In Response to EmptyBox (What Ruined the Sim Racing Community?)

indycar-2-victoryFive short days ago, the sim racing scene was graced with a lengthy opinion piece from prominent sim racing YouTube personality Empty Boxotherwise known as Matt Orr – which over the course of eleven minutes addressed some of the extreme levels of toxicity that have popped up within the community as of late. Truth be told, it’s simply not a good time to partake in the hobby known as sim racing, as the increased reliance on building connections via online message boards, and multiplayer events taking the spotlight away from developers creating robust single player experiences out of the box, has basically forced people into mingling with a whole bunch of intolerable nerds they otherwise wouldn’t give the time of day. This perfect storm has created a situation where routine in-game chatter is now full of immense hostility, while participating in any online forums to share your passion with other sim racers around the world instead requires extensive knowledge of the various personalities, biases, and eccentricities to keep your sanity intact.

It’s a multi-dimensional nerd fight that doesn’t seem to end, and occasionally even the developers jump in on the fray, exhibiting behavior towards customers that would more or less get them fired in any sort of physical storefront setting. And when things appear to have settled down for an evening, there always ends up being that one guy who stumbles into the forums and makes an ass of himself – taking a genre of obscure video games far more seriously than what they require to be enjoyable.

Orr’s video places the blame for this nuclear wasteland of an environment solely on an overwhelming amount of sim racers who statistically appear to have stopped racing altogether for whatever reason, opting to sit on the message boards and immerse themselves in the ongoing drama rather than hitting the virtual track. While there is some truth in what Matt says – a portion of the more notorious shit-disturbers don’t even own a wheel yet still spam praise for rFactor 2 anywhere they’re allowed to – many people were actually left underwhelmed by his thoughts on the subject, because his entire piece boiled down to “stop being a fanboy and start racing.”  Anyone could have made this conclusion.

Matt didn’t address how these fanboys came to be in the first place, how the sim racing community as a whole turned into this horrifying mess of partially-delusional auto racing nerds, and what we can do as a group to reverse it.

Thankfully, I know the answer. And it’s a very ugly truth not many will want to hear.

iracing_com___mclaren_mp4_gt3_battle_by_firemikecreations-d5ooqtzI’m going to begin this piece by saying something extremely controversial, but I want our readers to know that there’s a legitimate reason behind my views – not an irrational vendetta. If you want to understand why the majority of sim racers appear to be such confrontational, delusional elitists, the answer is quite simple: iRacing played a major role in the sim racing community’s descent to hell. Now before you all go hunting for your pitchforks, I want to make it very clear that this is not an attack on the staff members in Bedford, because in this instance they haven’t actually done anything wrong, nor will I sit here and shit on the game’s partially completed tire model as is par for the course here at PRC.net. None of what I’m about to say has anything to do with the technical aspects of the iRacing software; it’s all about the mentality iRacing represents.

maxresdefaultStepping into our PRC time machine and traveling back to the true golden age of sim racing, when websites like Blackhole Motorsports and Race Sim Central were both operational and buzzing with activity, racing simulators as a whole were viewed in a very different manner than they are today. Games such as GTR 2, Richard Burns Rally, Grand Prix Legends 2004, rFactor, and NASCAR Racing 2003 Season were basically regarded as these obscure alternatives boasting massive third party content support, primarily intended for motorsports enthusiasts who wanted something more hardcore than Gran Turismo 4. That’s it.

While the communities weren’t free from drama by any means, everyone sort of understood that these were just $60 video games they all picked up from Best Buy on a Friday night after work. Some guys bought Logitech wheels and heavily invested themselves into the racing portion, while others dove into the modding element, and as a whole, people just sort of hung out and sunk a whole bunch of time into games they loved. They raced in leagues, and had their buddies create cars and tracks. Sometimes they got bored discussed which game had the objectively best set of physics, but those debates never turned into the outright shit-slinging we see today. That’s really as far as it went, and looking back, it’s all we needed. The games were getting progressively more advanced with each passing year, but the ideology fueling the community was fairly simple: hang out.

iracingsim64-2015-02-09-21-44-50-58-bmpiRacing came along in 2008, and suddenly told these sim racers – who had spent several perfectly happy years doing little more than racing, building mods, and hanging out – that elitism was suddenly in style. During a relatively simple period in the genre, where you bought a game for $40, joined a league, or scooped up some mods from rFactor Central, iRacing introduced the idea of sim racing being an elite online club, rather than a quirky piece of software for those who had gotten tired of Gran Turismo’s shortcomings. Sim racing was no longer this obscure genre, it was now an exclusive country club – but only if you purchased an iRacing subscription – and putting down the cash to sign up was advertised almost as a badge of honor within the community. You would no longer be just a guy who loved GTR 2 and played it every evening with his mates, sometimes cranking out a livery or two for the fun of it, you were now an iRacer.

From the jacked-up pricing model, the mandatory use of real names, and the lengthy terms of service, all the way to promotional material dubbing it a virtual career, iRacing pushed a lucrative country club-like atmosphere and treated the product as if it somehow transcended its existence as a video game, during a time when every other developer within the genre was perfectly fine cranking out relatively simplistic releases.

And a lot of people bought into it. Not just financially, but emotionally as well.

11The private golf club-like atmosphere of iRacing certainly offered some sort of permanent solution for public lobby races that often descended into chaos, but it also came with a set of unintended consequences. Let’s be real here, a lot of us within the genre are hardly party animals, and the elite online club iRacing created gave introverted computer nerds a very tangible sense of belonging – one they weren’t able to successfully achieve with community sports teams, high school cliques, or workplace social outings. On paper, there’s nothing inherently wrong about this, but the very specific environment iRacing built allowed the negative aspects of this endeavor to sprout fairly quickly. Because iRacing was now viewed as part of an individual’s identity rather than just an updated version of an old NASCAR game people paid a whole bunch of money for, iRacers grew very attached to their simulator of choice, and were personally offended when it was criticized.

The criticism, obviously, was bountiful, but the specific complaints regarding the iRacing software aren’t important here. What is important, is that a whole bunch of sim racers got on board with the concept that sim racing could be more than just obscure driving games – they liked the fact that they were part of an elite internet club, because it gave many a legitimate sense of belonging they hadn’t experienced before.

xfinityAs iRacing continued to evolve, iRacers became even more attached to the country club atmosphere than they were before, and the developers themselves let it get to their heads. Prior to iRacing’s inception, an article on GameSpot actually sat down and went through all of the previous releases by Papyrus, painting out David Kaemmer to be little more than a quiet enthusiast who used his talents to push out a string of critically acclaimed indie racing simulators throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Fast forward to present day, and any one of Mr. Kaemmer’s posts on the official iRacing forums are met with hundreds of members slobbering over his every word, and implying any criticism over his current rendition of the iRacing tire model is somehow an attack on his life’s work – even though it’s clearly not.

It’s as if you’ve shown up to a local golf course and asked why the karts and fairways are in such poor shape, only to be told by the regulars you’re simply expecting too much from your membership, and need to cut out that instant gratification bullshit mentality.

15935312_10100195473337132_740333997_oBut because the sense of belonging created by iRacing’s intentional elitism was so strong – outweighing any clear negatives in the eyes of their members – soon, this mentality began to seep into other fanbases as well. The resident computer nerds among us wanted every racing simulator to become an exclusive club, simply because it made them feel like they were a part of something meaningful, and that their long hours in front of the computer monitor were going to a legitimate cause. Suddenly, it wasn’t just iRacers who had an air of elitism surrounding them – it was now mirrored by the fans of rFactor 2, Project CARS, and Assetto Corsa.

Soon enough, concepts once seen in iRacing suddenly popped up in adjacent communities. The fanfare over David Kaemmer has been mirrored not once, but three times, with Stefano Casillo of Kunos Simulazioni, Ian Bell of Slightly Mad Studios, and Renato Simioni of Reiza Studios. iRacing were the first developer to really start speaking in tire models, and now suddenly every major virtual auto racing release mentions a tire model upgrade like it’s a marketing buzzword rather than a genuine gameplay improvement. And of course, who can forget Assetto Corsa locking down a majority of their official forums for the longest time, only accessible to those who had purchased a copy of the game on Steam, and connected their message board account with their Steam profile. All of these examples are not coincidences; iRacers merely migrated to other titles which captured their interest, and eventually the concepts once pushed by iRacing were integrated into other communities as well.

This lead to a situation where anyone who dared to go against this elitist club mentality was promptly faced with immense backlash from the virtual country club members. So to answer the first of three questions, the toxic sim racing community – whether it be the aggressive fanboys angrily shouting at everyone for a conflicting view on a highly contested topic, or the cringeworthy pieces we lovingly document – is the result of iRacing arriving on the scene and implying it was okay for computer nerds to treat a video game traditionally retailing for $60 as a ticket to an exclusive online country club that transcended video games altogether – and then sim racers kept doing it on their own for every racing game that managed to catch their eyes.

Only now have people started to clue in that shit has gone way too far.

nr3So, for the sanity of the community, how do we reverse this?

You can’t.

Each individual game or community is now a part of the identities of many sim racers. Just like how you can’t just walk up to a thirty year old and mockingly inform him he’s no longer the starting linebacker for the Sacred Heart Prep Gators high school football team, there isn’t a surefire way to snap the fanboys out of their intense devotion to their simulator of choice. It’s a part of who they were, and who they are. What you can do, is instead enact basic social moderation skills, and hope those on the fence take heed to your advice don’t lose themselves in what at the end of the day are just video games – and some of these video games aren’t even all that great. In fact, most of them are obviously half-assed on shoe-string budgets.

If you’ve got a buddy on Teamspeak with no job, he’s let it slip in the past that he’s not doing well financially, and yet he’s got something like ten thousand forum posts on the home of his favorite simulator, that’s the precise time to tell him to get his shit together rather than sitting around on message boards picking fights with people who don’t like his favorite game. If you see someone on the forums going on about a thermonuclear tire model teaching physicists the laws of the universe via rFactor 2, that’s the correct time to try and one-up each other with tire model jokes rather than get into a hostile pissing match. When someone tries to make you sign a legitimate contract to be part of their pretend iRacing team, laugh at them and leak the contract to some place cool, like Reddit. And when someone tries to make excuses for a game that’s objectively buggy or unfinished by standards from over a decade ago, don’t engage in a Buddhist temple-like philosophical discussion questioning what constitutes as a complete racing game – ask why a customer should be willing to put up with unfinished crap.

The current crop of sim racers, honestly, are lost. The idea is to instead set things up for a better tomorrow. I think in two years, if everyone makes a tangible effort to denounce this cult-like atmosphere when it’s exhibited by other members, it’ll go a long way to cleaning up the community.

 

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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.

Reader Submission #105 – Pay Drivers in Sim Racing

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Abandoned by the hardcore sim racers of yesteryear, and adopted by an entire new wave of virtual stock car drivers who aren’t entirely sure how to conduct themselves in an online community, the current userbase of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season can be an awkward bunch. When they’re not embarking on lengthy harassment campaigns aimed at prolific individuals in the modding community, the few remaining online leagues tend to be a cesspool of idiocy. Today’s Reader Submission here at PRC.net takes a look at a situation so bizarre, the driver involved may as well have been playing iRacing. I mean, if you’re gonna throw that much money at a private NR2003 league, why not make the natural next step in your sim racing endeavors with a move to a more relevant platform?


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Hey PRC. I know it’s been a while since you guys have covered all that weird drama involving the guys at SimRacingDesign, but I’m here to say things over in the competitive side of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season are just as awkward. I’ve got a few stories to share with you over the next little bit, and I guess you can post them as you see fit, but this is what I felt is the best introduction to a community many don’t believe still exists. Yes, that’s right, lots of people are still playing NR2003 in online leagues, though it’s probably not the kinds of people you expect. I will refrain from saying specific names for the sake of some people in this story, but rest assured that these guys do exist, are out there, and will probably see this submission at some point and think “oh God, that’s me!”

So I’ve known this one guy, we’ll call him RZ, for a while. In the few months he’s been racing online with us, his behavior has been questionable at best. The dude basically made an effort to piss off every single driver that raced with him. He often refuses to accept fault for incidents, he gets angry over almost everything, and is pretty reckless compared to the rest of us. It became clear to a few of us that the guy had some psychological problems the more we tried to deal with him, and it did not take long before several leagues started to outright ban him – as they should have. The NR2003 community is small enough, this behavior sticks out like a sore thumb, and frankly isn’t welcome in the slightest. I banned him from my league, a friend of mine followed suit, and soon enough, he was a guy that not a lot of people wanted to have around. And that’s okay, it happens in any competitive gaming circle.

Now, here’s where the trouble starts.

One of the largest online leagues currently active on NR2003 still manages to reel in more than 30 entrants for each event, and there are certain races so large that people actually get sent home in qualifying. As a sim racer, it’s really cool that the element of suspense exists for an online event. RZ joined this league, and several times, was predictably sent home – not fast enough to make the grid. When he would manage to make the show, the guy would often get involved in accidents that triggered his enormous Teamspeak meltdowns, causing other members of the league to instantly label him as a pathetic backmarker. However, RZ DNQ’d on such a consistent basis, I believe he was forced to come up with a way to ensure a spot on the grid regardless of his obvious lack of talent.

Many PRC.net readers are aware that hosting servers for online races in any simulator, at least for a private league, costs a substantial amount of money for guys just hosting this stuff in their spare time as a fun little diversion. This is especially the case for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, considering every server is a private server; the Sierra online lobbies have been offline for almost a decade now. Anyways, costs became such an issue, that league management essentially said “if you chip in anywhere from $5 to $15 to cover server costs, we’ll list you as the sponsor for the race, give you a t-shirt, and ensure you have a spot on the grid.” All of a sudden, RZ had an idea on how he could secure a spot in every single race no matter how he conducted himself on-track, and it shouldn’t be hard to determine where this is going.

RZ sponsored 9 of the league’s 10 playoff races, guaranteeing him a spot in every race no matter how slow or incompetent he would drive. The guy spent around $100 just to lock himself into online sim races for a game that’s over thirteen years old. Overall, he was the walking definition of a pay driver – something that’s not supposed to exist in sim racing, because it doesn’t need to.

When word got out, a lot of the more vocal members immediately started the memeing. All of the drivers laughed and belittled him, as he was the most hated driver in the league at the time. The admins did their best to calm the shitstorm, but everyone in the proximity of our area of the community found out real quick, and the admins were forced to awkwardly defend him, calling us ungrateful little shits and all that. I mean, when you’re the admin of an obscure online league, some guy practically throwing money at you is pretty valuable in your eyes, but come on, everyone knew what was occurring.

I can understand chipping in some money you have to burn for one or two races. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a small donation, but $100+ just to secure a grid spot for a league that doesn’t offer any sort of prize aside from a trophy? That’s absurd, absolutely fucking absurd. It’s already sad enough that some leagues require you to pay after a certain amount of time just to race for more than one month… but the money could have gone somewhere else in my opinion.


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I think three or four years ago, I ran a few races in a pay league for iRacing – that’s where you pay an entry fee, and the winner of each event gets a pretty decent chunk of change. I’ll be honest, the concept of paying an entry fee per race isn’t bad, and given my skill level compared to other drivers in the field, it was only a few weeks before I’d made everything back, and then some, so honestly I can’t knock a league’s decision to involve some sort of monetary aspect to their operation. Provided each entrant is approaching the event with the same mentality, and moderation keeps a very stern watch on the leaders of each race, it can be a sweet way to pay for extra iRacing content, or if we’re talking about a different game, additional DLC. That’s obviously only the case if you’re good, but again, server costs do add up, especially if you’re on an isiMotor title using LiveRacers and all that shit.

But, and this is the important part of your story: moderators weren’t exactly paying attention to how the system was being exploited. When you run a league and get a bunch of pretend officials to watch things over, there are two rules you need to strictly enforce when it comes to shit drivers:

  • X Amount of Wrecks = kick/ban
  • Failure to maintain minimum driving standards = kick/ban

Every racing series on the planet, from Formula One and WEC, to the bummiest of redneck short tracks, enforce these two rules in some format. If you’re the cause of two cautions at a backwoods Louisiana dirt track, you’re parked for the session. If you can’t operate your vehicle within a certain percent of the race leader’s time, you’re considered a safety hazard to your competitors. It doesn’t matter how much sponsorship money you’ve brought in, and it doesn’t matter who your father knows at the track, being a shitty driver is detrimental to both the safety and the competitive environment of other competitors.

With that being said, I don’t know why all of this has suddenly been dropped, and there is this weird push to be friendly and accommodating to everyone on the internet. If a guy is being an asshole in some online racing league, it’s not the responsibility of the competitors to play online psychologists and craft him into slightly less of an asshole so your league can continue to operate on his dime. This accomplishes nothing and aggravates everybody. From an officiating standpoint, having one asshole mad at league officials for giving him the boot after several instances of shitty driving is better than having thirty otherwise decent guys mad at league officials for letting some random buttfuck shit up their league races.

But you know, it’s the NR2003 community in 2016, so I guess this is to be expected. My biggest question is why this RZ dude didn’t just go to iRacing – a one year membership costs about the same amount as the neetbux he spent on paying to be a backmarker in NR2003 league races, and the system requirements are pretty much identical if you aren’t concerned about visual fidelity.

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The Quest for the Source Code

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Fourteen years after it’s release, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season is still regarded as one of the greatest auto racing simulations ever made. First arriving on store shelves in February of 2003, and easily establishing itself as the magnum opus of Papyrus, the landmark PC racing sim was the culmination of what many regard as a historic period of time for motorsports enthusiasts. Out of the box, not only was a fantastic reproduction of American Stock Car Racing, NASCAR 2003 became a cult hit among many current Sprint Cup drivers, and the enormous modding scene essentially turned the racing simulator into one giant encyclopedia of American motor racing – and then some.

However, the modding community surrounding NASCAR 2003 has traditionally been limited to cosmetic changes. Liveries replicating current and historical oval racing series always been popular downloads, but those looking to get more out of NASCAR 2003 were locked to just four types of vehicle behavior. The team over at Project Wildfire eventually released semi-official Craftsman Truck, Busch Grand National, and Trans-Am physics packages to be used with third party 3D models, but as NASCAR evolved as a sport in the years following the game’s release, NASCAR 2003 began to show its age. The game may include the cars, tracks, and drivers from the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season, but the rules package and vehicle physics have been set firmly in February of 2003. The pack still races back to the start finish line upon the caution flag being displayed, the first car not on the lead lap does not receive a free pass, and race restarts are still single-file affairs. As certain teams like Hendrick Motorspots have able to extract over a thousand horsepower from the mighty V8’s powering their Chevrolet entries, the Winston Cup engines seen in NASCAR 2003 were putting out a substantially smaller number.

In short, the game’s popularity has been slowly dwindling, as each year brings new changes to the sport that NASCAR 2003 simply can’t replicate.

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Avid NASCAR Racing 2003 Season community member Kyle Westwood is hoping to change all of that. Kyle has created an online petition over at change.org asking for iRacing.comthe current owners of the NASCAR 2003 source code – to consider releasing the source code in order to prolong the life of the game. On paper, Kyle’s argument makes sense: Many sim racers still enjoy NASCAR Racing 2003 Season due to the sheer quality of the title, and there is tangible evidence that simply putting NASCAR 2003 into the closet and reluctantly moving to the iRacing.com software is not worth the hefty price of admission. The modding community want a collective shot at updating fundamental areas of the game, such as the tire model, force feedback effects, and officiating rules.

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Unfortunately, Kyle and his crew are in for an uphill battle. iRacing have made it very clear that they’ve felt threatened by NASCAR 2003 modding community, and specifically secured the rights to NASCAR 2003′s source code in order to force people to upgrade to iRacing. Multiple legal battles against several community members have produced comical nuggets of information, indicating iRacing fears their product would lose popularity if their core group of users had not been forced to abandon NASCAR 2003.

While it’s highly unlikely that this campaign will succeed or even register on iRacing’s radar, it’s nice to see that there are a surprisingly large amount of people still actively carrying the NASCAR 2003 flag into 2016.

Just watch out for the old guys.

Reader Submission #43 – Why are Payware Mods for Abandonware Games now a thing?

Payware Mods are always a touchy subject, and today’s Reader Submission by Doug A. is going to address the topic head-on. However, despite payware mods gaining traction in modern sims like Assetto Corsa and rFactor 2, it’s incredibly strange to see them pop up in titles that are old enough to listen to American Idiot and get their first detention for mouthing off the teacher. Given that I don’t recall taking a public stance on payware mods, I guess now’s the time to address everything and get people pissed off at what I have to say.


sbpHey James. Yesterday, NR2003 track site Safer Barrier Project started requiring users to pay for access to the downloads, dubbing the new format “Premium Access.” It reminds me of quite a few years ago when some guy using the screen name }{udson introduced paid texture updates and the community went apeshit  over it. I’m just curious about what you think about it. Jrock is a friend of mine so I’m not bashing him, I just don’t agree with the decision. To each their own, I guess. But since this hasn’t been seen in the NR2003 community in some time, it would be interesting to see how people feel about this now. Keep up the interesting posts on PRC.net, I enjoy reading the site.


NR2003 2014-03-29 17-07-00-72There are two topics to address here, and both of them are equally retarded.

First, Payware Mods have no place in PC gaming because they can royally fuck shit up for the future. I don’t have a problem with people begging for donations on their mod page, because 3D modelling in 2015 is an extremely complex and lengthy process given the standards most gamers have become accustomed to with the current generation of hardware, but payware stuff has the potential to wreak havoc five years down the road, and that’s why I’m so against it.

Look, anytime you introduce a new concept into gaming, whether it be for the casual scrubs in Call of Duty, or for the hardcore no-fun-allowed Flight Simulator guys, you really need to sit down and brainstorm what the concept will look like five or ten years into the feature. To give an example, Downloadable Content wasn’t all that bad of an idea when it was introduced on Xbox Live. Once the game had run its course, you got a few new maps for Halo 2, or a few new tracks and cars for Project Gotham Racing 2, and it only cost you a couple bucks that you were most definitely going to spend on Doritos. Nobody envisioned a future where ten years later things like DLC Season Passes for Battlefield 4 would exist and cost as much as the whole fucking game. Nobody’s wallet was prepared for 1,000+ Rock Band songs or alternate liveries for planes in Ace Combat. And I’m sure nobody anticipated Forza Motorsport 4’s $300 worth of car packs and pre-order bonuses, along with the lite version where half of the fucking game was hidden behind more DLC if you didn’t buy the two disc version.

Or there was the first few years of Xbox Live Party Chat – what started as a great way to bullshit with your buddies from school while you were all playing different games completely eradicated all teamwork and public voice chat from competitive shooters, as everyone (and their little brother) retreated into their small group of friends residing in a private chat channel through the XMB Dashboard.

So when I see payware mods for rFactor 2 and Assetto Corsa, I don’t think “hey, that’s great, they did a really nice job and I don’t mind paying the $10”, I think about a future where payware mods are commonplace, and then think of how many great rFactor mods I’ve downloaded for free because that’s the way things are currently. Then, I do some really simple math and attach a monetary value to each mod and track – let’s say $10 for an individual RFM file and $5 per track because tracks are much easier to convert – and proceed to shit my pants.

modsNo matter how you spin it, spending $385 on mods for a game that retails for $28 is absurd. And that’s using friendly numbers designed to intentionally keep the number for this hypothetical calculation below $500 so our older readers do not experience chest pains. If payware stuff becomes the norm, there aren’t exactly regulations for this shit to dictate a reasonable price, allowing mod teams to charge whatever they damn well please for a mod, which could easily lead to a Flight Simulator-like environment…FSXOr even worse, Train Simulator191gzs32an2typngMost sim racers can’t deal with the astronomical costs of iRacing, which asks users to fork over a monthly subscription fee as well as $10$15 for each piece of content, and there are a constant stream of threads on r/iRacing demanding to know how to sign up for the game without breaking the bank. If you want to decrease the amount of people interested in sim racing altogether because only a fraction of people can afford to get started, then by all means go down the payware route. Just remember that you people can barely tolerate micro-transactions in games like R3E; this won’t be an improvement.

Now, onto how this applies to NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, and the Safer Barrier Project Premium Access feature.

nr2003 2013-06-03 14-17-55-80NASCAR Racing 2003 Season has been abandonware for a few years now, and you can get it here. The game launched in February of 2003 and spawned a huge freeware modding community rivaled only by the likes of Quake 2 and Doom. For thirteen years, people were completely happy to just make shit for the game, free of charge. Those who attempted to tie a monetary value to their creations were essentially, as Doug A. put it in the submission, laughed out of the community.

Attempting to attach a monetary value to content that people have created and distributed for free over the course of a decade is single-handedly the stupidest fucking thing you could do at this exact moment. It’s no secret that NR2003’s community is a fraction of the size it once was, and of that fraction, there are some pretty dedicated nutters still roaming the forums. Making people pay for something they’d gotten for free throughout the game’s entire lifespan, when the size of the community is dwindling, is a fantastic way to encourage people to fuck off and never touch the game again.

Which is a shame, because NR2003 is quite good and actually superior to the massively multiplayer online game that followed, it just looks like dogshit because it was released when Windows XP was new and innovative.

Had we been paying for mods since Doom WAD’s were a thing in the 1990’s, okay, maybe I could justify a membership to some NR2003 add-on track site. But we haven’t. It’s also important to note that NR2003 doesn’t look the greatest compared to modern racing sims, so you’re not even paying for quality add-on tracks that totally change how the game looks; just configuration or texture updates. It’s pointless. Dumb. Asinine. SBP, what the fuck are you doing?

Are there going to be shitters in the comments section who claim “bro, it’s just ten dollars, get over yourself?”

Yes.

Will another site think “our tracks our better, we could sell a premium membership to our site for $20!

Yes. And that’s where it begins.

Welcome to capitalism.

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