Outer Space Donations

Holy shit, what fucking timeline are we in?

With no prior post history and little in the way of recording equipment, an rFactor 2 supporter by the screen name of Matador667 has appeared on the official Studio 397 forums, attempting to raise money from other devout rFactor 2 fans that would be put towards recording real audio samples from the historic Cosworth DFV engine that was a prominent staple of Grand Prix grids back in the 1970’s. Sporting a Geocities-like web page, the endeavor aims to pick up some of the slack that Studio 397 simply aren’t able to execute on their own by attaining real engines sounds for upcoming content – something Studio 397 aren’t able to do on their own given their already busy schedule morphing rFactor 2 into a relevant product.

It’s an admirable effort for community members to self-fund an aspect of development for their favorite game – a step beyond iRacing fanatics purchasing pizza for the staff members after key software updates – but in execution, Matador667’s project raises several red flags.

Broken English, vague details, and a donation button linking to the address of matador667@mail.com highlight wishful thinking from a non-English speaker at best and an outright scam at worst, though what is already looking extremely shady takes a turn for the bizarre on the official Studio 397 message board. Matador outright admits he has no idea what he’s doing, cannot tell sim racers on the rFactor 2 message board who will be managing the project, what equipment they will be using, who will be mixing the sound in the end, what car they will be using as source material, or the most important part of all – how much it will cost.

He does, however, continuously ask for donations. A lot.

Matador sends himself into hot water fairly quickly by becoming combative against anyone with a functioning brain whom dared to question him, as well as admits there has been no planning done on the project whatsoever, before claiming he has somehow raised exactly 21% of the money needed to progress to the next step.

Uh, guys… ?

With zero background information on the modder in question, and absolutely nothing on the table when it comes to a tangible plan to record the sounds, we are subjected to lengthy posts dubbing those asking basic, simple questions about the crowdfunded sound recording project to be “spies” from other games trying to sabotage rFactor 2.

It’s easy to get swept up in the madness of just one inexplicably bizarre message board story on the Studio 397 forums, but I feel this might be the time to talk about rFactor 2’s strange tendency to attract the vollpatients of the sim community into vigorously defending the software as if it were their first-born child. Slowly but surely, stories have come from all over the place in regards to rFactor 2 owners acting as a grassroots Scientology cult of sorts, believing to be in some kind of war with other sim racers who are actively working to bury rFactor 2. Messages such as the one below in my inbox appear quite frequently, with one anonymous user claiming he was unable to leave an honest Steam review about rFactor 2 without being brigaded by a rabid rFactor 2 supporter who worked tirelessly to dismiss the user’s opinions of the software.

This behavior, combined with Matador667’s tangent in which he explains you should donate to his objectively sketchy sound recording project to somehow fight back against the spies and saboteurs from other simulators, makes me genuinely question what subliminal messages Image Space Incorporated have inserted into their track side television monitors – this shit is absolutely whack. I shouldn’t have to say this, but in case you’re new, we might as well cover it anyway: Don’t give money to Matador667; his crowdfunded Cosworth engine recording project is most likely a scam, and it’s not cool when sim racers fuck with each other in a monetary fashion.

 

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Why Do the Most Prolific Sims Have the Worst Sim Cars?

Last week, RaceDepartment posed a very interesting question to the racing simulator community, one which generated some genuinely intriguing responses that from an outsider’s standpoint would leave a lot of potential customers scratching their heads. Asking readers to reveal their personal picks for the all-around worst car to ever land in a modern auto racing simulator, the topic promptly exploded overnight; more than 120 replies all sought to convey a variety of thoughts and feelings on what virtual race cars needed to be avoided at all costs. To my surprise, the topic did not descend into mindless shit-slinging or fanboy wars between rival simulators as you’d expect – most users contributed to the discussion in a very modest fashion – but as the topic progressed, I began to notice an underlying story line that if publicized, could turn the genre on its head.

Away from the abrasive confines of PRC, iRacing and rFactor 2 are regarded by an overwhelming majority of the community as the two most accurate racing simulators on the market today; the pinnacle of what the genre has achieved since Gran Turismo and Papyrus became household names in the mid 1990’s.

Regardless of how each individual developer claims to strive for accuracy when it comes to perfecting their respective racing simulators, what we can agree on is that Image Space Incorporated, as well as iRacing, have spent decades refining their software to the point where the general buzz around either title usually consists of mentioning an abundance of real world auto racing teams align themselves with one group or the other. rFactor 2 fanboys will kick and scream that Formula One and World Sportscar teams use rFactor software both as a training tool for their drivers, as well as an in-house simulator to test new cars and potential setup changes, while iRacing members will be quick to link you to a testimonials page featuring an overwhelming amount of American race car drivers claiming to be so enamored by the accuracy of the online racing service, they constantly use it to brush up on their driving skills.

As an outsider just getting into sim racing after growing tired with mass-market console titles, this kind of marketing combined with very promising ground level buzz makes the choice seem pretty obvious for those looking to buy their first simulator – iRacing and rFactor 2 are supposedly so far ahead of the competition, real drivers are flocking to either title en mass because they’re just that realistic, that refined, and that authentic.

Responses to RaceDepartment’s recent thread may have something to say about that; the two genre-defining simulators are actually a bit of a mess away from the carefully crafted marketing hype, full of cars that are of such a poor quality, it’s difficult to comprehend how these games are so widely praised by the community to begin with.

Let’s start with ISI/Studio 397’s rFactor 2, which has been on the market since 2013. Several users note the Historic Stock Car, the Karts, the Renault Megane Trophy, the Formula 2, the GT3-spec Chevrolet Camaro, and even the Skip Barber are not just underwhelming cars when compared to the rest of the vehicle roster, they are deemed to be some of the most unrealistic, inaccurate cars ever created for a racing simulator. If you go onto the rFactor 2 Steam Forums, or even the official Studio 397 message board, you will see people praising this game to the highest of heavens, going on and on about a tire model so complex and so advanced, historians will deem this to be the most groundbreaking and innovative piece of software ever developed. Some will even berate you for daring to mention you enjoy other games, simply because rFactor 2’s physics are supposedly so perfect, you’re somehow less of a sim racer if you choose to ignore that portion of the software in pursuit of a more well-rounded simulator experience elsewhere.

And yet, here are a cluster of seven different sim racers saying a handful of cars in the game are complete trash and should be avoided at all costs. Answer me this: if the game is every bit as advanced as its reputation makes it out to be, why would anyone dare to label some of the default content in the game as “the worst sim car of all time?” It’s not like these people are all dog-piling on one specific car that ISI announced later down the road had been created by a group of rookie staff members just learning how to insert content into the game – no, there’s a pretty diverse range of cars mentioned, all from different periods in rFactor 2’s lifespan, that are deemed to be the worst cars the genre has to offer.

How is it that a game held in such high regard by a significant portion of the community is at the same time being nominated several times over for including cars so preposterously bad, they are being mentioned in a “worst sim car of all time” questionnaire? Everywhere you go, from Steam to Reddit, people claim that rFactor 2 is an objectively fantastic racing simulator that doesn’t receive enough credit for what it accomplishes, but yet we now know of six cars in the game to outright avoid because they’re so absurdly bad.

How does that work?

Next, let’s talk about iRacing. Launching in 2008, iRacing has grown into a worldwide phenomenon within the spectrum of racing games over the last decade, a “final solution” of sorts to console gamers who have grown tired of chaotic public lobbies, or hobbyist PC sim racers seeking the ultimate online racing challenge. While racing simulators are a bit of an obscure video game genre as a whole, restricted to hardcore nerds who willingly drop hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on plastic steering wheels, iRacing as a brand is fucking everywhere – with PC Gamer calling it the best racing game of all time, iRacing liveries constantly popping up in American oval racing, and even top level NASCAR commentators occasionally name-dropping the software during live events. So you’d think with all of this hype, publicity, brand recognition, and the most important factor – money – fueling this operation, the quality of the software itself would mirror the enormous exposure it has received, right?

You are mistaken.

An abundance of users on RaceDepartment are in some cases nominating every single car available in iRacing as “the worst, most inaccurate car ever to be released for a commercial simulator.” This isn’t just the crazy ramblings of one guy with a vendetta against the company, either – you have several people from all over the world, road racing fans, oval fans, dirt fans, armchair sim racers, guys who have raced in real life, all saying the entire game is horrible. I think I counted five alone whose responses were just “iRacing.”  Full stop.

Just consider what is being said here; after all of this laser-scanning stuff, the aggressive marketing, the testimonials from real drivers claiming they all practice on the software 24/7, the elaborate developer diaries, the numerous tire model revisions both old and new, former NASCAR engineers lending a hand with the physics side of things, and the bizarre cost that can quickly eat into the wallet of anyone who isn’t financially responsible, you have several people going onto a public forum and saying “the whole game is trash and drives nothing like a real car.” This is supposedly the pinnacle of sim racing, the reason people are spending thousands on full motion rigs, triple monitor setups, and toy wheels that can eclipse the cost of an amateur race car.

And that’s before we pick apart specific comments left by users such as Akra, who notes “the Spec Racer Ford was clearly broken and undriveable on day one, and as usual it was defended by the iRacing hardcore as being the most realistic thing known to man. Turns out it was broken, and patched too.”

How can it be that the biggest, most prolific sim racing entity in gaming today, is being discussed by users away from the official forums as so unrealistic, every single vehicle in the game could qualify as the worst sim car of all time? Again, one guy with a post history of nothing but slamming iRacing, that can be written off as someone with a vendetta and a bit too much time on his hands. However, multiple sim racers all saying the same thing, with some even coming out to openly talk about how iRacers will crucify you for daring to mention that a car within the game isn’t very good, that’s cause for concern.

So what’s going on here? Two of the most prolific, well-known simulators are being blasted by sim racers for totally inaccurate cars that behave nowhere close to their real life counter parts. How does that work, and an even better question, why is nobody raising awareness about this? Here you’ve got two companies that openly advertise their products as being so accurate that real-world racing teams are lining up to use them, yet everyday customers (who make up 99% of the audience) remain totally unconvinced, writing things like “the Mazda MX-5 drives like a psychotic ice cube” on third party message boards.

Is sim racing as we know it just a giant smoke and mirrors show, held together by idiotic fanboys who throw money at anything and everything to live out their failed race car-driving dreams, while those critical of the software are pushed aside and dismissed as irrational haters pushing a garbage rhetoric?

Yep.

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.

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.