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.

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One Million Cash Prizes

introAnother month crossed off the calendar warrants yet another awkward sim racing startup. A company flying under the acronym of SRTC have recently taken the covers off of their attempt to steal a bit of iRacing’s thunder with organized online events on a set schedule for large cash prizes, but the reception has been slightly less than spectacular. The folks over at the Sim Racing Track Championship organization are currently boasting a hyperbolic online hub for Studio 397’s rFactor 2 simulation software, but the website has been crafted in such an amateur manner and makes such outlandish claims that it’s the absolute last company you’d feel comfortable handing over your credit card information to. Advertising cash prizes in excess of one million dollars for various rFactor 2 online races – somehow rivaling the Formula E Visa Vegas eRace payout despite no listed affiliate sponsors – we can’t officially label this place as a scam, but this is probably a scam.

Please keep your credit card in your wallet.

pricingWith iRacing members outside of North America already complaining about VAT taxes adding a few dollars extra to each online purchase, SRTC has basically ignored the complaints of the entire sim racing landscape in 2017, offering a tiered membership level which restricts access to certain races based on the amount you hand over, with the top level prizes requiring a whopping monthly fee of $42 USD – or just over $250 USD for the entire season. Quadrupling the price of iRacing for an unproven service is asking a bit much, and I’m shocked that people gave this pricing breakdown the thumbs up.

The sites’ flashy artwork promotes absurdly high payouts for either one-off glorified public lobby races or season-long championships, with basic rule packages elaborating upon how prizes will be awarded across all ten splits of drivers, but at no point on the website can you find proper standings to determine just how many people are already signed up for SRTC and participating in the organized races. There are no championship points tallies or even previous results from one-off events; the website is instead constructed in basic HTML format that basically screams middle school computer class project – certainly not the way to represent a company supposedly ready to hand out thousands of dollars to accomplished sim racers.

prizesMost pages list off a number of generic events with default rFactor 2 content and a very basic set of rules, but they don’t even convey how many drivers have already signed up for each event, nor do they list the exact time the races are set to go off – only the date and length of the event. How are you supposed to register for an event and set aside an evening to race with no publicized start time?

The Top 200 Leaderboard portal, which is advertised to rank the two hundred best sim racers in the world under the SRTC sanctioning body, instead links to yet another rules page along with a Google Document to sign up for the leaderboard… Which isn’t really how a leaderboard screen works, but okay… Winners will supposedly be invited to Barcelona, Spain for a “Sim Racing Super Show” in September of 2017, but there doesn’t even appear to be a breakdown as to how drivers are ranked, or where this event will take place… or… Much of anything.

Promotional material continues to mention the one million cash prizes figure, but the organization’s own preview video is basically a random hodgepodge of real world auto racing clips, an areal shot of Ferrari’s amusement park in Abu Dhabi, grid girls blowing kisses at the camera, and Las Vegas, Nevada, even though by the site’s own admission, you’ll supposedly be flown out to Barcelona. None of it makes any sense whatsoever, or bothers to convey on a basic level what SRTC actually provides as an online racing service, nor how it works.

Now getting into the truly perplexing stuff, there doesn’t even appear to be a members only area that would come standard with purchasing a membership to the organization; as a non-member, you’re free to start prowling through the list of events, and clicking on one takes you to a very basic Google Document page, where you’re asked to manually input all your information for the team to sort through when signing up for a race – including your membership level. These guys are asking you to pay $42 USD per month for advanced level membership to an online sim racing service, when being a member doesn’t actually warrant anything of value. You have free reign whether you sign up or not, and the important bits you want to learn more about, are non-existent.

How do you know these guys are even tracking your information if they’re asking you to input your membership level manually?

register-racesDigging as deep as I possibly can just to discover any piece of information I can find on these guys, there appear to be just two races conducted under the SRTC banner; a pair of four hour endurance events with eight total cars. These races are not advertised anywhere on the SRTC homepage, and due to the complete lack of information on the website, the results of which can not be obtained in the first place. The only place you can view the on-track product SRTC offers is through the BenjxMotors YouTube channel, the videos buried underneath Forza Motorsport 6 and Project CARS footage. Most of these videos have no more than 200 to 300 views.

But yeah, million dollars and stuff.

only-8-carsThe SRTC organization suspiciously continue to ask for your credit card number with their sim racing affiliate program, which promises commission for referrals, as well as promotion of your brand through their sim racing events. I find these guys claiming they’ll help promote your entity to be particularly hilarious, as their own website doesn’t even list championship standings, individual race results, nor YouTube footage of past events, their own YouTube account features one generic promotional video and boasts a whopping sixteen subscribers, while the only two races under the SRTC namesake are covered by a non-ESL YouTube channel that struggles to get 300 views on each individual video. Despite all of these elements which would easily deter affiliates and sponsors, SRTC promise a minimum commission of $150 USD or more – though they don’t even explain how to earn commission from them, just to contact them through another strange Google form.

srtcRecapping this shit is going to be absolutely barbaric, but I’ll try my best.

You can pay a premium price to sign up for the highest level of membership over at SRTC – a brand new online racing platform supposedly offering extremely large cash prizes for races against people around the world in rFactor 2 – but there’s no members area in which you can login to the service. There’s a video explaining the website offers one million cash prizes, but very little to tell you what the outlet is all about. There are indeed a list of races you can sign up for, but none of the races come with a posted start time, meaning you don’t even know what timezone the website has been set to.

There’s a Top 200 leaderboard page, but there’s no actual posted leaderboard in sight. The promotional video shows Las Vegas as a potential travel destination, but the alleged event is listed to take place in Barcelona. There are no standings or driver statistics to show you who is using the service (and what level of a member they are), but there’s a $42 USD monthly fee to become a platinum driver. Registering for an event consists of filling in a Google form that could have been created by a teenager even though the website boasts a steady stream of four-figure payouts. Only two races have been conducted under the SRTC sanctioning body, but they aren’t even mentioned on the official website – instead hiding out within an obscure YouTube channel that broadcasts races in Francais despite the website being published in English. Oh, and if you want to become an affiliate of SRTC who makes commission off of referrals, you certainly can, but it doesn’t say what how the referral process works – only to fill out another Google form.

Be safe out there. Do not give Sim Racing Track Championship your money. After checking these guys out on LiveRacers, and ignoring the multiple AI bots used to test the functionality of their server, there appear to be just six people who have put their credit card information at risk – only three of them turning a single lap on the server they paid a premium to access.

ai-driversI’ve also been unable to find results of either Endurance race supposedly contested. I really hope they didn’t try to pass off an AI race as a live event, but sillier things have happened in this hobby.

Back on Track

rfactor-2017-02-04-14-17-21-89It was a weekend of the impossible. While western sports news outlets are well on their way to spending the next six months obsessing over Tom Brady’s downright improbable comeback against a superior Atlanta Falcons defense in NRG Stadium during the closing minutes of Super Bowl LI, a group of dweeby teenagers and twenty-somethings traditionally holed up on a rebellious message board notorious for its influence on the 2016 United States presidential election channeled some of that same fourth quarter magic when they needed it the most. After years of being subjected to absolute, unfiltered virtual carnage, embarrassing miscellaneous growing pains, and a handful of users who desperately needed to step away from the computer screen in pursuit of self-improvement, the on-track product produced by 4Chan on Saturday afternoon was the complete opposite of the chaos that has defined the website since its inception.

Sure, mainstream media outlets may claim these childless, single men sit around masturbating to anime in their spare time, but the fifty minutes spent ripping around the Trois-Riviers street circuit on Saturday afternoon – as well as how the group got to that point – is nothing short of impressive.

Originally beginning life as a private Live for Speed server before migrating to the Xbox 360 with the Forza Motorsport franchise, 4Chan’s sim racing community has always acted as an extremely private, hole-in-the-wall alternative to RaceDepartment or Reddit, where lewd liveries and blatant trash talking were highly encouraged, in stark contrast to the extremely strict and judgemental communities managed by users who can best be described as “sim dads” – older gentlemen believing respect, sportsmanship, and brownie points are just as important as the racing itself. When the original Forza Horizon title failed to support anything but the most simplistic of online events, yet also reeled in an entirely new audience curious about the world of sim racing from their time spent in Playground’s virtual rendition of Colorado, the choice was made to instead branch out to encompass all aspects of virtual racing.

1286839737612Within two years, the community had grown into a large enough entity which warranted a semi-competitive rFactor league, hosted by individuals who weren’t really experienced in running any sort of proper series, and attended primarily by radical sim racers who had grown frustrated with the ultra-strict climate of proper leagues. With Risto Kappet and Guus Verver of virtual racing super group Walk Racing who at the time were competing in the highly prestigious Touring Pro Series – appearing alongside an already stout selection of ultra quick independent drivers such as myself, our own PRC contributor Severin Austerschmidt, and Ethan Dean of virtual monster truck fame, the 4Chan championship became an unusually talented pool of individuals for a weekly series of events that had no credibility in the sim racing landscape whatsoever.

bats-hurtFostering an environment that encouraged blatant piracy, heinous insults, absurd chat macros, offensive paint schemes, and allowing every last virtue that would see you banned from a traditional online series for eternity, the inagural season of the 4Chan GT3 cup brought a whopping 52 entries to Spa-Francorchamps in the fall of 2014, with entry lists routinely staying in the high thirties until the season finale at Interlagos – a five car battle for the championship eventually captured by yours truly.

However, for all of the initial hurdles the ragtag group of sim racers seemed to overcome with ease in the creation of a private championship – such as securing a large, core group of users to participate in the full season, as well as putting down the funds for a proper LiveRacers account and routinely updating the numerous livery packs – one major roadblock still remained: nerds on the internet rarely get along with each other for more than a few weeks at a time.

gsc-2015-04-23-19-01-55-58As the group continued to host major online championships over a number of years, first using the original rFactor platform with popular sports car & endurance racing mods before moving to Stock Car Extreme once a pirated version was made available, it became increasingly obvious that the actual racing portion came second to specific individuals. The number of avoidable on-track incidents increased substantially, primarily caused by users who later admitted they didn’t even enjoy racing games but merely needed a group of online friends to combat long-term isolation and the lack of any social group away from the computer, while packs of racers formed alliances with one another and worked to try and chase away individuals with whom they weren’t fond of – using the online discussion board traditionally reserved for sim racing talk to instead generate distaste for other users.

gsc-2015-04-25-16-27-09-06The general ugliness surrounding 4Chan’s sim racing community following a successful first season was then kicked into overdrive after multiple changes in the ecosystem within a very short period of time. The lone female user quickly attracted a pack of beta orbiters to shower her in sympathy after a poor on-track performance in her own private chat channel (provided she even started the race at all), a driver allowed to return after a prolonged bout of self-loathing returned to his old behavior of intentionally smashing into other drivers before asking to play a different genre of games altogether, and server scripts were written to boot disliked drivers from the server every nine minutes; just enough to make them believe their personal install of Stock Car Extreme was acting up.

rfactor-2015-03-07-15-55-41-84The community then imploded on itself when genuine photographic evidence surfaced of a respected series organizer – who had suspiciously stopped racing yet still frequented the voice chat server on a nightly basis – was revealed to have been using the league primarily as a way to connect with a transsexual from the United Kingdom, and fly halfway around the world for an intimate encounter under the guise of a “4Chan sim racing meetup.” What was once a thriving online racing community refusing to turn into an elaborate sim dad country club had officially become a transsexual dating application.

Extreme toxicity arising from the situation saw even the most neutral of 4Chan sim racers packing up their stuff and vowing never to return – the scheduled championships at the time dwindling to embarrassingly low levels of participation.

15995046_10155649921929951_6583086353779724807_oFacing the complete destruction of a community that once defiantly stood up to the politically correct side of sim racing, and offered a unique hole-in-the-wall joint to discuss the genre without being viciously attacked by fanboys down-voting you into oblivion, or power-tripping moderators liberally throwing around the ban hammer, the decision was made in early 2017 to resurrect the GT3 championship which temporarily put 4Chan on the map as a chaotic yet immensely competitive online league, primarily as a last ditch effort to revive the positive elements of the community for one last hurrah. The points system would be intentionally ridiculous, the schedule would visit tracks which encouraged destruction in an online setting – such as the claustrophobic Lime Rock Park and Macau circuits – and the mod itself would be a clusterfuck of 3D models and physics, making use of the Ultimate GT3 Compilation 2.0 instead of a high caliber release.

There was simply no effort put in whatsoever to create a compelling on-track product, only to bring people together for what was intended to be a final celebration of sorts before the community was put out of its misery.

15936334_10155649921909951_6569696189209350299_oThe first event of the season produced a fifty minute duel between myself and Ethan Dean, with my Audi running out of fuel on the final lap. The chat server reacted to our race-long battle as if they had been watching a NASCAR event; with third and fourth place giving updates to the rest of the participants from their front row seats to the action. It was a surprisingly compelling on-track product for a racing series created out of spite, and oddly enough, the number of overall incidents had been significantly lower than first expected. Rather than descending into an all-out war in the post-race discussion, everyone seemed pleasantly surprised that something thrown together as a joke went so goddamn well.

The next event, held at the Potrero de los Funes Circuit in Argentina, unified everyone in their hate of the complex temporary street circuit, though the unpredictability led to a situation where merely stringing together a decent sector – or even a full lap at that – would allow you to make radical gains on your opponent. The final results were not a reflection of who had been able to dial in their setup the best over the week of practice, but who could survive fifty minutes at a track none of us had even heard of and were still struggling to memorize.

Once again, it was a radically different result than everybody had been expecting. But was a succession of successful races little more than a complete fluke, or had group of sim racers from 4Chan finally gotten their act together and moved on from the terrible phase of toxicity?

The following week, we would have the answer to that question.

rfactor-2017-01-21-14-21-07-84The third round of the 2017 4Chan GT3 series brought participants to Trois-Riviers, Quebec – a very short regional street circuit traditionally holding a round of the NASCAR Pinty’s Series each season, with no less than three ninety degree corners accented by sharp barriers jutting out onto the racing surface, and a treacherous hairpin marking the end of each lap. This is a circuit that even the most accomplished of sim racers struggle with due to how unforgiving the first sector of the circuit can be, and yet this was round three in a championship designed for casual sim racers plastering anime women on their vehicles – some of whom would be racing on an Xbox 360 controller and at the mercy of the endless concrete walls with an inadvertent twitch of their thumb.

rfactor-2017-02-04-14-15-22-89In a ten minute qualifying shootout nobody expected to even manifest itself in the first place, due in no small part to a massive thirty car field spread over a circuit which took just a minute to complete, the lead spot on the grid was eventually determined by just nine thousandths of a second – going down to the very last lap turned in the session. This kind of gap is unheard of in top level sim racing, much less a group of guys on 4Chan just sort of fucking around.

And yet here was 4Chan putting on a show.

rfactor-2017-02-06-16-43-55-36And though the race itself featured no lead changes, the final twenty minutes of the event saw the two race leaders separated by just a second – an attack spearheaded by a pink & white McLaren adorned with cartoon girls – despite cars that had not once been balanced by league organizers in an effort to retain a level playing field, as the series itself was constructed primarily as a joke. This kind of white-knuckle racing was not possible thanks to just two talented drivers at the front of the field going for broke, but an entire field of 4Chan users who traveled to one of the most difficult circuits in sim racing armed with used wheels and Xbox 360 controllers, and somehow kept their composure for almost an hour of driving at speeds over 200 km.h.

We weren’t just hauling ass in a quest for bragging rights; even the lapped traffic, drivers participating in the event for shits and giggles, were somehow managing to keep their cars in one piece and pointed in the proper direction – with no more or less retirements than could be expected from a proper online series where everyone gave a shit.

All of this, from a website the media describes as an overwhelming amount of single men masturbating to anime.

rfactor-2017-02-06-16-45-25-02It was an impressive group accomplishment for a community that desperately needed to pull off something like this; yes, they had brought 52 cars to Spa in the fall of 2014 for the biggest rFactor race you’d never heard of, but over a period of years, they also chased away a large portion of their core userbase due to inexplicably poor driving standards, unnecessary internal drama, and private transsexual encounters. Being able to place a rebellious group of sim racers – some of whom don’t even own plastic steering wheels wheels – on one of the most difficult street circuits in the world and having it play out in a compelling race everyone was glad to be a part of, is nothing short of phenomenal.

And yet meanwhile on iRacing, people are paying top dollar to get wrecked only a hundred feet after the start/finish line…

Huis Hits the Track!

16422601_1355765794446607_2300918519670998168_oEven though last month’s million dollar Visa Vegas eRace will go down in history as a disastrous one-off event most sim racers would like to forget – painting our favorite line of games out to be visually stunted pieces of unexciting technology – not everyone has come away from the experience believing CloudSport and Formula E conducted a gigantic waste of time and resources. After dominating a large portion of the final race, losing the lead to teammate Oli Pahkala thanks to a poorly constructed mod allowing for six whole laps of the controversial fanboost component, and the FIA awkwardly adjusting the race results after the official trophy celebration had concluded, Team Redline competitor Bono Huis came away from Las Vegas, Nevada with much more than just $200,000 USD in spending money.

Images uploaded today on Team Redline’s official Facebook page have revealed Huis recently completed a private test session in Spain with Formula E team Faraday Future Dragon Racing. Say what you will about Formula E as a series; this guy was allowed to take unrestricted laps in a top level race car all thanks to his accomplishments in a racing simulator. And that’s pretty cool.

16462991_1355765864446600_143863361741151827_oHowever, it’s admittedly very familiar territory for Team Redline, as this isn’t the first time a member of the world’s top sim racing team has been invited to test a real race car thanks to their proficiency on a modern simulator. Greger Huttu’s dominance in any simulator he touched throughout the mid-2000’s landed him a Star Mazda series test session at Road Atlanta while flying under the iRacing promotional banner, though his unfamiliarity with G-Force loads generated in such an agile open wheel race car caused him to lose his lunch after a mere handful of laps. Obviously, Bono would be looking to improve on that kind of performance, especially with a significantly higher caliber team looking on.

Unfortunately, at the moment I’m unable to find any tangible feedback on how Huis performed during the test session at the Calafat circuit in Tarragona, Spain. While any sim racer going out and turning laps in a real car will obviously warrant a miniature celebration within the community, even more important is how well the virtual rendition of the car prepared them for the real thing. After all, this is the entire purpose of a racing simulator. If a sim racer who went out and decimated the entire field in an event conducted by Formula E can’t hold his own in the real deal, it sort of shits on everything the FIA and Formula E were trying to build with their push to make sim racing a stepping stone of sorts for the actual series.

16463331_1355765927779927_7120777234278788704_oWith how much money Visa and the FIA pumped into the Visa Vegas eRace production, I’m sure it’s reasonable to expect that a documentary chronicling Bono’s path to sim racing stardom will surface in the next couple of months – and only then will we find out how much truly did transfer over from the simulator. And with the inevitable short film surrounding the event and subsequent test session undoubtedly in the pipeline, I hope there is a very concrete effort made on part of the directors to discourage certain sim racers from living in a fantasy world, utterly convinced if they sit around and play video games, semi-professional teams will shower them with rookie contracts.

Yesterday evening we ran a somewhat lengthy article profiling sim racing Twitch personality JJacoby88, who has become almost a poster-child of sorts for delusional iRacing members convinced there are top level motorsports scouts privately spectating key races on the service. The pie-in-the-sky fantasies of these people are fueled partially by quasi-promotional endeavors such as GT Academy or the Visa Vegas eRace, and never has a director of the accompanying television footage created to document them made it explicitly clear that these were the absolute best of the best earning a very special opportunity unique to their specific situation; there was a major learning process involved, and not always did they produce results on the race track. It’s certainly not a motorized version of American Idol by any means, and I’m genuinely hopeful that when Formula E upload Bono’s path to the track, it’s not treated as such.

For now, however, a talented member of the sim racing community got to wheel a Formula E ride. PretendRaceCars.net would like to congratulate Bono Huis on his test session with Faraday Future Dragon Racing; we hope you drove your fucking ass off!

 

VISA Vegas eRace Descends Into Chaos *UPDATED*

feetEditor’s Note: Despite a VirtualR article stating MAK-Corp had been contacted to build a virtual representation of the Formula E vehicle for a commercial project, the team have came out on Facebook and announced they had no part in the festivities, which were instead handled by CloudSport. The article has been updated to place the blame on the correct individuals and/or entities, and my apologies go out to MAK-Corp for the blame I originally placed on them.

We all knew it was going to be a disaster from the announcement alone, but Nero did play the fiddle as Rome burned, and there’s a sort schadenfreude in watching absurdity of this magnitude unfold on live television – or Twitch, if you’d like us to get technical. The Formula E backed Visa Vegas eRace was billed as the biggest sim racing event of all time, and intended to be used as definitive proof that virtual race cars have a legitimate home in the eSports ecosystem alongside much more popular titles, but in execution, the whole thing just didn’t manifest into a product that has the potential to get people excited about what’s otherwise a relatively obscure hobby. An event that shouldn’t have left the napkin it was drawn up on, the Visa Vegas eRace instead left the eSports kingdom almost as quickly as it entered; all flash, and no substance.

Sure, ten of the world’s best sim racers are currently walking off the set with enough money to justify spending entire years of their lives in front of a computer screen, but the eRace was supposed to be far more than a celebratory payday for select drivers. Despite declining spectator counts for live motorsports events due to millennial’s complete lack of interest in motor racing – or cars, for that matter – Formula E believed a virtual counterpart was the way of the future, and used the Vegas event as a trial run for a full series powered by rFactor 2. Obviously, hardcore sim racers knew how this would play out. Falling flat among curious viewers who were willing to give the concept a shot, and suffering from massive technical glitches that compromised the integrity of the competition, it now appears figureheads within Formula E simply threw money at the whole eSports fad, and just sort of hoped for the best.

That wasn’t the smartest idea. The Visa Vegas eRace was a complete and utter joke from start to finish. Don’t do this again.

grid-girlWithin thirty seconds of jumping into the Twitch feed just in time for the main event, I was greeted by a generic grid girl walking across the front of the set, and the camera panned back to reveal an elaborate production graced by Dario Franchitti’s presence as a color commentator. Knowing how sim racing isn’t exactly a glamorous activity to begin with – the majority of drivers logging laps while sporting a comfy set of pajamas in their bedroom – it was a bit silly to see such an elaborate setup that rivaled most ESPN nightly news sessions, especially as this was an unproven eSport event with no following to validate this sort of ridiculous setup to begin with.

The absurdity factor got cranked up to eleven when close-up shots of the drivers unveiled they had all been sporting custom made firesuits for the one-off event; presumably to avoid the consequences of nVidia GPU’s spontaneously bursting into flames. Readers of PRC.net know full well I’m not cool with sim racers who immerse themselves in their delusions and truly believe they’re just as relevant as real race car drivers, but in this instance I can forgive them for merely being forced to play along with Formula E’s ludicrous bullshit considering how much prize money was on the line.

What I can’t forgive, however, is how little personality each of the drivers exhibited on camera. While I understand that Finnish residents are known all over the planet for their lack of emotion, it was hard as a viewer to find a sim racer to get behind for this event due to how unexciting each of the drivers were. They all looked like they’d been yanked straight out of an IT job and placed into an elaborate sim rig for some sort of promo event. Aside from the guy who took his pedostache in stride (major props on that one), and the commentators repeatedly mentioning Greger Huttu as ,“the greatest sim racer ever” without once elaborating upon his previous accomplishments, it was very difficult as an audience member to say “I want driver X to win.” The race hadn’t even started yet, and I already didn’t care about the results. There are entry level college courses that teach you the basics of story telling – such as introducing your characters and letting the audience know why this event was important to them – and yet a company as large as Formula E had failed at conveying these simple concepts on a goddamn Twitch broadcast.

This problem was magnified by the fact that the race wouldn’t start for quite some time, and generic promotional material was used as filler during the unscheduled delay. The broadcast was met with a twenty minute stoppage right as the main event was about to commence, and tech officials could be seen kneeling next to the drivers trying to rectify problems with the software. It was very amateurish for such a mammoth presentation that acted as the bastion of sim racing to the eSports community.

firefox-2017-01-07-17-23-17-60Once rectified, the trio of commentators were not made aware the software gremlins had been ironed out by Formula E technical staff members, meaning the first few corners were accompanied by bland pre-race babble rather than genuine enthusiasm over the start of the competition, and it quickly set in that this would most certainly not be the launch of a new era in sim racing. Polesitter Bono Huis checked out from the rest of the field almost immediately, and the complete lack of any on-track excitement made the shortcomings of the endeavor even more apparent than they would have been otherwise

firefox-2017-01-07-17-42-58-12Powered by Studio 397’s rFactor 2 software, using a car model developed by the almighty MAK-Corp – a team known within the sim racing community for inaccurate cars lapping several seconds faster than their real life counterparts – and with physics handled by Cloudsport (not exactly a major player in the rFactor 2 world) the raw gameplay looked atrocious, to put it nicely. With poor lighting and blocky trackside objects stealing the show, the quality of rFactor 2’s thermodynamic tire model was simply not conveyed in the slightest through the Twitch broadcast. It looked more like a PlayStation 2 game, and that’s not going to win over an audience a decade after the PlayStation 3 launched.

A few minutes into the race, Dario Franchitti mentioned that all of the cars on the grid had been using a fixed setup, which is absolutely nonsensical considering the qualifying rounds allowed sim racers to dial in their car based on their own driving preferences, and the default setup pre-packaged with most simulator cars is literally a random batch of numbers placed somewhere between the minimum and maximum value of each specific setting. Formula E essentially wanted to hold a massive sim racing competition for the best sim racers in the world, but wouldn’t even let their participants treat it as the racing simulator they had qualified with.

Just think about how absolutely fucking retarded that is.simulator-damageLap ten saw multiple front-running cars involved in a massive wreck in turn one, which should have ended the races of all involved, but viewers were instead shocked when these vehicles warped back through the barriers they flew over, and continued on as if nothing had happened. According to sim racing YouTube personality EmptyBox, the word “carnage” was promptly banned in the accompanying chat box, as Formula E struggle to control what was becoming an all-out shitshow.

Nothing says “serious online competition” like censoring your own audience for literally talking about what was occurring on screen among other viewers. We were reaching critical mass in terms of how poorly “the biggest event in sim racing” could go, and it was only the halfway point. Bono Huis was blowing everybody out, creating an absolute snoozer of a race for those who cared about the actual racing portion, none of the ten thousand viewers could stomach the ancient visuals, and moderators finally had to censor the chat box because they’d had enough of people ripping on the driving standards. Visa and Formula E were about to give away a million dollars in prize money, on top of spending hundreds of thousands to host this event, only for it to be a complete and utter shitshow.

pit-lelAs the mandatory pit stop rolled around and drivers flew into pit lane for a car swap – which certainly wasn’t a car swap on screen, but a generic rFactor 2 stop for tires and fuel – fans lit up the chat and began openly mocking the poor quality of the simulator. Hell, some fans didn’t even know there was a pit stop occurring, because there was no goddamn pit crew to imply that’s what was going on. Real world Formula E racer Felix Rosenqvist was in the process of reeling in Bono Huis to challenge for the top spot, but nobody was sure if this attack would amount to anything, as there had been very little noteworthy on-track action to speak of, and the layout of the fictitious Vegas circuit offered very few – if any – legitimate overtaking zones. Provided Huis didn’t shout Allahu Akbar  and smash head-on into a wall for comedic relief from this dreadful event, he had the thing wrapped up.

Then Olli Pahkala started posting lap times two seconds faster than anyone had registered over the course of the entire weekend.

fan-boostFormula E’s most controversial gimmick is undoubtedly the Fan Boost promotion, where those following the series can literally visit a website prior to each round of the championship and vote on a driver who will be granted a five-second, single use turbo boost for the upcoming event. Virtually everyone shit on the concept when it was first announced, yet it still remains in the rule book to this day – even more proof that the brass within the FIA just don’t understand their own audience in the slightest.

fuck-you-fiaThis gimmick was implemented into the Visa Vegas eRace as well, with Olli Pahkala one of the three drivers receiving an extra shot of power undoubtedly thanks to his close friends on iRacing going hard in the paint on Twitter. However, instead of the Fan Boost functionality giving Olli six seconds of additional engine power, CloudSport presumably fucked up when building the rFactor 2 mod used for the event, and Olli was able to keep mashing the boost button, over and over again. There were no third party injections involved, nor was there a phantom USB stick plugged into the rear of his PC, just a sim racer exploiting a shitty mod built by a team who have demonstrated time and time again that their rFactor 2 releases are junk.

Pahkala decimated the other eighteen participants, posting six laps in a row, two seconds faster than any other time registered through the weekend, blowing out Bono Huis’ track record qualifying lap in the middle of a fuel run, and pulling away to a cool $200,000 USD that royally pissed off all ten thousand viewers spectating the event. The biggest event in the history of sim racing, one which was initially meant to establish this little genre as a genuine eSport (complete with a full series planned in the future), had instead been decided by people voting in a poll on Twitter. Compared to the other drivers, the fan boost produced such a massive increase in power, the rest of the competitors were sitting ducks.

Viewers were furious, and these weren’t just assmad fanboys upset that it wasn’t iRacing or Assetto Corsa used for the competition. Formula E provided live timing during the event, and long before Pahkala had crossed the finish line & been declared the victor, avid sim racers realized the integrity of the competition had been jeopardized.

six-lapsOlli Pahkala was awarded the top spot on the podium despite never being in contention for a large portion of the race, and clearly benefiting from an issues with the software brought on by a meaningless Twitter gimmick that should have never been implemented in a test of driving skill in the first place, with shots straight out of Las Vegas Nevada depicting an obviously frustrated Bono Huis. I’m sure his mom will probably give him shit for looking like a mad cunt in these photos and not acting like a professional regardless of the circumstances, but the dude has every right to be pissed the fuck off.

Formula E hosted what was supposed to be the biggest competition in the history of sim racing, yet the outcome was determined by a popularity contest on Twitter, and some guy taking advantage of flaws in a car built by a shitty rFactor 2 mod team, clearly demonstrating Formula E and Visa had no idea what the fuck they were doing at any point during this endeavor.

c1nhxzfxcaqqkpp-jpg-largeThis gets worse.

Huis threw a completely justifiable hissy fit at the stewards, begging them to review the software – as well as the lap times – because all ten thousand viewers watching at home knew precisely what had happened. A Twitter poll won Olli Pahkala the race, and the increase in horsepower didn’t even work as it was supposed to. To rectify the problem, the FIA stewards promptly issued a twelve second penalty to race winner Pahkala, handing the win to Huis.

penaltyNow the FIA stewards were in even deeper shit. On top of using an outdated piece of software none of the viewers found compelling in the slightest, and determining the winner of the competition with a Twitter poll, they penalized a guy who wasn’t actually cheating, but in a fantastic display of heads-up driving realized CloudSport royally fucked something with ten laps left in the biggest sim race of his life, and abused Formula E’s own incompetence in choosing a content creator to dominate the competition. On what planet do you penalize a driver for merely making the most out of the organizer’s incompetence?

Olli Pahkala won the race because Formula E couldn’t do half an hour’s worth of research when it came to holding an online sim racing competition, and had a six figure payday taken away from him because CloudSport are shit and the FIA stewards were outright embarrassed at how things had gone. Studio 397 said so.

mak-corp-sucksBono Huis was officially confirmed to be the event champion roughly an hour later by event organizers, with their social media pages conveniently leaving why the guy in third on the broadcast was suddenly awarded first prize. Obviously he’s all smiles now given how much $200,000 USD can do for any single person on the planet, but how we got to that point, and what this was all supposed to do for sim racing in the long run, will warrant a much different response than Bono’s happy mug.

c1nswpjxcae2vqiLet’s start with the obvious; Formula E and Visa have more money than brains. That much is apparent. Despite all of the message board chatter painting CloudSport out to be an incompetent mod team, two giant entities threw a mountain of money at amateur rFactor 2 modders to create pieces of content that would be used in a competition with one million dollars in prize money handed out to the participants. These guys can’t even get the right people to conduct a virtual racing event without everything going awry, so it makes you wonder how many boneheaded decisions are made behind closed doors when it comes to the real thing, whether it be Formula E, or Formula One? You know, the biggest racing series in the world.

maxresdefaultBut onto the core topic of discussion, this event was supposed to launch sim racing into the eSports scene in a pretty profound way. There were vague hints at plans to conduct a full season of competition alongside the real Formula E championship in the future, marking the first time sim racing would be in the spotlight and listed among titles such as League of Legends in terms of legitimate eSports parterned with major corporations. Judging by the audience reaction to this clusterfuck of an event, Formula E would be foolish to continue with these plans, regardless of what deals have already been made behind the scenes. Viewers laughed at the awful graphics, poked fun at unexciting personalities during the trophy presentations, and aggressively berated the overall production, forcing moderators to begin censoring discussion of the event while it was still underway, before users launched into an all-out assault when the champion was determined by a Twitter poll and an improperly constructed virtual car.

If Formula E move forward and introduce a full season of eSports competition after this landmark disaster, it’s merely definitive proof the executives in charge of making decisions for the brand have lost all touch with reality. The Visa Vegas eRace was an embarrassment both to eSports, and to sim racing; an ambitious project that at no point was a captivating viewing experience any sane person would want more of.

I do not want to extend a genuine round of applause to just Bono Huis for taking home the top prize in the Visa Vegas eRace, but to all fellow sim racers who rolled off the grid; putting up with Formula E’s never-ending series of bullshit decisions must have been infinitely more challenging than 20 laps in a shitty CloudSport mod.