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.

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Patience

Another YouTube video analysis to start off the weekend? Sure, why not?

So I took a trip to the Forza Motorsport subreddit last night, and discovered this absolute gem of a video which has been making the rounds across sim racing communities far and wide by the looks of it. Built into the online component of Forza Motorsport 6 by default is a simplified organized online racing option dubbed “Leagues”, and this mode of play is intended to sort-of-but-n0t-really replicate the kind of competitive format seen in iRacing. Someone may have to correct me on this, as I’m not too big into Forza and haven’t properly tested this out for myself at my bro’s place, but the format essentially combines long-ish races with semi-scheduled start times and a strict race format – sometimes it’s old-school Grand Prix cars, other times, as you can see in the video above, it’s the brand new Mazda Miata Playboy Cup entry.

The idea was to give the hardcore Forza players a place to race competitively without dealing with the numerous shit disturbers found in public lobbies, and so far the inclusion of the mode has been fairly well received. There are a lot of guys who love what Forza Motorsport offers on the Xbox One, and being able to treat it like a pseudo-PC sim among like-minded individuals is a welcome change of pace from the three lap affairs and emphasis on car collecting. Say what you’d like about the Forza franchise, but at least Turn 10 is bothering to explore this route at all.

However, the video above, uploaded by a user named Seven Motorsport, indicates that the mode fares much better on paper than it does in execution. Even the Elite Level Drivers – Forza enthusiasts supposedly well-beyond the skill range of casual players, struggle to partake in an online experience that vaguely resembles realistic auto racing. The Mazda Miata is not a difficult car to drive – it’s actually quite slow – and some of the tracks allow for six wide racing, but that doesn’t stop almost the entire field from destroying itself time and time again. Upon analyzing why some of the wrecks occur by watching the video two or even three times to discover why certain crashes develop, none of these are standard racing incidents that are the product of too many cars occupying a confined space. Some of these guys are seriously fucking awful, blowing even the most obvious of braking points or outright ignoring other cars, and none of this can be fixed by just buying a fancy racing wheel. It all has me concerned for the future of sim racing, but you’ll have to hear me out as to why poor drivers could help shape the genre – and not in a good way.

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Gran Turismo will be evolving into a product resembling iRacing, albeit for Sony’s PlayStation 4. The next iteration of Forza Motorsport will most likely have some sort of organized racing element; a step up from the Leagues functionality already built into Forza 6. And regardless of how you feel about their constantly evolving tire model, the commercial success and overall positive rapport of iRacing has made it crystal clear to all other developers that this is the way to go when it comes to building a modern racing simulator. I’d say beginning in 2017, the whole concept of offline racing simulators might be on their way out; games built on isiMotor technology like Automobilista and rFactor 2, who exist solely to provide a smorgasbord of auto racing endeavors to sim racing enthusiasts, are generating abysmal numbers that are quite frankly embarrassing for the teams involved, while iRacing and Gran Turismo Sport continue to reel in new members attracted to just how sketchy a virtual racing session can be when you’re penalized for fucking up. I, for one, welcome this new approach to driving games. Being able to drive at maximum attack in a competitive environment is a lot more exhilarating when you’re rewarded for finishing well, and punished when you fuck up.

But across any piece of software that chooses to progress in this direction of hyper-competitive and meticulously structured environment, the experience is only as good as the drivers you’re banging doors with – or in this case, the drivers who are slamming into your rear bumper at mach three. Gran Turismo Sport might be a lot of fun on paper, but wading through a minefield of damaged race cars from the opening corner explosion is going to get old in a hurry. As you can see from the Forza video linked at the beginning of the article, these races aren’t a lot of fun to participate it. Sure, the field may feature a gaggle of talented drivers who have gotten enough fluke wins to make it into the Elite division, but none of this matters if even the best drivers can’t fucking drive.

So my fear is that these structured mainstream racing simulators are going to become immensely popular for a short period – maybe a year or so – and then the fad will die out. Yes, I’m aware there are quite good drivers on iRacing, and routinely you can participate in races that are every bit as exciting as the real deal you can see at the physical track each weekend. I’m not denying that. However, the people on iRacing are a special bunch. Many of them spent years playing other console games or even rival racing simulators before growing tired of the public lobby environment and converting to iRacing. The crowd you see on iRacing right now, they are the best of the best – save for the groups of people who just aren’t convinced by the physics and continue to stick with ISI stuff.

This means that the people on Forza, Gran Turismo, Assetto Corsa, and even Project CARS… the talent pool isn’t quite there, because the talent part of the talent pool has migrated to iRacing. So we fast forward to 2017 or 2018, when all of these franchises have bought into the organized racing concept – each with their own spin on the classic structure – and the quality of action on the virtual track is absolutely nothing to write home about. In fact, it’s terrible. And this is because of the simple fact that auto racing is actually quite difficult; it’s why we sat down and wrote an entire guide on it. Not everyone possesses the skills to navigate through traffic and survive the full length of a simulated online race.

As a result, the organized racing fad will quickly die out. People will become extremely frustrated, because the game is simply asking too much of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Forza is doing with their Leagues stuff, and it would be cool to try this among a more hardcore crowd when Forza Motorsport 7 hits Windows 10 in the future, but it just doesn’t work for the current crop of Forza players on the Xbox One, nor will it work for PS4 owners with Gran Turismo Sport. They aren’t experienced enough to conduct online races that are genuinely enjoyable to be apart of.

And when they realize things aren’t getting better, and they’re still getting wrecked out of each race, or blown out by the lone alien in the field, they’ll put the game down. Forza Motorsport 7 may interest them, but when a copycat leagues system hits Assetto Corsa 2, they’ll think “oh man, not this shit again, Forza leagues were a wreckfest because nobody can drive.” Interest will slowly be lost, and by 2020, nobody will really bother with racing games as a whole – by then, developers will have all bought into the online event fad in one way or another, and all it will do is give customers painful nightmares of track-blocking wrecks.

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The solution to this inevitable demise is actually quite simple. Released in 2006 by The Artist Formerly Known As SimBin, GTR 2 featured an extremely in-depth driving school that served to bring all novice sim racers up to speed on the finer elements of race craft. Unlike the frustrating license tests found in the Gran Turismo franchise, GTR 2’s driving school provided participants with the maximum track time possible while teaching them essential driving skills that they would absolutely need when racing among a pack of over 30 FIA GT entries that could reach 170 mph with ease. Some sim racers still credit this mode for helping them understand the science behind driving a race car, but for some strange reason, no other developer has bothered to include this in a modern title. Forza, Gran Turismo, Project CARS, and Assetto Corsa just sort of throw a whole bunch of driving assists at you, hoping you’ll figure it out on your own, and this results in hundreds of guys barrelling into turn one without a fucking clue as to what they’re doing. This won’t be fun to deal with in Gran Turismo Sport or Forza Motorsport 7, and as you can see in the footage, it still exists in the highest level of competition.

It’s like all of these developers have bought you your first bicycle and told you how to install the fancy training wheels if you fall and skin your knee, but left it completely up to each individual user to become competent on the race track. If auto racing was really that easy, why the fuck do hundreds of dedicated performance driving & racing schools exist across the world? Hell, why does Madden have this mammoth tutorial mode teaching you how to throw patterns and read defenses, but when it comes to ultra-sophisticated racing simulators, you’re just sort of placed on track and told not to hurt yourself?

Developers, I’m all for the new wave of racing simulators, where everything revolves around organized races, stat tracking, safety ratings, and skill level tiers. I think it adds that little bit of extra fear that is otherwise non-existent due to the fact that you’re not sitting in a physical race car with all the potential in the world to send you to the hospital if you fuck things up. However, a whole lot of people absolutely suck at driving virtual race cars, because this shit isn’t exactly easy, and the experience will be completely ruined if 90% of the rooms are populated by guys who would literally be deemed a hazard on a real race track. If you want to start including this organized element in your modern racing simulators en masse, some sort of advanced training mode is a necessity in every game. Failure to do so will lead to a situation where the genre explodes in popularity for a short time, only for the majority of users to leave out of frustration because the experience is equivalent to bumper cars at their local fairgrounds. Take a good hard look at that Miata video, and ask what you can do as a developer to ensure your customers aren’t embarrassing themselves just trying to complete a lap in traffic.

Why is Criticism Taboo?

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Out of sheer boredom, and thanks to the many different ways to browse Reddit using a mobile phone, I often find myself exploring the various Subreddits and vast online communities of titles far away from our favorite little genre – partially to understand the structure of each individual online gaming world, and how it differs from that of sim racing. After being subjected to numerous instances of online stalking, crazed quasi-viral marketers, smear campaigns, delusional developers, poor customer service, and an all-around highly toxic cluster of internet Stigs, I’ve been curious to know if we have any equivalents. Is there an Associat0r of the DOOM world; an Ian Bell of modern military shooters? Do diehard Madden NFL fans continuously apologize for broken game elements and drown out any valid criticisms raised by competitive players? When a 2D platformer is shipped in an unfinished or unsatisfactory state, is there an aggressive viral marketing push to counter-act the tidal wave of hostility from disappointed customers?

I was shocked to discover that no, we’re actually all alone in this mess, and that’s pretty pathetic. For a community comprised primarily of adult males, individuals established and competent enough in their personal lives to both work and afford expensive toy steering wheels, plus an array of unnecessary placebo effect purchases, the average sim racer exhibits ridiculous behavior on par with that of your stereotypical pre-teen Taylor Swift super fan. Nowhere else in modern gaming does a community this ass-backwards and nonsensical exist, and today, I’ll provide a few examples to display how messed up modern sim racing has become compared to our brothers and sisters on other gaming forums.

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So if you’re not well-versed in the world of 2D platformers as we enter the final half of 2016 – and it’s understandable, gaming as a whole has more or less moved on from these titles – there was this game called Mighty No. 9 that came out today on a variety of different platforms. A Kickstarter endeavor that was the brainchild of a former Capcom employee responsible for the Mega Man series, the idea behind the crowdfunding campaign was to create a title like Mega Man, but better, and without Capcom interfering on the project’s development. After raising $4,000,000 and poorly managing the development process – including several unexpected delays – the game received a complete thrashing by critics. And once the title arrived in the hands of the customers, they too were furious: the game was buggy, broken, and a complete letdown compared to what was promised. Head of the project Keiji Inafune, along with translator Benn Judd, responded to criticism by mocking the disastrous launch by telling fans “it’s better than nothing.”  This resulted in yet another line of articles making a mockery of Inafune’s project, and even more frustrated fans – unwilling to accept such a poor title when all was said and done.

Does this sound familiar? Of course it does.

Ian Bell and Slightly Mad Studios parted ways with Electronic Arts after the launch of Shift 2: Unleashed, and Ian Bell envisioned a crowdfunding project where they could make the racing sim they’ve always wanted to make, away from the interference of an incompetent publisher overseeing development of the title. After raising far too much money and poorly managing the development process – including several unexpected delays – the game was ripped apart for shipping in a buggy, unfinished, and in some cases outright embarrassing state.

Actually, back up a second: It wasn’t. Sure, the YouTube videos graciously documented the volcanic eruption of hilarious game-breaking glitches, and the hardcore sim racers among us – those who have been steady members of the community since the early 2000’s – pointed out that the final product came nowhere close to resembling the ridiculous ambitions of the early outline, but critical comments were soon hidden under a literal ocean of nonsensical praise for the title. Those who dared to speak about the sub-par experienced bundled inside the Project CARS box were attacked by viral marketers and crazed fanboys, who vastly outnumbered the remaining intelligent personalities on each forum. You were told you had an irrational vendetta if you pointed out that Project CARS sucked, and if you were lucky enough to be told off by Ian Bell himself on the game’s official forums, apologists quickly rushed to his side, passing off borderline meltdowns and inability to take any criticism as typical British humor.

Two very different modern video games followed the exact same path, from initial planning, all the way to release, and received vastly different reception from their respective target audiences. The title intended for legitimate manchildren and nostalgia gaming enthusiasts was rightfully ripped apart for being a steaming pile of shit. The title intended for moderately intelligent auto racing enthusiasts was defended for being a steaming pile of shit. How the fuck is the sim racing community this dense?

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We now move on to the latest iteration of DOOM, by the legendary id Software. This was a game that wasn’t really on my radar at first thanks to Bethesda’s involvement – indicating there was a chance this title could get really fucked up by someone in a suit trying to tamper with a beloved video game franchise – but the post-release reception immediately put my doubts about quality to rest. It obviously will never live up to the original DOS-based titles, but basically everyone who has touched this game, even for a brief period of time, absolutely loves it. The Single Player campaign is the ultimate example of fan service. The new SnapMap functionality is essentially modding tools in a box. There’s a reason this game is winning awards pretty much everywhere – it’s really fucking good.

And yet, people still wanted more. Within a few days of the game launching, the most popular thread on the game’s Subreddit asked id Software to add in the classic Capture the Flag mode to the game’s online multiplayer functionality. No, there isn’t a first person shooter rule book hosted on Geocities that states capture the flag is a required mode in all high profile first person shooters, and hey, there’s an entire portion of the disc dedicated to a fucking massive level editor, but that didn’t stop people from asking where the hell capture the flag went – considering it was a stable from the Quake series of games. A few weeks later, hardcore DOOM fans started a petition to add modding support as well. Again, mod support isn’t required by the international law of first person shooters, and developers are by no means obligated to include it in any of their titles, but a whole bunch of people wanted it, and the community collectively spoke up.

Nowhere can id Software apologists be found criticizing avid DOOM players for making unreasonable demands from the company. People were just sort of going “hey, this game is great… but why did you guys take out Capture the Flag?” – followed by others generally agreeing that a modern id Software title should have included this beloved mode by default.

Meanwhile, let’s jump over to the world of sim racing, and take a look at Assetto Corsa. This is a game that bills itself as “your racing simulator”, but does not allow you to drive at night, drive in the rain, jump the start, execute a pace lap, stall the car, select the color of your car in most online sessions, run a race scored by time, manually toggle the pit limiter, predetermine your pit stop strategy, execute driver swaps, heat up the brakes, and damage the engine due to excessive temperature, among many other omissions. These are all little quirks found in other racing simulators directly competing with Assetto Corsa, and while they aren’t required by the international law of sim racing to be included within the title by Kunos Simulazioni, the lack of such features has generated justified criticism from many hardcore sim racers.

Like the 2016 iteration of DOOM and it’s lack of Capture the Flag, races contested by time rather than laps isn’t a required feature – in fact, there are no requirements at all for any company building any sort of video game. But whereas the DOOM fans loudly voiced their dismay over the lack of a classic gameplay variant in the popular first person shooter, Assetto Corsa fanboys promptly resorted to making excuses for Kunos Simulazioni. DOOM literally has everything you could want in a first person shooter, and fans are unanimously asking for more. Assetto Corsa is an objectively unfinished racing simulator, and diehard sim racers are instead defending the title’s lack of traditional features, proceeding to take things a step further and praise a near-constant stream of upcoming DLC announcements after shitting on titles like Forza and Need for Speed for doing the exact same thing.

Good job guys, way to make yourselves look real smart.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about the EA Sports line of Madden NFL games that most North Americans have probably played at some point in their lives over the past five years. Part of my influences when it comes to writing and maintaining PRC.net would be the simulation football community surrounding commercial NFL titles, and as an extremely average former high school quarterback who understands football on a technical level, I find videos by guys like Ryan Moody, apexisfree, and TheSimStandard to be more enjoyable than some guy screaming over a pack of fake football cards. Not only do these guys routinely discover new ways to demonstrate that Madden can be broken as fuck, the overall hardcore community surrounding the yearly American football simulator constantly pushes EA Sports to improve upon the previous year’s product. These guys all came around the YouTube scene in late 2008, with the abomination that was Madden NFL 09 (the one with Favre on the cover), but their work has paid off – Madden 16 isn’t bad, and it’s partially due to these guys ripping EA Sports a new asshole when they find something wrong.

What I’m getting at, is that while sim racing has just PRC.net, and many sim racers love to downplay this place as the ramblings of a mentally ill individual, Madden has like, five of me, they all have YouTube channels, and most of the Madden Subreddit is equally as critical of the game as the personalities mentioned above. And just like Madden has been the undisputed king of football simulators for quite some time, iRacing has been the king of motorsports simulators. Like it or not, iRacing is a monolithic entity that thanks to their massive userbase and deep pockets, is here to stay. But unlike the Madden community, who continuously draw attention to problems within the game that completely change things from a tactical standpoint, iRacers simply won’t allow you to do this.

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I have a folder full of quotes from just this guy on Reddit alone, but it goes to show how ridiculous iRacers can act in defense of their favorite game. Since starting up PRC and talking openly about some of the shortcomings found in iRacing, a steady stream of iRacing fanboys have shown up on various social media outlets to defend a company they have no financial or personal obligation to defend. When drawing attention to the company’s lengthy EULA not being valid due to unconsciousnability laws, I’m told “you’re just butthurt because you got banned.” When Lord Kaemmer makes an obvious mistake regarding the heating behavior of racing slicks, iRacing fanboys don’t question him – they twist reality to make him appear to be correct. When I point out that the Street Stock in iRacing is unrealistic, and the rookie races can be a clusterfuck of chaos, iRacers claim I was causing the chaos myself by winning all the races. And when top iRacers were passing out hero cards of their pretend race cars at Sprint Cup Races in hopes of landing an ARCA ride, bottom split heroes claimed I was just jealous of their success – even as anonymous Peak Anti-Freeze Series drivers were thanking me in private for shedding light on such embarrassing behavior. These people simply cannot take criticism, even when criticism is prevalent and actively discussed in all other video game communities.

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The aggressive shills and paranoid delusions of some sim racing community members may generate hearty giggles among readers who make this place a stop on their daily rotation of websites, but as a sim racer it’s pretty shitty to see people bring up genuine topics of discussions on places like RaceDepartment or VirtualR, and immediately get shot down by a tornado of rabid apologists. Even worse, it sucks to see that when unfinished games, broken elements, or missing features are discussed in other gaming communities outside of sim racing, the hostility exhibited by sim racing shills is virtually non-existent. The DOOM community generally agreed that Capture the Flag should have been in the new game by default, but hardcore racing simulator fans make excuses for the lack of pace cars or false starts. That’s all sorts of messed up.

It’s as if the middle aged men populating our community have temporarily been given the emotional stability of a pre-teen Taylor Swift fan, and you only have to look at recent reception to certain news articles in order to understand what I mean. Taylor Swift fans defend their idol jumping from guy to guy in a manner similar to Slightly Mad Studios fanboys justifying Ian Bell’s numerous meltdowns. In the former example, I can at least understand a teenage girl not understanding why Taylor’s long list of ex lovers calling her insane may be a massive red flag for the rest of us, but middle aged men defending customer service behavior that would get them fired from their own place of employment is questionable at best.

So why does this happen? Why is criticism in sim racing such a taboo topic?

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Unfortunately, there are no clear answers.

  • The presence of prominent developers within several different community message boards forces many users to remain politically correct at all costs, in order to avoid offending one of several key figures notorious for the inability to take criticism.
  • The high average age of sim racers means many of those among us have been raised to “appreciate what they’ve been given no matter the quality”, though I have a feeling these notorious apologists are the same folks who claimed George Lucas ruined their childhood with the release of Star Wars: Episode I.
  • Crowdfunding campaigns may cause sim racers to feel personally attached to any number of products, and compelled to embark on viral marketing campaigns to blindly praise the product.
  • The “Pack Mentality” allows several members at a time to receive a bit of harmless laughs over ganging up over one person somebody else has deemed a nuisance.

Those are just some of the contributing factors leading to the awful environment routinely found in modern sim racing communities, but if you have an absolute answer as to why this all occurs, and more importantly, how to fix it, we’d love to hear it!

It’s Not the Space Shuttle

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While I’m aware that several people within the sim racing community use an abundance of third party plugins for isiMotor simulators, ones which serve to increase the amount of data displayed on the HUD during a race, there is indeed such a thing as overdoing it. We’ve recently been tipped off about a YouTube personality named GrandPrixRacer100, who streams the majority of his league races with the Historic Sim Organization in an especially painful way. Usually this is the time I’d rip on the kid for his lack of driving skill, and his insistence on broadcasting entire practice sessions – sometimes leading to situations where he is literally sitting in the garage for much longer than the average viewer can tolerate – but in this instance, we’re taking a look at something else.

This guy’s HUD is an absolute fucking mess, and I’ve taken the time to sort through his clusterfuck of a display to make sense of it all for the average reader of PRC.net.

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Four separate leaderboard screens all display the exact same running order. Three distinct overlays monitoring the tire behavior all convey identical data. Two fuel gauges and two speedometers serve to clutter the screen, when there’s really only a need for one. Lastly, there are a handful of completely unnecessary boxes that do not display any relevant info to the session at hand, with the gravitational force meter and odometer being the highlights of this stupidity. The sim racer’s lack of peripheral vision serves to get him in trouble on more than a few occasions throughout the race, as a literal mass of useless information boxes prevent him from seeing other cars approaching him.

Not only can your average sim racer not possibly monitor every last element of this confusing heads up display, in the case of many simulators powered by the isiMotor engine, you simply don’t need an overlay this complex in the first place. Using just the default black box HUD element the isiMotor supplies you with, you can actually go into the options menu and bind buttons on your wheel to cycle through this display at a moment’s notice. This allows you to easily monitor tire data, vehicle vitals, the race leaderboard, and fuel consumption over the course of a race, without cluttering up your screen like a pleb.

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Don’t kid yourself, it’s not the space shuttle. You don’t need a heads up display this ridiculous, and even as racing simulators evolve over time to take advantage of new technology, you probably never will. There is no need for two speedometers, four leaderboards, and three tire temperature monitors that all serve to display identical sets of data. Sure, you’re invited to play a racing simulator however you want, but this is equivalent to that kid in middle school showing up to class with an advanced graphing calculator – it’s really just a waste of space.

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Doesn’t This Already Exist?

The widespread popularity and overall brand recognition the team over in Bedford Massachusetts have achieved with their iRacing.com software has effectively put an end to a major debate within the sim racing community: there is simply no substitute for online racing against live competition. The sheer size of iRacing’s userbase compared to the relatively tiny core audiences of other modern auto racing simulators is a pretty substantial indication that developers must embrace the new era of online motorsports events which iRacing has pioneered – scheduled start times, detailed statistical analysis, and harsh penalties for childish behavior. Unfortunately, developers continue to treat iRacing’s success as an oddity. Titles such as Assetto Corsa, rFactor 2, Automobilista, and RaceRoom Racing Experience all ship with generic server browsers that are a relic of yesteryear, and this plays an integral role in the long term success of each title. While the four aforementioned games may feature a more competent and accurate physics engine powering the driving experience, iRacing continues to trump their rivals by offering virtual racers an entire online career to explore.

The only racing sim to come along and give iRacing a run for it’s money in terms of popularity, would be the little racing simulator developed by Vallelunga’s Kunos Simulazioni. Assetto Corsa’s beautiful graphics, clever marketing campaign, and a vast array of third party modding tools stole some of iRacing’s thunder, but many players quickly found themselves without much to do in the online portion of the simulator. With obvious gaps in functionality, and minimal effort to accommodate the needs of serious online racing leagues, Assetto Corsa’s online environment quickly became overrun with casual servers. While there were a bunch of people playing Assetto Corsa, there weren’t many people racing in Assetto Corsa – most online rooms were dedicated to hastily converted rFactor drift mods, or Nordschleife tourist sessions that descended into crash-up derbies.

The small group of avid sim racers over at Sim Racing Portugal have attempted to breathe life into Assetto Corsa, as well as other unstructured racing simulators, by building a program they’ve named Sim Racing System – a tool which essentially provides titles you probably already own with a type of online career mode, equivalent to the experience offered within iRacing. The grassroots marketing campaign executed primarily by early adopters of the program has began to pop up around a few message boards and Facebook groups, excited over the program’s potential, as this more or less gives people a reason to race rather than endlessly run half-assed laps around the Nordschleife in supercars.

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I don’t feel the same way. In fact, I’m actually a bit confused. Very confused. Someone’s already made a program that’s objectively superior to what SRP have built with Sim Racing System. I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade here and be the resident mongoloid, as it obviously took a lot of man hours to get their program to function and these fellows indeed deserve a pat on the back for completing the project, but we have this already. We didn’t exactly need another one. And not only has a program like Sim Racing System already been assembled and it’s free for you to enter, but it’s been polished to near-perfection over a period of several years.

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The brainchild of Tim MacArthur, an individual iRacing once brought to court many years ago, Race2Play was literally one guy’s attempt at building something like iRacing, but better. MacArthur took what people liked about iRacing – the scheduled start times, detailed stat tracking, and emphasis on clean driving – and proceeded to go the extra mile in an effort to prove iRacing wasn’t anything special. As someone who’s driven in almost 50 different events within his virtual playground, I can safely say that MacAthur has succeeded with flying colours. Not only does Race2Play mirror the iRacing experience almost completely, he’s managed to improve on what iRacing offers. Each event spits out an automated race recap, and users are welcome to submit their own screenshots. You can give reputation points to individual drivers you enjoyed battling with. Sim racers who stumble upon fantastic third party mods or tracks for any one of the several isiMotor sims featured are allowed to submit these pieces of content to be added into the list of available cars and tracks. Each type of car features its own individual iRating – something longtime iRacers have literally begged for on a yearly basis. Those willing to bust out the credit card for a premium membership can create their own teams and officially ranked series with their own custom schedule, race format, and points system, but merely existing and participating in races on the service is completely free.

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The icing on the cake, is that Race2Play is incredibly polished. In my 49 events on the service, there have been basically no technical issues aside from those exhibited by the simulation software itself. Not only is MacArthur’s service objectively more in-depth than iRacing, it also fucks up less, too. And paying for it was optional. On the flip side, Sim Racing System offers none of the above aside from basic scheduled events and leaderboards, with the creators begging for more entrants to help stress test their service. As someone who’s already a regular on Race2Play, I have zero incentive to try this clearly inferior software out. I understand voicing this publicly may make me sound like a dick, but we really only needed one piece of software to interpret post race XML files and put them into a fancy website that keeps track of statistics. There wasn’t really a point to building another one, especially when the software that already exists is as established and polished as Race2Play.

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A lot of people jumping on the Sim Racing System bandwagon believe the new software will revolutionize how people play Assetto Corsa in particular, and I’m here to say that’s just not the case. Assetto Corsa is one of several titles which Race2Play fully supports, and the participation level in events taking place within Assetto Corsa has been nothing short of abysmal. The upcoming list of events barely manages to reel in more than five individuals, and with not everyone turning up for the race, the numbers below don’t even represent the field size on the grid when the lights go out.

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There are also claims that organized racing software will help improve the overall quality of on-track action, and as someone who’s competed in at least 37 hours of racing in the past few months alone (most races on Race2Play run from 30 to 45 minutes), crunching numbers and spitting out generic safety ratings won’t magically turn the majority of the field into competent drivers. Below is on-board footage from another participant in the aforementioned GT3 race at Sears Point, and it’s really not the image of some otherworldly experience you’ve got in your mind. The guy gets dumped at the start and spends the rest of his race running in his own zip code – as is the norm in any public lobby.

I’ll also include the clusterfuck of a Porsche Carrera Cup race at Oschersleben that’s mentioned in the intro of Black Flag, just for good measure. I don’t expect people to sit here and watch fifteen minutes worth of online racing, but if you get far enough into both videos, you’ll see what I mean about the quality of driving:

Sim racers are definitely a fickle bunch of hardcore gamers. They enjoy crowdfunding titles, but in the end don’t actually play the content they’ve crowdfunded. They spend copious amounts of income on optional sim racing hardware, but very rarely does their level of talent reflect how much they’ve spent on their “rig.” They claim a majority of each title’s userbase primarily spend time in the offline portion of the title, yet iRacing – an online only simulator – remains the most popular hardcore racing title by an extremely large margin. Hell, we’ve even seen people claim iRacing is a bargain at nearly $900 for the complete package of content, and then state $7 is too much for a document that teaches them how to be a more competent online racer. So I guess it’s perfectly in line for the community to outright ignore an already established online racing service that both mimics and surpasses iRacing, only to get excited about an identical service with only a fraction of the features.

This isn’t a battle between rival racing simulators, where each piece of software has a set of pros and cons that will appeal to different tastes. We’re talking about an automated program that hosts races for like-minded drivers, and then interprets an XML results file to spit out data back to the website. We only needed one of these, especially seeing as how Race2Play consistently struggles to fill grid spots on a daily basis despite the quality of the software powering it. Now that we have two programs, an already small group of dedicated drivers will be split in half. Instead of being lucky to share the track with eleven other drivers, we’re now going to have five or six. Grid: Autosport boasts bigger online fields.

It feels as if the boys behind Sim Racing System are the kids back in high school who read the wrong side of the whiteboard before dipping out of the room prematurely, and accidentally completed last night’s homework assignment all over again. As I’ve said earlier, no disrespect is meant towards the team, as their software obviously works and they indeed deserve a cookie for their efforts in building something like this from the ground up, but Race2Play existing for several years and being a fantastic product sort of makes their efforts a bit pointless.