Now that the hysteria from the Project CARS 2 reveal has slightly subsided, I feel it’s time to finally to address a topic of conversation that was brought up by none other than the YouTube personalities it affected themselves. I have to admit, I failed pretty hard at addressing the point of discussion during its original period of relevance; I originally believed it would be an isolated incident that nobody would be stupid enough to repeat, but alas, two weeks later, here we are.
Both Project CARS 2 and DiRT 4 are easily the two most anticipated racing simulators of the 2017 calendar year. The latter serves as the ultimate culmination of an entire decade spent turning the Colin McRae Rally series into a mass-market off-road package, while the former promises to substantially improve on a product many hardcore sim racers felt didn’t live up to the monumental expectations and tornado of hype surrounding it. If you have even the slightest bit of interest in off-road racing, you’ve most likely wanted to know more about DiRT 4 since Codemasters hinted that they were moving on to bigger and better things from their 2015 release, DiRT Rally, and if you’re sick of Forza Motorsport and/or Gran Turismo spending too much time catering to their casual audience, you’ve probably been curious about the sequel to Project CARS as well.
It’s an objectively exciting time for hardcore simulation nerds, as rarely do the stars align in such a fashion where two major driving games are set to be released in a very short period of time, each of them focusing on a different auto racing discipline so as to not directly compete with each other. There won’t be any Project CARS 2 versus DiRT 4 debates because they each bring something totally unique to the table, so there’s really no reason you can’t have both on your shelf.
However, when the two mass-market racing simulators were unveiled to the general public for the very first time, each of them managed to share a very frustrating element; members of the gaming press tasked with covering the games lacked so much composure behind the wheel, us sim racers found ourselves clicking away from the videos almost as soon as they loaded despite waiting months for any nugget of information.
Though their execution varied significantly, Slightly Mad Studios and Codemasters both invited a plethora of video game journalists and YouTube personalities to show off trial versions of their latest products. Codemasters loaded up a private room with various demo kiosks running an early build of DiRT 4, whereas Slightly Mad Studios invited as many accomplished journalists as they could to a Mercedes Benz testing facility in Sweden, allowing the press to test-drive a flock of German sedans on a frozen lake bed before migrating to a much warmer establishment for trial runs on the game.
It’s a pretty normal thing for bigger developers to do; though it has the potential to create a major conflict of interest if the review scores suspiciously skyrocket after an elaborate all-expenses paid vacation. Developers gather up a flock of journalists from major gaming outlets such as IGN and Gamespot, introduce their new game in a very controlled setting, and the developer then gets to see their game introduced to a combined audience of millions – a portion of which will eventually grow interested enough to buy the software – while each publication receives a nice bump in website traffic and advertisement revenue.
But when footage from both events finally surfaced on YouTube after the various embargoes were lifted, it wasn’t the happiest of times. The overwhelming majority of footage which made its way to YouTube as the first ever gameplay footage of a brand new video game revealed just hours earlier was beyond excruciating to watch for anyone even remotely interested in these two titles to begin with.
A pair of gamers flying under the name of Erased Citizens uploaded a fifteen minute uncut sample of DiRT 4’s raw gameplay to YouTube just moments after DiRT 4 was officially announced by Codemasters themselves, but they immediately received widespread criticism for several instances such as the one depicted in the screenshot above. The very first gameplay the world had seen of DiRT 4 was not of a talented driver flying through the Australian outback at a breakneck pace – showcasing the increase in simulation value Codemasters had worked tirelessly on since the release of DiRT Rally two years earlier – but instead of a driver who managed to crash his car traveling at school zone speeds, or at least close to them. In another, shorter video accompanied by a proper voice-over, they also refer to a late 1990’s Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution – a factory-backed WRC entry that brought home several World Championships under the command of Tommi Makinen – as “a car that has been kind of modded for rally”, clearly bringing into question why they were even invited to a private press event for a hardcore rally simulator in the first place.
On the tarmac side of the virtual motorsports spectrum, many privileged journalists who were privy to trying out Project CARS 2 early struggled to keep the nose of the car settled, with inexperienced sim racers blowing braking points, slamming into other cars, and having only a vague understanding of Fuji Speedway’s optimal driving line. The pinnacle of this ineptitude came when the team at PlayStation Access described online league races as “Matches”, further showcasing their complete unfamiliarity with auto racing. Again, YouTube comments begged each media outlet to find someone who could drive or just discuss the game with at least some background knowledge on the subject, though despite Slightly Mad’s own Yorkie065 putting down a pair of semi-competent laps at the ice racing facility away from the eyes of mainstream outlets, most had already seen enough.
Two games hardcore sim racers have waited months for any bit of info to satisfy their anticipation, and they’re clicking away from the footage almost as quickly as they clicked on it.
With angry comments regarding the obvious lack of driving skill and the pair’s inherent omission of basic rally racing knowledge taking precedence over any discussion about the actual game on display, Erased Citizens eventually put out a response video to the immensely negative feedback on their exclusive DiRT 4 footage, titled “Does Your Opinion Count If You Aren’t Good at Games?” In a clip lasting about six minutes, the duo try and argue that you don’t need to be an expert about the video games you’re covering when in the role of a journalist, and that games are merely to be enjoyed by anybody who wants to play them, before basically brushing off their own ineptitude and poking fun at their viewers for expecting any sort of decent coverage to begin with.
Now I’m not really sure why you’d want to laugh about being bad at your job and start criticizing your audience for merely wanting proper insight regarding a game they’d like to know more about, but let’s break down their argument instead of calling them names like most already have.
I actually agree with their points about some games not requiring any background knowledge or skill to talk about, as certain genres are designed in a way where people of all skill levels can show up and have a good time.
Yes, you can use Grand Theft Auto V’s online mode to host semi-legitimate street races with knock-off Group C cars based on the Mazda 787B, but you can also roam the fictional rendition of Los Angeles at your own discretion and just sort of blow shit up whenever you feel like it – and it’s still an incredible amount of fun. iD Software’s DOOM series is another good example; I’m honestly not as good at first person shooters as I was during the Modern Warfare days when basically every kid at school owned a copy of the game and tried to make it big on GameBattles, but what I lack in aiming accuracy doesn’t necessarily detract from the actual run-and-gun experience; it’s still one hell of a thrill ride with a cleverly crafted backstory.
However, auto racing is a bit different. Racing simulations are primarily skill-based, competitive video games centered around what’s very clearly a skill-based, competitive sport away from the computer monitor. These games are only at their best when playing them in their intended fashion. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, where you can just sort of muck around and the game will still be every bit as compelling as flying through the title’s high-production value campaign mode, racing games aren’t very fun if you’re not good at them. The AI isn’t designed to play bumper cars, they’re designed to race. The damage model isn’t designed to split your car down to its last molecule after a heavy accident, it’s designed to merely exist and convey authentic mechanical damage behavior under realistic scenarios. And the driving physics, the most important part of the simulator, are created to nail the art of driving a race car to its limit of adhesion. If you can’t bring the car to that point – or at least somewhat close to it – you’ll never understand what makes these games so special to the people who play them.
Being a skill-based game also means that watching other people play these games – or better yet, talk about them – is only enjoyable or informative if the people know their shit. You wouldn’t have a guy who can’t skate reviewing a hockey stick, a guy who’s never played organized football try to break down why the Atlanta Falcons lost Super Bowl LI on a technical level, nor would you task someone who can’t play the guitar with reviewing a new model of guitar, because there’s no possible way it could be helpful or informative to those who genuinely want the solid information you’re claiming to advertise.
And it’s the same when it comes to racing games. These pieces of software aren’t designed for mass market appeal, they’re created for hardcore auto racing fans who understand the minute technical aspects of a very difficult and demanding sport. In the very same it was extremely difficult for European football fans to watch Ali Dia stumble around the pitch for a match, it’s hard for auto racing fans to watch somebody who sucks at driving a race car – whether that car be a real piece of equipment, or a virtual rendition on a computer monitor – because it’s a skill based competition where a primary portion of the spectacle comes with watching someone who’s exceptionally talented at what they do.
This is why it’s important to have somebody who knows what they’re talking about – and good at the games itself – cover skill-based pieces of entertainment. There’s no comprehensive story to get sucked into over in our neck of the woods; driving a race car is a skill, and if you suck, it’s not very enjoyable to watch. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s also not very informative, therefore making your entire coverage pointless if you can’t deliver on either of the two concepts.
However, I will say it’s retarded on the part of the publisher, such as Bandai-Namco or Codemasters themselves, to stop inviting these plebians to private press events. Listen, I know a lot of you guys love what PRC represents and are already advocating for certain developers to have us at their little shindigs in place of these clowns, but the reality is that the traffic numbers we produce compared to a mammoth gaming entity such as IGN or GameSpot would make that proposal utterly ridiculous. From a raw business standpoint, I’d want my game covered by website boasting an audience of several millions, rather than a website known for ripping everything apart and only bringing 650,000 individuals to the table.
So the compromise I offer to keep everybody happy is quite simple.
Keep doing these little events with the same people. Let them show up, learn about the new game, allow them talk to the developers and the other miscellaneous individuals appearing on behalf of the developer to ask questions for their inevitable articles… Business as usual. It’s their job to attend these events, let them keep their job and do their thing. It’s a numbers game, and they’ve got the numbers.
But when it comes time to capture footage for each individual outlet, allow them to put their hand up and say “I’m not very good at race car games, can someone sub for me?” Hell, when you email out the event information in the first place, boldly state that “if you’re not experienced with race car games and the task of capturing decent gameplay footage for your publication feels a bit daunting, we will have several ghost drivers on-site if you wish to obtain the best possible gameplay clips to compliment your coverage.”
Plug in the capture card, throw Ben Collins, Nic Hamilton, or even Yorkie065 into the seat instead of the bozos from PlayStation access who can barely keep the AMG GT3 in a straight line, and press record. Everyone wins. The media outlets still have articles to publish and videos to upload based on their time at the press events, you as a developer still get your game out to an audience of several million, but the content of said videos consists of people tearing up a track and showing off the game performing at its absolute best – therefore engaging viewers and getting them excited about the product rather than pushing them to navigate away from the video – instead of loons stumbling around a virtual world they obviously can’t comprehend and clearly have zero background knowledge or interest in it.
It’s that simple.