It’s a fact of life in the video game industry – things don’t always go in the manner which they were first intended. What may have seemed like a fantastic initial pitch might instead turn out to be a logistical nightmare when it comes to following through with the ordeal, thus leading to a situation where optimistic supporters of your upcoming release dating all the way back to the first reveal are suddenly asking an increasing array of blunt, abrasive questions. Known by the affectionate term of Vaporware to the greater gaming community, titles like Duke Nukem Forever attained widespread notoriety for their horrifically long time spent in development that ended up surpassing any critical discussion of the title itself – with gamers more focused on the story behind the software’s inability to launch as an example of what not to do in the industry. It’s like everyone’s watching a documentary unfold in real-time.
Yet due to the exponentially smaller community size, independent developers can get away with this behavior in the world of sim racing on a much more frequent basis. With significantly less potential customers to disappoint, as well as a cluster of websites covering these games aimed at the same group of hardcore enthusiasts rather than mass numbers of readers, any race car game that fails to materialize does not run the risk of alerting major gaming outlets that a developer doesn’t have their shit together – and thus fucking over the company’s reputation in the long run when they try to take on other projects; it all stays internalized, with the news articles eventually pushed into the archives.
So let’s dig them up.
Though the recent frenzy surrounding iRacing adding a plethora of dirt oval racing content to the popular online simulator platform may sound like the developers had specifically taken aim at backwoods rednecks living in rural American trailer parks, the reality is that short track oval racing is an extremely popular discipline of auto racing on both sides of the pacific ocean, and Australians love their sprint car racing. Big Ant Studios, an Australian team who had worked on prior officially-licensed sprint car games for Sony’s PlayStation 2 – but had recently taken their talents to cricket titles – were hoping to revive Ratbag’s iconic Dirt Track Racing series of the early 2000’s with a crowdfunded dirt oval racing simulator. Elaborate plans for the simulator went live in early 2016, alongside an impressive video indicating preliminary work had already commenced on the game, so there wasn’t much of a need to be skeptical in regards to the project itself – the team were definitely capable of building what they were promising.
As this was all happening a few months before iRacing would eventually reveal their similar plans for dirt oval racing on April Fools’ day, there was admittedly a lot of excitement for what Big Ant were planning to deliver – with the help of the community, of course. Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t translate into a successful crowdfunding campaign. On March 1st, 2017, Big Ant were forced to announce that the $78,000 raised for Dirt Track Racing 2017 was only about a third of the initial funds needed for the base product to land on store shelves, and the game had been outright cancelled. Backers were given a complete refund of their donations – as per Kickstarter rules – and Dirt Track Racing 2017 will forever remain a two minute teaser trailer on YouTube.
Ironically, estimated sales figures from the release of iRacing’s dirt content project that if all 7,000 iRacers online during the day of release bought the complete array of cars and tracks available at launch (a price tag of $50 USD), they would have raised around $40,000 more than the $266,000 Big Ant were asking to make their dirt simulator into a reality. So it’s not a matter of dirt oval racing lacking a big enough audience to make a dedicated dirt game a worthwhile venture, it’s that sim racers are generally unwilling to take risks on products that don’t bare the iRacing logo. Though I can’t blame sim racers for being nervous about supporting a company whose claim to fame is cricket and PS2 sprint car outings, the alternative they’re forced to live with is a game featuring monthly subscription fees and per-content costs that may drive away the average fan before they’ve even tried signing up.
2016 appears to have been an especially bad year for vaporware sims, as alongside Big Ant’s failure to acquire enough funding for Dirt Track Racing, we were also graced with an announcement from none other than RaceDepartment that GT Legends would make a return under the command of ex-SimBin employee Simon Lundell and his new outlet, Tiny Feet Studios. We saw no screenshots, mock-ups, or renders of the project, which is generally par for the course when announcing a game – only a few select documents indicating the whole thing was basically an idea that existed in someone’s imagination – but this did not stop RaceDepartment from publishing a high profile news article with Lundell’s blessing.
However, the official Facebook page for Tiny Feet Studios has not seen a single fragment of activity since the RaceDepartment article in February of 2016. Meanwhile, the homepage for Tiny Feet directs to a single splash screen that states “the legend will be back” – again with no footage, screenshots, or even assets to display. As far back as 2014, the brand can be seen looking for individuals with Unreal Engine 4 experience – a move suspiciously in line with SimBin UK’s move to Unreal 4 with the upcoming GTR 3 – but obviously nothing seems to have come of this in the meantime.
While I personally am under the impression Lundell and Tiny Feet used RaceDepartment as a third party marketing outlet to try and generate interest in a GT Legends reboot, hoping to secure a publisher based solely on the reactions of community members writing hyperbolic comments about throwing money at the PC monitor, a different reason that explains the title’s inability to materialize was offered in March of this year. RaceDepartment have written that development of GT Legends 2 was suspended due to Lundell coming down with an undisclosed illness. There is of course talk of “alternative solutions being sought”, but this doesn’t explain why social media activity ceased immediately after the initial announcement in early 2016, and nothing so much as a single screenshot or tidbit of information has surfaced over a year after the fact.
Unfortunately, with how shady certain aspects of the sim racing community can be, I can’t really take this story at face value. I’m not quite sure what game studio just sort of stops operating entirely when their boss gets sick. Not only that, the premise of someone affiliated with SimBin starting a brand new studio that plans to use Unreal Engine 4 as a racing simulator power plant, offering no proof that the title exists aside from a single RaceDepartment announcement, has now been repeated two years in a row. This all looks really strange, and there’s probably a story here, but it’s one of those things where we’ll have to wait it out for more details.
You knew this one was coming, and it’s a very difficult story to follow. Originally announced in 2006 (no, this is not a typo) under the title of KartSim, the name of the developer changed no less than three times – first we called them Maschine Simulations, then Primer Interactive, and eventually Black Delta – though CEO Zach Griffin remained a constant throughout the project’s lifespan. The premise for this one is pretty simple; a team of enthusiasts were going to sit down and build the ultimate karting simulator using Unreal 4 as a base, as most modern simulator engines just can’t accurately convey the characteristics of an ultra-lightweight race car without the whole thing feeling like a poor rFactor mod.
A fantastic preview trailer was released, sporting out-of-this-world visuals, such advanced depth in the customization & configuration aspect that would solidify KartKraft’s status as the be-all, end-all kart racing simulator, and just for shits and giggles, the game appeared to have some sort of first person element that let you walk around and explore the facility as you would at a real kart circuit. It looks undeniably awesome, but now comes the time to remind you this was all revealed to the general public six years ago, with the title campaigning for Steam’s Greenlight platform in the spring of 2014. By 2016, the name had changed, and the game’s official YouTube channel had advertised that a Steam Early Access launch was imminent, but then it just sort of… vaporized…
RaceDepartment ran a piece earlier this year entitled “What Ever Happened to KartKraft?” – and the comments which followed are extremely telling. Some users who imply they were under strict non-disclosure agreements note the game was enormously buggy and was in no state to be released to the general public, even on Steam’s Early Access platform – which allows unfinished titles to be sold at a heavily discounted price – while others state they loved it and blamed the bugs on those with poor PC’s. Now, all games in development have a varying array of bugs, but for KartKraft to receive such a divisive reception from its own testers, an entire decade after being announced, it’s probably not a good thing.
To add fuel to the fire, the simulator’s official Facebook page reveals a pretty essential piece of contradictory information if you’re willing to dig that far back. On June 30th of 2016, which also happens to be the last day any sort of official post was made to the Facebook page, Black Delta wrote to a Facebook user known as Nicolai that KartKraft would be released on Steam’s Early Access platform within a few weeks time. However, the following nine months saw the team respond to all future queries about KartKraft’s release with the same vague PR babble regurgitated over and over again about encouraging users to continuously check their social media page for updates, bringing us up to present day.
I’m unsure how a team can go from publicly stating they’re a few weeks off a Steam Early Access release, to being by their own description completely unaware of when the game will come out at all, and then giving this same answer for a period of almost an entire year. It’s like they’ve somehow gone backwards. This is not what happens in sim racing, and it’s certainly not what happens in indie gaming as a whole unless there’s a major mess occurring behind the scenes.
Vaporware will always exist in some fashion – it’s just part of software development – but KartKraft, GT Legends 2, and Dirt Track Racing are the three most recent examples of racing simulators that failed to materialize. Will at least two of the titles see the light of day? I wouldn’t count on it. Dirt Track Racing was officially killed by Big Ant Studios, we haven’t seen a single shred of evidence regarding GT Legends 2 existing aside from a power point presentation floating on somebody’s hard drive, and while KartKraft did have a rough release date established at one point in time, their social media activity abruptly stalled, and their PR guy has been copy/pasting the same generic response for almost a whole year – which has gone against previous posts indicating they were ready to pull the trigger and put the thing up for sale.
If our readers have any information on the three games listed above, we’d certainly like to know what happened to them.