The Money Mart Express *UPDATE*

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Story Update: A full-length video detailing JJacoby88’s sim racing history has been inserted at the bottom of the article.

An impressive piece of engineering, or the definitive example displaying sim racers have lost touch with reality? That’s the question we’ve been left contemplating here at PRC.net, as sim racing Twitch personality JJacoby88 has crammed a life-size stock car chassis into his room; a sim rig unlike any other. Sporting a certified containment seat from Hendrick Motorsports, and a legitimate chassis built by late model team Kirk May Racing, what you’re looking at above is a comprehensive hardcore sim racing setup that simply won’t be eclipsed by anyone else for quite some time – if ever. Though the outlandish configuration is far beyond what any sane person would require to enjoy a modern racing simulator from the comfort of their own home, credit must be given where credit is due; the rig is a sheer work of art; and every square inch of the faux cockpit has been hand-crafted to perfectly replicate what you might see within the roll cage of a 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series participant.

This is not just a SEGA arcade cabinet from the 1990’s, but a professionally sculpted race car interior created by those who work within the auto racing industry on a full-time basis. Every last insignificant detail – from the overall sheet metal fabrication, to the aftermarket control surfaces – have been fine-tuned to enhance the illusion of sitting in a real life professional race car cockpit and cooperate with the Microsoft Windows operating system, a truly magnificent display of craftsmanship. 

Sadly, the one-off project which could have been celebrated by the community as a milestone in sim racing immersion, is instead tainted by the story behind it.

Sporting a custom Domino’s Pizza fire suit, the full array of appropriate safety gear, multiple on-board cameras, an Oculus Rift, and a slew of Domino’s Pizza advertisements plastered over the broadcast, JJacoby88 takes the role-playing element of his Twitch streams to the absolute limit, regularly pausing his on-track monologue to discuss Domino’s Pizza menu items and other random facts about the popular Pizza chain during live Twitch broadcasts. Now while it’s not exactly uncommon by any means for Twitch personalities to receive some form of sponsorship, upon a brief investigation into the matter, JJacoby88 is merely employed by Domino’s as a delivery driver. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my first full-time job as well, but ordering a $400 custom fire suit to wear while playing iRacing and telling others in the room about the flat screen televisions on sale at our store that week is a thought that never once entered my mind.

twitch-shotAt this point, you’re most likely wondering how in the hell a random young adult from Georgia was able to afford such an elaborate sim racing setup, and the answer is quite simple: He couldn’t. A few weeks back I actually had the pleasure of jumping into one of JJacoby88’s Twitch broadcasts, and I was able to ask Jason himself how he managed to secure funding for what was obviously a colossal undertaking on many levels. To every viewer’s surprise, we learned no less than three credit cards and an undisclosed number of cash advances were used in the making of his custom, one of a kind, sim racing cockpit.

Yes, you read that right. Someone on this planet put themselves in an advanced state of financial ruin, just to play iRacing.

Combined with the act of pretending to be some sort of real life race car driver that he can’t seem to drop, what we’re looking at here is honestly quite frightening. We often joke around here at PRC.net about iRacing users who take the online racing simulator a bit too seriously at times, but rarely do we expect our attempts to provoke the iRacing members among us to actually manifest into something so profoundly asinine. We thought we couldn’t descend any lower than iRacing Peak Anti-Freeze Series drivers passing out hero cards of their virtual race cars in an attempt to land an ARCA Re/Max Series ride, but we’ve clearly been shown someone can always come along and set the bar infinitely higher than we ever thought was previously possible.

As a human though, what bothers me about this story is just how many fellow sim racers had the very real chance to stop JJacoby88 from impending financial ruin, yet instead chose to enable and encourage him to pursue this venture, even supporting the cringe-worthy NASCAR driver act. Payday loans and Credit Cards are not to be fucked around with – we learn this in high school from mandatory life management courses – yet the reception to this project so far has been unanimous praise; not one person appears to have bothered to ask the tough questions concerning how this all came to be. How no lone adult within the sim racing community jumped on Teamspeak one night and said “bro, don’t fuck around with Master Card or Money Mart” is extremely concerning, and speaks volumes about the overall sim racing community’s collective mentality. Sure, it’s an admittedly cool setup which will win a lot of sim rig dick waving contests on various message boards until basically the end of time, but knowing what went into it certainly casts a dark shadow over the whole thing.

Many sim racing outlets will eventually catch wind of JJacoby88’s setup and proceed to publish a string of showcase pieces demonstrating the rig in action, but as a sim racer, I’d prefer they didn’t. Unfortunately, to an outsider we have already established ourselves as a group of uber-obsessed man-children living out their inner race car driver fantasies to embarrassing lengths, and it takes a great deal of work to distance ourselves from that stereotype. Running the name of a local sim racing cafe on my personal race car’s windshield throughout the 2016 racing season, it took a lot of genuine work to slowly introduce what sim racing as a hobby is to our local auto racing scene, and I found via personal experience that sim racing is still largely seen as an activity for computer nerds. For every individual like myself, Xfinity Series driver Josh Berry, Monster Jam pilot Coty Saucier, Texas late model phenom Ryan Luza, and 2016 NHRA Funny Car champion Ron Capps, who go out and educate people on what sim racing is, a guy on Twitch nearly ruining his financial future to play iRacing in a cockpit beyond what’s necessary to use the software in its intended format serves to undo all the positive impressions we’ve made as a collective unit.

Like it or not, we’re not at the milestone Flight Simulator aficionados have achieved, where basically every real airline pilot – including the man behind the missing Malaysian Airlines 370 – goes hard on Prepar3D, Flight Simulator X, or X-Plane in their spare time.We’re still in a transitional period where away from the iRacing forums, hardcore sim racers role-playing the act of a real race car driver are mocked by their real-world counterparts as mere computer nerds lost in their own delusions. Having stuff like this come out – a hardcore iRacer who I can personally attest to being a competent driver financing a rig with a trio of maxed credit cards and an undisclosed number of payday loans – merely confirms that the mockery of our hobby from outsiders is one hundred percent justified.

And that’s not cool.

Update #1: A full-length video discussing the backstory of the build has been uploaded, discussing JJacoby88’s sim racing career, and his intentions to use his iRacing accomplishments as a way to enter the real world of motorsports.

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Logitech, We Need to Talk: A Review of the G29

logitech-g29-g920Taking advantage of a 24-hour sale at Memory Express and finally upgrading to a toy steering wheel that’s a bit more… shall we say… relevant… I’m still not entirely sold on the Logitech G29. While both aesthetically pleasing and functionally sound, Logitech’s newest consumer racing wheel for the PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One (depending on the sub-model you choose to purchase) simply isn’t worth the $499 USD asking price. There is not enough in the box to warrant such an enormous price hike compared to previous Logitech offerings, and those looking to upgrade from an older Logitech product in an effort to future-proof their simulator setups may come away extremely disappointed from the package. I personally am kind of satisfied with my purchase, but objectively, many people won’t be. And it’s time to talk about that.

Now before we begin, many of you have undoubtedly heard the horror stories surrounding the G29, and some are most likely wondering why in God’s name I willingly went out and bought this relatively new product from Logitech despite the overwhelming number of negative customer reviews. It all boils down to a trio of key reasons, and I’ll outline them to give y’all an indication of why I pushed aside my trusty Driving Force GT with Logitech G27 pedals for an expensive side-grade.

  • Many lazy developers are failing to add support for multiple USB devices. On no less than three separate occasions this year, I purchased a game I could not play. WRC 6, NASCAR Heat, and Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo all required me to dig out my Xbox 360 pad, as the three applications did not include functionality for multiple inputs when configuring your controller. If I buy something that’s intended for a hardcore racing game audience, I fully expect it to accommodate the needs of said hardcore audience – and part of that is allowing people to use their fancy third party handbrake, H-Shifter, and even pedal attachments. With my current setup, I was left waiting for either a community mod or a patch from the developers themselves, immediately after booting up the game’s executable for the first time. With a Logitech G29, I wouldn’t have that problem.
  • I own a backwards compatible PlayStation 3, and basically every racing game under the sun. I’ve spent entire nights blasting through Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2, Gran Turismo 6, or NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup with the default plastic pedals that come bundled with the Driving Force GT. Despite having to wrap a bungee cord around the brake pedal to provide artificial resistance, these games are phenomenal with a wheel, and I wanted a PlayStation 3-compatible wheel that came with a solid set of pedals from the get-go because the amount of time I invested into these older titles warranted a decent wheel for them, not Fischer Price plastic under my feet.
  • I will eventually purchase a PlayStation 4. Yes, I’m missing my Madden and NHL fix, but with DriveClub turning into a somewhat competent arcade racer, Project CARS dropping in price and bundling all of the DLC together in a Game of the Year Edition, as well as Gran Turismo Sport and Project CARS 2 appearing on the horizon, the PlayStation 4 is actually turning into a decent platform for racing games of all sub-genres, and that’s only going to continue in the future.

I can’t recall the last time I’ve done a hardware review, if ever, so lets dig into what the Logitech G29 does, and doesn’t have to offer.

g29-racing-wheelIt’s a Beautiful Thing.

The overall build quality and design of the Logitech G29 is really phenomenal – this is a gorgeous looking wheel compared to the G27 that’s been in basically everybody’s homes since it was first introduced. It feels nice in your hands, it’s quiet under normal gameplay circumstances, and the abundance of buttons is exactly what I was looking for after using the Driving Force GT for a solid four and a half years. When it comes to configuring the controller, most of the buttons actually remain in the same location as the Driving Force GT had them laid out in, meaning it took almost no time at all to map the new layout – I could literally take my DFGT settings, change three buttons, re-do the pedals, and hit save.

This increase in quality extends to the profiler, which has seen a much-needed facelift – though some sliders have actually been removed. Personally, I’m digging the change, though some will miss the ability to adjust the springs and dampers. If those options are in the profiler, I haven’t seen them yet.

untitled-4Regarding the pedals, the Logitech G29 essentially uses the exact same model of pedals found in the G27, with the only change coming in the form of the brake pedal – which has been modified into acting like a load cell. In short, you push the brake to about 40% of what would normally be full input on the G27, and it instead stops unexpectedly – requiring you to physically put additional pressure on the pedal for the rest of the input range. In my opinion, it’s given me an added level of control over my car and I’ve taken to the new approach required for braking quite quickly, but I can see the rubber piece acting as a load cell failing in the hands of someone who’s hard on their equipment. I can’t imagine the part is very robust with the way it feels under my foot. The brake is also too sensitive by default, and I found myself turning the sensitivity slider down to about 25%, because the original setting of 50% was insane.

Depending on how often you rely on an H-Shifter for historic cars, the outright omission of the stick from the base Logitech G29 package can be a deal breaker. I personally haven’t used an H-Shifter for years because it’s slower in a competitive format – no questions asked – but those who hold immersion as more important than online results will be choked to discover that the price hike saw less stuff fall out of the box when you tipped it upside down. I don’t care for the lack of an H-Shifter, but many will.

ams-2016-10-25-23-03-21-51PC Simulators

It took around two nights to get fully accustomed to driving with the Logitech G29. While it may be using a portion of the same underlying hardware as the G27 to power the wheel, it certainly feels much smoother and more refined than the G27 – and it’s really the first time I’ve driven Automobilista where the cars felt comfortable to whip around the various circuits available. The G29 does not shake or rattle around in your hands – the biggest complaints of the G27 by far – but instead matches the aesthetic improvements by offering a driving experience where you can gently place the car where you want it to go; wheeling it when necessary. It’s the exact kind of improvements owners of the G27 have been asking for, but unless your G27 is literally falling apart in your hands, it’s hard to justify binning your G27 for a G29.

nr2003-2016-10-30-15-20-05-96The biggest difference, as mentioned above, is how the brake pedal operates under racing conditions. Rather than memorizing how far you have to push the pedal in each corner on a specific track, you can ride the pedal on entry – as you would in real life – and give a quick stab of the brake as you approach the apex to help the car rotate. Dustin and I have been shaking down the Aero88 mod in NASCAR Racing 2003 Season for… reasons… and it was truly impressive how dynamic your driving style becomes with a load cell-like contraption such as the one Logitech have implemented into the G29.

Gran Turismo 6

PlayStation Games

Here’s where things get upsetting. Gran Turismo 6 with the Logitech G29 is a fantastic experience; I’m really glad I’ve finally gotten to try this game with a properly built wheel, as it confirms my original findings when I gave the controversial car collecting title an equally controversial shakedown earlier in the year. However, when I took the plunge on some of my favorite PlayStation 2 games – fully compatible with the Logitech Driving Force GT as well as the G27 – the Logitech G29 absolutely shit the bed. I mean, the wheel didn’t work at all.

I loaded up NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup – quite a wonderful game with my Driving Force GT – and the wheel pulled hard left immediately after receiving control of the car from the CPU when leaving pit road. The wheel simply wasn’t recognized in Enthusia Professional Racing – my car remaining stagnant on the grid with the wheel turned all the way to the left – and lastly, I couldn’t even navigate the menus in Need for Speed Underground; the “Start” button having been mapped to one of the D-Pad directions. Despite the G29 powered largely by the same firmware as the Logitech G27 and Driving Force GT, which can be used on basically every older PlayStation title known to man so long as you’re playing it on a Sony Console, this compatibility has mysteriously been revoked for the Logitech G29. That’s not cool.

The trade-off for the lack of compatibility with PlayStation 2 titles is most likely PlayStation 4 compatibility, though the risk of future proofing your setup for titles that aren’t even on the shelves yet is a bit of a gamble. I know Gran Turismo 4 is an awesome game, and I’d love to play it with a wheel. What we don’t know, is what Gran Turismo Sport will look like when it’s sitting on the shelves for $60. I know Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 is the best racing game ever released for the PlayStation 2, and I’d love to play it with a wheel. What we don’t know, is how Project CARS 2 or DiRT 4 will look.

I don’t understand why Logitech suddenly abandoned compatibility with PlayStation 2 games on the fat-model PlayStation 3, when it’s available in other wheels running similar firmware.

dolphin-2016-10-30-16-04-23-24

Emulators

It’s a bit out of left field, but the popular Nintendo home console emulator Dolphin actually includes steering wheel support, allowing you to bust out a single input device such as the Logitech G29 for use in one of the few hardcore racing games released for either the GameCube or Wii. I was able to dial in the G29 to such an extent, I was slaughtering the AI on Legend difficulty in NASCAR Thunder 2003, to the point where any thought I had of playing through the games’ extensive career mode went out the window once I compared my practice times to the lap at the top of the board in qualifying. While not a direct testament to the quality of the G29, this goes to show the kind of additional gaming options you have when purchasing a single-input device, compared to the standard mix-and-match configurations that most sim racers opt for.

ams-2016-10-25-23-03-53-81Value

Here’s where the issue with the Logitech G29 arises: the cost. Without factoring in flash sales or special discounts, the MSRP is an astounding $500 USD, a full $200 more than the G27’s launch price of $300 USD all the way back in 2009. You do not receive an H-Shifter in the base package – as you would with the G27 – and the reduced compatibility now prohibits you from playing games that were once fully compatible with previous Logitech wheels you may still have hooked up to your PC or PS3. The abundance of buttons on the face of the wheel, while extremely useful for hardcore PC sim racers compared to the shitty layout of the G27 which placed half of them on the shifter, were already seen on the Driving Force GT – a wheel which retailed for $110 USD at launch. It is absolutely insane for a company to charge upwards of $500 (including taxes) for a product that isn’t a demonstrable upgrade in every single aspect from their previous releases. It’s got less functionality, doesn’t come with an H-Shifter, features a button layout that Logitech themselves admitted doesn’t cost a whole lot to implement based on the price of the DFGT, yet retails for $200 more. It’s astounding this MSRP got past the drawing board, and was actually approved by multiple suits at Logitech.

You are essentially paying an extra $200 to future-proof your PlayStation 4, and that’s bullshit for one very distinct reason: Many racing games on the PlayStation 4, aside from DriveClub and Gran Turismo Sport (which hasn’t even come out yet), are multi-platform releases. Unless you plan on picking up a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One in the near future and know you’ll dive into Gran Turismo or Forza alongside Call of Duty or Madden – as the Logitech G920 is the exact same product for Microsoft’s current console – you can completely avoid this wheel. Provided you aren’t running one of those budget Ferrari Thrustmaster offerings, whatever you’ve got in front of you right now is more than adequate for your needs.

In Memory of Nintendo

nintendoswitch_hardware-0-0My, Nintendo, how you’ve changed. The Japanese entertainment giant once spent almost a decade on top of the console gaming industry by following up the legendary Nintendo 64 with an equally impressive system in the Nintendo GameCube, but it appears the brand as many of us 90’s kids knew it no longer exists. Riddled with batshit insane decisions which saw the prolific video game company ship not one, but two misguided attempts at a modern home console by pushing gimmicks over gameplay, the new Nintendo Switchunveiled yesterday – is the pinnacle of poor choices which serves to highlight Nintendo’s fall from grace. This is a very different company than the one which helped propel Mario Kart 64 into the living rooms of basically anyone under the age of twenty five, and I can’t imagine these guys will be around for much longer.

Sure, the under-powered Wii sold a metric tonne of units after it was first introduced on store shelves back in the fall of 2006 – capitalizing on casual-oriented titles such as Wii Sports and Wii Fit to reel in a new audience at the expense of loyal fans –  but an incorrect assessment of market trends saw Microsoft and Sony utterly destroy Nintendo’s offering once the masses indicated Call of Duty was here to stay. Essentially, most people did rush out to buy a Wii, only to realize there wasn’t much substance behind the experimental controller, and permanently went back to the other console they owned within less than a month. Playing catch-up for five straight years, Nintendo partially attempted to rectify the obvious gap in performance and capabilities compared to their competitors by releasing the Nintendo Wii U, but once again, a reliance upon gimmicks that nobody really cared for in the first place relegated the system to the status of an expensive paperweight. Hell, aside from Lego City Undercover, and Need for Speed Most Wanted, there weren’t any racing games on the damned thing.

Rather than build  a traditional gaming experience to directly compete with what Microsoft and Sony currently offer, Nintendo is set to push out their third gimmick in ten years, completely failing to realize that the market doesn’t give a shit about this stuff anymore. Nintendo’s stock dropped 6.5 percent on the day of the Switch’s reveal, with market analysts downright confused at Nintendo’s business decisions. Simply put, Nintendo is finished.

errorsAnd that’s a shame. The company which single-handedly revived the video game industry in America after the 1983 crash is now hardwired to self destruct; the indisputable greatness of their four most prominent consoles now relegated to the pages of history books and Wikipedia articles. Sure, we’d been given a not-so-subtle warning beforehand that things at Nintendo had gone haywire – such as their public relations manager moonlighting as an escort – but physically seeing the string of bad decisions manifest into something so utterly useless as the Nintendo Switch is a sight to behold.

rappThe controller looks uncomfortable and clunky, nobody in North America wants a spontaneous game of Madden on a tiny screen in a dingy park when everyone’s been in a competition with their friends to build the most luxurious entertainment center, and given that Nintendo hasn’t actively tried to compete with Sony and Microsoft in terms of performance since 2001, it’s too risky to buy a console that could potentially be less powerful that what you already own and have sunk money into. For those three primary reasons, the Nintendo Switch will be a failure of which the likes we’ve never seen before. It’s going to kill the company. In a world where Grand Theft Auto V earned a billion dollars in revenue within the first 72 hours of the game arriving on shelves, you simply cannot stick your fingers in your ears and instead build something so preposterously nonsensical.

It’s certainly strange to be talking about Nintendo in this manner, as the twenty year period spanning from 1985 to 2005 were basically dominated by Mario’s home system. Yes, you can make an argument that the PlayStation 2 sold more units, or that the Microsoft Xbox was the most powerful console in terms of hardware, but Nintendo systems traditionally featured the highest concentration of games you wanted to play. While Sony’s original PlayStation struggled to maintain 30 FPS in all but a handful of games, busting out the N64 on a mid-range TV was gaming on an entirely different level. And there’s a reason people are still playing Super Mario 64 and Luigi’s Mansion on modern PC emulators, while Crash Bandicoot is relegated to being an obscure relic from a bygone era – Nintendo games were worth every penny of the retail price.

Nintendo systems were also a safe way to enter the world of console gaming without really knowing exactly what you wanted from your gaming experience. Nintendo paid close attention to the types of products arriving on their consoles, meaning the library of games available were never too graphic or too obscure for the general public. The best part of owning a Nintendo console during the final ten years of their dominance, was outright sucking at first-person shooters, yet knowing you could take a chance on something like Metroid Prime at random and still come away totally satisfied with the experience. If you couldn’t deal with the super-serious tone of FIFA 07, whether it was because you were too young at the time, or needed a simple multiplayer co-op sports game for your buddies, Super Mario Strikers was a valid alternative. Each game for all four of Nintendo’s golden systems, regardless of whether it was developed by Nintendo, or an unrelated third party entity, just seemed right for the console it was released on.

So for today, what I’d like to do here on PretendRaceCars.net is to take a look at the five best racing games for Nintendo systems which capture the spirit of Nintendo’s classic consoles – driving games that you could recommend to someone who doesn’t give two shits about race cars or motorcycles in the slightest, yet they could sit down for a day with the title, and at the end of their session say “I get it now, this shit is awesome, I want more.”

I’m aware that F-Zero GX is the greatest racing game released for the Nintendo GameCube, but let’s be real here – it’s too ridiculously difficult for the common gamer. And given our hardcore background, I’d love to write yet another article praising NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona for all that it managed to accomplish as an oval racing simulator almost fifteen years ago, but I won’t. Kart racers also need not apply, as their lessons in socialism lead to a scenario where skill simply doesn’t apply on the track.

So in our farewell piece to Nintendo, let’s talk about five racing games that fully understood what a Nintendo console was all about.

freekstyle#5 – Freekstyle

The introduction of the Sony PlayStation 2 onto the market saw Electronic Arts in a bit of a bind. Traditional sports games like Madden and FIFA had become infinitely more complex than the developer had ever anticipated, turning off several early PlayStation 2 adopters who were overwhelmed by the in-depth control schemes. The solution was to create an offshoot brand that took a more lighthearted approach to the flagship franchises, resulting in the creation of EA Sports BIG. You’re most likely aware of these guys thanks to the astounding popularity of the SSX franchise, yet the brand covered an impressive array of both traditional sports and auto racing disciplines, including soccer, basketball, football, snowmobile racing, rallycross, and even freestyle motocross.

Freekstyle was EA’s spin on the growing popularity of freestyle motocross, which has only expanded since the death of the EA Big brand with the likes of Nitro Circus and Red Bull X-Fighters becoming household names. While motocross games already existed on the Nintendo GameCube platform from developers such as THQ and Acclaim, Freekstyle didn’t require any knowledge of the sport to enjoy the title; opting for extremely simple tracks with ludicrous jumps allowing you to execute hyperbolic tricks in exchange for copious amounts of boost, much like the SSX franchise a few years earlier. Rather than including a cast of fictional characters playing up on motocross culture stereotypes, Freekstyle opted to include real world riders such as Brian Deegan and Mike Metzger to flesh out the personality of the fictional game environment, a move which turned Freekstyle into this really wild rust-filtered post-apocalyptic motocross carnival.

The end result was a phenomenal arcade racing game which draws heavily from the SSX franchise without appearing to be a straight rip-off. The simple gameplay that didn’t ask users to perfectly time jumps or plan their lines through a corner, mixed with radical track designs and a cohesive art direction, was a welcome addition to the GameCube’s vibrant library.

54284-the-simpsons-hit-run-windows-screenshot-guess-what-s-in-the#4 – The Simpsons: Hit & Run

Nintendo has traditionally been extremely weary of adult-themed games appearing on their platforms (despite their old PR lady turning tricks on the side), meaning that GameCube owners in the fall of 2003 were shit out of luck when Grand Theft Auto: Vice City took the world by storm. While older gamers primarily used the playground Rockstar Games had created to act out their inner psychopathic fantasies and challenge themselves to outrun a never-ending supply of SWAT team members, a key element to remember is that open-world driving games were still relatively new at the time, and many flocked to the 3D Grand Theft Auto offerings to merely test drive a massive variety of vehicles and explore a fully-rendered world at their own pace.

The Simpsons: Hit & Run offered a solution to the distinct lack of Grand Theft Auto’s presence on the Nintendo GameCube. While not a racing game in the traditional sense, as virtually everyone who’s heard about this game is well aware that it’s a straight up copy of Grand Theft Auto, Hit & Run centers largely around the driving aspect of open world crime sandboxes thanks to the complete eradication of any actual violence. If you strip out everything except the vehicle based missions from Grand Theft Auto V, and insert the absolute best writers that have ever worked on an episode of The Simpsons, you receive a surprisingly competent product in Hit & Run.

With a campaign mode that featured an abundance of memorable missions, an overall plot that was as deep and interesting as some of the show’s best twenty-two minute episodes, and a structurally sound open world package, Hit & Run was a seriously solid interactive version of Springfield that you could explore at your own free will. Given how popular The Simpsons had been as a television show in 2003, picking this one up was a no-brainer and fit in perfectly with the theme of licensed GameCube games.

nfs-underground#3 – Need for Speed: Underground

Yes, there were indeed a string of Need for Speed titles released for the Nintendo GameCube, but what most people don’t tell you is that many of them suffered from design flaws or massive performance issues. Hot Pursuit 2, released a year earlier, was developed by EA Seattle and paled in comparison to the superior PS2 offering, while Underground’s sequel included arguably more content at the cost of mammoth framerate problems which saw the title’s score slide heavily on Gamespot.com. Future Need for Speed iterations on Nintendo’s small purple box were met with a drastic decline in texture quality to maintain a base level of performance standards, meaning that 2003’s Need for Speed: Underground is really the only entry in the NFS franchise that could be experienced in its full glory on the Nintendo GameCube.

Underground had been released at a time when the popularity and general absurdity of the Fast & the Furious franchise had skyrocketed to instant cult classic status, and the import tuner scene had been thrust into the spotlight. While not an officially licensed tie-in with the movies that inspired it, Underground was seen as the unofficial video game counterpart – and basically everybody knew why Need for Speed had suddenly dropped Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s for Honda Civics and a robust customization feature.

However, as someone who’s played through the game three times over the past thirteen years, it’s not just the comprehensive customization element which catapults Underground into the number three spot. From a raw driving physics standpoint, Underground’s controls are incredibly tight, and the track layouts were all somewhat memorable thanks to a reliance upon dedicated levels rather than the open world seen in the sequel. Despite appearing to be spontaneous street circuits, Black Box had crafted the circuit layouts in Underground by hand to ensure they were not a series of random corners, but flowed in a way which were enjoyable to drive, meaning you rarely had to rely on checking the map or smashing head-on into a wall to learn a circuit. Whether you were on the track, or in the garage menu, Underground was a solid game, and the simplicity of the racing element combined with the expansive car customization meta-game which capitalized on a new and exciting pop culture trend made for an easy purchase for Nintendo fans. Pretty much everybody with a GameCube owned, or at least tried, Need for Speed Underground.

burnout-2#2 – Burnout 2: Point of Impact

Many credit Electronic Arts for helping to thrust the Burnout franchise into the limelight, but it’s important to remember the series was once under the guidance of Acclaim Entertainment, and Criterion Games had been seen as underdogs tasked with pushing a relatively obscure racing game into a market dominated by Electronic Arts and the aforementioned Need for Speed franchise. While the yearly renditions of Need for Speed on the Nintendo GameCube obviously sold more copies, Burnout 2: Point of Impact was by far the better game. After a lukewarm reception to the original title – which attempted to experiment with cinematic car crashes when the player fucked up – Criterion jacked up the special effects and sense of speed for Burnout 2, creating a game that was both notoriously difficult to get right, and incredibly hilarious when you got it wrong.

Criterion knew people would intentionally want to see their revitalized damage model in all its glory for Burnout 2, so the team included a special Crash Mode in the sequel to their completely average arcade racer, allowing players to fling their sports car at an intersection full of traffic in an effort to cause the most damage possible. What was intended to be an otherwise goofy diversion from the main campaign mode turned into an extremely strategic high-speed chess match, captivating fans who had taken a risk on Burnout 2. As a result, word quickly spread that this was the best racing game for the Nintendo GameCube, and Criterion were eventually picked up by Electronic Arts once Acclaim Entertainment went bankrupt a few years later.

The quintessential high-speed arcade racer, which drew upon the sloppy handling of Daytona USA as inspiration while inserting an endless wave of commuter and commercial traffic to navigate through, Burnout 2’s frantic battles, iconic knock-off vehicles, and vastly superior level design compared to the original, all contributed to the game being incredibly well-received by those looking for some kind of pick-up-and-play arcade racer that couldn’t keep up with the pace of F-Zero GX. Burnout 2 was absolutely fucking crazy, and it’s exactly what the Nintendo GameCube platform needed after it was clear Mario Kart Double Dash wouldn’t have the lasting appeal of Mario Kart 64. You could give this game to virtually anyone, and a big smile would stretch across their faces the very first time they hopelessly smashed into a bus at 150 mph. It was that kind of game, and Criterion continued to make more of them for the next five years.

hot-wheels-turbo-racing-05#1 – Hot Wheels: Turbo Racing

It’s extremely difficult to gauge the quality of a Nintendo 64 game in 2016, as most of our collective opinions have been tinted by the fanciest set of nostalgia goggles imaginable. I’m one of those guys who continues to maintain a set of fifth generation emulators on my PC to revisit games that used to kick my ass when I was younger, and unfortunately I’m slowly starting to realize that a vast majority of titles on both the Nintendo 64, as well as Sony’s original PlayStation, simply aren’t as good as I remember them to be. Hot Wheels: Turbo Racing, is not one of those games. In fact, it’s the one ROM worth re-installing Project64 for.

With the Nintendo 64 not adequately equipped to handle the performance requirements of a Need for Speed entry, and the audience far too broad for the market to support a traditional Cops vs. Racers approach, Electronic Arts changed their ideology when creating products for the Nintendo 64, opting to push well-made family-oriented driving games rather than an orgy of 90’s supercars. Beetle Adventure Racing was a bit of a mixed bag, but Hot Wheels: Turbo Racing resonated with the audience, offering what’s undoubtedly one of the best arcade racing experiences ever created for a Nintendo console. The vehicle roster was diverse and drew heavily from the fictional line of Hot Wheels toys rather than flavor-of-the-week replicas, locations were fine-tuned to include mammoth jumps and alternate shortcuts to capitalize on the unique capabilities of each specific car, and the physics engine actually made you wheel the damn thing.

Hot Wheels: Turbo Racing succeeded because the game used the Mattel license to reel people in, but was a ridiculous challenge once you hit the track and forced you to be a better driver. Each car had a very different set of handling characteristics, meaning a big, burly tow truck or jet semi required a significantly different driving style than an open wheel grand prix car or futuristic twin-engine monstrosity. Locations didn’t cater to any specific vehicle on the roster, forcing players to make trade-offs and carefully plan their route around the circuit each lap, otherwise the AI would simply decimate them. Last, but most certainly not least, the game’s basic physics engine allowed you to perform flips, rolls, and spins while flying through the air, rewarding a successful landing with brief shots of turbo – which was necessary to even remain competitive on the higher difficulties. Turbo Racing was an arcade racer at heart, but it didn’t let you win in the way most arcade racers would. The packaging indicates Turbo Racing is a kids game, but make no mistake – it continuously tries to kick your ass.

And that’s what Nintendo games used to be about. Not this shit.

Rest in piece, Nintendo. You were pretty cool at one point.

Throwing Money At The Problem

1I feel like we’re reaching a point here on PRC.net where it’s almost time to split the iRacing tag into two specific sub-categories. On one end of the spectrum, even though I currently don’t have an active iRacing account, many of our readers do, and it’s important to cover both software updates and content releases to keep people informed without the generic PR babble found on other publications. Yet what ends up happening is that the complete absurdity of the iRacing community often manages to steal the spotlight away from the more traditional set of articles breaking down changes in the software, and we end up using the iRacing tag to discuss a diverse group of delusional man-children using the simulator to live out their failed auto racing dreams.

Each and every time I venture into the iRacing Subreddit, I’m genuinely impressed by how backwards this particular set of sim racers can be. Readers who have stuck around PRC.net for the long haul are familiar with my intense hatred towards the average iRacing member for being far too emotionally invested in a simple video game, yet now it feels as if meme magic is guiding the world of sim racing, and iRacers are making a subconscious effort to live up to their stereotype against their will. Now before I get started on today’s discoveries, I’d like to briefly outline the four elements I feel most iRacers exhibit which cause them to have such a poor reputation outside of their own member forums.

  • iRacers are eager to throw money away when it isn’t even necessary. They defend the enormous cost of the simulator compared to other video games in the same genre by pretending iRacing is somehow in a league of its own when it comes to computer software, and it supposedly isn’t fair to hold the game to the same general set of standards you would for another driving simulator like rFactor 2, Project CARS, or Assetto Corsa. These people also constantly take steps to make pricey improvements to their sim setup in the quest for both immersion and pace, yet these efforts are always futile; no matter how fancy your sim rig is, you will always be sitting in a basement playing a video game, and equipment does not determine your on-track performance.
  • iRacers invest more than is necessary into their virtual driving career. It’s cool to take a few screenshots of your custom livery and plaster it on Facebook. It’s fine to celebrate a couple of big wins every now and then; I mean, if you win a My Little Pony fan art competition, you still won something, and that’s neat to be good at something you do in your spare time. It’s not cool to pass out hero cards for your iRacing team inside the garage area of a real NASCAR venue; it’s actually really awkward. And you don’t need to thank all your sponsors during a carefully rehearsed speech in your post-race interview on some YouTube Stream with 30 viewers. There are no NASCAR scouts watching the 6:30pm Class C Fixed race, nor will Tony Stewart throw you in his Sprint Car if you decimate the field during some Mobil 1 virtual showdown gimmick. The higher up the iRacing ladder you progress, the more you’ll run into folks who have unfortunately forgotten that they’re playing a video game.
  • iRacers are hyper-sensitive to aggression. The game’s userbase is big enough to house several different sub-communities that all gravitate towards one series or discipline, yet small enough where everybody knows everybody else in some fashion. Drivers who are deemed by the rest of the pack to be “too aggressive” on the track, “too crude” over the chat functionality, or “too abrasive” on the member forums are forced to deal with their contemporaries ganging up on them and basically chasing them away from the iRacing servers. The irony in this situation is that real-life auto racing is aggressive as hell; middle-fingers flying out the window are a daily occurrence, shady moves and occasional contact are merely part of driving a race car, physical fights in the pits routinely land on the front page of many motorsports news outlets, controlled substances are more common than you’d think (and you’re naive if you believe otherwise), and the dialect used among peers and on the radio is anything but G-rated. The sim racing community which populates iRacing effectively tries to enforce a chess club-like code of conduct in a competitive environment that resembles the aggression of professional hockey.
  • iRacers feel their sim of choice places them on a platform above other sim racers. You’ll see this across many message boards where users are allowed to openly discuss a variety of racing simulators under one roof; those that dare to imply iRacing isn’t the gold standard in virtual auto racing are promptly bullied by a flurry of iRacing members whose entire post history consist of pro-iRacing comments – most of which immediately resort to accusing the user of not being able to afford iRacing, or that they have an irrational vendetta against the developers.

throw-moneySo we now get to the topic at hand today, which starts us with brockman44’s rather innocent question to the iRacing community on Reddit. Quite simply, he runs a low field of view setting that was undoubtedly the result of fiddling with a field of view calculator, and has now realized driving with binocular vision is not very effective when racing in a pack on an oval circuit. He wants to know the best way to visually monitor the competition beside him, and inquires about either a triple monitor setup, or a virtual reality headset.

Had a friend posed this question to me while we were bullshitting on Teamspeak, the short answer I’d give is “neither.” You can map a Look Left/Look Right button to your steering wheel, and use INI configuration files to adjust the head swivel time to be instantaneous; just long enough to check on the status of the car beside you. Aside from cranking up the spotter frequency to max – so he continues to repeat “Car Outside” every second or so – field of view calculators aren’t entirely reliable (sometimes producing completely unusable results), and there is no harm in jacking up the FOV value and moving the seat position around so the extreme edges of the monitor display just a sliver of your side window – and thus letting you see where your competitors are sitting if they get beside you on-track. What I’m getting at, is brockman44 can solve his lateral visibility problems in about fifteen seconds.

The highest rated comment, posted by Melbeachmoose20, encourages him to drop $400 on two additional PC monitors. This is insane. Don’t do this. Rather than use any one of the twenty-second suggestions I mentioned above – some of which can be done simply by visiting the options menu in-game – brockman44 is told by a fellow iRacer to bust out the credit card. This is buffoonish advice, and only goes to show some iRacers have no fucking idea what they’re talking about. Changing the field of view setting is free. Mapping two buttons for Look Left and Look Right is free. Moving the seat around is free. As a sim racer who runs a single monitor setup quite successfully, you simply do not need to drop $400 just to see the cars beside you. If you want some sort of man-cave setup with a proper racing seat and three monitors because of the cool factor, then yes, I understand. But the problem in the original post is purely down to not being able to see your competitors, and omitting several twenty-second fixes to push this kind of purchase on someone is just plain fucking crazy.

hurt-feelingsWe now arrive at a different Reddit post from a couple of weeks ago, posted by a user operating under the tag of iracer46. While not hardware-related like the last example, this one really drills home how fragile the average iRacer can be. A lengthy introduction (by reddit standards) gives way to the story of an obviously talented sim racer running circles around the field and being a lippy asshole through the game’s voice chat system – as if nobody has ever done this in the history of online gaming anywhere. It’s important to note that by the author’s own admission, the iRacer being slammed for his behavior wasn’t actually wrecking anyone or being a nuisance on track; he was merely shit-talking the rest of the pack, which has been par for the course in virtually every online computer game dating back to the late 1990’s. iracer46 goes on to describe this user as “the most despicable iRacing member” he has ever encountered, and claims this guy has severe psychological issues.

Again, I have to reiterate that it’s October 5th, 2016, and basically everyone whose even partially invested into online gaming in this day and age will list “shit-talking little kids and other random gamers on Xbox Live” as a fond memory of their teenage years. If you are so fragile that merely being in iRacing’s version of a public lobby with a guy being a goof through the voice chat system inspires you to write a blog post ripping on his “despicable” behavior, all you’re doing is proving my point that the average iRacer is a hyper-sensitive man-child who shouldn’t be anywhere near a real race car.

Because this sort of thing is common-place not just on the voice chat servers in competitive online gaming, but in real life auto racing as well – you know, the environment iRacing is trying to accurately simulate? This brings up a comment I mentioned earlier in this entry; iRacers are genuinely trying to turn a high-energy, dog-eat-dog competition into a High School Chess Club on wheels to prevent from hurting anybody’s feelings. This is just embarrassing.

I think maybe we should make this the next big thing on PRC.net; along with our standard Reader Submissions, you guys are welcome to send in anything retarded you come across on the iRacing forums, and we’ll bundle them up in a couple compilation articles to display how ridiculous some of this stuff can get. Are you guys down? We sure are.

This Isn’t the Wheel Support You’re Looking For…

forza6apex_announce_07_wmIf you haven’t given Forza Motorsport 6: Apex a shot yet, I don’t blame you. Intended to be a strange mashup between an elaborate tech demo and a genuine trial run for Turn 10 in bringing the critically acclaimed Forza Motorsport franchise to Windows-based operating systems, Apex is light on modes, features, and content – a game that won’t win any favors among the hardcore sim racing community. However, for those who have otherwise missed out on what has traditionally been quite an enjoyable line of games for Xbox owners dating back to 2005, many are obviously curious as to how the physics engine stacks up compared to well-established PC simulators powered by the isiMotor engine. Unfortunately, their efforts were initially hindered by a complete lack of toy steering wheel support when the game launched on Windows 10 a few short months ago, causing tin-foil hat conspiracy theorists such as myself to loudly proclaim the game was little more than a pathetic attempt to con users into installing an operating system that was both intrusive and configured to monitor your online behavior by default.

Turn 10 eventually threw the hardcore guys a bone; the latest update for Forza Motorsport 6: Apex patches in plastic wheel compatibility for a wide variety of Logitech and Thrustmaster products. Needless to say, many sim racers who once scoffed at the title are now at least giving it a genuine shot, as despite the lack of gameplay modes, progression elements, and content, they can finally experience Forza Motorsport from the comfort of their own unique sim racing setup.

And of course, they aren’t happy, because Turn 10 didn’t really try.

f6-wheelOn the Forza Motorsport section of Reddit, sim racers are furious. To them, the wheel support feels like a last-minute addition tacked on to check a box on the list of planned upgrades for the game, rather than a genuine effort to get it right the first time. I’ve attached some of the most prominent posts in the picture above, but you can check out the full thread here if you’re one of those guys on the fence when it comes to upgrading to Windows 10. In short, wheel compatibility in Apex feels like you’re trying to play NASCAR 99 on a Nintendo 64 Emulator by mapping your wheel axis to the control stick – nowhere close to satisfactory by any means. Some even report that the game is flat out uncontrollable with a wheel, and while I’m usually against using iRacing as a base to judge the physics of another racing simulator, even I can wheel a car in the Xbox One version of Forza Motorsport 6 without much trouble.

c318e709-c051-4eb9-aae4-581d5884df63Now a lot of people are probably wondering why this topic is being discussed at PRC.net, as many consider Forza to be beneath the status of superior PC-based simulators. The answer is actually quite simple; Forza is now a multi-platform franchise, and Apex was used basically as an open beta for future titles. While the series obviously has its roots on the original Xbox console, Turn 10 will be bringing Forza Horizon 3, and the inevitable Forza Motorsport 7, to the Windows 10 operating system very, very soon. Forza Horizon 3 launches in a mere twenty days, and given how good the previous two games have been in this newer, more radical spin-off series, there are a whole bunch of PC gamers who not only can’t wait to rip around the eastern coast of Australia in a huge number of exotic cars, they want their shit to work out of the box. Currently, wheel support in Apex doesn’t work. If Turn 10 can’t get it right during what was intended to be the testing phase with Apex, why should sim racers have any faith that they’ll figure it out in less than a month?

It’s worrying, to say the least.

car_543_1_56d63346c910fMany will be quick to argue that Forza’s underlying driving physics are the root cause of the problem, and I think it’s important to state that I heavily disagree on the matter. Honestly, if we drop the dickwaving contest between PC simulators and console pseudo-simulators for just a minute of our time, Forza Motorsport 6 isn’t the complete piece of garbage you’ve been led to believe. A few weeks ago I was at my buddy’s house spending the night after a race, and early in the morning I fired up Forza 6 to dick around before he woke up. I stumbled into the showcase section and ended up running an Endurance race at Road Atlanta with the GT3-spec Audi R8. Aside from the mammoth input lag resulting from his admittedly crappy HDTV, I really struggled to see why many are so quick to talk down about this series. The AI put up a good fight on the difficulty level one notch below Unbeatable, tire wear seemed reasonable, and the little driving tricks you learn from PC sims still applied. So when I see people write on Reddit that Apex is unplayable with a wheel, I can definitely see a situation where Turn 10 simply fucked up wheel support, rather than having a poor base to begin with.

photo8Horizon 3 comes out in a few weeks, and I personally loved the original, so maybe it’s time to let the NSA poke around my browsing history in exchange for a fairly enjoyable recreation of Australia. However, if wheel support in Apex is truly as broken as some are saying it to be, y’all are in for a hell of a ride when Horizon 3 drops.