CART 88 Has Been Released for rFactor!

No longer constrained to the semi-private confines of the Historic Sim Racing Organization for testing purposes, the highly anticipated CART 88 mod for ISI’s original rFactor has now been unleashed to the public, and you can grab a copy by clicking HERE. A season dominated by Penske’s Danny Sullivan, in which virtually every team on the grid played musical chairs with engine suppliers and chassis, the classic American open wheel racing mod is the pinnacle of what the gracefully aging simulator can do when pushed to the absolute limit by a talented group of modders. HSO have meticulously constructed every single car to take the green flag over the course of the fifteen round championship, including one-off Indy 500 entries, part time drivers, and even brief chassis swaps that only lasted for a partial segment of the season, while also faithfully replicating mechanical improvements teams had made from event to event – such as Teo Fabi’s notoriously unreliable Porsche gradually improving throughout the season.

Part highly detailed rFactor mod, and part virtual museum, CART 88 is as comprehensive of a living, breathing encyclopedia as it is exhilarating to drive; an open wheel counterpart of the mammoth HistorX Touring Car package that has established itself as one of the all time legendary releases for the popular sim racing modding platform. Recently, we caught up with resident HSO physics guru Richard Wilks to learn about how the in-house HSO modders felt when refining the physics, which will be used for a year-long championship that mirrors the real world 1988 CART schedule, with the exception of the East Rutherford Grand Prix.

Hey guys, while you all wait for the CART 88 mod to finish downloading, I’d like to talk about something that came up in a conversation with one of the Historic Sim Racing admins during the testing process for this mod. He was telling me that after he drove the cars, another high profile mod we were running at the time didn’t seem as fun to drive anymore – he argued that it was way too time consuming to create a setup that made the car feel planted and ready to attack the track.

Now we all know the sim racing landscape is awash with mods or even vanilla content that feels artificially difficult or “funny” to drive – sometimes it’s twitch, or demands a great deal of focus, to the point where it’s hard to understand how someone strapped into the thing for real survived more than a handful of laps, when you can’t even make it around the track from the comfort of your sim rig.

I want to stress at this point that I am not talking about raw numbers being right or wrong here, but of the overall feel and connection that you experience when driving a virtual car on the limit. It’s a mix between the last little slice of tire adjustments that admittedly already borders on guesswork (because as I’ve stated before, it’s wrong for any one developer or modder to claim they’ve nailed tires), together with the force feedback, visual cues from the behavior of the car itself, and how this all relates to the way the car was implemented into the software.

You see, the last little bit of testing is the point where not everybody can sit back and analyze if this particular part of the simulation is at a good level or not. My rule of thumb is that a car must feel “natural” for you to drive. If you are a high skilled sim racer, you already know how to drive. Therefore, when you sit and drive it, all the inputs you receive must convey exactly what the car is doing. You shouldn’t have to be “translating” the inputs to what the car is supposed to be doing. To more clearly elaborate upon what I mean with this, imagine you are driving old IndyCar Racing II with a keyboard or a joystick. You are basically translating on the fly what the car is doing in relation to your inputs on the controls. That’s why even if you know how to drive a car, even at speed, you will basically start almost from zero if you choose to play a racing game like this, when it comes to muscle memory, or applying the theory to practice.

So the goal I had in mind with CART 88 was to create cars that are not only realistic in terms of numbers and performance, but also in terms of feel. You are supposed to sit in the car, and be quick right off the bat if you already know what you are doing. A real example is how hard it is to light the tires when exiting the pits in most open wheel mods, when it’s very easy to do in real life. This sounds like a simplistic example, but I knew I was getting things right once I was able to do this out of the pits seamlessly.

Once again, I am not talking about fudging numbers, I am talking about getting the final 1% right, the percent that separates a really enjoyable mod to drive, from just a “good” mod that sits in your already cluttered rFactor install. The the harder the car is to drive, usually as you go back in time, the more important this becomes. During the CART 88 testing process, I went through twenty different tire compounds I had built, all after I had completed the rest of the car, until I achieved the natural feeling I was searching for, making such minuscule changes that despite all of them being realistic from a pure number vs. real life point of view, made a huge difference in terms of car behavior on the limit. And you need this degree of work and dedication if you want to get something right; it’s like everything else in life, you can’t shortcut your way to knowledge.

Cars talk a lot to you in real life, and this is something sims struggle to do, not because they can’t, but because this gets neglected. Now, I know everybody has different equipment and all that, but if you get this right, the car will feel natural no matter what gear you are using, and the amount of input translation goes down to a minimum, making the sim racer feel one with the car on the edge of adhesion.

We at the Historic Sim Racing Organization hope you enjoy CART 88.

Weighing in at just over 160 megabytes – a very reasonable size for such a large collection of cars – HSO’s CART 88 release may possibly be the final hurrah for a simulator that will go down in history as one of the most influential pieces of software ever released in the genre.

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Off the Grid: Simulator Center Chain Reportedly a Disaster in Australia

Though many PRC readers indulge in the world of auto racing simulators from the comfort of their own custom-built pseudo cockpits deep within their respective man caves, a large majority of gamers who are otherwise unaware these extremely niche pieces of software exist are instead introduced to the genre through Simulator Centers – quiet establishments that charge anywhere from $20 to $40 per hour for a romp in elaborate rFactor setups. While some of these outlets can be fairly successful, establishing a core group of loyal customers before going on to host private championships, complete with a live steward for those who just don’t have the time to explore PC gaming and would rather merely show up and race, things can also play out in a completely different manner.

There’s a bit of a mess currently occurring in Australia with one prominent simulator chain, and it’s quickly becoming a very definitive example of what happens when individuals enter the simulator scene in the hopes of making a quick buck, rather than doing it for the love of the hobby and letting the following roll in naturally. With locations listed in Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney, The Grid promised motorsports enthusiasts real Formula One simulators, but an overwhelming negative backlash has allegedly caused two of the three locations to completely shut down, with specific customer reviews indicating a third may not be all that far behind.

Getting these businesses off the ground in the first place can be exceptionally difficult, so I do partially sympathize with The Grid’s struggles; one can’t just go out and install something like Assetto Corsa or Project CARS on ten different PC’s, insert them into any array of specialty sim cockpits that can be purchased online, and call it a day unless they want a free cease and desist letter, accompanied by a nice platter of legal troubles following shortly thereafter. Individuals running sim cafes must understandably pursue hefty commercial licenses, which can put the likes of Assetto Corsa and iRacing far out of reach for an outlet that hasn’t even opened its doors to the public based on the figures I’ve been provided with. As a result, the cheapest, and most reasonable option ends up being the original rFactor – which is a complete and utter eyesore compared to the significantly more modern offerings.

However, there’s a major catch: injecting each commercial rFactor install with a bunch of sweet community mods one can find on RaceDepartment, NoGrip, the TrippTeam archive, or rFactorCentral is out of the question – you have to contact every single creator for permission to use their work in a paying customer outlet, meaning a lot of the cars and tracks people would otherwise want to drive when they come in for the first time are sadly off limits for a multitude of reasons. Teams such as IDT explicitly prohibit the use of their Long Beach track in commercial settings (as you’ll see on all of their loading screens), while comprehensive GT3 car collections making use of ripped car models from other titles are also a definite no-no in a commercial setting. And sure, you could go out and insert something like CTDP’s fantastic Formula One 2005 package into your simulators – especially in country that boasts a rich motor racing history such as Australia – but then Formula One Management themselves have every right to come knocking, and those guys don’t exactly fuck around.

So what ends up happening for honest companies not willing to dance with potential legal issues, is a lot of customers come in and immediately complain about both the graphics of the original rFactor, as well as the lack of content to select from. Unless the establishment has enough of a dedicated userbase to create a private championship or other equivalent competition that will reel people in regardless of the on-track product, the only alternative is to then apply for a liquor license and just sort of hope a bunch of people come in to get drunk and turn laps in rFactor – which isn’t the kind of environment a lot of actual sim racers would be interested in. At that point, you’re printing money for yourself, but the core audience who are interested in the actual racing portion, have fucked off long ago, unwilling to deal with a bunch of drunks at what’s essentially a themed bar.

This is the spot The Grid have worked themselves into, but it’s also where I stop sympathizing with them. Even with a lack of exciting content or current generation graphics, you can still sit down and craft a core experience that will generate a decent amount of revenue for what you’ve set out to achieve, and a create roster of regulars provided you create a solid plan of action for the future. Yet according to a pretty solid collection of Google reviews, The Grid have done the opposite, reportedly scamming people out of hundreds of dollars.

Several customer reviews have absolutely trashed The Grid for shady business practices and half-assed event services that made grandiose claims, yet delivered only a fraction of what they were advertising – whether it be regarding the software itself, the food, the alcohol, or the officiating, which was practically non-existent and resulted in chaotic demolition derbies that were “better suited for kids parties than people looking for a simulated race experience.” This obviously upset a lot of people, but it was purely a teaser of what was to follow. Owners supposedly closed up two of the three locations without any sort of formal warning to potential customers, continuing to accept money for parties and other miscellaneous gatherings long after the locations were shut down while knowing full-well their establishment was not open for business – supported by two of the locations listed as Permanently Closed on Google.

Simulator Centers are an admittedly hard sell to us already entrenched in the hobby, as very few sim racers would willingly pay extra to play a selection of video games we already own at home, not to mention customize to a virtually unlimited extent in the manner commercial licenses will explicitly not allow. However, for those who are unaware the hobby of sim racing exists or just don’t have the time to explore PC gaming at their leisure, a simulator center can be an excellent window into the genre without all of the hassle that comes with sitting down and getting into one of these games – not to mention a way to meet fellow hobbyists who otherwise avoid the traditionally toxic major sim racing forums. Unfortunately, Australia’s The Grid have demonstrated what happens when these establishments are run with the wrong principles – and the wrong individuals – fueling the endeavor.

If there happens to be a sim cafe in your area, all I can say is to investigate the place first and be very cautious about spending your money in large quantities – places like The Grid do exist.

HSO’s CART 88 Unleashes the Full Potential of rFactor

It was a little over a month ago we started hearing from a frequent user of our TeamSpeak server that a new rFactor mod was on the way, and it would blow everything else out of the water. The be all, end all creation for rFactor, if you will – one which attempted to stretch both the functionality and authenticity of the software’s underlying physics engine to the absolute limit. Obviously, we were a little skeptical at first for somebody shilling for their own product; I mean, how genuinely good can an rFactor mod be at the end of the day, right?

Yet after getting our hands on it ourselves and giving a full shakedown of the mod over multiple tracks and evenings of testing, the hype has been one hundred percent justified, and then some. If GP79 was the first rFactor mod to act as a showcase of what the platform could be used to create, CART 88 by the Historic Sim Racing Organization is a stunning final chapter in what Image Space Incorporated once envisioned for their sandbox simulator.

Lets face it, rFactor is a simulator that has been beaten to death; from the glory of the Porsche Carrera Cup 2007 and CARTFactor releases, to Project D2.0 or the VHR Stock Car mod, everything that could be done, has been done in some shape or form, several times over. From the Historic Sim Racing Organization – or HSO for short – comes the 1988 CART championship, a season that was dominated by Penske in reality, and had many manufacturers of drastically differing qualities all of which are represented in this very in-depth mod. Every engine and chassis has very distinct characteristics that each driver in the HSO league will have to learn and deal with throughout the season, and looking at preseason testing, when the rides are dished out and the fast guys are forced into backmarker cars, it should equal some very competitive racing throughout the season.

Preseason testing has currently hit three distinct locations – Sebring, Michigan and Milwaukee – all of which have served to showcase the extremes of what each car in the mod can be capable of. Overall, the cars themselves are very, very, twitchy, producing anywhere from 600hp to 700hp depending on the powerplant, with the ground effects tunnels that were so familiar in the 80’s helping to produce an extremely fun driving experience. The cars (especially the March) constantly try to kill you when you are pushing, but they are actually manageable over the limit, although the window for mistakes is very small; you have to trust that the faster you go, the downforce is going to do its work and hold the car to the ground; much easier said then done in the backmarker cars, which try to snap loose and kill you if you’re unable to keep the car balanced and working in unison with the aerodynamics.

The in-house Penske car, on the other hand, is almost easy in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still as much of a beast as the others, but the stability is on a totally different level, almost easy to push in comparison, and the Chevy powerplant gives such smooth power output it almost feels slow until you realize you’re going 175 mph down the backstretch at Sebring.

The level of detail put into the mod between each car and engine combination is simply amazing, the differences are clearly recognizable after just a few corners, and overall the mod just feels very complete. Aero effects are very significant in these cars, and within a second of another car you will feel the aero change drastically underneath you, sometimes even producing a tangible change in force feedback at high speeds.

The tire has a very recognizable edge that you need to flirt with to reach optimal lap times, and at that edge every input feels like its been exponentially magnified; the car dances and slides around slightly, you try to squeeze the pedal in minute increments to not shoot all 700hp to the rear wheels and it just feels downright amazing. The car will snap over the edge, but yet the grip seems to stay just enough for you to have a chance of gathering the car back up, and this is even more noticeable on ovals where you have a giant pad of asphalt to work with in an attempt to retain control of the car.

The rewards are high but so are the risks, and the laptimes in testing so far show just how big the difference is between pushing and risking a virtual fatality, or riding around comfortably.

The trademark staleness of the original rFactor seems to have been swept away with CART 88; the cars feel alive, the tire feels super responsive yet flexes as rubber should, and the aero effects are very pronounced and will be fun to play around with in a giant at Michigan or the high speed corners of Road America. This is the most time I’ve spent on any sim car for a long time and actually enjoyed every minute of both the driving experience and the depth of the mod, with the very distinct characteristics of each car bringing it out even more. The March 88 has been my preferred car of choice, as though its probably the slowest widely-used chassis of the 1988 season, its definitely the least stable and fairly difficult to drive consistently, but when you get it right it gives a a sense of accomplishment that displays what sim racing is really about at its absolute best – mastering a car you’d have a snowball’s chance in hell at driving in real life.

CART 88 is a spectacular accomplishment in just how well rFactor can perform when a single mod team working purely for the love of sim racing stop at nothing in the pursuit of absolute realism, and as we move into the future generation of simulators, is a solid final goodbye to a landmark piece of software. Though the mod has not been released in a final, public fashion as of yet, those desperate to turn laps in these glorious machines can pick up a pre-release build of the package over at HSO’s official website, though you’ll be forced to create an account under your real name before the download links become available. It is well worth the few hoops you’re required to jump through to obtain this mod, just be very aware that these aren’t exactly easy cars for budding sim racers to adapt to.

CART 88 Enters Pre-Season Testing

rfactor-2017-03-04-18-39-20-70Classic open wheel seasons have been a staple of rFactor’s third party modification scene since the title’s initial release in the summer of 2006, and that trend is set to continue well over a decade later with the Historic Sim Racing Organization’s upcoming project, centered around the 1988 PPG CART World Series. Turning back the clock to Danny Sullivan’s championship season, and a calendar which saw 270 km/h purpose-built race cars hit the streets of New Jersey, Long Beach, Toronto, and even Tamiami Park, the mod aims to be an extremely comprehensive package – every single car that took the green flag at each of the fifteen stops on the schedule will be included in the mod, allowing the most hardcore of sim racers to replicate the very same performance improvements and equipment changes made by each team throughout the season.

rfactor-2017-03-04-18-45-51-85Though the mod’s primary use is to serve as the platform for HSO’s own online series, which will mirror the real-world 1988 schedule as closely as possible and be contested over full-length races from March 26th to December 10th, there are rumors that CART 88 will also be brought over to Reiza Studios’ Automobilista platform in some manner, showing off to the greater sim racing community what the hole-in-the-wall website can produce after years spent refining their craft. Typically keeping their releases constrained to the original rFactor title, the HSO group are extremely proud of what they’ve created with CART 88, and are looking to push this one out to as many people as possible.

rfactor-2017-03-04-18-47-53-85We’ve been privileged enough to blast around in a preseason testing version of the mod intended for league members to become acquainted with, select a car for the upcoming season, as well as report any minor bugs, and all of us are blown away by the quality of HSO’s work. It’s incredible to see major sim developers completely miss the mark with their tire models or liberal interpretations of classic open wheel cars, only for a passionate group of modders existing on their own corner of the internet to get it so bloody right, immediately out of the box. These cars are absolutely insane at the limit, often exhibiting bipolar tendencies which glue them to the track in one section with the precision of a modern race car, yet throwing you into the barrier just a few seconds later to remind you this is all still late 1980’s technology.

CART 88 will launch for ISI’s original rFactor in roughly a week, while the Automobilista version is said to come later down the line.

Not Very Exciting: The rFactor 2 February 2017 Roadmap

20170217175429_1I 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.

20170217162351_1Studio 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.

20170217170928_1There’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.

rf2-gfxThe 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.

eventinfosectorsThere 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.

20170217165301_1NOLA 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.