New Company Name, Same Horrid NASCAR Game

So the NASCAR license did change hands. Sort of.

The downfall of NASCAR games started with an European shovelware publisher known as Eutechnyx acquiring the right’s to America’s most prominent auto racing series, a bizarre decision considering the team’s lack of any reasonable proximity to the reference material, as well as NASCAR’s non-existent popularity across the Atlantic ocean. After a predictable string of horrible releases that quite frankly embarrassed both casual and hardcore NASCAR fans alike, key staff members jumped ship from the eternal dumpster fire responsible for Ride to Hell: Retribution and Auto Club Revolution, promptly rebranded themselves as Dusenberry-Martin Interactive, promised a substantial increase in the overall quality of future products, yet slapped NASCAR fans in the face by re-releasing NASCAR ’14 with an updated driver roster, calling it NASCAR ’15, and still crediting development of the game to Eutechnyx, at least according to Wikipedia.

With critical reception consistently falling below 50% with each yearly release, Dusenberry-Martin Interactive then hastily went out and recruited Monster Games, developers of the critically acclaimed NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona over a decade ago on significantly different hardware – supposedly giving them just six months to slap a game together. The result was a complete disaster; NASCAR Heat Evolution used engine sounds and car performance attributes from 2000, did not feature caution flags in online play, and in the end was a product so horribly unfinished, you’re unable to crash out and retire from a race. I have been sent over the catchfence at Daytona, only to head into the pits and regain the lead eighteen laps later. I’ve tried several times to enjoy Heat Evolution for what it is – a lighthearted NASCAR games with authentic liveries and tracks – and it’s just not possible. I always find myself heading back to the EA Sports offerings of the early 2000’s.

Unfortunately, what I’m about to write is not a poor April Fool’s joke. Once again, key staff members have jumped ship from the eternal dumpster fire responsible for NASCAR The Game: 2013 and NASCAR Heat Evolution, and rebranded themselves as 704 Games. Under the new moniker, a sequel to NASCAR Heat Evolution will be released this fall – the sequel to a game where the car is sent barrel-rolling if you do so much as brush the wall.

Seething rage does not begin to describe how I feel about this announcement; what appears to be largely the same group of individuals responsible for the officially licensed NASCAR abominations dating back to 2011 have basically taken to re-naming their company every couple of years to continue churning out garbage NASCAR products under the guise of “next year’s game will be different, we promise, see, we have a new company name and a totally different mentality”, a line of games no fans have ever been satisfied with and openly blast on the game’s official subreddit by comparing it to games released a decade ago – which has sinced moved to a new subreddit to reflect the change in the company’s name.

There is no long-winded rant to follow this news. This is silly, and it needs to stop. The NASCAR license needed to change hands, and this wasn’t the way to do it. Obviously I can’t sit here and label these guys as scam artists or anything, but as a consumer, what I’m seeing is the same company changing their name every few years to retain the license through what I assume must be some sort of loophole, only to push out horrid video games that upset fans and tarnish the image of the brand. NASCAR console games used to be absolutely awesome time-killers with compelling on-track action and an insane amount of shit to do after the festivities in victory lane – unfortunately, this is now no longer the case. Don’t give these guys your money for the sequel to Heat Evolution, and maybe NASCAR will figure it out for themselves that shit needs to change.

It used to be so much better; there’s really no reason for NASCAR games to go backwards despite extreme advances in technology.

Advertisements

Is the NASCAR License Set to Change Hands?

16722707_681491298691178_504163733342424240_oNot everyone who reads PRC.net is a hardcore NASCAR fan, so I’ll try to make this introduction as brief as I possibly can. After years of the license to America’s most popular racing series bouncing from Electronic Arts to the lowly makers of Ride to Hell: Retribution in Eutechnyx, NASCAR finally found a home with Monster Games – the same developer who had created a killer officially licensed title for the Nintendo GameCube and Sony PlayStation 2 during a time when exclusivity deals simply didn’t happen. Unfortunately, the prodigal return of the license to a veteran stock car racing developer after almost a decade spent in a metaphorical hell was anything but a celebration, as the many years Monster Games had spent working on titles such as ExciteTruck and Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, along with the allegedly unusable assets inherited from the Eutechnyx franchise, meant the product Monster Games shipped in September of 2016 was pretty horrifying – nothing like the return to form most were expecting.

While many fans – including myself – lashed out at the clearly rushed package and penned lengthy odysseys detailing every last flaw and shortcoming with NASCAR Heat: Evolution, a vocal minority begged for the immense criticism to subside, pulling the age-old excuse “it’s their first try in X amount of years at a major NASCAR release, show them support with your wallet and maybe the next game will be a lot better.”

Unfortunately, there might not be another game from these guys to begin with.

nascar-heat-evolution-10_13_2016-10_09_25-am-768x480Away from the hyper-critical confines of PRC.net, NASCAR Heat: Evolution has been universally panned by major gaming websites, as well as practically any NASCAR fan with a modern internet connection. Aside from Polygon’s glowing score of 75 – highly questionable due to their previous demonstrated incompetence when playing skill based video games – other established outlets noted Heat was a decidedly average experience with no shinning moments, whereas NASCAR fans themselves were significantly harsher when it came to dishing out user scores. Obviously, a combined average score of 4.1 speaks volumes about NASCAR Heat’s quality.

Developers make bad games; this is something that happens all the time and is almost unavoidable now thanks to how technology has progressed, as well as the current state of the industry valuing profits and schedules above the artistic aspect of game development. However, the entire reason for Heat’s existence in the first place was to move on from the previous string of bad officially licensed NASCAR titles dating back all the way back to early 2011, and obviously it didn’t play out the way they wanted it to. It’s hard to believe a sanctioning body so sensitive to how they’re portrayed on store shelves like NASCAR is wouldn’t put their foot down in this situation. Pure speculation, sure, but as I said, Heat was created to try and break this chain of bad games. It didn’t happen. You bet your ass DMi and Monster Games were on an infinitely short leash from the beginning, and it’s not hard to see where this might be heading.

nascar ratings.jpgWhen plans to resurrect the Heat tagline were first announced by DMi Games, the product that eventually became NASCAR Heat: Evolution was never  explicitly implied to be the first entry in a multi-year franchise as we typically see with mass-market sports games, but instead a one-off project. Though the initial press release stated Dusenberry-Martin had obtained the rights to create NASCAR games until 2020, Heat Evolution was treated as just that – Heat Evolution. So I’m under the impression there was a clause in the contract allowing NASCAR to bail early if the product wasn’t up to snuff.

Circumstantial evidence of this can be seen in the $10 USD 2017 Monster Energy Cup Series DLC that recently came out, which adds the 2017 NASCAR season to Heat Evolution in a very limited fashion,  suspiciously not allowing you to race the new season of cars online against your friends – which is something basically anyone who bought the package would obviously want to do. Even with the nicest of developers fueling the project, most yearly sports games don’t do major season updates like these – you’re forced to wait until next years’ game for the updated list of drivers and circuits – so the act of pushing out a severely limited season update package like this raises a red flag or two.

sloppyThe execution of the package is also quite sloppy for what it offers, with contingencies and windshield banners varying across all 40 vehicles – as if the DLC was just sort of slapped together at the last minute, with nobody at Monster Games giving enough of a shit to check for consistency across all liveries. The Joe Gibbs Racing stable of vehicles feature the Monster Energy Cup Series logo across the windshield, while the Hendrick Motorsports cars still rock the abbreviated driver names from last season, and entries such as Matt DiBenedetto’s #32 Fusion don’t feature any driver name over the window or series decal under the A-pillar at all. These kinds of sloppy mistakes are something you’d expect from an amateur painter over at NNRacing.com posting work-in-progress shots of his own free carset on the forums, not a developer with the official NASCAR license selling you a 2017 season update on Steam.

With a hastily released 2017 Season package that can’t even get the official series decals appearing on all of the cars, and won’t allow you to race against your friends with the new update, I’m under the impression something is happening behind the scenes we’re not aware of. This kind of shoddy workmanship and strange restrictions usually indicates a studio is in the process of backing away entirely from their project.

untitled-2When NASCAR fans have inquired about a sequel to NASCAR Heat Evolution, obviously hoping their purchase last September was not made in vain, DMR Games have responded by saying there is “no news yet on a future iteration of NASCAR Heat: Evolution.” Copy/pasted responses are commonplace on the game’s official Facebook page, with elaborate suggestions written by passionate NASCAR fans given an almost automated response by the lone PR staff member in charge of the account, saying they will take the ideas into consideration – highly unlikely to happen if the next game were to come out later this year. The complete lack of excitement from these responses makes it hard to believe something brand new, or even a basic announcement about when we’ll learn about the next game in the franchise, is around the corner.

And that wouldn’t be surprising.

nascarNASCAR as a racing series is dying a slow, painful death. With dwindling TV ratings, non-traditional race formats driving away fans, and support series races on Friday and Saturday that are completely unwatchable due to the abundance of wrecks, the brand’s reputation is at an all-time low. Most auto racing fans have chalked up NASCAR events to be a form of motorized wrestling – an assumption occasionally vocalized by the drivers themselves. As a result, they are now in survival mode. They cannot be complacent with how their brand is represented in the public eye if they want to stop bleeding viewers every weekend, and I would not be surprised if their notoriously shitty licensed video games – in this instance, NASCAR Heat – will be on the chopping block in some fashion.

 

Embarrassing Beyond Reason: The 2017 Update for NASCAR Heat Evolution

c4ghvcowyaalply-jpg-largeWith a HANS device on the shelf behind me, a collection of trophies sporting the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series emblem within arms reach, and two very different stock cars to bear my name above the driver’s side window in 2017, I feel I’m qualified to talk about the disaster that was DMR’s NASCAR Heat Evolution for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, as well as the upcoming 2017 Roster Update that will soon launch on the appropriate online marketplaces for $9.99 USD. Regardless of whether you enjoy the sport of stock car racing or simply love to jump head first into each comments section just to pick fights with stereotypical inbred redneck NASCAR fans, it’s not cool when a video game company makes such absurdly poor decisions that result in customers receiving a product drastically inferior to what they could purchase over a decade ago.

After years spent suffering through no less than five officially licensed NASCAR shovelware titles from a European company known as Eutechnyx – who were rumored to have been treating the titles as a complete joke and openly mocking the subject matter during developmentMonster Games, the team heralded by NASCAR fans across North America as the masterminds behind the 2002 cult classic, NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona, re-acquired the license to America’s largest auto racing series for a nostalgia trip of sorts. Tasked with re-igniting some of the passion that saw NASCAR titles of the early 2000’s shoot to the top of the charts with both stellar critical ratings and sales numbers, DMR and Monster Games promised that with the help of Penske Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, NASCAR fans would have a compelling product to call their own in September of 2016.

nascarheatevolution-2016-09-12-17-43-55-86The end result was a complete and utter disaster, which you can read about in our full review of NASCAR Heat Evolution from last fall. Plagued by performance issues on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of the title, which despite being locked at 30 frames-per-second would routinely dip into the mid-teen’s during frantic periods of on-track activity, Heat Evolution was clearly a rush job in every sense of the word. As someone who owns all previous NASCAR Heat titles released by Monster Games, and can also fire them up at a moments notice thanks to a backwards compatible PlayStation 3 sitting at my feet, beyond the ridiculously slow artificial intelligence and crude career mode liveries that appear to have been designed in five minutes by someone’s teenage nephew trying out Photoshop for the first time, it appeared as if Monster Games merely injected new car models and high fidelity tracks onto a base game yanked straight from the year 2000, without changing anything at all under the hood despite advertising a somewhat authentic 2016 NASCAR experience. The cars exhibited basic performance attributes such as top speed,  overall grip, and setup adjustments consistent with those of a Winston Cup car circa 2000 found in the very first NASCAR Heat, while the overall sound quality was unanimously panned for being identical to the first game in the series, released for Windows 98 operating systems.

It was like if Image Space Incorporated were to snatch away the rights to Formula One from the almighty Codemasters and release F1 Challenge 2014 – 2016 after months of anticipation, but upon booting up the application, fans discovered Nico Rosberg’s 2016 Mercedes only had seven gears and drove inconspicuously like Michael Schumacher’s 2002 Ferrari.

Oh, and it used the same sound effects, too.

While the online netcode was surprisingly competent, Heat Evolution failed to include flag rules or even support for custom setups in online racing, meaning wheel users could not race online against each other, as steering lock was considered part of the car’s setup, and by default was configured for gamepad users. DMR and Monster Games then hastily recruited iRacing YouTube personality Jeff Favignano to demonstrate the game to a broader audience, who spent most of his livestreams dedicated to the game calling those with valid complaints “haters” who “just wanted to ruin other people’s fun.”

DMR and Monster Games believed the best way to address the situation was to push out almost $75 CDN worth of downloadable content – most of it being additional liveries and alternate audio packs for your in-car crew chief that do nothing to improve the very lackluster on-track product Heat Evolution offered loyal NASCAR fans, who had already sat through five years of shovelware from an European company who didn’t give a shit.

dlcHeat Evolution has been seen as a gigantic mess by loyal NASCAR fans who have religiously purchased anything bearing the NASCAR logo, though on the game’s official subreddit – as well as within select social media outlets – there are still some who believe the title has been a step in the right direction, continuing to call other NASCAR fans “haters for daring to question why DMR and Monster Games pushed out such an incomprehensibly bad product despite their critically acclaimed NASCAR titles .

hatersThese individuals might be re-thinking their stance after today’s announcement. For an additional $9.99 USD, Monster Games have revealed the 2017 Season Update for NASCAR Heat Evolution. The gentlemen at Game Informer note you will not be able to use the new cars online against your friends, meaning there’s barely any incentive to purchase this DLC in the first place, as most Heat Evolution owners agree the AI is atrocious. There will also be no additional single player challenge scenarios to take part in. There are no plans to insert rule changes that will split each race into segments, as NASCAR will be doing in 2017 for all points-scoring events. And the drastic shake up of the points system NASCAR and Monster revealed only a few short weeks ago? Nope, nothing. All of the changes NASCAR has introduced for the 2017 season and would obviously be welcome in some sort of paid 2017 season update for the software, are instead completely absent, save for the liveries themselves.

giIt’s yet another piece of downloadable content for a modern video game that desperately still needs to get the fundamentals correct, and that’s appalling with just how much Heat Evolution got wrong on launch day, and still remains unattended to by Monster Games. Yes, some of you reading PRC may hate NASCAR, and that’s okay, it certainly isn’t for everyone, and I’ve indeed turned off a few races prematurely because the guys in Daytona Beach calling the shots seriously need to figure out if they want a legitimate auto racing championship, or are merely trying to create a circle track version of Vince McMahon’s WWE.

However, at the end of the day, this is a racing game that shipped in a very poor state for $60, and rather than address all of the problems that bored modders have almost entirely fixed with the original NASCAR Heat, DMR and Monster Games have given their customers a giant middle finger and have resorted to churning out paid livery packs en mass, while cuckolded middle-aged men trained to feel excitement over the removal of a chastity belt act like we should just be happy we got to sniff our mistresses toes any game at all.

The whole thing is just embarrassing for NASCAR, as NBC Sports embarked on a very heavy advertisement campaign for Heat Evolution in the weeks leading up to its release, only for NASCAR fans to be subjected to a very incomplete and disappointing product that happily regurgitated software elements from when Bill Clinton was the leader of the free world.

Brutal Ownership Figures Reflect the Abysmal State of NASCAR Heat Evolution

14567416_617516225088686_2514342258468770841_oVirtual NASCAR fans have been subjected to a special kind of hell over the past decade. A once-brilliant line of EA Sports titles descended into mediocrity thanks to a restructuring of the core staff at Tiburon Studios, before NASCAR themselves awarded the exclusive license to little-known European developer Eutechnyx. Five years of shovelware-caliber releases gave way to what was supposed to be a triumphant return to form for Monster Games – a team who had once worked on the phenomenal PlayStation 2 offering NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona – yet in execution we were blessed this September with one of the worst racing games ever to hit store shelves in the past five years. American Stock Car Racing games have not achieved an acceptable level of quality since Metallica was actively promoting their atrocious St. Anger album, and for an auto racing series that actively competes with the National Football League of all entities for TV ratings during the final portion of their season, it’s nothing short of pathetic to see something akin to a cheap Chinese knock-off product represent the NASCAR brand on modern video game consoles.

There’s just no way around it; NASCAR Heat Evolution sucked, and you are a brainwashed loser if you’re desperately searching for positives in order to kiss up to the developers on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit. The game struggled to hold 30 frames-per-second and exhibited a horrifying Vaseline smear-like visual effect on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with the raw on-track experience clearly indicating Monster Games had simply slapped updated car models and a new user interface on a game they had originally released for the Microsoft Windows 98 operating system in the fall of 2000. I would love to say that deep down, the underlying basic act of driving a car at speed around the track among thirty-nine other Sprint Cup opponents can be quite enjoyable, but NASCAR Heat Evolution simply never functions well enough to get to that point. There are always multiple problems with application stability, questionable authenticity in regards to car physics, transponder glitches, and other miscellaneous technical issues which in some cases surpass what you can on display in notable driving game failures such as Assetto Corsa and Project CARS.

And that’s before we talk about the complete lack of online racing features, such as yellow flags or car setups.

The full extent of the damage these issues have done has now been realized. While DMR and Monster Games have pledged their commitment to saving NASCAR Heat Evolution from the pit of despair with a continuous string of upgrades taken from community suggestionswhich really shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place – NASCAR Heat Evolution is dead. Completely dead. The game has not even been on the marketplace long enough to warrant a price drop – still retailing for the full $66 CDN – and yet there are more people covering a shift at your local Wal-Mart than playing NASCAR Heat Evolution for the PC.

heat-playersEmbarrassing? Nah, this is only the beginning. Steamcharts really only tracks the users who have currently booted up the NASCAR Heat Evolution application, and the number really isn’t surprising. First, NASCAR is a series primarily followed by users in the Western Hemisphere, so it’s fairly obvious that there will be an extremely specific group of users playing this game all at once at a very particular time, as evidenced by the valleys in the above chart occurring when most of said users would either be at work or asleep. Second, despite being an infinitely more serious offering that requires weeks of dedication for the average sim racer, iRacing has taken a stranglehold of the PC oval racing market, and basically monopolized NASCAR gaming on the Windows platform. It would have taken an incredibly competent product to put any sort of dent into iRacing’s popularity, especially with how many sportsman cars are modeled alongside the three premiere NASCAR series, but that isn’t to say oval racing fans weren’t actively looking for a replacement.

In fact, on September 28th, 2016, over 2,000 people owned NASCAR Heat Evolution for the PC – indicating there certainly was a sizable group of sim racers that were interested in something a little less serious compared to iRacing. However, by October 3rd – only a week or so later – that number had dropped to just over 650.

nascar-ownersWithin a span of about a week, nearly 70% of all PC users who owned NASCAR Heat Evolution had requested a full refund through Steam’s support services. Not only is NASCAR Heat Evolution the worst-selling major PC driving game release of all time at a pathetic 2,000 copies – surpassed even by the lowly WRC 5 from last October – it is also the most-refunded PC racing game of all time.

While sales figures have climbed back to 1,458 as of October 10th, these do not indicate the quality of the game has improved; the overall number of owners merely grows after NBC Sports awkwardly push the game on viewers during NASCAR broadcasts each weekend. As a kid, I used to enjoy the segments where the late Benny Parsons, Wally Dallenbach, and Allen Bestwick would use the EA Sports NASCAR Thunder series to demonstrate a technical element of stock car racing to the viewerpartially because the game I could throw into my Xbox was every bit as good as the TV personalities made it seem – but these segments now come across as dishonest and forced considering how laughably poor the new NASCAR Heat product is as a $60 purchase.

nbc_nas_downforceanimation_160708So we’ve established the fact that NASCAR Heat Evolution is the worst way to represent the NASCAR brand in an electronic entertainment format, but as some of you may be quick to point out, NASCAR racing as a whole is a very unique sport that only a handful of gamers are interested in to begin with. Sales figures this absurdly small aren’t something to get my panties in a twist over, right?

Wrong. Sales figures for the EA Sports Golden Age of NASCAR Games have been released over on The Magic Box. On one platform alone, Electronic Arts managed to get nearly half a million units of NASCAR Thunder per year out to the general public on just one console. Monster Games were sitting at just under seven hundred a few short weeks ago, with a 70% return rate.

thunder-salesApples to oranges? Possibly. I am comparing PC sales figures from Steam to mass market games published by the biggest sports gaming company in the industry during the height of their popularity. However, if Heat Evolution was a satisfactory product, it would most certainly sell more than 1,458 copies, and not exhibit a 70% return rate only days after a spike in sales. Quite simply, NASCAR needs to take drastic action. You can’t let Monster Games make another officially licensed Stock Car product, nor can you continue to let them nickel and dime the remaining user base with an abundance of downloadable content that other users are already producing for free over at RaceDepartment.

bowyer

Understanding the Engineering Behind a Papyrus Classic

uwtdrnyIt was a different time, a different era, and a different mindset. Racing simulators were once complete games, supported by loyal community members long after allegedly superior titles arrived on the market. When Electronic Arts secured the exclusive rights to the official NASCAR license over a decade ago, and sim racers learned NASCAR Racing 2003 Season would serve as a final goodbye for the legendary development team Papyrus Motorsports, hardcore virtual auto racing enthusiasts didn’t have enough time to pay their condolences – they were too busy modding. Over the past fourteen years, NR2003 has become an interactive history book in a way the real-life NASCAR Hall of Fame could only dream of; American Stock Car Racing’s past, present, and future have been passionately chronicled down to every last obsessive detail thanks to sim racers with a bit too much time on their hands.

If Dale Earnhardt hit the track in 1990 for practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a tiny contingency decal that was accidentally applied in the wrong cluster by a nervous rookie crew member, you can race that exact car.  If you were curious as to what the now-demolished Ontario Motor Speedway would look like on the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule, you’re welcome to take a lap. If your uncle once told you stories of racing late models in the 1990’s, the entire field he competed against – including his car – is probably available for download. If the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a museum, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season is a virtual time machine.

But limitations to the underlying engine have caused many to lose interest in this title. Yes, at one point in time, NR2003 was the pinnacle of modern PC racing simulators. However, the planned obsolescence on the part of Papyrus quickly put NR2003 into the past as American Stock Car Racing progressed into the 21st century. Rumors of Sprint Cup entries producing upwards of 1000hp and generating ridiculous downforce figures resulted in real-world performance benchmarks that the Papyrus experience simply couldn’t match. With NASCAR Racing 2003 Season hard-coded to just four preset physics types, all of which were based on NASCAR Winston Cup, Busch, and Craftsman Truck series rides from the final portion of the 2002 season, the simulation value of NR2003 dropped with each new rules package change. Sure, the screenshots may indicate Dale Earnhardt Jr’s #88 Axalta Chevrolet is available for the landmark Papyrus simulator, but under the hood, it’s still driving like his #8 Budweiser Monte Carlo. And while you’ve undoubtedly come across shots of the Dallara DW12 turning laps at Indianapolis within the NR2003 engine, the game itself believes you’re driving a 2003 Chevrolet Corvette C5R from the SCCA Trans-Am Series.

verizon_ics_3A friendly Russian fellow going by the name of JJ Hemp is looking to change that, and bust the aging NASCAR Racing 2003 Season wide open for sim racing modders who desperately need a dedicated oval racing platform, as other titles simply don’t want to accommodate stock car racing. Posting under the nick of RaceReady78 on the small yet fairly active NR2003 Subreddit, Hemp has made an active effort to both understand and document a powerful physics editing tool for NR2003, one which could turn a now-aging piece of software into the rFactor of Stock Car racing. That’s right – NASCAR Racing 2003 Season could actually make a comeback.

Has this been done before? In short, yes. The tool Hemp is using was briefly circulated shortly after the release of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, yet the landscape of sim racing at the time warranted drastically different results. With the future of PC racing simulators still largely up in the air – rFactor was a few years off, and nobody was sure what would happen to Papyrus as a company – those who attempted to work with this tool and upload their results for others to enjoy were pursued legally by the company now known as iRacing, discouraging anybody from making real progress with NR2003 from a physics standpoint. While both a historic Group C Prototype offering and 2005 IndyCar Series mod were eventually uploaded to show how much potential NR2003 still had as a legit modding platform – and each release was praised by sim racers – the harsh reality of dealing with John Henry and other iRacing representatives in a court of law became too much of a risk for the average modder. Those who did step up to the plate were basically destroyed financially, even if hilarious quotes from the litigation made iRacing to be the bad guy in the court of public opinion.

iRacing was scared the community could produce a better product than what iRacing would eventually become; the physics editing tool was promptly shelved and treated as a collectors item; the Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card of the NR2003 community. Those who could use it to its full potential simply moved on to other games, unwilling to deal with iRacing’s bullshit.

nr2003ss0012Hemp doesn’t give a shit, and today I’m extremely happy to bring you this exclusive interview with a guy who could possibly breathe another ten years into the life of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season.

PRC: Alright, to start things off, you’re not a guy in the sim racing community that anybody knows a whole lot about. Like, you’re not a “name” so-to-speak, so I guess the smart place to begin is to just sort of introduce who you are, how you got into NR2003, and the basis of what you’re doing here. Because this is something a lot of people will be interested in.

Hemp: Well originally, I’m actually from the Russian Federation, but I’ve lived in America for fourteen years. I’ve been playing PC games ever since the first Pentium 133 came out. Thinking back, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season came out around the same time I landed in the United States. However, I didn’t learn of the game until 2007-ish. I got a two year degree for Automotive Technology, so around 2007 myself and a buddy of mine were working in a mechanics shop. To occupy our free time, when there was no work (it happens), I simply googled “best NASCAR racing game PC”, and I’m sure you can guess what the result was. Being familiar with PC gaming as a whole, how to install games, hunt for fixes, stuff like that, installing the game and running the default content wasn’t much of a problem.

Before I knew it, we were putting laps on a laptop at work. Even with the keyboard, the game was something special, and it was the highlight of working at that auto shop with my mates. Fast forward to signing up for Valve’s Steam platform, I made friends with a few people who were really into NASCAR, and I started talking about this killer NASCAR game I used to play at work. They were initially put off by the whole “it’s from 2003” aspect, but it was one of those “they don’t make shit like they used to” type deals. So we got the game up and running for like five different people, and all of a sudden we discovered the modding aspect of this game. Like, hundreds of cars, tracks, mods, series, you name it. My buddies and I went through everything, driving all the different cars and tracks we could find – which was a lot.

Eventually, I started really combing through the NR2003 scene, and stumbled upon a page with a physics editor. Within minutes I had the thing on my desktop. But trying to figure out how to even start the program is complicated. After three days of editing the wrong text files and trying to figure out why nothing worked, I finally got it and made my first change. From there, I started studying the numbers and the values. Lots of them are still unknown, but slowly I’m moving through them all, one by one.

My best approach was to start coloring the Excel files. I would use different colors for the different values, and their individual purposes. That helped me to visualize the differences and similarities between the game’s physics. In my opinion, the game is so solid and nicely made that having an ability to mess with the car physics is like taking chess or checkers and making your own unique rules. Discovering the physics editor made me buy a Logitech wheel within a week, because I realized I’d stumbled upon much more than just an old game with a lot of mods.

I just really enjoyed the freedom to actually feel the differences that you make within the internal numbers. It’s like a game within a game. I’m lucky to be fascinated by all this stuff, and have my work benefit the community if it gets to that point.

1963-86-castles-smallPRC: Early in the lifespan of NR2003, efforts to make substantial changes to the underlying car physics were met with legal action by the company we’ve eventually come to know as iRacing. Are you aware of the fact that what you’re currently doing – editing the EXE – was something people were once taken to court over?

Hemp: I’m aware, but I’m also informed. When I was combing through stuff about NR2003 online, sure, I read all the articles about the scary lawsuits. However, when searching in detail, you can see that those guys got sued for distributing their mod along with a full copy of the game – a stand alone mod, if you will. You could basically download, lets say the 2005 IndyCar mod, delete the 2005 IndyCar content, and you’d have a perfect vanilla version of NR2003. That’s what iRacing didn’t like and got pissy about. Opening the EXE and modifying the source code is illegal. However, physics editing is nothing more than comma separated values. It’s just like another INI file with nothing but numeric values. Editing physics has nothing to do with cracking source code.

That is why we will never have double file restarts, overtime, and all of those goodies. With the physics editor we can simply change numbers that the game uses to make calculations, but that’s about it. In my opinion, physics editing alone opens a sea of possibilities. Editing the physics Excel file is the same as tweaking settings in text files – it’s not reverse engineering the EXE, it’s a spread sheet with a bunch of numbers that the game uses.

I’m not here to create a superior product and cut down on iRacing sales, but rather start a database on how to give this old game a facelift.

nr2003ss001PRC: With many modern racing simulators available, all of which advertise themselves as highly sophisticated modding platforms, why instead continue to dig into NR2003?

Hemp: Sophisticated sounds good, but is it really better? All of those games, including rFactor, have an ability to mod by default. The NR2003 editor has been around for ages, but due to corruption within the community – egos and all that – it;s been hidden for years as a collector’s item. Now that it’s available for the public, I think someone should fill in the blanks on exactly what it is, and what it does. I wouldn’t waste my time on rFactor as there are probably hundreds of people with more knowledge in regards to that game, but with NR2003 this is all new and uncharted territory. And with those stalker sites who love to run around, power trip, and bully people who have access to this stuff into staying silent, I’m here as a third party to bust it all wide open.

On a more serious note, the reason I’m setting my sights on NR2003 is the current state of NASCAR gaming. Were the Eutechnyx titles any good? No. Is the new NASCAR Heat any good? No.Was that NASCAR Sim Racing from 2005 any good? No. Meanwhile, there are still people who love this game and play it every day. Why not try, right?

3mfiowcPRC: The NR2003 community can be a strange, hostile beast; one where aging men embark on relentless cyber stalking campaigns over the mere quality of custom car templates. Have you faced any adversity from this community over your work?

Hemp: I’ve read all about that stuff. For now, nobody is messing with me. In my opinion, what they have done in the past is far worse than trying to mod a game or repost a template. It’s rediculous to the point I can’t begin to comprehend.

Personally, I don’t belong to any online racing community or anything like that, so I couldn’t care less about my overall reputation among the established NR2003 warzones and template makers. I’m simply here as an independent guy to show everyone what happens when an already great game has even more great things in it. The fact that the physics editor has been around for years, hidden by “elites” and used as a bargaining piece, is something that disgusts me.

main-difference-picturePRC: Let’s talk about your current project, the 1963 NASCAR Grand National Series. Your goal, I guess from the view of an outsider, is to turn NR2003 into a 1963 classic stock car racing simulator. Can you tell us what you believe the mod – physics and all – will look like when everything is completed. What can sim racers expect out of your first major release?

Hemp: Well let me stop you there. GN1963 Edit is nothing more than a way to show you the changes you can make in the text file. It’s much easier to choose which way you want to increase or decrease your numbers. I’m simply going through the fields in the editor trying to figure out what they are. I document my knowledge just so if anyone asks me a question about the editor, I would have a picture to show them.

I can also teach and explain, but regarding a final release, on top of cyber stalking and everything that goes on NR2003, we are not talking about any release or anything like that. Think of it more like a Wikipedia page dedicated to the physics editor, with GN1963 being a “perfect example.” Sim racers should expect every question about the editor to be answered, so they can get to work. That’s the main goal. It’s not a mod or a physics set, but a tutorial for other people.

As you know, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season has four types of physics: Cup, Busch, Truck, and Trans-Am. Each mod uses one of those four specifications. Within the editor, there are tons of unknown values, so it’s impossible to know exactly what they mean. However, by comparing the values for different physics, we can start to guess the general approach.

The reason I chose 1963 cars is very simple. They are very different from the cars we already have. The first steps are very clear; make an engine that has less power, and represents an old 427. The chassis is longer, the weight is heavier… Point I’m trying to make is that there’s a huge difference between these cars, and the default cars. It’s easy to take a swing towards a 1963 car feel. Make “good fields” worse, make “fast fields” slower, make “light fields” heavier. If we are trying to go from 2003 spec cars to 2016, how would we know if we’re on the right track unless you actually drove both cars in real life? Well, with a 1963 stock car, it’s much easier to tell from a modding standpoint if you’re getting it right. We can all guess how an old car drives or should drive compared to a modern stock car. A lot of the values in the spread sheet are real life numbers and dimensions. So you can easily just substitute real life numbers and be 100% correct. That still gives hope for many more edits that could be claimed as correct.

Am I done with understanding what all the values mean? I’d say I’m approaching 50%. It all comes down to the scale of how many things you want to edit. My goal is to document the process of figuring out the values in the editor, and what they mean in a manner that’s understandable for big mod teams. I’m here to simply talk about the physics and show what the editor is and what it can do.

gn63-0-tiny-lundPRC: Do you intend to release a final version of the 1963 physics as a sort of “prelude” to the second coming of the NR2003 modding scene?

Hemp: Hopefully not. My ultimate goal is for other people to use my documentation for their work own work, which would undoubtedly surpass my own efforts. Whether they build a physics set for the 1963 Grand National season, or the 2012 IndyCars, I don’t really care. I’ll race anything. I just saw a situation in which there was this extremely powerful tool out there, and nobody really knew how to use it. Honestly, you have to be stupid to ignore the possibilities of this program.

A lot of knowledge in regards to NR2003 is hidden or lost, plus NR2003 is so universal in terms of adjusting different things, and making models/mods and all that, it’s impossible for one person to know and be able to do everything. We don’t just need new tracks, or new car models, or new physics, we need all three at once. That’s the real deal and it’s what I’m hoping comes of this. In a year or two, I hope there’s a renewed interest in this game because the Papyrus magic was allowed to blossom into something more than just “look at my new car livery.” I want this to become on-par with rFactor, where teams can use my guide and suddenly within NR2003 there’s this historic 1970’s Trans-Am simulator with authentic physics that everybody’s driving.

nr2003-2016-07-14-18-06-34-25PRC: A big hurdle for many sim racers to get over is the ancient Force Feedback found in NR2003 – it pales in comparison to what we see in modern simulators. Have you found anything that could potentially lead to modders re-engineering the game’s dated force feedback?

Hemp: Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about Force Feedback. The physics editor is merely a set of numerical values; horsepower, torque, length, weight, and so on. It has nothing to do with the source code or opening EXE files to look into. You do feel the differences you make, so you’ll feel the car being heavier or less grippy in certain driving situations, but the core logic for Force Feedback has nothing to do with the editor. Someone more advanced will have to do stuff like that. Personally, the ability to have a simulated race alone or with friends with any type of car that modders will come up with will overshadow what some will call dated force feedback. NR2003’s AI and overall racing experience is that good.

Personally, I own a cheap Logitech Driving Force Pro, so any sim I play isn’t going to feel what the hardcore guys will want it to feel like.

main-pic-you-wanna-show-about-shortcutsPRC: What kind of quirks have you found while working on your project? There are rumors of the Pontiac chassis being the fastest of the four brands, and the cars gaining an extra 25 horsepower in overcast conditions. For as many accolades as the original Papyrus team received for NR2003, what kind of shortcuts were made under the hood?

Hemp: Oh man, I’ll be crucified if I talk about that. When it comes to the Pontiac rumors, I haven’t found any proof. There is only one set of values for one chassis. The track file will choose the chassis, and that’s it. There is, however, a hidden Chassis 0 that anyone can try without mods or anything. Just change your chassis type to 0 in the track.ini file. That one is very interesting, and it helped me to understand the general meaning of a few of the unknown values. That chassis has a different 450 engine with more torque and power, it has a set of tires no other chassis uses, so those are a dark horse as well. Also, it has a horrible drag coefficient of 0.82, versus the 0.53 found in the regular cup car. I wonder if that was their representation of an old muscle car? It has a drag coefficient of a brick, that’s for sure. Or it might be a hidden gem or an extra test chassis for them. Including chassis 0, and all four physics, there are close to 24 unique cars available in NR2003. I wonder if iRacing’s issues to fit new cars in have anything to do with that number.

Extra horsepower during certain weather conditions are hard-coded into the EXE, they have nothing to do with the editor. The game will take initial horespower from the editor and play with it however it was programmed to do it. I don’t doubt weather conditions have an effect on horsepower.

I don’t have a super deep knowledge of the game, but from looking at the numbers for hours I’ve indeed found a few shortcuts Papyrus took. The biggest one in my opinion is the physics themselves. Almost everything aside from the fields in the editor which depend on chassis type have been copy-pasted; meaning, the short track chassis for all four physics sets has the same value. The Craftsman Truck has different aero properties, tires, rims, and a different engine compared to the cup, but for the most part it’s a carbon copy of the Winston Cup physics. This is absurd, as if you took off the body work and lined the two vehicles up side by side in real life, they are most definitely not the same race car.

In terms of the Busch series car, the only values Papyrus changed were weight, wheelbase, and engine – although at the time this was somewhat realistic because the cars are extremely close to one another to begin with. So when the Busch series physics were first put up for download, it was actually nothing more than a few lines of code. That’s what the editor says, at least. I do not know what else goes on in the EXE itself, and I might be terribly wrong, but if I am making a 1963 physics set as an example, they didn’t try hard at all when creating the Busch series physics. I understand it is largely the same as the Winston Cup car, but the numbers say it was a very rushed job.

nr2003-2014-07-24-18-53-39-59While JJ Hemp still has an exceptionally long way to go in terms of research, curious modders intrigued by the possibility of resurrecting a Papyrus classic can sample his documentation by clicking HERE for the first edition of his Engine documentation, and HERE for the first edition of his Chassis documentation. The physics editing tool for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season can be found HERE. Hemp’s Reddit account, where he routinely updates users with progress he has made during his research, can be found HERE.