An Insight Into the Development of Project CARS 2

So with a whole bunch of people starting to climb aboard the hype train, and all major sim racing outlets beginning to cover Project CARS 2 quite heavily, I guess it’s only fair that a guy on the company payroll who has suspiciously not talked a whole lot about the simulator after aggressively ripping on the first iteration throws his own two cents into the mix as well. I don’t care for scrutinizing recent car and track announcements because my point of view is clearly warped; I can boot up the game and look at everything that both has and hasn’t been announced yet at my own free will, so instead I’d like to go in a different route for today’s entry.

It’s still weird to say given how the previous two years have played out, but I am a contract worker for Slightly Mad Studios and I’m paid to rip apart Project CARS 2 behind the scenes. I was able to quit my job at a very prominent rental car company, so it’s safe to say this venture is funding more than just excessive amounts of Ultimate Team packs for NHL or Madden. Now a lot of our readers have been pelting the comments sections of every single article on here with accusations that I’m paid to rip on the competition and/or keep quiet about the development of Project CARS 2 on PRC, so instead of arguing with these anonymous sim racers time and time again, article after article, the easiest thing to do is just be open about what’s going on behind the scenes and do an article about how the development of Project CARS 2 is coming along – or at least, how I specifically have contributed to the game.

Because, you know, that’s what I am paid for. Slamming various simulators and praising obscure console games from a decade ago is something I’ve done independently since 2013 when I wrote for RaceDepartment and VirtualR; claiming this rhetoric only exists because of the requests of a single company is just silly. Come on guys, you can do better.

There are things Project CARS 2 does objectively well over its predecessor and it’s why I made the decision to be involved with the game. The absurdly complicated force feedback menu has been completely eradicated; it’s just one main initial “style” of feedback followed by four adjustment sliders like a guitar amp – and I expect that to be simplified even further. The menus have been totally changed, now resembling the art style of a modern EA Sports product, while the heads up display has been completely re-designed from the ground up to be more TV-broadcast looking, incorporating the highly-appreciated iRacing delta bar into the default configuration. There’s also a tangible art theme to the whole thing as opposed to floating grey semi-transparent boxes that dominated the previous offering.

And in my 54 hours of gameplay, not once has my car sunk into the ground or exploded three hundred feet into the air like the viral videos from the original Project CARS have showcased. I will undoubtedly be called a shill, viral marketer, whatever, for merely suggesting that this game has improved in certain aspects, but these are the 100% definite elements of the game where you would have to be psychologically crippled to argue there has been no improvement.

As I said above, I don’t care for going over specifics in the vehicle roster or location selection; licensing agreements will see the content featured in Project CARS 2 announced over a period of several months. What I can say is that no major brand has been left out (which many have already figured out from the few trailers released), and the track selection will allow online leagues to run two or three seasons without treading through familiar territory. It’s very much like rFactor 2 in terms of content, but in an alternate timeline where Studio 397 have an enormous budget and an average score in the 80’s from all major gaming sites that allow them to negotiate with basically whatever brands and tracks they want. I don’t care for the Mercedes Benz ice circuit, nor the rallycross stuff that was recently announced considering most will buy DiRT 4 for their rallycross fix, but I can confirm that you’re allowed to slap dirt tires on any vehicle in the game, and there are a few street legal cars that are a blast in this toss-up format, which is something DiRT 4 doesn’t offer.

Alright, that’s the boring stuff out of the way.

There were initially plans to not include the Formula A car in Project CARS 2, which for those who haven’t messed around with the previous game, it was a generic top level open wheel racer inspired by 2011 Formula One regulations, kind of like what Reiza do with Stock Car Extreme or Automobilista. Straight up, I contacted Ian Bell directly and asked “where is this car?” Honestly, I don’t care for Formula One, and every time I’ve tried to give the series a chance, I’ve either fallen asleep or been left totally underwhelmed by the on-track product, but I understand what F1 means to many sim racers around the world, and heavily pushed for this car to be included in Project CARS 2 even though I personally will never touch it. The car showed up in the next build. You’re welcome.

I think my first week or two was spent on the oval side of things. It’s no secret Slightly Mad Studios are looking to include oval racing in Project CARS 2 after the discipline not making the cut for the original game, but after my first shakedown of the content, I realized a lot of the guys in charge of the artificial intelligence were probably from Europe and just didn’t get how this type of racing works because I wasn’t very impressed with what I saw. Every other day, I would jump on to WMD, and write a somewhat lengthy post breaking down how drivers would approach each individual oval featured in Project CARS 2, where the AI should run, what kind of alternate lines they should take to either attack or conserve tires, and the mentality behind drafting – because it’s not just “follow the car in front.” It’s pretty challenging to describe to guys who have never watched a single NASCAR race in their lives how pack racing dynamics work at Daytona, but I think I did an alright job.

There’s also an oval on the roster that hasn’t seen competition since the 1960’s, so Sev and myself had to fire up a private online session and run laps against each other to understand what drivers would have been doing back then, and of course  then go on the forums and say “this is where you hold position, this is where you launch an attack, this is the spot on the track where you MUST fall back into line or else you die, and this is the line you run in the corner for maximum speed on corner exit to get a run on the guy in front…”  I found the process enjoyable because writing in a constructive fashion is a huge change of pace from being an asshole on PRC, and you have to employ a much different vocabulary to get the same point across. It kind of made me understand why musicians will start up side-projects; it diversifies their skill set.

People are going to throw tantrums if I talk about physics or the game’s tire model, so be warned that what I’m about to write is what you may or may not want to hear. The cars that have received a lot of attention in Project CARS 2, specifically the GT3 and GTE stuff, drive very much like the URD EGT payware cars in rFactor 2, so if you enjoy those cars to any extent, there’ll be at least two classes of cars that’ll be of use to you in Project CARS 2. I thought this was a meme at first when I read somebody’s impressions on the Sector 3 forums comparing it to rFactor 2, and then again when Sev told us on Teamspeak, but once I got behind the wheel myself, yeah, this is pretty much what Project CARS 2 feels like. I don’t care to sit here and throw buzzwords at you guys, so just go take some laps in the URD cars and that’s what you can expect from Project CARS 2.

Yet not every car is up to this level of competence, but I guess that’s to be expected from a game still heavily in development. A few weeks ago I was tasked with testing a specific class of car that I’m super excited to see in the game (good versions of these cars are impossible to find even in rFactor), and discovered in my shakedown sessions that the default setup warranted lap times several seconds faster than the real life pole time. So after finding this and reporting it, there were a few days where I’d sign on, run laps, post lap times in the appropriate thread, wait for an update to the cars, then do it all over again. We’re much closer to real world performance figures now than we were when I first started running shakedown laps in the class, so I’m glad I took the time to run those cars hard for a few days. On the plus side, one of the cars crashed spectacularly on me in the same manner it had crashed in real life, so that was confirmation the aero numbers were correct. I think y’all can figure out which car I’m talking about here.

Recently we did a weekend-long hot lap competition with a car I’m not too familiar with in terms of setup or driving, and in my quest to dick-wave on the leaderboards discovered a couple exploits and oddities within the setup screen that would have been just as bad as the camber exploit discovered in the first game had they made it into the build that’ll be released on store shelves. I’m still kicking myself for finishing second overall (or was it third?), but the key thing is that a fix is inbound, long before launch, and real-world setup knowledge will be beneficial to your car’s performance – as it should be in a simulator.

Starting today, I’ve turned my attention to a class that has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, and managed to catch some interesting tire heating stuff that had a really adverse effect on the handling of these cars. There will be an insane amount of leagues using this class and I’m doing my best to ensure Slightly Mad Studios get these cars as close to perfect as possible.

I could obviously go into much greater detail, but this is just a little bit of insight as to how PRC is helping out with Project CARS 2. I’m not here to instruct you to buy the game, but with everybody else publishing stuff on the list of features, the cars and tracks that have currently been announced, as well as regurgitating some of the marketing pieces released by Slightly Mad Studios themselves, I’d much rather throw everybody a curveball and do a completely different approach on the subject matter so it’s something unique to read. The game is coming along well, and it’s enough of a genuine improvement over the first release in the series that I don’t feel bad attaching my name & website to it in some fashion.

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Reasons to be Skeptical of Project CARS 2

project-cars-2Across the social media spectrum in YouTube land, the notorious loud-mouthed personality BlackPanthaaan English bloke who traditionally showcases arcade racers on his channel – has caused a bit of an uproar within the Project CARS fanbase. Recently uploading a pair of videos entitled “Reasons Not to Buy Project CARS 2” and The Project CARS 2 Community Responds”, Theo spends about thirty minutes discussing why he feels the average virtual auto racing fan should avoid the upcoming game by Slightly Mad Studios. And while it’s hilarious to see the all-out war taking place in the comments section between enthusiastic Project CARS owners eagerly anticipating the next game, and those disappointed by the 2015 multi-platform racing simulator for a vast array of reasons, I actually sat through both videos and felt Theo just didn’t do that great of a job getting his main talking points across – which is partially why he was met with such immense hostility from the games’ supporters. It’s really just people shit-talking with one another as if they’re spectators of an important soccer match, instead of properly dissecting why people should or shouldn’t be looking forward to Project CARS 2.

In fact, intelligent discussion around this title is something I’ve yet to see on even the most calm and collected sim racing message boards, such as RaceDepartment, VirtualR, or even the sim racing subreddit. People are quick to call Project CARS a scam and throw all kinds of colorful derogatory nicknames at Ian Bell, the head of Slightly Mad Studios, but rarely do people go into any sort of detail as to why the product is allegedly inferior to other modern auto racing simulators.

So let’s discuss those details. In response to BlackPanthaa’s most recent YouTube videos, here are actual reasons to be skeptical of Project CARS 2 that you can take back to your respective sim racing communities, and have a reasonable discussion around.

Refining the AI Behavior is Too Steep of a Hill to Climb

This one’s pretty self-explanatory, with the short clip above really drilling home just how genuinely difficult it was to participate in a satisfying offline session of racing within the original Project CARS. With so many different vehicles on the roster, and a multitude of tracks that came in all shapes and sizes, it was pretty much impossible for Slightly Mad Studios to craft a compelling artificial intelligence component that could handle all possible racing situations. For example, if you build an AI component for GT3 racing, where they bang doors, brake rather early, and throw dirty-ass blocks because the cars have fenders, it’s not going to go over well with open wheel cars thanks to them making use of completely different braking zones, on-track etiquette, and aerodynamic dependencies.

But during my time spent messing around with the game across two different platforms, the problems I ran into were more than just general aggressiveness. It was not uncommon to make it through Qualifying in one piece and be somewhat satisfied with how the AI drove once they were all spread out, only to see the field of cars become hypersensitive around each other, wander off the racing surface, and smash into a solid object a good thirty feet from the preferred line once the green flag dropped. Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

It was already next to impossible to test every single car on every last track layout in the original Project CARS to ensure a compelling single player experience, and with more pieces of content set to be added in the sequel, in my opinion this problem can only get worse. One of the reasons I advocate for single-series games is so developers can focus on perfecting one specific style of racing, as Project CARS is a solid example of what happens when you throw in too many conflicting types of auto racing; you physically can’t test and refine everything to make sure it not only works, but that it works well.

While a lot of sim racers will promptly skip the offline component entirely and head straight towards the eSports section of the title, not giving a shit about how the AI drive in the slightest, where Project CARS differs from other racing simulators is that it attempts to create some sort of major offline career mode experience, where if you want to treat the game as this virtual auto racing career where you start in karts and progress through the ladder like a real driver, you can. If the artificial intelligence is too hit-or-miss, where the GT3 cars are objectively serviceable but the Formula C drivers are complete idiots and wad up the field with nonsensical kamikaze moves, this entire portion of the game is basically a write-off.

Some of the Technical Hiccups Are Ready to Enter Kindergarten

Unfortunately, I have to admit defeat here and confess that in 2017, most major video games ship with a wide variety of bugs and glitches, to the point where making a video compilation of unique in-game fuck-ups is a surefire path to YouTube stardom and at least recouping the cost of the game thanks to Google AdSense. However, the glitches that were present in Project CARS at launch, and during the first few months of the game’s shelf life as a $60 product, were more than a misplaced menu, spelling error, or distracting visual anomaly. It was not uncommon for your car to spontaneously explode thanks to gremlins deep inside nVidia’s PhysX system, rendering all of the time you’ve spent behind the wheel up to that point, an absolute waste of an afternoon.

Now while we all love a good car crash, there’s a difference between hitting an invisible wall in Burnout: Revenge and dropping back five seconds from the race leader, versus having a multiple-hour race ended prematurely, or losing the points lead in your private online league, because the software was defective for a split second. With how incredibly complex modern video games have become, we’re never going to completely abolish technical issues, but the problem with Project CARS was that the technical issues were show-stopping; launching your vessel into orbit at the most inopportune of occasions. The thrill of sitting down to play a racing simulator comes in merely completing a lengthy event with the car in one piece, and having that dark cloud looming above the players’ heads, threatening to fuck it all up at random, was very frustrating.

But what really rustled people’s jimmies, was that these were some of the exact same gremlins that had popped up in previous Slightly Mad Studios releases, such as 2011’s Need for Speed Shift 2: Unleashed. Four, almost five years had passed, and though Slightly Mad Studios had re-built Project CARS from the ground up with the help of the sim racing community, injected an entirely new roster of content into the application, and were operating on a completely different design philosophy, the same bugs that ruined races in 2011, were ruining races in 2016. Customers wanted to be shown the new game was be an improvement over the old game, and in this case, it didn’t happen.

So with the team unable to fix one of Shift 2’s most notorious bugs in five years for the release of Project CARS, it’s completely understandable as a potential customer to question what bugs from Project CARS they’ll be able to rectify for the sequel. Will the zero camber exploit return? Will cars continue to spawn directly on top of one another at the start of the race? Will rain tires last longer than hard compounds, while producing the speed of supersofts? Many sim racers believe the answer to these questions are all “yes”, and the track record of Slightly Mad Studios when it comes to getting these things fixed for good just isn’t where it should be.

Of course, that’s not to say there isn’t a possibility they’ll go out and prove everybody wrong, but if we’re basing our predictions on past tendencies of Slightly Mad Studios here, the hyper-critical sim racers digging up old NFS Shift glitch videos are certainly making a valid argument, and have every right to be concerned.

pcars2There’s Too Many Discrepancies Between Teaser Material and the Actual Game

Digging through the PRC.net archives to when we first began covering Project CARS 2 in the summer of 2015, I was able to find choice snippets of teaser material, depicting a very different Project CARS 2 than what has officially been announced this past month.

The 200+ car figure first mentioned has been cut back to 170. Hill Climb racing and Touge battles have been cut entirely in favor of ice racing – if a VirtualR commenter is to be believed – which from the publicly available footage appears to be just one facility. There hasn’t been a word about driver swaps, spotting functionality, teammates, or co-drivers, with the focus instead being placed on something called LiveTrack 3.0 and dynamic puddles – which is probably a shot at reeling in the rFactor 2 crowd, who endlessly masturbate over unique rubber build up. There’s also a create-your-own test track feature listed, and some sort of tutorial mode dubbed the “Project CARS Academy” discussed in early pCars 2 material from the official Slightly Mad Studios website, though none of this has surfaced, either.

It’s not abnormal for developers to cut features from a game during the development phase for any number of reasons. This is a simple fact of game development – not everything on the drawing board makes it into the final product. However, the drastic change in direction compared to their initial, very public vision that was proudly shown off to the sim racing community, is commonplace for Slightly Mad Studios, who once aimed to launch the original Project CARS as a Wii U title before sheepishly admitting they couldn’t make the game run at 30 FPS long after the game’s release on other modern consoles.

Putting myself in the shoes of a potential customer, its very hard to have faith in the quality of the upcoming product a company is working on, when the company makes very public initial statements, claims, or previews that are then totally contradicted by their own second wave of promotional material a few months (or in this case years) later. Again, it’s not out of the ordinary for a big team like Electronic Arts to talk about a new feature in FIFA or Madden in select interviews that eventually fail to see the light of day due to time constraints or the inability for the team to implement it in a way that was enjoyable, but in this case, it’s now two games in a row where Slightly Mad Studios have come out and said “we’re planning to try and have X, Y, and Z in our game”, only to show up a year later with Q, W, and a portion of Z. Customers sketch out a bit when this happens, and its very understandable for them to feel that way, so they start asking legitimate questions about what other kinds of surprises are in store for them – the surprises without stripper cakes and copious amounts of alcohol.

project-cars-tech4gamers-21-750x400In the coming months, there will be a lot of fighting when anybody dares to bring up Project CARS 2, and the above three areas are where I feel any sane message board user should drag the conversation into if they’re looking to move away from generic shit-talking comments such as “Project CARS is the most beautiful piece of crap I’ve ever purchased” in favor of a more reasonable critical discussion about what will most likely turn into Bandai-Namco’s alternative of Forza or Gran Turismo. There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about this game, but rather than busting out the one-liners, calling it a scam, or dreaming up new nicknames for Ian Bell, personally I’d rather see things evolve to the next level of online warfare – proper discussions.

Information on Project CARS 2 They AREN’T Sharing

pconly-jpgWhile the usual list of sim racing outlets are adhering to a strict collection of officially released media from Slightly Mad Studios when it comes to covering their upcoming racing simulator, Project CARS 2, hardcore sim racers found deep within the semi-private forums of both Kunos Simulazioni and Sector 3 Studios are sharing an abundance of yet-to-be-revealed information with fellow community members about the title. Dancing carefully around treacherous non-disclosure agreements and other unmentioned contractual obligations, rogue virtual auto racing enthusiasts are doing their best to bring unbiased info about the simulator to an audience who will not fall for vanilla marketing tactics accompanied by generic promotional material.

And that means it’s our turn to shine a spotlight on these revelations. Images of the built-in online league functionality found inside the online portion of Project CARS 2 have surfaced on the official Assetto Corsa forum of all places, indicating sim racers should expect a very streamlined experience that will see the software itself handle the heavy lifting of running an online league – a fantastic change in pace compared to how previous simulators traditionally required the work of a few dedicated individuals just to open a private lobby for the series itself. All of the inane, time-consuming bullshit of running a private rFactor or Automobilista league will now be contained completely within the application itself in a very Madden or FIFA-like sub-menu, allowing users to focus primarily on the racing element while the game handles the important bits automatically.

As someone who has spent several years running in private leagues on a number of different isiMotor platforms, the biggest hurdle for any new sim racer to overcome is simply learning how the process of joining an online league works; from registering for obscure message boards and ensuring you’re on the entry list, to downloading several tracks, making sure you have the most recent livery pack, and tracking race-by-race statistics in an external spreadsheet that doesn’t always get updated until a league administrator sets aside the free time to do so, it’s all a bit overwhelming unless you’re absolutely dedicated to the hobby of sim racing.

Slightly Mad Studios have set out to exponentially speed up this process, and it’s very important to give credit where credit is due – this looks phenomenal. Now the only thing required to start a series will be to merely advertise your league on places like Reddit and 4Chan, instead of sitting down and basically building a private community from the ground up, full of individuals dedicated to tracking stats, paying for servers, organizing a livery pack, and all of the external bullshit modern simulators are traditionally known for.

oc-admina_origHowever, none of this matters if the on-track experience isn’t up to par with the rest of the game built around it, and Sector 3 Studios forum member sbtm has answered several questions regarding the actual driving portion of Project CARS 2 for his RaceRoom Racing Experience comrades. His feedback on the simulator is brutally honest, but what may come as a surprise to those who are vehemently against the work of Slightly Mad Studios, is that not everything sbtm has to say about Project CARS 2 is negative. The user notes the Force Feedback menu has been greatly simplified from it’s disastrous first rendition, and on cars deemed to be nearly complete by the team at Slightly Mad Studios in private WMD contributor builds, it’s an entirely different game compared to the original Project CARS – which was blasted by the hardcore community upon its release in 2015 for a very confusing and unpredictable set of physics.

However, there are still some obvious warts given the game is still far from release, as the artificial intelligence are deemed to be “very reckless”, and the vehicles seemingly gluing themselves together upon contact – a problem dating back to the team’s 2009 release with Need for Speed: Shift – is still present. While some of these problems can easily be written off as understandable niggles that will undoubtedly arise during development, the length of their existence draws into question if they’ll ever be fixed in time for the release of Project CARS 2.

pcars-1After further inquiry, sbtm then goes on to describe how he was genuinely surprised (in a good way) by both the driving model and force feedback effects, instructing readers to “forget Project CARS 1”, as the second iteration of the series drives like an entirely new simulator, believing it to be on par with Assetto Corsa and RaceRoom Racing Experience in what the on-track experience offers the end user. Yet while he’s quick to praise the title for its strengths, he believes the team at Slightly Mad Studios still have a monumental amount of polishing to do before release, as certain elements of the title feel vastly unfinished compared to others. Upon release of the first game in the franchise, many sim racers noted that Project CARS as a retail product felt like it could have used a bit more time in development, so it appears Slightly Mad Studios – at least to our eyes – have once again built a game with so much content, there’s just too much of it to keep to a uniform standard.

pcars-2For the oval racing fans among us – a big topic of discussion considering oval racing was intentionally left out of the first game due to the inability for Slightly Mad Studios to make the AI drivers perform in an acceptable manner – there is indeed oval racing within Project CARS 2, though sbtm describes it as “a minimal amount to satisfy the needs of North American buyers”, so by this I assume we’re looking at just two or three oval circuits on the roster. Ice racing, which has been heavily advertised in initial previews filmed at the Mercedes-Benz press event, is said to be a gimmick, with sbtm saying the game is so incomprehensibly big and tries to include so many different cars, he doesn’t believe it’ll feel like a cohesive product in the end.

ovalsI won’t analyze all of his comments, you’re obviously free to develop your own conclusions from the posts I’ve taken screenshots of, but it appears there are genuine reasons to be cautiously optimistic about Project CARS 2. Boasting an objectively superior driving model, dynamic weather & track surface elements seen in other simulators, a significantly larger roster of content, and built-in league support, it seems as if Slightly Mad Studios have simply tried to build the rFactor 2 that everybody wanted, but Image Space Incorporated and Studio 397 failed to deliver. However, at this point in time, subtle bugs and grievances that have been a stable of products released by Slightly Mad Studios dating back to their days spent working with Electronic Arts on a pair of Need for Speed games also seem to be prevalent, so as a sim racer, it’ll probably boil down to how much you’re willing to put up with.

A New Project CARS Game Warrants the Same Lackluster Mainstream Coverage

project-cars-2-7aI mean, you all knew a post on this topic was coming at some point, so let’s just address the elephant in the room and bring ourselves up to speed with virtually every other sim racing outlet on the planet.

Early yesterday morning, Slightly Mad Studios finally took the covers off of the sequel to their 2015 crowd-funded racing simulator after a few select weeks of the odd leak or two, revealing Project CARS 2 to the masses with a ninety second official trailer followed by an influx of gameplay footage captured by third party journalists – who were most certainly under an embargo. Like all new games, there’s certainly a lot to talk about; new cars, new tracks, new weather, and improved visual fidelity, but like all new games, the immediate surrounding coverage just isn’t what a lot of people interested in this game want to see.

Let’s take it from the top.

Compared to the mundane placeholder introduction that was uploaded a short while ago as a “leaked official trailer”, the short cinematic piece tossed across all major gaming outlets does a much better job at conveying information the original failed to do; only focusing for a brief period of time on the title’s obvious increase in visual fidelity compared to other simulators before showcasing lots of AI pack racing that appears to display a much more competent field of computer opponents this time around – one of the original version’s most damning issues. I wanted to be shown the game has improved rather than told, and I feel the guys at SMS did a decent job with this, despite it being a bit on the short side.

Every other website has combed through all of the available footage in an effort to create a thorough list of the new content featured in Project CARS 2, so I’ll withhold any elongated commentary on that portion of the title in favor of a much simpler summary: there are clearly a lot of new car makers that have been willing to play ball with Slightly Mad Studios this time around, and though some of the bigger websites have suspiciously remained silent about specific licenses, leaked images we’ve discovered a while back, as well as the “leaked official trailer”, indicate the big three European super car manufacturers – Ferrari, Porsche, and Lamborghini – will all make numerous appearances. Obviously, these are brands sim racers really want to drive, and I’m impressed that the traditionally boastful Slightly Mad Studios have not begun waving their dicks around after acquiring certain licenses in an effort to temporarily distract their customers. We’ve seen before how that approach can only go so far with the trio of Porsche packs released by Kunos Simulazioni.

The track roster has also seen a substantial increase as well, with Daytona, Long Beach, and Fuji Speedway all showing up at some point throughout the publicized videos – and I’m sure there are more to come. I’ve said this before in my analysis of Project CARS 2, and I’ll bring it up yet again – even if you’re not particularly excited for what Slightly Mad Studios are currently building, they’re certainly doing their best to cram the game full of content in a manner similar to ToCA Race Driver 3.

On paper, it looks okay. At least there’ll be a lot to see and do.

project-cars-2-2aBut unfortunately, I can’t elaborate on the most important aspect of Project CARS 2 – the raw, unfiltered gameplay. And this is because either Slightly Mad Studios, or their overlords at Bandai-Namco, have created a hardcore racing simulator intended to be a step above what Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo offer, yet conduct their promotional campaign in a traditional mass market manner, leading to a situation where the people Project CARS 2 was created for, still don’t know very much about the game despite all of this media buzz. I don’t really care for assigning specific blame here, the point is that none of this is what sim racers wanted to see.

It’s very hard to learn about what this game does differently or improves upon compared to it’s predecessor, when all YouTube footage uploaded immediately after the embargo had been lifted features people who can barely drive in a straight line. Unlike the Grand Theft Auto franchise, where the emphasis is on exploration and experimentation rather than player skill, being able to drive a virtual race car efficiently is the key to getting the most out of a hardcore racing simulator. I mean, this is a large portion of the reason why many PC racing sims barely ship with any features aside from basic race options – the goal is to simply go faster than your previous outing, and better yourself as a driver.

And unlike Grand Theft Auto –  where an entire world of variety shows and comedic sketches exist to entertain the masses within Rockstar’s sandbox – on the race track, a tenth is a car length, and a half second is your reputation.

The customers who will sit and play this game long after release want to know about aerodynamic elements of certain vehicles, tire heating patterns, and what the new dynamic weather does differently compared to the old dynamic weather. Yes, it’s ridiculously nerdy stuff, but the people playing these games are ridiculously nerdy. We’re talking about a racing simulator where you can sit down and participate in a full twenty four hour endurance event if you choose to, not something with takedowns and traffic checking. What I’m getting at, is that a teenager barely managing to stay on-track does nothing to inform the core audience – who will play this game well through the end of its life span, buying every last piece of DLC you churn out – still have no idea what they should be getting excited about.

I think I’m going to get in big trouble for mentioning this, but there were talks – just talks people, calm your shit – about having somebody from PRC attend the Project CARS 2 reveal party at the Mercedes Winter Driving Test Track somewhere in Sweden. I straight up declined the offer, suggesting the folks at SMS to pursue our boy Sev instead (as it’s less of a logistical travel nightmare considering he’s already in Europe), but at the end of the day priority was given to mainstream gaming media regulars; the kinds of people whose job it is to evaluate everything from FIFA and Grand Theft Auto to obscure lesbian walking simulators and Super Mario Galaxy for major publications.

Which is okay; it’s their job to do so, while for us it’s just a hobby, and it’s wrong to snub them of actual work. Personally, we don’t mind missing out on an event like this in the end, as it saves us a literal shit-storm in our comments section, but at the same time, there ends up being a legitimate downside when you don’t have actual wheelmen checking out your game; sim racers who can ask the tough questions and tell curious fellow hobbyists eagerly anticipating this title exactly what they want to know.

The initial unedited gameplay footage is borderline unwatchable and can’t be used in any meaningful way, and the hardcore simulator guys whom the franchise was primarily constructed for back in late 2011, still don’t have their questions answered, because the initial influx of videos never gets to that point.

ice-drivingI don’t want to make people sit through others crashing and bashing their way through a hardcore simulator, so I’ll just attach the following screenshot to make my point very clear: I was really hoping to learn about what may entice me to purchase Project CARS 2 on launch day, and instead I saw multiple videos of people who – in a very general sense – struggle with the tutorial mode; jacking up all of the driving assists and still plowing into other cars while naming their videos titles such as “how to racing-sim like a not idiot.”

not-idiotIt’s easy to make fun of these people and call them noobs for their inherent lack of skill, but in a situation where literally nobody knew anything about this game prior to, well, today, it’s important as a company to properly establish why previous customers and those on the sidelines should get excited about the next product. After six minutes and fifty one seconds of watching this dude skid all over the place, I have the exact same questions about the game as I did before clicking play.

That’s not good.

This footage is supposed to almost double as ground-level marketing material to get me excited about Project CARS 2, and instead I’m clicking off thirty seconds into a clip because the guy behind the wheel has an intolerably bad set of skills. I’m intentionally watching your videos to learn more about the game, but then I’m also intentionally leaving prematurely primarily because I’m not learning anything and being subjected to someone playing the game so poorly it doesn’t show off any of the fancy new features. Back to the drawing board.

000What’s also not good, is that now you’ve basically come out and revealed that a lot of these very important gaming journalists invited on a special trip can barely play your game. Let’s look past the obvious “we threw a private party for critics” thing here, because I can and most certainly will knock that all day, but I’d like to sit down and examine what’s Bandai-Namco and Slightly Mad Studios have accidentally put on display. Members of the gaming press – the same individuals or colleagues of said individuals who will undoubtedly review Project CARS 2 later in the year – are incompetent when it comes to race car simulators. Their own YouTube videos clearly put that on display for the world to see. And we’re not talking “I lose more games of FIFA than I win, but I still sort of know what I’m doing and just play shitty defense because I’m lazy” incompetence, oh no, this is like, “driving a barbie jeep drunk at 3am on the night of your bachelor party ” incompetence.

Mute the volume, ignore the narrators reading from a list of features, and just watch the driving for a turn or two from the official PlayStation Access channel. It’s excruciating. I’ve seen homeless men have more control over downhill shopping cart drag races than this guy piloting the Mercedes AMG GT3 – and those Safeway carts don’t come with anti-lock brakes, input filters, or traction control.

Unmute the volume, and one of the narrators refers to an online race as a match.

Alright then.

Obviously, video games don’t discriminate, and there’s no qualifications per se when it comes to hardcore racing simulators, but how are the same people who can’t drive a virtual car more than fifty feet in a straight line, supposed to accurately assess a modern racing simulator? It will be extremely suspicious if one of the outlets that proudly displayed their lack of car control on YouTube suddenly gives the game a score of 95 come the fall of 2017, so as a marketing team in charge of organizing this stuff, why even let that kind of situation arise in the first place?

It’s extremely poor foresight.

project-cars-2-6aYes, Project CARS 2 has been officially revealed after months of speculation and weeks of leaks, but we still don’t know anything useful about it from a sim racer’s perspective. Yes, there’s more content. This was obvious from day zero. But the new weather effects, refined handling model, Livetrack 3.0, and even the built-in league functionality – things sim racers really do want to understand and learn more about – have been temporarily relegated to the level of marketing buzzwords in favor of a very mundane and excruciating mass-market approach, which sees non-drivers attempt to play a game they wouldn’t otherwise purchase for their home console setup after clocking out.

And as a result, dedicated sim racers, the crowd this franchise has been built for, funded by, and originally named after, have been left completely in the dark as to what they can expect this fall.

GTR2 as a Bargaining Tool

264156_screenshot_big_01Editor’s Note: A couple of hyperlinks have been added to convey relevant information, and a sentence or two regarding 10tacle’s knowledge of the original SimBin split have been updated.

What if I told you that the most trusted name in sim racing was just that – a name?

There’s a very definitive aura surrounding both the GTR franchise itself, as well as the developers listed on the package – SimBin. Released during the height of sim racing’s supposed Golden Age – an era of feature complete simulators sparked by Sierra’s Grand Prix Legends in 1998 before sputtering out in the mid 2000’s – the officially licensed virtual counterpart of the FIA GT Championship became a cult classic piece of software known for it’s unprecedented realism, even as the series remained a relatively obscure alternative to more established motorsports in European markets.

Whereas Grand Prix Legends rocked the video game landscape by introducing virtual auto racing fans to the concept of a hardcore, no-nonsense driving game when the technology was just barely able to handle it, GTR2 refined that sort of unforgiving experience to absolute perfection. No, the Ferrari’s which adorned the cover of the game weren’t absolute death traps to drive at the limit of adhesion, nor were dense forests and small hamlets hidden around blind corners of wide-open circuits; the game was instead bathed in an atmosphere unlike any other – rivaling projects of substantially larger budgets. Emotional orchestral scores and properly slick menus gave way to a downright beautiful racing game that pushed modern computers to their absolute breaking points, and when you finally got past the flash and pizzazz, your Saleen S7 screaming out of the final corner to begin your first true hotlap after everything had been tweaked to your liking, GTR2 held up its end of the bargain where it mattered the most – on the virtual racing surface.

ss_a42e011fa9d9f6dc4b8923d02ab80c06167aebe6-1920x1080SimBin were heralded as heroes, and some have even mentioned the game in articles with titles such as “Crap Best Sellers and Hidden Masterpieces” that otherwise focus on the exploits of major celebrities such as Justin Bieber and movies like Fifty Shades of Grey; the game captured several awards of great significance during a period when hardcore PC racing simulators were largely ignored in favor of mass-market titles that only vaguely represented an authentic driving experience. While the world was caught up in the frenzy of Forza Motorsport’s first release, a hotshot car-collecting game for Microsoft’s very first home console that looked to steal a bit of thunder, monolithic video game press entity GameSpot awarded GTR2 a score of 90%, and dubbed it not only The Best Game Nobody Played of 2006, it also won Best Driving Game period.

Exponentially more people were picking up a copy of GTR2 from their local electronics retailer and spending long hours getting lost in the cars and tracks of the FIA GT series, than were actually leaving their homes going to events on the real life FIA GT Championship schedule. YouTube footage from the 2004 season reveals a very empty Hockenheim Grand Prix circuit for the fourth round of the season, while someone claiming to have inside knowledge of sales to the point of previously being under a non-disclosure agreement mentions a few hundred thousand units were moved during a time when digital distribution straight up wasn’t a factor in the video game market. You had physical to go to the store and make the conscious choice to pay full price for an obscure racing simulator you grabbed off the shelf with your own two hands that your PC might not have been able to run in the first place, instead of merely capitalize on an eight dollar Steam sale.

It was a really, really big deal.

Unfortunately, the success of GTR2  – while beneficial for hardcore simulator fans desperately wanting a “killer app” that served to showcase the quantum leap in progress sim racing as a genre had made over the past eight years – ultimately had the complete opposite effect on the multiple companies involved. GTR2 is not seen as a celebration of the right people coming together and sharing a common goal of rocking the video game world with the little FIA GT racing game that could, but rather the source of a continuous war between two rival companies. Both want to be known within the industry (as well as to the general public) as the little indie developer that made it big by busting their asses and creating a truly compelling product, but the reality is that only one team can hold that honor.

jpgAnd because SimBin Studios UK have recently come out and announced GTR3 is confirmed to be in the pipeline – generating hype primarily by pointing at a game from ten years ago and saying “we’re bringing that exact product back” – it’s important for sim racers to know that calling this new racing simulator a direct sequel to GTR2 and writing SimBin on the box, doesn’t mean it’s a GTR game by SimBin.

And it also doesn’t mean it’ll be any good. Or that it’ll come out at all.

gtlegendsspd_1The SimBin team a solid amount of our readers know, love, and most likely hold in extremely high regard, actually split up very close to the end of GT Legends’ development cycle. A very lopsided fracture at its core, a vast majority of the team remained with Ian Bell and continued on as Blimey! Games (later to be re-named Slightly Mad Studios), whereas a small cluster of individuals – consisting mostly of Swedish sim racing enthusiasts – retained the SimBin name and became almost a Nordic version of Reiza Studios; an extremely small, nationalistic sim racing development team tasked with basically starting from scratch – but at least they had the name everybody recognized to reel people in.

An internal war still remaining largely behind closed doors, a victim of this split ended up being the Xbox 360 version of GTR, which was originally intended for a May 2006 release.

Shortly after the split, possibly in the fall of 2005, publisher 10Tacle Studios came to SimBin and asked the team for a sequel to GTR, as they (rightfully) believed the market was ready for the next game in the series. The few remaining individuals at SimBin had to reluctantly explain that the team was simply too small after the fracture to handle a project as large as GTR2, needing a bit more time to get on their feet as a company. 10tacle were unfazed by this, solely interested in producing a killer racing simulator based on the FIA GT Championship, and proceeded to contact Ian’s team at Blimey instead.

However, because sim racers had already associated the name SimBin with stellar products in both the original GTR and GT Legends, an agreement was made with all parties to keep the SimBin logo and namesake on the package, though the majority of the development would actually be handled by the group currently known as Slightly Mad Studios. At the time, it was exceptionally smart marketing. Blimey Games were essentially playing the role of session musicians in a manner similar Anton Fig filling in for Peter Criss during the downfall of KISS at the end of the 1970’s; helping to maintain a public perception of unity and consistent quality that would reel in customers without subjecting the project to development hell, as SimBin  at the time had less than ten employees on the payroll and just getting back together as a team, whereas Blimey were already a functioning company ready to begin work on the next project.

11Problems crept up almost immediately for both teams, when GTR 2 – as mentioned above – was not just a niche racing simulator intended for a fraction of a fraction of an already obscure community, but began winning awards from mainstream gaming websites that otherwise didn’t give racing simulators the time of day, much less Driving Game of the Year awards. Overnight, having GTR2 on your resume genuinely meant something within the industry in regards to acquiring future projects for the team, as independent developers churning out a critical and commercial successes thanks to a racing game centered around a series with empty grandstands in real life was basically the most ridiculous miracle story in the history of video game development, and publishers would obviously want a piece of that talent for the road ahead.

No sane person who was presented with millions of dollars on the table by a potential publishing deal would openly state “well, yeah, our name is on the box of this massively successful indie racing simulator, but we didn’t actually make it”, so this lead to a situation where both Blimey! Games, as well as SimBin, attempted to take credit for the success of GTR2; each attempting to push the other under the rug despite a very tangible business deal – and even Wikipedia – stating the raw facts.

gtr2-decalSimBin, or at least the new, Swedish-oriented SimBin, eventually did rebuild themselves into a respectable company, as evidenced by their numerous simulators released throughout the late 2000’s. Race: The WTCC game landed on store shelves shortly after GTR 2 arrived – raising a bit of justified suspicion within the community as to how the same developer put out two radically different racing simulators of varying quality in the span of a month – before embarking on a multi-year journey in 2007 with Race 07 and it’s abundance of paid expansions sold primarily through Valve’s radical new Steam platform.

No, they weren’t inherently bad games by any means, but most hardcore sim racers at the time believed they were missing that extra pinch of atmosphere and overall quality that shot GTR2 to the absolute forefront of everyone’s radar. You could either have a massive array of sports cars with a bumping orchestral score and some of the finest visuals ever seen in a PC simulator relative to the era in which the game was released, OR you could have… a Chevrolet Lacetti passenger car and some other obscure amateur track day warriors.

To their credit, SimBin realized that Race 07 was a bit of a dud, and made every last effort to flesh their flagship simulator out with an elaborate array of race cars from around the world – including an expansion pack that directly addressed their most prolific critics and introduced three entire classes of GT cars to the simulator under the moniker of GTR Evolution – but even though it said “…from the creators of GTR2” on the package, it wasn’t having its intended effects. Despite a complete re-structuring of the company from the ground up, and wrongly advertising that they were the team that had created GTR2, they weren’t actually benefiting from it.

3_1217Blimey Games, on the other hand, now operating under the more familiar name of Slightly Mad Studios, did benefit.

In December of 2008, only a few months after SimBin had released the GTR Evolution expansion for Race 07 to a very lukewarm reception, Electronic Arts pulled the covers off of the newest Need for Speed title to be released in the fall of 2009. Given the name of Need for Speed: Shift, Slightly Mad Studios had been recruited to build the absolute biggest game of their careers by the single most important entity in modern gaming: Electronic Arts. Guaranteed millions of sales almost by default, and assisted by an international marketing machine that will undoubtedly be studied by future generations of game design students, the title promised to be a drastic change in direction for the franchise, taking advantage of Slightly Mad’s experience with both GTR games, as well as GT Legends, to produce a quasi-hardcore simulator intended to compete against Forza Motorsport – now on its third rendition.

Regardless of how you feel about Need for Speed: Shift in hindsight (my buddy was so frustrated by one of the rival races he actually snapped his disc in half), as a company, the miracle story Slightly Mad Studios had achieved with GTR2 finally paid off; senpai most certainly noticed them. They earned the right to play in the big leagues.

gt_2By comparison, SimBin Studios, the team that had been running around with the “…creators of GTR2” emblem attached to their products in the hopes it would drum up additional sales knowing full well almost nobody at the current rendition of the company worked on GTR2, were already working on churning out a mass-market console game of their own. Dubbed Race Pro and bundling a majority of the content released for the PC version of Race 07 on one disc, the title looked to introduce hardcore sim racing to the Xbox 360 user base.

While some sim racers claim Race Pro was the game that finally convinced them to make the switch to PC gaming and dive head first into the world of hardcore simulators, Race Pro as a product was hardly a compelling alternative compared to a similar offering with the budget of Need for Speed. Plagued by poor framerate, visual fidelity which never matched the preview screenshots, a save game corruption glitch simply unacceptable for a developer to include within their software that far into the Xbox 360’s lifespan, and launched at a time where dedicated racing wheels for the Xbox 360 weren’t as common as they are now for current generation consoles, Race Pro was both a critical and commercial flop. Personally, I liked what it stood for and thought the game had potential with a proper aftermarket wheel, but it wasn’t something I couldn’t already get on the PC.

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With unflattering reviews of their mass-market console release prior to launch day, and the knowledge that their partner in crime was now playing on a world stage despite their own desperate attempts to convince the general public to buy their games solely because “we made GTR2, sort of…”, twenty four hours after Race Pro hit the shelves to basically no fanfare whatsoever, SimBin began digging themselves into a metaphorical hole and announced they were seriously looking into a lawsuit against Slightly Mad Studios for taking credit in the development of GTR2.

Wikipedia lists that SimBin did not create GTR2; that credit goes to the team at Blimey! Games, who are now known as Slightly Mad Studios. Yet after landing a multi-year deal publishing deal with Atari for a multitude of otherwise uninspiring touring car games based on the same technology which powered rFactor – including the failed Xbox 360 game in Race Pro – the team at SimBin believed the correct plan of action was not to create a compelling product which lived up to the game they claimed to help create many years ago, but instead seek genuine legal advice in an attempt to sue the team who did.

These are the kinds of legal threats that cost actual money.

sueA little over a year later, just enough time for any private legal matters to play out naturally, Henrik Roos, the former Dodge Viper in the FIA GT Championship depicted in GTR2, revealed that SimBin as a company were in extremely serious financial trouble, and major investors had spontaneously backed out following unspecified “unsuccessful business ventures.”

This is sim racing. It’s basically the same 3,000 hardcore users purchasing every game, playing it for a week, and then going back to their simulator of choice. Games that sell poorly come out all the time, and rarely do they tank a company. Rarely would one or two hardcore racing simulators sink a team that focuses exclusively on hardcore simulators.

You tell me what happened.

untitled-5According to VGChartz, the two games in the Need for Speed: Shift sub-franchise spearheaded by Slightly Mad Studios sold a combined total of six million copies; though I’m guessing these numbers aren’t entirely accurate, and a member of SMS themselves may soon find themselves in our comments section violating their non-disclosure agreement to ensure we got this number right. Regardless of whether the combined total sales figure is six million, or sixteen million, that’s a lot of fucking money in the bank accounts of Slightly Mad Studios – an elaborate reward for their miracle rise to prominence as an AAA game developer.

With nervous suits at Atari looking on at one of their developers, wondering why “the miracle team that created GTR2” was instead shitting out stuff like Race Pro and endless expansions for their aging simulator, it’s understandable as to why the folks in Sweden were becoming a bit trigger happy with their multiple legal threats in an attempt to re-write history and calm the concerns of their overlords. I mean, just comparing screenshots is enough for someone at Atari to start questioning that something wasn’t quite right with what they’d been advertising their crew to be capable of.

gt-legends-comparisonThe Swedish incarnation of SimBin first announced GTR 3 during the Christmas season of 2011, subsequently teaming up with VirtualR.net to unleash a tidal wave of information which teased the new title, but the influx of news and ground-level hype suddenly stopped in June of 2012 – only six short months after it had began.

gtr3-teaseWhen SimBin finally did reveal their modern flagship simulator to the general public, it ended up being a barbaric slap in the face to all sim racers who were patiently expecting something every bit as hardcore as the sequel to GTR2 the team once announced across all major sim racing media outlets. Though Sector 3 have done their best to whip the game into a traditional racing simulator over a period of years, in the very beginning RaceRoom Racing Experience was a a desperate attempt at churning out additional revenue for the company, as the game first arrived as a free-to-play racer where fictional cars, tracks, and even liveries forced users to first purchase “funny money” before any micro-transaction took place, giant corner markers obstructed the trackside scenery, and the application initially failed to include anything aside from an online hotlap competition – with no head to head multiplayer component in sight.

All of this, from the team that promoted themselves as the guys who created one of the most difficult and demanding racing simulators of all time.

Yeah, no.

raceroom-racing-2The entire process of shipping out a game that went against every single ideology the company once stood for screamed “we are on the absolute breaking point as a company”, and SimBin indeed went bankrupt only a short time later – later re-emerging as Sector 3 Studios. Across the planet, with their CEO now residing in Singapore and development handled primarily over the internet rather than in a tangible office, the team that really did create GTR2, Slightly Mad Studios, jumped into the fray on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 with Project CARS, eventually moving a combined total of two million units.

Sector 3’s most recent update for RaceRoom Racing Experience has the artificial intelligence recklessly smashing into one another. Users are still unable to manually adjust the tire pressure of their race cars.

bankruptThree thousand words later, what does this all say about the upcoming multi-platform release of GTR3 in 2018, created by a team with the name of SimBin Studios UK?

It says that GTR3 might not even happen.

The team who built the critically acclaimed GTR2 – a title that so many of you once fell in love with either a decade ago, or just a few months back thanks to a flash Steam sale? That crew is now known as Slightly Mad Studios, and whether you’re happy with how Project CARS turned out as a racing simulator, or are constantly run into crippling issues that can be easily documented with the PlayStation 4’s Share feature, these guys are still making racing simulators and doing their thing.

SimBin, on the other hand, sold a whole bunch of payware mod packages for a fancy re-skin of rFactor, have already failed once at making the transition to the console racing platform, ran into long-term financial troubles shortly after announcing they would sue Slightly Mad Studios, announced GTR3 for the first time before revealing it to be an atrocious “freemium” racing game loaded with intrusive micro-transactions which no sim racer would ever want in their library, finally went bankrupt, and then announced GTR 3 again during a time when their other game, RaceRoom Racing Experience, is still missing features found in Race 07 from almost a decade ago.

I love the kind of on-track product sports car racing provides, and I love the idea of heading out to Wal-Mart to snatch a copy of GTR3 for my PlayStation 4, ripping off the shrink wrap as if I was thirteen years old, and being greeted with an elaborate sports car racing experience after throwing the disc into my console. In a genre filled with many simulators that throw a whole bunch of random cars and tracks at you with no clear focus, this is something I’ve personally been demanding for quite some time, and so has the overall sim racing community. We all really want GTR3 because of what it represents.

But can SimBin Studios UK actually churn out GTR3 as intended, after such a ridiculous, unstable, and blatantly idiotic history?

Probably not. There’s a chance this game may never see the light of day.