithic sim rig, the legally binding contracts for iRacing teams that don’t participate in any meaningful online events, the “sim racer’s girlfriend runs a sim team to feel included” stuff, and the guys bragging about injuries they received from direct drive wheels, Soon I’ll Be Pro is the soundtrack to the insanity. I want a video for this song, even though it may possibly go viral and make us all look like complete losers to the outside world.

screenshot2016-05-06at2-39-24pm-pngSadly, the pinnacle of Verbal Chicanery’s lyrical hilarity and creative drive marks a very steady slide that lasts for the final portion of the album. A guest appearance from sim racing YouTube personality Jimmy Broadbent serves as the album’s half-time split, shifting the remaining songs away from sim racing, into broader topics meant to serve as a demo for Gardiner’s other work.

While the final tracks all feature rather acceptable instrumental pieces, the lyrical content just doesn’t resonate in the same manner, which is why I’m left wanting a bit more from the original theme of taking the piss out of sim racing. Rag Top is the only notable standout of side two, starting off as a generic expose about modern American muscle cars before trailing off into trackday fights between two wanna-be race car drivers, and a clever Murray Walker impersonation, complete with audio effects to mimic a shitty YouTube upload of the race. Rag Top is good work, but other pieces just don’t feature the same amount of depth or creativity behind them.

I’ve suffered far through far too many wanna-be Eminem knock-offs over the past decade, but what Rhys Gardiner has put together as some sort of goofy project in his spare time to take the piss out of sim racing in a creative way honestly isn’t terrible. At least one of his songs deserves an accompanying video, and as a whole the lyrical content of his work draws attention to how ridiculous and annoying the sim racing community can be; it’s nice to see someone else going about what I’m doing here at PRC, but in a different and unique manner. I’m not saying everybody should go out and start messing with Cool Edit Pro, Garage Band, or Audacity, but Gardiner’s creation in Verbal Chicanery was worth the twenty minutes I set aside to listen to it, and that says a lot.

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Can Good Simulators Kill Sim Racing?

mclaren-6_aeenhnpOne of the most intriguing aspects of the sim racing landscape compared to other areas of the video game industry, is how small, little-known indie developers can directly compete with major releases churned out by established studios – and occasionally come out on top in the long run. As we saw with Assetto Corsa’s rise to PC simulator prominence for about two and a half years – starting in the spring of 2014 and lasting until the summer of 2016 – even though Turn 10 and Slightly Mad Studios had pushed out comparatively huge racing games onto the market that dwindled what Kunos Simulazioni had created, Assetto Corsa’s active userbase only continued to grow. Steamcharts displays a pretty striking graph for us when we actually try to verify this statement with raw data, showcasing a massive surge in the popularity of Project CARS on its day of release, only for Assetto Corsa to slowly rise up the charts and overtake it in the spring of 2016.

comparisonBut can the opposite also be true? Is it possible for one simulator to be so astronomically ahead of its contemporaries, that the rest of the hardcore simulation developers simply can’t keep up and offer an equally compelling product? I believe so, and this is what might end up killing sim racing as a genre when all is said and done. Not the toxic community or the eternal science projects developers hold their users hostage with, but a game so good, it’s pointless for the others to even try. Those that do, will never achieve enough sales to keep the company afloat, and one by one, developers will simply fall off the map until there’s basically nobody left.

iracingsim64dx11-2016-10-16-19-59-16-57_1_origLet’s begin by taking a look at iRacing. As I’ve touched on in a previous article, back in 2008 when the service first entered the public market, iRacing was a totally different beast compared to every other simulator you could go out and purchase after work. While most pieces of software were just stand-alone games with a very generic, almost dated online component, iRacing offered this elaborate, mammoth online career with races going off every hour, and a genuine sense of progression to the whole experience that other games simply didn’t have. As a result, almost everyone who was interested in half-decent online races flocked to iRacing, while the once-popular rFactor leagues were now full of drivers who were simply too lazy (or poor) to upgrade their PC’s. At the same time, oval racing fans who had been patiently awaiting the next generation of licensed NASCAR console games, promptly abandoned ship from the woeful Eutechnyx offerings after only a release or two, and signed up for iRacing.

Even though other games had objectively better physics models and drove like proper race cars, it wasn’t uncommon to come across people on the iRacing forums, or on the in-game chat feature, who simply refused to install anything but iRacing on their PC’s because “I can’t race people.” Numerically speaking, there are a surprisingly large amount of sim racers for each game to have its core audience on paper, but iRacing did so many things so well, that if other games didn’t offer even a quarter of the iRacing-style online experience, people refused to even test the waters.

This is part of the reason why rFactor 2 stumbled out of the gate and had such a paltry following in the immediate years afterwards; people didn’t want an open modding platform with slightly better graphics when they were fairly content with a piece of software that had this massive online racing world to explore, and most of the cars & tracks they would have spent months building in their free time already available to purchase.

dirt-4-evo-6-carNext, I’d like to talk about what Codemasters are doing with DiRT 4. After years spent appealing to teenagers obsessed with energy drinks and the X-Games crowd that couldn’t care less about rally racing to begin with, Codemasters are set to bring back rally in a big way this June, with the release of DiRT 4 across all current generation gaming platforms. Unless you’re like that one guy on 4Chan who deems Mobil 1 Rally Championship (1999) to be the ultimate rally simulator despite its dreadful physics, there’s an enormous list of reasons to get excited about DiRT 4. From the mammoth roster of cars, in-depth single player career mode, and the randomly generated stages which promise a game you simply won’t be able to memorize in an afternoon, DiRT 4 basically ticks every last box fans of the genre have been asking for. Seeing it in action will obviously be a different story, but for the time being, this game looks really fucking good.

However, on the flip side of this spectrum, teams such as the folks behind gRally, the officially licensed WRC games, or even Milestone if they plan to launch another rally title, have absolutely no point in trying to make a competing rally game. gRally may offer open ended modding support, but no reasonable informed customer, let alone veteran sim racer, is willingly going to choose one add-on stage that took three months to build over a game where you press a single button and the built-in software presents a high-fidelity, seven minute stretch of road based on your exact perimeters.

As a result, these developers simply cant recover the cost of development with sales figures, because there’s one killer app on the market.

project-cars-2-directing-suiteLastly, let’s explore what happens if Project CARS 2 or Gran Turismo Sport end up being genuinely good pieces of software that are enjoyed by a vast array of people. Slightly Mad Studios are planning to inject all of this eSport compatibility into their upcoming title along with a dynamic track element, full seasonal weather effects, and a mass-market roster of cars with no major brands missing in the lineup. Gran Turismo Sport for the PS4 will introduce a dedicated userbase in the millions to the eSport kingdom, with a drastically altered progression system which moves away from the single-player grind-fest the series is known for, in favor of a rigid online structure akin to what iRacing offers. Essentially, the name Gran Turismo alone guarantees a huge crowd of people using the new online competition features of the title to its fullest extent, and potentially asking even more from it.

So how are teams like Sector 3, Studio 397, or Reiza Studios offer even a fraction of that experience on shoe-string budgets and minimal staff members? Currently, there’s a bit of talk that the three “indie” studios mentioned will implement some sort of structured online racing element to their titles in the coming months and/or years – and alright, that’s great, but if these mass-market games like Project CARS 2 or Gran Turismo Sport end up partially warranting the hype surrounding them, you’ve now got three developers rolling out online features they’ve spent a lot of money on implementing that are used by exactly nobody because someone else is doing it infinitely better, and an audience of nobody doesn’t keep the company afloat. And with how small these companies are by nature, they can’t go out and offer “something different than mass-market game X or Y”, because we’re currently in a period where the Sector 3 team still haven’t implemented tire pressures into RaceRoom Racing Experience, and Automobilista is still clearly powered by a modified version of a physics engine lots of us were first exposed to in 2006, if not sooner.

formula-v12-spaWe’re entering a very interesting time in the history of sim racing. While there are a lot of bold promises on the table from the likes of Polyphony, Codemasters, and Slightly Mad Studios, if these teams manage to accomplish what they’ve set out to achieve, the little guys – Studio 397, Reiza Studios, Sector 3 – they’re simply not going to survive. Right now it’s at least sort of worth giving money to everybody and trying out every game on the market, because there’s no one title that gets everything correct and is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. However, with Codemasters acquiring almost the entire team from Evolution Studios and experiencing a resurgence of sorts, followed by Slightly Mad Studios seemingly getting their act together and initial previews for Project CARS 2 looking kind of okay, and Gran Turismo shifting the focus of their franchise into the modern era, away from the Japanese-style RPG progression elements that once made the game a chore to play, we’re looking at a future where a lot of the smaller teams – such as those who don’t even let you create custom lobbies for the console version of their simulator – will be spoken of in the past tense.

Are an Over-Saturation of Streams Hindering SimRacing as an eSport?

npas-daytona1-1500This topic shouldn’t need a lengthy introduction, so I’ll make things as short as I can for today. The growth of the eSport phenomenon in very specific mass-market titles, such as Counter-Strike, League of Legends, and even the Madden NFL franchise, has led to a scenario where every basement-dwelling nerd armed with a semi-competent PC and modern high-speed internet connection believes the world deserves to see a live play-by-play broadcast of whatever online match they’re participating in.

Whether the footage focuses on the first person viewpoint of someone playing their title of choice into the wee hours of the morning, or is instead an elaborate production built to present the online competition as if it were a major sporting event – complete with some sort of amateur commentary team – the popularity of streaming has skyrocketed over the past three years. Gamers are not only scouring YouTube for hilarious gameplay clips accompanied by colorful personalities; they also want to watch this stuff unfold in real-time within a competitive setting. For a large portion of the planet, live broadcasts of League of Legends matches have become what Sunday Night Football is to traditional sports fans.

However, while other video game genres are prospering from this relatively cutting-edge way to consume these titles from a spectator standpoint, sim racing has become even more obscure despite an influx in broadcasted events. Hundreds of thousands of people are flocking to watch fighting game tournaments or Call of Duty matches, but simulators such as iRacing – who openly bill themselves as “the original eSport racing game” – reel in less viewers than your kid’s Christmas concert.

The reason behind this probably isn’t what you think.

shootout-streamAbove is a screenshot I snapped only seven laps into last nights iRacing Peak Anti-Freeze shootout, a 40-lap brawl that brought together the absolute best active oval drivers on the iRacing service for a quick little romp before the actual season began. Despite the iRacing simulator being a predominantly oval-focused simulator, with the majority of users residing in North America and flocking to the numerous stock cars found within the online-only racing sim, the broadcast attracted just over 200 viewers. Nick Ottinger, Ray Alfalla, and Byron Daley are some of the absolute best in the world at driving a virtual race car in iRacing’s competitive environment, and yet this “star-studded lineup”, the sim racing equivalent to rounding up as many of the best active League of Legends players on the planet for an impromptu broadcasted showdown, had less viewers around the world than what a local Canadian high school football team can reel in on a weekly basis for their games.

Make no mistake, 206 viewers is absolutely brutal for how much effort is being put into these events, and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen such a low number on a major iRacing broadcast. Aside from the opening round of the season at Daytona, and the inevitable shitfest that occurs at its sister track Talladega, view counts for Peak Anti-Freeze series races – the highest level of sim racing in the world – never manage to acquire more than a few hundred people watching at once. It’s simply awful for the image iRacing tries to present to the general public; you have these massively elaborate broadcasts that are watched by basically nobody.

c1juohuwgaaj3lShifting gears away from iRacing, Formula E and the monolithic credit card company VISA held a one-off million dollar prize purse showdown back in January, dubbed the Formula E Visa Vegas eRace. Despite the enticing event format, which saw the world’s best virtual road racers compete toe to toe against the complete roster of Formula E drivers in a static setting that relied on driver skill over dialing in the perfect setup, the broadcast could only retain around seven to ten thousand viewers or so, most of whom mocked the dated visuals. We later learned the event was aired on a Twitch channel that primarily hosted Counter-Strike tournaments, meaning that for all the money that had been dumped into this supposedly world class event conducted with the FIA’s blessing, they couldn’t even stream the footage to the correct audience.

pit-lelIt’s a pretty dire situation when you look at the bigger picture of what’s going on; you have all these fantasy bullshit games skyrocketing in popularity that are being watched by millions around the world, but the genre of sim racing – which lends itself quite well to this online broadcasting thing – is basically stuck in a rut and unable to capitalize on the boom in any meaningful way, even with the help of companies such as the FIA, iRacing, and a goddamn credit card company doing everything in their power to spread the joy of sim racing. None of this seems to be working.

So what’s happening, and how do we reverse it?

Oct 11, 2015; Concord, NC, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano (22) during the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

I think you could make a fair argument by drawing attention to auto racing’s steady decline in popularity away from the computer monitor, as both Formula One and NASCAR – two of the biggest racing series in the world – have struggled to deal with empty grandstands as of late, so if people aren’t going to the races in real life, why would they ever watch nerds on the internet compete in a virtual representation of it?

stands-inlineIn my opinion this is a decent argument, but despite the lack of people in the stands, nobody’s telling you the other side of the story. NASCAR tracks are removing grandstands en mass, but on the flip side, the NASCAR Subreddit is growing exponentially with each passing month, more and more YouTube videos about NASCAR are uploaded every day, and Twitter/Facebook stats always shoot up whenever there’s a big moment on-track.

The reality is that people just don’t go to events anymore because tickets are too expensive for what they offer, and the high definition, fifteen million camera television broadcasts by and large offer a better experience than sitting in a stationary spot for four hours out of your day, only able to see the cars for a second or two at a time. Auto racing isn’t declining in popularity; people are just consuming it in a different fashion. You only have to look at the 2017 release calendar to figure out people still fucking love racing at its core.

  • F1 2017 is due for release this fall.
  • DiRT 4 is due for release this summer.
  • Project CARS 2 is due for release this winter.
  • Gran Turismo 7 is due for release this fall.
  • Need for Speed 2017 is due for release this fall.
  • Forza Motorsport 6 is still being updated.

That’s a whole lot of major racing game releases by big-name developers for a sport that’s supposedly in decline and people don’t care for. And developers like Electronic Arts, Polyphony Digital, Turn 10, Codemasters, and Slightly Mad Studios are all teams that don’t just go out and make hardcore games for a sport that is falling like a rock in the court of public opinion. They’re in this to make money. Racing games still obviously make money judging by how many are coming out in 2017 alone.

So if auto racing isn’t dying, and racing games are more popular than they’ve ever been before in the gaming landscape, why has sim racing not taken off as an eSport?

The answer is actually pretty simple: too many goddamn people are trying to cash-in on the boom at once, and it’s over-saturated the market.

16930391_10154436905289001_1935531452_oThere is no cohesive effort to present sim racing as a legitimate eSport by a talented group of individuals who know what they’re doing, and the “market”, so to speak, is flooded with so much useless crap and amateur broadcasts, that any sort of meaningful viewerbase that would otherwise give sim racing a proper footing in the eSports market is instead split across hundreds if not thousands of miscellaneous videos. Above I’ve provided an example of what I’m getting at – here you have an iRacing user, who obviously has the technological know-how to stream some sort of sim racing broadcast, is going out and wasting it all on an iRacing practice session. Completely and utterly pointless.

On top of endeavors like this, you have so many private leagues that stream all their races for their 17 YouTube viewers, and an abundance of individual twitch users who hit record on basically any simulator they play, that it’s impossible as a viewer to figure out what you want to watch. It’s as if the National Basketball Association suddenly expanded to 485 teams overnight – which means no one series or simulator as a whole can gain the following needed to make the next step up the eSport ladder; there simply aren’t enough viewers to go around for the sheer number of broadcasts shitting up YouTube and Twitch. Everybody is trying to get a piece of the pie all at once, but the sim racing pie isn’t big enough for everybody because this is an incredibly niche genre to begin with, so what happens is that they’re walking away with crumbs, and as a result the genre doesn’t go anywhere.

iracingsim64-2014-06-08-22-59-09-57Fixing this doesn’t happen overnight, but there is a way to at least reverse from where we’re at right now.

There needs to be one major sim racing championship that is pushed to the forefront as the definitive online competition in the genre that everybody does their part to help promote, so outsiders or those on the fence can follow the action and think “wow, this looks neat, I want in,” rather than stumbling through a YouTube & Twitch landscape cluttered with amateurish sim racing broadcasts.

It has to have the best sim racers in the world, the best sim racing commentators calling the action, the best broadcast crew working to present the event in a professional fashion, showcase the best piece of software our genre has to offer, be aimed at a target audience who will be somewhat receptive to it, and boast a massive, meaningful prize for those who finish well.

The Visa Vegas eRace, for everything it got oh so terribly wrong during the abhorrent display in January, came the closest anyone’s ever gotten to launching sim racing as an eSport into the spotlight. There was a major prize on the line, a solid roster of drivers on the grid, and a professional studio-quality production fueling the whole thing. Before the first green flag even dropped, it made for entertaining TV.

But it was over too quickly – the race was a one-off exhibition event that was completed in two hours, instead of an entire championship where we could grow to know and love (or hate) certain personalities over an entire season – which is why a lot of people watch sports; the natural story lines that develop are pretty fucking entertaining. Yet instead of moving on to race number two with all of the competitors rattled by technical issues and a hastily amended final outcome, the credits rolled and that was it. Now what? Back to our obscure streams that nobody watches? What are we supposed to do now? Just sort of sit around and wait for all of these obscure rFactor 2 streams to quadruple in size?

Of course not. You have to keep it going. This is why you conduct a major sim racing championship instead of a one-off race.

Now in terms of simulation software, rFactor 2 looked absolutely awful – a kind of Flight Simulator 2000 vibe with modern lighting and reflections, so not a whole understood why this genre is so special to so many hobbyists. Straight up, you can’t be using rFactor 2 for this kind of thing. It’s just not the kind of software that looks good in the spotlight. Go away fanboys, you know it looked like a goddamn cartoon and this matters on this kind of platform. People were openly asking on the stream what was happening during the pit stop segment, because the cars were just sort of parked in an empty paddock area as if they’d wandered outside the map in an old Call of Duty game. You can’t have this. Sorry.

You also can’t have this event broadcasted on a Counter-Strike tournament channel. Here, I’ll put it in even simpler terms; you aired a Formula One race on the Golf Network. Good job.

And okay, Bono Huis won $200,000 USD… Good for him! Do we get a follow up episode? Do we tune in next week to see him test a Formula E car? Of course not! We have to head back to our obscure little websites, three weeks later, to see spy shots posted on a sim team’s Facebook page, to find out what happened to our champion. That’s not how you get people excited for the winner, or what future events may hold in store.

What you need is one killer championship. Because at the moment, you don’t have that – instead you have several minuscule tournaments that are spectated by only a fraction of the sim racing community.

maxresdefaultIt’s obviously a pain in the ass to coordinate a kind of all-encompassing world sim racing series to help advertise the genre on a wider scale, but you have to walk before you can run. Sim racers are burying themselves in endless low-quality streams of private leagues watched by twelve people, while the developers of the games themselves struggle to retain any kind of meaningful audience with their own broadcasts, simultaneously asking why sim racing hasn’t exploded in a fashion similar to League of Legends or Call of Duty despite how well the genre lends itself to a competitive platform.

You need to reel people in with one major production first, and you haven’t done that. Hell, you’re not even paying people to cover your events, instead telling them that “the prestige of the iRacing Pro Series is more than enough compensation for your work.”

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.

 

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?