Yawn Factor: Sector 3 Studios Acquire Porsche License

If you’re going to go through the trouble of making some sort of impromptu hashtag, and tease a “major announcement” about your video on Facebook, it better actually be a major announcement, and not something that everyone else within the ecosystem have been doing for about eleven months. This is the spot RaceRoom and Sector 3 Studios have found themselves in today, as the #WelcomeHome announcement was not a full-fledged TCR Scandinavia expansion as I publicly predicted (though I think Jean-Francois can confirm I called it in private on Facebook), but rather the introduction of Porsche into the *free-to-play PC racing simulator. After years spent using the aftermarket modification brand Ruf in substitute of the iconic German sports cars – as did many developers during the years of EA’s exclusivity deal – simulation enthusiasts who call R3E their software of choice will now be able to purchase a fleet of authentic Porsche race cars in the near future.

For the R3E crowd, as well as the developers themselves, it’s certainly an exciting time for the game, as Porsche’s inclusion is really one of the last major automotive brands to be implemented into RaceRoom Racing Experience, and there are a pretty diverse array of classes in which Porsche sports cars past and present can be dropped right into the already stout packs to compliment the field. I’m also hoping that some of the older ADAC GT Masters packs will be retrofitted with the previously omitted Porsche content, as the pricier bundles depicting one of Europe’s top GT series at the time shipped with incomplete fields due to the lack of a Porsche license. If Sector 3 were to take this route, it would be an extremely classy move on their part, breathing new life into content people may have forgotten about.

Contextually, however, I find the hype and fanfare RaceRoom tried to drum up in regards to this announcement fairly peculiar, if not outright pretentious. At the very least, the marketing department could have done a lot better given the circumstances.

Rather than simply tease a new manufacturer was being added into the mix, the affordable simulation rig company instead boasted of a “major announcement”, using the hashtag #WelcomeHome. In light of the team’s plans for an extensive online racing service, and an entirely new console game from their sister company SimBin UK, a lot of sim racers believed this #WelcomeHome announcement would be much bigger than a new car brand entering the fray – and this is a sentiment conveyed on the official Facebook page as well. For this “important announcement” to manifest itself as a mere license acquisition… It’s kind of a letdown.

And that’s because for over a year, almost every other developer in the sim racing landscape today treated their own acquisition of the Porsche license like it was a pretty major deal – which in all fairness, it was at the time. Kunos Simulazioni rocked the entire genre on June 17th, 2016, when they revealed their little studio of just under twenty people had somehow managed to wrangle the elusive Porsche license away from the grasp of Electronic Arts, revealing a trio of paid downloadable content packs, paving the way for the rest of the hobby to follow suit. But then Turn 10 got their hands on the very same license, as did iRacing, Slightly Mad Studios, and even Gran Turismo – a franchise that had existed long before EA’s exclusivity deal went into effect. Within a few months, it honestly just didn’t matter anymore, and the deal between Porsche and EA had firmly cemented itself as a really aggravating piece of trivia. So for RaceRoom to advertise this as a major event in the game’s timeline… I’m sorry guys, but that ship sailed long ago.

I also take issue with the rather strange, misguided hashtag used to kind of promote this announcement, the whole #WelcomeHome thing they’ve got going on. Dating back to Race: The WTCC Game, Porsche vehicles have never appeared in any simulator made by the Swedish incarnation of either SimBin or Sector 3 Studios. So in this case I’m not really sure what Porsche are “coming home” to, as Porsche car models weren’t present in games created by this team to begin with.

Some will try and claim this hashtag is actually in reference to the GTR series of simulators, in particular GTR 2, but they’d be factually incorrect to do so. The GTR releases were actually made by a group operating under the moniker of Blimey Games, based out of the United Kingdom, and not Germany – Porsche’s home. Those who still push the GTR 2 argument regardless of these facts are also forgetting that marquee manufacturers weren’t a key selling point of GTR 2; the game was based on the 2003 and 2004 FIA GT Championship seasons, and it just so happened that there were a lot of Porsche’s and Ferrari’s on the roster because that’s what teams were using at the time. This wasn’t Need for Speed or Test Drive by any means, where trailers showcased shiny street-legal Porsche’s and Ferrari’s for you to gawk at; it was a pretty obscure racing simulator.

Regardless, it’s good to see Porsche playing ball with even the little guys in the genre, and this can only open the door for an increased level of cooperation within the sim racing landscape.

 

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#WelcomeHome, TCR Scandinavia?

While there hasn’t been a whole lot of action regarding Sector 3’s RaceRoom Racing Experience as of late – the Swedish team slowly churning out more and more obscure content while talk of an extensive online racing interface to rival iRacing has died down – the RaceRoom brand have put out a rather ominous teaser on their official page, christened by the hashtag #WelcomeHome. The post has sent followers and official forum members alike into wild mass speculation, as unlike most developers who drop subtle hints about upcoming content through tweets and other miscellaneous social media posts until the inevitable reveal, Sector 3 have remained relatively tight-lipped about the future of RaceRoom Racing Experience and their company as a whole, meaning sim racers are left largely in the dark as to what this announcement could contain.

Intense speculation is really all this story warrants at this point, so for today I’ll just sort of drop an estimated guess on our audience, and then over the weekend we’ll see how close we got to the actual reveal.

I believe this announcement could possibly be related to an official TCR Scandinavia expansion pack for RaceRoom Racing Experience. While operating under the name of SimBin, the team we now know as Sector 3 Studios released not one, but two very obscure expansion packs for the cult classic simulator Race 07, centered around the regional touring car series many years ago. While it might not be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea – one “blanket” touring car series is often enough for most sim racers given how most sanctioning bodies provide the same vehicle specifications, and the same kind of racing – it would at least make sense for Sector 3 to revisit something very close to home. The team are based in Sweden, after all.

The evidence that points towards a possible TCR Scandinavia expansion pack can already be seen in RaceRoom Racing Experience as of today; Sector 3 have spent the past few months pushing out five straight Swedish racing facilities including Knutstorp, Falkenberg, Anderstorp, Karlskoga, and Mantorp Park – so all that’s really needed to complete the TCR Scandinavia experience would be the vehicles themselves. I’m not going to sit here and tell our readers it’s “not a lot of work” to make just a few cars and some liveries, because it is, but it’s certainly much less of a mountain for the team to climb compared to obtaining a Ferrari or Porsche license, and it 100% explains the #WelcomeHome hashtag that Sector 3 are pushing. This project is obviously something they take a lot of pride in because it’s close to home, and there’s nothing that says “obscure Swedish racing sim developer” than “Swedish touring car series.”

Unfortunately, at a time when sim racers are chomping at the bit for either ranked online racing to be implemented into R3E, or more information regarding SimBin UK’s GTR 3, it’s probably not what many loyal R3E supporters are wanting to hear. I’ve really been wanting an excuse to jump back into R3E, as I personally love the combination of how the tires behave, the internal car sounds, as well as the exceptional force feedback, and touring cars on tracks that are otherwise meaningless to me are just not going to reel me in – and I think a lot of people will agree on that front. RaceRoom Racing Experience is a good simulator, it just needs that little extra boost to make it great. This isn’t an extra boost at all, it’s just… more content.

Content that only a fraction of the userbase will even entertain the thought of purchasing, especially in light of talk regarding a massive overhaul to the online ecosystem, and a spin-off game centering around content that people do want to drive, just seems like a really bizarre way to proceed about things. And it’s decisions like this, if true, that really serve to explain why the company has run into financial trouble on multiple occasions. Customers have their credit cards armed and at the ready for all of these exciting new features the team have no problem announcing, but are then given regional touring car series instead that very few people will buy, while the actual exciting stuff just kind of vanishes until someone brings it up on a forum in six months.

But anyways, for the Swedish PRC readers hanging around here, y’all can probably get hyped for a TCR Scandinavian expansion.

Rumor: ISI to Assist in Developing GTR 3?

Still kept from the eyes of the public despite the summer months being a traditional time to release information on upcoming games, SimBin UK’s GTR 3 continues to be a rather perplexing story in the world of sim racing. Announced several times over the years before either failing to manifest, or turning into other projects altogether, the justified skepticism surrounding the current iteration of the title only grew louder, as sim racers noticed the proof of concept screenshots released at the beginning of 2017 from SimBin UK – supposedly representing a multi-platform racing simulator under the name of GTR 3 – could have been mocked up in mere minutes within the Unreal Engine, thus indicating the game might not be under active development, but a publicity stunt to secure funding. While all of us want GTR 3 to finally manifest and land in our hands given the previous edition’s widespread critical and commercial success, SimBin UK’s silence in regards to the title is indeed worrying; key job openings, a lack of social media activity, and interviews with the team themselves paint a very different picture about GTR 3’s existence. In short, it doesn’t look likely.

However, a rogue comment left on PRC, and a bit of circumstantial evidence, indicates GTR 3 may possibly be deep in development after all with the help of a major player within the ecosystem – though it’s certainly not something that should be taken as fact just yet.

The rumor, left on our website by an anonymous user in late June with no prior posting history, alleges that Image Space Incorporatedcreators of both F1 Challenge 99-02, as well as the revolutionary open-ended racing simulator rFactor – have partnered with SimBin UK on the upcoming sports car simulator. Of course, with some of the inane garbage landing in our comments section on a daily basis, it’s hard to believe much of anything that’s written in sim racing’s cesspool of insanity, but there are at least grounds to turn this into a reasonable sounding rumor, rather than something completely out of left field.

Image Space Incorporated transferred development of their flagship racing simulator, rFactor 2, to a team operating under the name of Studio 397 last fall, essentially ending ISI’s direct involvement in a piece of software they’d been actively developing since at least 2003 or 2004. However, the company did not outright state they were ceasing operations and moving away from the sim racing micro-industry altogether; along with message board posts echoing this same sentiment, the last time I spoke to Tim Wheatley, he implied they had taken up a project that’s “not rFactor 3”, but will use the isiMotor engine rather than working to develop it.

I originally believed this to be a revival of the IndyCar racing franchise, considering ISI had acquired the license to both Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as the Dallara DW12 for rFactor 2, but my assertions later proved to be incorrect when Slightly Mad Studios revealed a full IndyCar field and several tracks on the 2017 schedule for their own simulator, Project CARS 2.

If the rumor left in the anonymous PRC comment is to be believed, this would now point to ISI being involved in the resurrection of GTR 3 by SimBin UK, as the most practical application for the isiMotor engine – like I’ve discussed before here on PRC – would be in endurance sports car racing, where changes in weather, lighting, and track conditions are commonplace, and the engine could be used to its fullest extent. It would also explain why SimBin UK are so confident in announcing GTR 3 to the world despite being a relatively small staff seemingly incapable of constructing the game themselves; outsourcing fundamental portions of the game’s development to a highly experienced team would allow them to actually get the game off the ground, while taking care of the elements they are capable of achieving, such as securing licenses and retaining assets such as car and track models from their sister company, Sector 3 Studios.

Obviously, it’s all just rumors and speculation, but it’s a rumor that seems rather reasonable. SimBin UK aren’t big enough to create a multi-platform racer like GTR 3 all by themselves, and it’s been public knowledge that Image Space Incorporated are working on something behind closed doors, not yet interested in completely retiring from the sim racing community. Helping out on GTR 3 would be a natural and exciting fit for both ISI and SimBin UK, as the isiMotor engine would thrive with the  subject matter centered around what their engine does best.

If hell does freeze over and this all comes to fruition, sim racers have every reason to be excited. A polished, feature-complete rendition of rFactor 2 focusing on one primary racing series is long overdue in the genre.

GTR 3 - 4

So… Where’s GTR 3?

For about a week in February of this year, RaceDepartment was set on fire. Proclaiming a revival of the iconic GTR brand on behalf of SimBin UK – an off-shoot of Sector 3 Studios – we were given several lengthy pieces and interviews with key team members promising us that yes, after many years of ideology changes and botched projects, GTR 3 was indeed a real thing. In a sim racing climate in which developers load up their respective pieces of software with as many unrelated vehicles and locations as possible in the hopes that something will captivate their audience, the community saw this announcement as not only a breath of fresh air, but a return to form; the days of single-series simulations we’d seemingly moved far away from were now on the horizon once more, potentially hinting at a second golden age like the one we saw in the early 2000’s was not too far off. Though the initial batch of images SimBin UK published were quickly ripped apart by internet sleuths, who noticed lighting irregularities and oddly placed car models, we were assured that by some point in 2018, we’d be playing GTR 3, and at the very least, the team would have a working game by the summer of 2017.

Of course, when some noticed how absurdly difficult it would be for SimBin UK to create a scratch-built simulation physics engine in Unreal 4 with just the four or five staff members they’d had on the payroll at the time of the game’s announcement, the metaphorical crickets could be heard in abundance – giving doubters such as myself the impression that a lot of people were being taken for a ride, and GTR 3 was yet another pipe dream; the team mocking up a few proof of concept shots and using their connections among the sim racing community to publish pseudo-announcements in high traffic areas, with the hopes of securing an investor to actually fund their vision.

In case you haven’t figured out from the plethora of coverage on YouTube from your favorite sim racing outlets, the Electronic Entertainment Expo is in full swing. This isn’t some sort of obscure gaming show by any means; E3 is ourWoodstock per se – the entire goddamn industry comes together for one giant event in southern California to demonstrate the products we’ll be playing either in the fall, or at some point over the next few years. Now, is it reserved for the giants of the industry? Of course not; Kunos Simulazioni flew out there to announce indie racing simulator Assetto Corsa on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the Kylotonn guys are there displaying WRC 7, and even 704 Games – the questionable team behind the modern NASCAR Heat reboot – brought a laptop and some Xbox controllers to debut NASCAR Heat 2. This is on top of the already stout lineup of Forza Motorsport, Project CARS, Gran Turismo Need for Speed, Formula One, and The Crew – though the latter isn’t a personal favorite of mine.

Absent from this list, would be SimBin UK’s GTR 3, possibly the only major racing game that’s been announced yet did not make an appearance at E3. Now you’re certainly not required to travel halfway around the world show up to the California-based convention to demonstrate your game – a simple YouTube teaser would suffice – but that too appears to be missing in action. When the world is focused on the gaming industry as a whole, and your entire collective target audience have their eyes locked on YouTube to take in the sights and sounds of all the new racing games, it’s certainly odd that there’s not been so much as a peep from the GTR 3 team.

Yes, that’s my “scoop” for today; SimBin UK have not shown off GTR 3 at E3 or at least taken advantage of the hype and pushed out a teaser trailer on YouTube, so I personally have a hard time believing this game exists, or that things are going smoothly behind closed doors. But before you call me an evil conspiracy theorist set to destroy other games, let’s take a bit of a journey around the internet to see what might support this theory, and make it significantly less of a wild conspiracy perpetuated by a sim racing “hate blog.”

SimBin UK’s own web page lists an abundance of job openings, and this is something you can navigate to and see for yourself. There are at least five active positions available to apply for on the SimBin UK company roster, most of them being very prominent positions that play a key role in the development of a multi-platform racing simulator. They don’t need random motherfuckers to bomb around the office and crank out car liveries every few days, they need senior programmers, C++ programmers, and network programmers. These are the kinds of positions you fill before announcing a game, slowly fleshing out the roster with supporting positions as the main guys fall into place and bust their asses on the heavy stuff.

How do you announce a game in February, proceed to whip all these different websites into a flurry of excitement, and then five months later still have openings for key positions on the team? This is like announcing you’ve started a rock band and are recording an album, but post on your official Facebook page that you need a drummer, lead guitarist, and singer.

Bruh.

Next, we travel to the team’s Twitter account, which is suspiciously quiet. Aside from seemingly being configured to retweet anything relating to RaceRoom Racing Experience, there’s virtually nothing about GTR 3’s progress. There are something like seven or eight posts in a row about the official Mercedes DTM competition on Sector 3’s RaceRoom simulation, but that’s clearly not GTR 3, it’s RaceRoom – an entirely different piece of software. In regards to GTR 3, there’s actually a whole lot of nothing – save for one custom tweet stating their new website is live.

That was back in March.

In an era of gaming where developers across the sim racing community sit on forums and social media virtually all day, bantering with customers and/or releasing teasers of upcoming projects or future updates, for SimBin UK to announce a major racing simulator earlier this year, and then put their social media on autopilot to regurgitate articles focusing on a game from their sister company, in combination with no progress or updates on their game in six months, no appearance at E3, not even a newer teaser piece, and a whole lot of important positions yet to be filled, is highly suspicious.

Links to the team’s other social media pages from the SimBin UK website, such as Facebook and YouTube, direct to pages that in some cases haven’t been touched in three years.

This kind of anti-progress and questionable chain of announcements seems to be something not specific to SimBin UK, but also extends to Sector 3 Studios themselves, a team responsible for an objectively good racing simulator with R3E. While the team have been openly talking about turning the online portion of their title into something that can compete with iRacing at a fraction of the cost – something that’s very well possible given the diversity and overall popularity of the content offered in RaceRoom Racing Experience – as of two days ago, long after this stuff was first announced, Sector 3 can be seen openly trying to recruit employees to actually build that element of the game. So between both Sector 3 and SimBin UK, I’m under the impression they’re both operating in a manner in which they announce upcoming features, and in some cases entire games, without actually having the staff necessary to build them. They then go “oh shit” and scramble around to fulfill their previously announced goals, hoping the sim racing community either forget the previous announcements they made, or vehemently defend them if they can’t be seen to completion because “muh small developer” and stuff.

I’ve been patiently awaiting the new online format for RaceRoom Racing Experience as I love how the title drives, and would not hesitate to purchase all the content the honest way if I woke up to news that the structured multiplayer format was set to go live in a few weeks, but the reality is that all we’ve got is a few new GT cars and some obscure Swedish tracks. I was told around September of last year that they were working on an iRacing-like multiplayer service, and nine months later we’ve gotten precisely no new info; only clues that they don’t even have the relevant staff positions filled to complete it in the first place.

And I believe that’s what’s happened with GTR 3 as well. Judging by what’s publicly available, the lack of any updates or teasers at what’s traditionally a time to take the covers off everything in the gaming industry, the awkward silence on social media, the abundance of open positions on the team’s official website, the difficulty in creating a high-fidelity simulator engine from scratch with a skeleton crew, and zero coverage from sim racing publications that were once happy to push the announcement of GTR 3 to the forefront, I have an exceptionally difficult time believing this game will see the light of day.

Again, I want GTR 3. The popularity of sports car racing is at an all time high and it would be sweet to have that flagship GT game where all you do is race GT cars, in the same manner that DiRT 4 is that all-encompassing off-road title for fans of rally racing. Warts and all, I don’t think it’s too hard for a non-traditional team to deliver some sort of niche sports car game; Milestone’s MXGP3 is proof that no matter how obscure the subject matter may be, a good racing game is a good racing game.

But in this particular situation, there’s a marshal holding a red flag in every corner. Radio silence at a time when even the lowliest of NASCAR and Isle of Mann developers are proud to demonstrate their software to the world, no social media activity, a blackout from the publications who once covered it, and prominent job openings when original interviews stated there’d already be an internal build operational in the summer. If you want myself and the other skeptics to believe GTR 3 exists somewhere other than the imaginations of SimBin UK, this isn’t the way to do it.

Unreal Promises

r3eUnless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you’ve probably both heard and gotten extremely excited over one of the biggest announcements within the sim racing scene in recent memory – Sector 3 Studios and their sister team SimBin UK will be moving away from the trusty powerplant created by Image Space Incorporated, which has fueled all of their simulators dating back to their inception as companies, in favor of adopting the fourth iteration of the Unreal Engine for future projects. The announcements have always been supplemented with an array of proof-of-concept photos depicting RaceRoom Racing Experience assets within the Unreal Engine, and of course these are then promptly eaten up by a large portion of the sim racing community due to the enhanced visual quality compared to what sim racers are traditionally accustomed to with these types of games.

However, I’d really like to know why people aren’t asking basic questions about this announcement, as even the most preliminary investigation efforts in regards to information on Unreal 4 uncovers a much larger story developing right under our collective noses – both SimBin UK, as well as Sector 3, might actually be in big trouble when it comes to the future of their software, and these announcements are possibly part of a last-ditch attempt to bail themselves out of a very precarious situation.

I mean, let’s take a step back and look at this from a very general standpoint; here you have a group of passionate sim racers who have been working with a dedicated racing simulator engine for a little over a decade – an engine they have refined and tweaked on their own for years upon years in the pursuit of realism – suddenly dropping almost everything except the 3D models in favor of starting from scratch with the building blocks typically reserved for first person shooters and adventure games that occasionally make use of a lighthearted vehicle component.

Is this not ridiculously out of place? Why is everybody just going along with this and refusing to ask serious questions?

Time to go on a bit of a journey with this one.

Above, I’ve inserted footage of someone’s little drift game they’ve built within UE4; a tech demo of sorts to show off quasi-realistic vehicle physics. Passing over the fact that it’s someone’s pet project they’ve messed around with in their spare time, let’s directly address two major themes that will undoubtedly arise as you take a gander at the video clip:

The first, is that it doesn’t look all that great; as if someone made a custom map mod for one of the Just Cause games, or quickly threw a bunch of converted content and/or community mods into Grand Theft Auto 4, recording their escapades on a third party Ebisu track. This is the Unreal Engine 4 in action – there’s excessive bloom, depth of field, and motion blur that makes it look like those shitty Xbox 360 Kinect games we all had to suffer through at one point, or Triple-A titles that are simply trying too hard on the visual aspects. This is the last thing sim racers have been asking for.

Second, despite this guy’s best efforts to create a semi-realistic racing demo within UE4, the car floats around as if it’s making use of a third party handling mod for one of the PC Grand Theft Auto titles. Now sure, simplified, approximated physics may be fine for open world sandbox games where the driving element also has to co-exist with platforming, exploration and shooting elements, but GTR3, and eventually RaceRoom Racing Experience according to Sector 3, will supposedly be making use of this engine. We’re talking a genre of games where people spend years learning how to manage their tires in an endurance racing format, maximizing every last bit of the track for the final tenth of a second advantage on their opponents, or commanding the vehicle to the absolute edge of the tire – and holding it there.

What I see above does not indicate this kind of gameplay experience will be able to thrive in Unreal Engine 4; I’m instead looking at an engine where the driving portion is just one aspect of the entire sandbox. It seems designed for open-world games where there is a driving element sitting off to the side – so war games that make use of military vehicles, or open world free-roaming sandboxes – as opposed to a hardcore racing simulators that focus solely on the art of performance driving.

Next, I’d like to present our readers with gameplay footage of Moto Racer 4, the only dedicated racing game currently available for purchase powered by the fourth iteration of the Unreal Engine, as the other title is like this weird battle kart hybrid reminiscent of Mashed on the PS2. As you can tell by the title of the video, “worst game of 2016” in all capital letters, it’s obviously not very good at what it’s trying to be – a simple-minded arcade racer. An entire team of developers cannot build a budget-priced motorcycle racer with the Unreal 4 Engine, yet we’re supposed to expect this same engine to power a highly advanced racing simulation focusing on ultra-high tech GT3 and prototype entries?

Oh please.

To elaborate on this topic a bit further and sort of drill home the point I’m trying to make for people not quite sure where I’m going with this one, Wikipedia has a phenomenal list of every single game either released or currently in development that’s powered by UE4, and there’s a very ominous trend that you can check for yourselves if you feel like killing five minutes of your day – race cars are nowhere to be found on this list. There are shitloads of adventure games, fighting games, shooters, role playing games, and even a pretty big list of survival horror titles, but auto racing titles are practically non-existent. To get any sort of driving game resembling a proper simulator, you have to go back to Unreal Engine 3 and take a peek at the indie rock crawling title Off-Road Drive – and even that game is unable to depict high speed vehicle behavior in a realistic fashion, with the commentator in the linked video noting the car comes to an almost instant stop the moment you let off the throttle, not to mention several instances of what’s quite frankly bizarre weight transfer and other miscellaneous bullshit.

Gee, maybe this engine isn’t very good for driving games?

KartKraft was first announced in September of 2011. At the time of this entry on PRC.net, it’s now February of 2017, and KartKraft has failed to materialize in any meaningful fashion, with major, non-abrasive sim racing outlets such as RaceDepartment openly questioning what has happened to the game. MotoRacer 4 launched in October of 2016 to abysmal critical reception. Obliteracers was a no-name arcade racer that scored a lowly 60% on Steam, and saw an embarrassing peak of 67 active users all playing the game at once. That’s the entire history of Unreal 4 powered driving games.

Three titles, one of which is vaporware and hasn’t been released to the public in seven years, one of which is a shitty battle kart racer, and the last is described as the worst racing game of 2016.

Despite this obvious red flag of developers unable to harness the power of Unreal 4 to create a captivating racing game, as well as the engine’s complete lack of history producing racing-oriented titles to the point where developers are using the engine to create anything but racing games, Sector 3 Studios, as well as SimBin UK, have decided that this engine is the future of their ultra-hardcore racing simulators, dropping an engine which was specifically built to function as a race car simulator in the process.

Sound absolutely ridiculous? Let’s keep going.

ss_b39e0e9ec9a4d332cbb8d9b6b482210a498718bb-1920x1080Several interviews with Chris and Allan Speed of the Sector 3/SimBin family have warranted lengthy explanations as to what sim racers can expect from both GTR 3, as well as RaceRoom Racing Experience in the future once both products make the switch to Unreal 4. Thanks to the excellent work of Paul Jeffrey over at RaceDepartment, we’re able to see the brothers making very concrete, specific statements regarding the future of simulators published under the Swedish umbrella of simulation studios, and upon dissecting their answers, it’s extremely cliche to say and I really need to stop using this phrase so often, but I’m left with much more questions that I’m shocked my fellow sim racers aren’t asking.

So let’s go through a few standout quotes – and please keep in mind I’ve chopped some up and cleaned up the grammar to focus on the core topic at hand:

In GTR3 we will have much improved car damage over what is industry standard at the moment, as well as a new particle system and a modern UI system.

First of all, the “new particle system” isn’t a new particle system; it’s simply Unreal’s particle system.

Second, manufacturers have placed more licensing restrictions on car damage than what we were accustomed to a decade ago – and this is something that teams like Kunos Simulazioni and Turn 10 have been very open about discussing with their users in recent times to kind of calm the complaints about very simplistic damage models. Car companies simply won’t allow heavy damage in modern driving games, so I’m confused as to how these guys intend to step it up in the fashion they’re talking about. The moment you sign a license agreement with, say, BMW, Ferrari, Porsche, or Lamborghini, they call the shots – and traditionally, they say “you can’t show our cars with massive damage.” So these guys are sitting here making claims they most likely won’t be able to back up once licensing deals are on the table, waiting to be signed.

With Unreal, we will have aquaplaning and water displacement that will affect the handling of the car, as realistic as possible here. Puddles will build up around the track, rain will occur on different parts of the tracks, and there will be as much variability in the weather as we can achieve.

While it’s true that Unreal 4 supports a vast array of weather effects, these effects are purely visual – elaborate particle systems, if you will. Their inclusion does not, by default, affect how a player traverses through the game world by making the terrain more difficult to retain traction on. A developer can manually adjust basic friction and overall grip variables for the surface of the game world – or race track, to be more specific – in an effort to fabricate what a wet surface would feel like in a race car, but these advanced dynamics alleged to be introduced in GTR 3, where cars naturally hydroplane over specific puddles of water that form on the racing surface… Unreal 4 doesn’t do that.

Yes, puddles do form, and you can inject a variety of rain effects into your game which react naturally to physical objects in the environment – for example, matches played in the rain in Rocket League – but they don’t actually do anything to the racing surface or your car’s behavior. It’s an immensely detailed water splash animation; or in the case of a puddle, displacement animation.

In fact, merely running a Google search on “Unreal Engine Aquaplane” only brings up about a page of links re-directing back to the GTR 3 interview originally conducted on RaceDepartment. So we’ve got a developer saying they’ve switched to the Unreal engine partially to make use of its advanced aquaplaning simulation and treacherous wet weather driving conditions, when this feature has never actually existed in any iteration the Unreal engine and doesn’t warrant any relevant search results of people even talking about it, aside from Sector 3 and SimBin themselves.

Oops.

We will mirror the full weekend structure, rules and regulations, types of classes and individual driver strengths of that series, different weather attributes, day/night cycles, animated pit stops everything you would expect from that series will be included.

Again, Unreal 4 supports the ability for a talented group of content creators to inject day/night cycles into the sandbox, and even compose their own weather patterns if they’re wanting to go to that extent. That’s not the issue here. However, these elaborate visual effects and atmospheric conditions are not tied into vehicle physics; injecting a fancy third party weather plug-in will not suddenly make your vehicle’s engine generate more or less horsepower based on the humidity, air temperature, and elevation – which I assume is what the duo mean by “different weather attributes.”

In fact, vehicle editing as a whole is extremely basic, a far cry from the elaborate HDV files isiMotor enthusiasts are used to obsessing over. So not only has the complexity of vehicle editing been reduced dramatically compared to the simulation-oriented engine Sector 3 and SimBin plan to depart from, believing you can somehow tie weather into vehicle performance is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Additionally ,we are going to improve on the physics found in RaceRoom Racing Experience, and take over the best bits of the audio from RaceRoom as well.

The Unreal Engine is almost a closed toolbox of sorts; you simply can’t take part of one game engine, and throw it into another without years upon years of work – as the engine was never designed for that to begin with. It has been designed so you open up the toolbox and create a game with Unreal. So how are you going to improve on physics created in a purpose-built race car simulation engine by starting from scratch in a toolbox where car physics are greatly simplified and considered only a fraction of the entire experience, and still manage to have an internal playable demo within six months time created by a team of anywhere from four to seven individuals?

Unreal is an engine used to create first person shooters. The AI has been built for humans and bots, the collisions are built for characters, and the ballistics are built for guns. You can’t remove these characteristics from the core engine, so it’s no wonder that no major racing simulator – or even the odd arcade racer, for that matter – has been constructed using Unreal as a base. The ones that try, fail spectacularly.

suspensionSo after two thousand words, you’re probably wondering what in the hell is going on here?

After looking at some of the stuff above, and the overall storyline fueling this blog entry – a hardcore racing simulator developer announcing they’re dropping a trustworthy sim engine in favor of something that traditionally powers first person shooters – one important question still remains: Why are Sector 3 Studios and SimBin UK choosing to pursue this route when it’s absolutely nonsensical for them to do so?

Though we’re obviously not privy to all the inner-workings that would undoubtedly help flesh out the conclusion a story like this, one thing we do know for certain is that ISI’s baby, rFactor 2, is now living comfortably under Studio 397 banner, with Marcel Offermans and Luminis in charge of the project to a certain degree. I’m under the impression that there was more to this deal than most originally thought, as it’s extremely suspicious that after Sector 3 and SimBin have spent over a decade using the isiMotor engine in all of their software, merely months after rFactor 2 has changed hands and there’s been a shakeup of sorts at ISI, one of the main developers powered by ISI simulator technology is suddenly expressing their desire to jump ship to a first person shooter engine. The timing of that is a little too impeccable to be a coincidence.

You do not develop hardcore auto racing simulations for over a decade using a purpose-built auto racing engine, only to suddenly abandon everything except your physical assets and run to an engine that quite frankly has no purpose creating racing games let alone simulators, while struggling to explain the benefits this new engine will provide your upcoming games. This is sketchy as fuck, and I’m disappointed I’m the only one pointing this all out.