I think before I dive deep into discussing what Studio 397 have talked about in their February 2017 roadmap for rFactor 2, it’s important to come out and say that I have an obvious bias against the number one eternal science project that’s just sort of been sitting off in its own little corner, regardless of who is currently responsible for its ongoing development. I purchased rFactor 2 during the spring of 2013, and since then it simply hasn’t evolved as a complete package in the way a lot of us expected it to; dated visuals, an AI component which has the tendency to go bonkers unless you stick to specific combinations, and a really poor selection of vanilla cars and tracks have done little to captivate me into dealing with the significantly smaller modding scene and barren wasteland of an online community. There’s nothing all that exciting to drive, not many people to race against, it doesn’t look very good, and the stuff it does do well, other simulators accomplish with about the same proficiency.
The only time I actually deal with rFactor 2 in any sort of meaningful sim racing fashion is when I’m paid to officiate private events at the local sim center, and even then, we’re already exhausted our options with the default array of content; you obviously need a commercial license to use certain freeware mods in a paid customer environment, and that’s not an easy thing to acquire when a large portion of rFactor 2’s content has been converted and/or ripped from other simulators.
Studio 397 have been publishing these little blog posts once a month to kind of keep people informed on the state of rFactor 2, and I gotta give credit where credit is due, at least they’re trying to be transparent with the whole process. Image Space Incorporated were notorious for their slow development times, and we’ve even had some people come to us with info regarding what was going on behind the scenes, and long story short, it’s a very good thing they’re out of the picture now.
However, I still feel Studio 397 have inherited a sinking ship.
The blog post begins with Studio 397 revealing they’ve began work on implementing a virtual reality component into rFactor 2, which will accommodate popular consumer headsets such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. Now at face value this indicates they’re doing their best to keep up with what’s new and hot in the world of gaming technology, but if you dig around the sim racing community, the overall reception towards VR headsets appears to be changing. Both Paul Jeffrey of RaceDepartment, as well as Shaun Cole of The SimPit, have uploaded pieces that draw attention to a very different side of the VR craze, hinting that these elusive headsets are on their way to being a passing fad that wasn’t quite ready for a large scale commercial audience.
Mainstream VR technology is still very much in it’s infancy, with issues surrounding the pixel density one of the main concerns from members of the public perhaps looking to upgrade from their current viewing solutions. As of today, no current VR headset can hope to match the graphics quality one can achieve with a standard monitor setup, let alone come close to the Ultra HD / 4k screens some lucky gamers have access to within their own gaming rooms. Couple this with the need to pack some serious hardware into your gaming PC in order to run the vast majority of VR ready title’s at a reasonable performance level, it quickly becomes clear that VR gaming has not quite reached the stage where everyone would be willing to take up the obvious advantages, despite the many remaining pitfalls of the technology. – Paul Jeffrey, RaceDepartment
While Paul’s article is more of a quasi-opinion piece that highlights both the positives and negatives of this new technology, concluding with an admission that the resolution just isn’t quite there yet, Shaun Cole’s comments provide very interesting insight into the public reception to VR technology. Away from his YouTube channel and the “online” sim racing community of sorts, Shaun is paid by simulator companies to help work their trade show booths and demonstrate elaborate simulator rigs, some of which include the use of VR headsets. Shaun notes that at a lot of these events, he’s made a mental note of the percentage of people that get sick from the headsets, or the number of times the Oculus units suffer from hardware failure… As he puts it, VR is a great experience for himself, but it’s not a great “shared experience” – it’s just not catching on and exploding like a lot of people predicted.
Coming back to how this relates to rFactor 2, Studio 397 have embarked on the task of implementing VR functionality into their main simulator – which obviously isn’t easy – at a period where its actual popularity is sort of in limbo. This might not pay off for them.
There’s talk of implementing some kind of detailed stat tracking system that they’re calling “competition infrastructure”, but details are pretty scant at the moment, so we’re basically left to speculate on this front. My biggest worry, even if Studio 397 do manage to sit down and create a simpler version of iRacing that everybody unanimously agrees is a decent effort at organized online racing, is that rFactor 2 just doesn’t offer enough exciting content to warrant multiplayer series, nor does it have the userbase to make use of new infrastructure.
For example, taking an outdated Camaro GT3 car that nobody cares for to a track barely anybody is familiar with, like Atlanta Motorsports Park or the Tiger Moth Aerodrome, just isn’t going to get people excited when Sector 3 (and Reiza Studios as well, now that I think about it) will be introducing the same kind of experience to the market very shortly, boasting multiple seasons of GT3, DTM, and Group 5 racing.
And we haven’t even started to talk about iRacing or Project CARS 2, though in this instance, I shouldn’t need to.
Running events at the simulator center, I’ve seen this problem manifest itself firsthand. Currently we’re making use of the URD cars in a WTCC style two-race format, with a 40 minute practice and 10 minute qualification process to kick off the evening. People wanna run Laguna Seca, Road Atlanta, Infineon Raceway, Watkins Glen, and instead there’s like… the Charlotte infield road course, this weird fantasy track called Loch Drummond, or this knock-off Top Gear track, so instead we’re forced to run Interlagos & Estoril twice.
So Studio 397 are working on some sort of competitive online format, but there’s nothing in rFactor 2 that you can’t already find an abundance of in a rival simulator, all of which plan to offer their own online competition stuff in the near future if they don’t already do.
The next main topic I’d like to discuss is the change from DX9 to DX11, which unfortunately isn’t the major leap people were expecting. I get this is primarily for under the hood stuff and designed to future-proof the software, but rFactor 2 at the moment has this horrid, washed-out look to everything, and they desperately need to do something drastic in an effort to move away from this sterile vibe they’ve got going on. Instead, their comparison shots have basically jacked up the contrast and put a blue filter on everything, which some people have been able to re-create by photoshopping the DirectX 9 image supplied by Studio 397.
To my surprise, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the base software wasn’t so visually unappealing; for example, iRacing will be abandoning DX9 support very shortly, but their software already looks half-decent for what it’s used for, so people don’t need to be kicking and screaming for some sort of massive graphics overhaul with DX11. However, rFactor 2 is cemented into the bad part of 2012, and the rest of the industry has moved on. It’s fairly disappointing to see this big reveal warrant a blue filter and some darker shadows that in some instances – such as the first image I’ve inserted into this post – have actually made the game look more cartoonish due to the increase in contrast.
There are plans to re-do the user interface, plans to insert radio functionality – sort of pointless when everyone’s already using Discord or Teamspeak – as well as plans to create this private modding forum to help bring all these modders together and train them on how to create content for rFactor 2 more effectively. And I mean, some of this sounds good on paper, but unfortunately, the last element is just too little, too late. There simply aren’t enough people making stuff for rFactor 2 as it is for this to be even the least bit beneficial. We’re just not seeing the massive mods for rFactor 2 that encompass entire grids of vehicles that we were once privileged enough to receive from talented community members for the original game.
NOLA Motorsports Park will be released on February 28th, marking the addition of yet another empty, uninspiring racing facility to rFactor 2 that will nicely compliment other tracks people promptly push aside, such as Palm Beach, Atlanta Motorsports Park, Mores, Toban, Mills Metro Park, and the multiple infield road courses featured at Homestead, Charlotte, and Indianapolis.
God that’s a horrible track list.
Obviously we’ll continue to monitor the development of rFactor 2 as it’s a modern racing simulator still trying to earn its piece of the spotlight, but as you can see, it’s just extremely hard to get excited about this title, and I’m left wishing Studio 397 would just start over on an entirely new project. I’m honestly confused as to what they’re trying to salvage here, though to their credit, at least they’re trying.