Final Impressions from the Gran Turismo Sport Beta

With a mid-October release date for the full package now officially confirmed by Polyphony Digital, and the beta period reaching a definitive end after months of trial races, we’re rapidly approaching a time in which we discuss Gran Turismo Sport’s closed testing process solely in the past tense. A game that was intended to thrust sim racing into the eSports spotlight, eschewing longstanding, brutally dull single-player progression mechanics the franchise has been known for in favor of a more modern approach to virtual motorsports, Gran Turismo Sport was constructed not to appeal to longtime fans, but to give the series a proverbial kick in the ass it so desperately needed – especially with titles such as iRacing and Forza Motorsport stealing its status as the ultimate car guy playground over the past several years.

However, after reflecting upon my time spent with the closed beta, I can’t help but feel exponentially underwhelmed by what Polyphony had put together for us to mess around with, and it certainly won’t entice people to grab the premium product on launch day – though I’ll probably do so anyways because that’s how sim racers are when it comes to new automotive titles. Rather than being left excited for the flurry of new car games that await us at the end of our real life racing season – highlighted by Gran Turismo Sport itself – I’m instead perplexed at how a team who rose to popularity many years ago by pushing out a critically acclaimed hardcore “driving simulator”, could come back to the scene with everything they’ve learned and instead crafted something as misguided and uninspired as Gran Turismo Sport.

Granted, the game as I’ve been playing it was a closed beta with minimal features, but I’m not criticizing the game from a feature-complete standpoint. The reality of the Gran Turismo Sport beta was that the two key areas Polyphony had focused on for this game in particular – the driving physics, as well as the online racing experience – were nowhere close to being what’s required for this title to succeed in the manner which they’ve intended. The Gran Turismo Sport beta was boring, bland, counter-intuitive, and above all, a regression compared to other racing simulators on the market.

For Gran Turismo Sport to work, someone like myself needed to be left in awe at what we could play, yet I was instead completely apathetic to what had been presented to me with each passing build. Beyond the gorgeous visuals and pretty main menu screens – depicting my vehicle of choice in a photo-realistic environment – the game feels as if it hasn’t progressed past what many of us can play through a PlayStation 2 emulator. That’s an experience that would have been fine in 2009 or 2010 – right around the release of Gran Turismo 5 – but in July of 2017, the whole thing just feels extremely dated. A couple guys on 4Chan used to joke that series creator Kazunori “Kaz” Yamauchi has spent the past handful of years using the Gran Turismo brand as a stepping stone for his own personal interests – primarily an auto racing career – placing the video game franchise itself on the back burner, but with Gran Turismo Sport, I’m actually inclined to jump on the bandwagon in regards to that particular speculation.

I didn’t have fun with the Gran Turismo Sport beta, and I don’t expect many others to, either. Like many, I have been left wondering what the hell Kaz has been up to, because I certainly don’t see any widespread improvements or innovation in Gran Turismo Sport compared to past iterations of the franchise.

Part of this problem, as I’ve discussed in previous articles breaking down GT Sport throughout this spring, boils down to the lack of talent in online races. The hardcore sim racers that would benefit from a structured, organized title such as Gran Turismo Sport, they’re not playing on the PlayStation 4; they’ve already built a dedicated gaming PC, signed up for iRacing, and are perfectly happy with it. What this means is that the remaining virtual auto racing fans on the PlayStation 4 are not diehard sim nerds who want to dickwave over online rankings, but rather dedicated Gran Turismo fans, and this is a crowd that are typically more interested in the grinding, progression, and free-form elements of the Gran Turismo franchise, versus the door-to-door racing aspect of elite sim racing.

So you can probably imagine what happens when you herd semi-casual Gran Turismo fans into a hyper-competitive, ultra-restrictive environment that forces them to focus on driving a clean race. It’s a bit of a mess.

Though my own skill set saw me rocket up the charts and quickly earn a place in the top split of most nightly race sessions, one aspect that never changed throughout my time with Gran Turismo Sport was the overall quality of drivers in each lobby. A lot of guys struggled to go more than a few corners without hopelessly careening off the circuit, with only the top three or four cars in a sixteen-man race being within the leader’s zip code. The highest level of online racing in Gran Turismo Sport was comparable to a 2am weeknight race in iRacing, where there are a couple of guys running a reasonable pace and level of consistency; the others establishing themselves as non-drivers only seconds into the event. The tangible increase in the field’s overall skill that you’re used to seeing in iRacing just didn’t exist in the GT Sport beta; I was at the top and people for the most part still sucked. In terms of growing an eSports community surrounding the title, right now it’s just not possible – there aren’t enough good, active drivers online at any given time for the highest split of each event to produce a compelling on-track product.

For many races, I was extremely bored. There was a night not too long ago where we went to Willow Springs in the street cars, and I think I was passed once in three races, with the guy choking the lead away after clipping the dirt. Part of the fun in iRacing is that you can run nose to tail with somebody, lap after lap, for eighth place. In GT Sport, you can tell most people on the grid are casual GT players, forced to partake in these online events due to the new direction of the game. And let me tell you, forcing non-drivers to get their shit stomped in an online match against literal aliens is a quick way to demoralize these players into never touching the game again, especially considering this isn’t what GT fans particularly wanted out of a Gran Turismo game.

This is compounded by the downright brutal track design regarding some of the fictional circuits available in GT Sport. Though the re-creations of Brands Hatch, Willow Springs, and the Nordschleife are fantastic, Polyphony have insisted on including bizarre fantasy circuits into the mix, I guess to give their fictional Gran Turismo world championship its own unique flair. The problem comes in just what kinds of circuits are available; the claustrophobic oval tracks breed disaster among even the most talented of iRacing restrictor plate drivers, meaning any journey to the two super ovals available in the game is an exercise in frustration; cars careening wildly off the concrete walls, and back into traffic for massive pileups that are basically unavoidable. On the road course side, atrocious layouts, such as the Tokyo Expressway, lead to prolonged chain reaction collisions which are virtually impossible to recover from.

How a team that has spent their entire professional existence studying auto racing and created layouts such as Midfield Raceway and the High Speed Ring, were able to go out and produce such horrific abominations that detract from the hyper-competitive eSports environment the game has been centered around, is pretty mind-blowing. The GeneRally World Forums boast significantly more driver-friendly track layouts, and in many cases they’re created by dudes with little more than Microsoft Paint and the standard track editor at their disposal.

Straight up, these tracks need to be removed from the final product. Maps like Killhouse and Shipment are fun in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, not the latest iteration of Gran Turismo.

Yet it’s in the driving physics where Gran Turismo Sport drops the ball in an enormous way. Though I did not personally grow up playing the classic known as Gran Turismo 4, I’ve at least done my homework and turned some laps at speed on an Emulator, as well as spent a decent chunk of time on Gran Turismo 6, making use of a custom save to unlock all the cars and try exactly what I’ve wanted to try. By comparison, Gran Turismo Sport is perplexing in that these prior games on inferior hardware actually handle a bit better than what Sport is trying to convey a race car drives like. I still have to reiterate that the street cars aren’t terrible – passable, even – but it seems anything that sends power to the rear wheels is pretty nonsensical to drive.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact tire model issue, primarily because Polyphony kept changing tire behavior in pretty fundamental ways from build to build. There were some updates where rear wheel drive cars had to be kept well below the limit, as any slip angle would cause a spin, only for the next update to introduce absolutely insane slip angles allowing you to carry downright ridiculous drifts, transforming GT3 machinery into D1GP participants. Polyphony’s inability to retain a consistent, somewhat realistic tire model is a huge cause for concern; the fact that the team was constantly pushing out drastic changes from build to build, all of which required completely different driving styles, is downright bizarre for a veteran team who should supposedly have their shit together given their time spent in the industry. This game has been development for a number of years, and yet it was like every few weeks we were being handed a brand new, amateur rFactor mod with experimental tires. I just don’t understand how all of this money, time, and legacy can result in such questionable tire behavior.

At 80% attack, it was okay. But the moment you started to push, it’s like you could physically feel the tire model calculations generating absurd oddities.

Now given my extensive time spent on iRacing in the past, I’m not opposed to sitting down and learning the nuances of a crazy tire model, but the biggest problem that arose from this situation is how GT Sport calculated force feedback, and then sent those effects through the steering wheel. GT Sport does not let you completely disable force feedback effects, resulting in a situation where even at the lowest settings, you are still subjected to what Polyphony thinks a race car steering wheel does at competition speeds. Long story short, their assumptions are incorrect.

The virtual steering rack has been designed to convey what’s happening at not just the front tires, but the rear tires as well, meaning the team are awkwardly trying to convey wheel spin from a rear wheel drive car, through the steering rack, which is something that does not happen in real life. I was like a fish out of water taking my virtual Corvette C7.R to the Nordschleife, as anytime I tried to power out of a corner and get up on the outside rear tire, the force feedback would try to shimmy the steering wheel out of my hand, showering me with canned effects that were counter-intuitive to the driving situation at hand.

Here you have a professional developer with what’s probably the biggest budget in sim racing, believing wheel spin at the ass end of the car generates hand-of-god forces through the steering wheel on corner exit. It’s insane, and it’s the biggest reason as to why I dropped the beta of Gran Turismo Sport. Polyphony are genuinely clueless on this front, with the entire force feedback model being loaded with intrusive canned effects at all ends of the handling spectrum. It’s just… Dumb…

And that’s a sentiment that summarizes the Gran Turismo Sport beta – and possibly the full game itself – in a nutshell. Helping turn the subgenre of racing simulators into a household name which now adorns race car windshield banners across the globe, it’s incredible that a prestigious team like Polyphony Digital, with their endless resources available to create a top-flight modern simulator, have instead come across as profoundly amateurish and unprepared for their jump into the world of eSports.

Unaware of what’s transpiring within the sim racing ecosystem, blissfully ignorant of already established trends and player bases, they have gone out and built a structured online environment for a crowd who largely aren’t interested in such a thing. Gran Turismo Sport is fun for those who finish on the podium, but for those looking for that all-encompassing world of car culture, the beta was an exercise in frustration, constantly belittling casual players for their driving mistakes, and forcing them to play only when they were allowed to. And with races so woefully short, and the competition unable to hold a candle to the elite fields on home computers, waiting around all day for the nine chaotic sprint races per night isn’t something a lot of people want to do. iRacing worked because it took direct aim at the diehards and built something precisely for them. Gran Turismo Sport built something for the iRacing crowd, and then targeted it at an audience expecting the next Gran Turismo.

See a problem? Polyphony didn’t, but everyone else sure as hell does.

They also didn’t do a good job of building their own version of iRacing, if the beta is anything to go by. Track design is woefully inadequate and doesn’t provide exciting races, but rather enormous wreckfests thanks to fictional circuits loaded with an abundance of concrete walls within close proximity to the racing surface. iRacing works because it makes use of solely real world circuits, professional and amateur motorsports facilities that were obviously designed with safety, excitement, and door-to-door racing in mind. Gran Turismo Sport’s trial facilities are clearly designed to be artistic masturbation with a racing circuit thrown somewhere in the foreground. We get it Polyphony, you make pretty games, but there’s a cluster of cars blocking the track, and no Tokyo sky scrapers will offset the mess in front of me that’s no fault but your own.

It’s frustrating, because we’ve been told by marketing propaganda and mainstream websites that Gran Turismo is the pinnacle of modern driving simulators, and one of Sony’s flagship pieces of software to persuade you into buying whatever model of PlayStation is currently being sold on store shelves. Unfortunately, Gran Turismo’s driving model is simply not convincing in the slightest, and the drastic changes between tire iterations in the beta make it hard to believe Polyphony even understand what the fuck they’re doing. If DiRT 4 by Codemasters confused the shit out you with questionable off-road physics, Gran Turismo Sport has somehow managed to bring that same experience to tarmac circuit racing. For an indie team, many would be able to look past this, but we’re talking about Polyphony here. It’s not simcade by any means – the general speeds, feel of mass, and shifting points are correct – but the tires are flat out nonsensical. How they’ve gotten to that point despite all the resources available, I have no fucking idea.

Overall, the Gran Turismo Sport closed beta was a disappointment, and I am not looking forward to the final product this fall. The online competition was lackluster, the driving physics were not satisfying, the track design was poor, races were too short, and vehicles were incredibly unbalanced. For a team the size of Polyphony to shit out something so underwhelming, it’s clear their best days are behind them, and Gran Turismo does not deserve the widespread recognition it currently possesses.

 

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Reader Submission #142 – The Front Wing is Too Damn High

No longer confined to select press releases and vague teaser shots, the covers have been fully removed from Codemasters’ upcoming open wheel racer Formula One 2017, but the diehards have managed to spot some oddities – and we’re praying it’s not indicative of the rest of the game’s quality. Coming off a stellar outing in F1 2016, a title many fans considered to be Codemasters magnum opus once the tire wear issues had been rectified for online play, expectations are high for what the UK crew can achieve with their next outing, yet in the preview shots that have been released by first party sources, questionable findings were discovered that really shouldn’t have made it into promotional material at the very least.

Today’s Reader Submission here at PRC comes from Australian kart racer Tyler W., who has summarized the oddities in the officially released footage quite extensively for us. Though it’s not a clear indication that Codemasters are on pace to dropping the ball a second time this year after DiRT 4 failed to impress, the Formula One series has been constructed primarily for die-hard Grand Prix fans, and the game will live and die not by it’s content, but by it’s polish.

 

Hey PRC! I’m getting in quick before the rush of emails start coming regarding this topic, but some Formula One 2017 gameplay with Max Verstappen has officially dropped, showcasing him turning laps around the short layout of Silverstone. Now, I have watched a few E3 videos of the classic cars, and it didn’t seem that bat, but now with outside views of the cars, I have some cause of concern regarding the game. And I don’t say this lightly as I’m someone who has been playing Formula One games for about as long as I have lived.

First, for some reason the 2017 RB13 has a front wing so high that Snoop Dogg would be jealous. Problem is, no way would any F1 car run a wing that high at any time, as it would have no downforce properties in order to be fast.Then, we move onto the RB6 from 2010, and it looks even worse. For some reason, the car looks to be running on the ground with the wheels looking abnormally high compared to the car itself, making it seem like a botched open wheel mod for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. It’s like there’s a horrendously soft suspension setup on it, and it’s not realistic at all compared to how the car sets through the corner in real life. While it’s compressing, the tires are still pretty low compared to the chassis.

I might be overreacting and worried over nothing, as what Max drove may have been an earlier build, but it’s a bit scary that the game comes out next month, and there seem to be some pretty glaring model issues, on top of the horrid external V8 engine noise – almost worse than what F1 2010 had, if I’m to be completely honest. By the way, how do you screw up a model that you’ve had since 2010?

What are your thoughts?

On one hand, I’ll gladly bring up Van Halen’s Brown M&M’s tour rider clause, where if one precise detail was botched – such as the color of M&M’s in the candy dish – the rockstars had every reason to believe exponentially larger mistakes were made when assembling the stage. So inaccurate car models and ride heights could point to other issues behind the scenes with F1 2017, problems we won’t discover until we’ve actually got our hands on the game and start screwing around with it. However, past examples have shown a racing game featuring inaccurate car models does not necessarily equate to a bad game. The EA Sports NASCAR Thunder games shipped with woefully inaccurate Chevrolet Monte Carlo bodies – they were too tall, too narrow, the front clip was nowhere near close, and the headlight decals were outdated by a few years – yet those games are still considered the absolute pinnacle of officially licensed NASCAR titles save for that small blemish, and it’s just something the diehards have to deal with every time they fire up the game.

Yet I do wonder how Codemasters were able to film promo pieces knowing such glaring oddities still existed with their car models. This is a team who are fully aware that die-hards are going to scrutinize everything and everything in the weeks leading up to the game; Formula One isn’t Mario Kart, it’s consumed exclusively by those who eat, breathe, and sleep grand prix racing, so why you’d pull the trigger on promotional material knowing it would be ripped apart is pretty perplexing. In my opinion, this one’s on the marketing team for not stepping in and saying “um… guys… are you sure you want this out there?”

There’s also the chance that Max was allowed to dick around with the game for a bit prior to filming, and he’s running some nutty exploit setup he figured out because he’s talented like that. I know in testing for Project CARS 2 I’ve been running some crazy shit outside traditional setup techniques for certain cars in the garage area, and it’s received some pretty interesting reactions when people either take a look at the values or try it for themselves, so that’s a distinct possibility.

Regardless, I wouldn’t write off the game just yet – Codemasters had a stellar blueprint to build upon thanks to how phenomenal last year’s game was – but yeah, I’m not sure why the promo team gave the thumbs up to put out footage with irregularities most F1 fans can spot from a mile away.

So You Bought a GoPro… Now What?

I’m going to deviate a bit from the norm for today’s post on PRC, but it’s a subject I really want to expand upon considering this topic might be highly relevant to a solid chunk of our readers – whether they’re wanting an on-board camera for their amateur race car, or making use of it for a different activity altogether.

Though YouTube in 2017 has already replaced cable television in terms of sheer popularity, and there’s one major brand selling high-quality action cameras at a very affordable price – allowing you to record and inevitably upload your public karting escapades in all their glory – I’d wager that roughly 65% of GoPro owners have no fucking idea how to use these pocket sized devices to their fullest extent. Often taking on the role of stocking-stuffers over the holidays, last minute birthday gifts, or pre-season surprises from a friend or family member, the sad reality is that the majority of GoPro cameras live very dull and pointless lives; either sitting in a drawer or awkwardly strapped to someone’s car or helmet, but never venturing past the so-and-so bought me one for Christmas, but I haven’t really configured it yet or tried recording anything big” phase. After being blessed with a fleet of miniature GoPro session model cameras courtesy of Slightly Mad Studios, and promptly attaching them to a bunch of cars, these were the same sentiments I commonly heard popping up around my local pit area – everyone seemingly owned a newer model GoPro, but I appeared to be the only guy who knew how to make use of them.

And it’s a damn shame, because in an era where auto racing – and I guess to cover a broader topic, outdoor activities – are declining in popularity, with track owners and miscellaneous promoters struggling to figure out how to attract an audience to their circuit (I was invited to some country bar to striptease for “racer’s night” as a way to promote the Pinty’s event), GoPro’s are literally invaluable in what they can accomplish. I’m not talking about just in terms of bringing an audience out to a race track by making it look like a great time through wild on-boards – because that’s a given – but also in how they can help you better your skills as a driver, and save your ass when the officials get it wrong.

Unless you are seriously strapped for cash, pinching pennies just to keep the car running, and cannot part with $200 plus a tad extra for a MicroSD card, you owe it to both yourself and your local race track/karting complex to purchase a GoPro, as well as get everything you’ve recorded up on social media. It’s the correct, honest way to promote your local auto racing scene, whether you’re a part of it or not.

Before making this venture in the first place, it’s absolutely essential to obtain some sort of proper video editing software such as Sony Vegas, and then take the time to learn how it works – usually by messing around with clips of sim racing footage – just to ensure you’re familiar with the editing and rendering process. The reason for this is that GoPro cameras naturally “chapter” video clips, so even if you think you can just hit record, walk away for forty five minutes, and then press stop when the action has ceased, this isn’t exactly the case; GoPro cameras split recordings into twelve minute chunks, meaning you’re the poor bastard who has to piece them all together. Again, in my experience this is one of the points where a lot of racers simply give up on their ambitions of uploading their adventures to YouTube, as you’d be surprised how many are computer illiterate and deem this to be too daunting and time consuming.

This is where it helps to be a sim racer, or that special sim racing friend to assist your bro; if you’re regularly recording your own personal iRacing hotlaps and then busting out something like Sony Vegas to add visual effects, music, or multi-angle shots, importing MP4 clips from the camera into Vegas or Premiere, chaining it together, trimming it down, and disabling the resample effect when necessary, is literally a two minute job. But of course, it’s something that needs to be done so the footage is presentable on social media, and not a 38 minute odyssey of static pit area shots before the ignition switch is finally flipped and the action commences. Again, I’ve seen others do this, and it’s shitty. Nobody wants to watch that.

GoPro as a company have a pretty wide variety of cameras available – with price ranges skyrocketing for newer models – but the reality is that for any on-board footage of yourself karting, mountain biking, road racing, or a buddy of yours running his amateur car, you simply do not need anything more than a Hero 4 Session, pictured above. These things are tiny as fuck – so they’ll fit basically anywhere without feeling like a bulky, awkward extension on your helmet – retail for just over $200, and are idiot proof to the max; with just one primary button, a single press turns the camera on and begins recording, while another press ends the recording and shuts the camera off. In my opinion, the more expensive GoPro models are an exercise in diminishing returns; sure, you can shoot at 120 frames per second with the Hero 5 Black, and there’s a touch screen display on the user side portion of the camera, but what exactly does this add to the experience for your average consumer wanting to crank out videos? Absolutely nothing is the correct answer. The higher priced cameras are really only intended for amateur film makers, as the increase in framerate aids the fluidity during slow motion scenes – and even then there are tricks in Vegas to work around this.

Each camera also features a pretty stout array of settings that can be changed both on the camera itself, as well as within the PC-based software that can be downloaded from the GoPro website, but the reality is that there’s basically one universal setting on the session models which provide the best all-around outcome – and that’s ideal if you’re low on videography skills and just want to hit record & forget about it. I’ve found that an image quality of 1080, framerate of 30, and the field of view set to medium warranted solid results with reasonable file sizes and acceptable battery consumption. Again, anything above is pretty much useless; it’s not like you’re not shooting a movie for Ron Howard.

So anyways, let’s say you’re at the point where you’ve picked up a GoPro Session, grabbed yourself a MicroSD card between 16 and 64 gigabytes, messed around with Sony Vegas (or another relevant video editing program), along with a bag of mounts from a place like London Drugs, and are now ready to start documenting your summer adventures. How do you ensure the footage you capture is actually worth anybody’s time?

The first thing I’ve gotta talk to you guys about is angles, and a video of my teammate from pre-season testing earlier this year drills home how important getting the right camera angle can be. Browsing for amateur racing on-boards on YouTube, I often come across videos – such as my own above – that don’t show anything because a lot of guys fail to think through cockpit shots. Justin wanted the camera placed on the rear hatch of his Sunfire so he could review his driving inputs, but the end result was very uninspiring and extremely boring for third parties to view; even if we were to zoom in on the front windshield via Sony Vegas, you can’t physically see a lot of what’s occurring out on the track, and it’s not entertaining footage by any stretch of the imagination. There’s no sense of speed, nothing exciting to look at, and any action that does take places, does so in a little tiny window in the center portion of the screen, roughly 5% of the overall image.

That’s shitty. Don’t make people sit through that.

What I do personally, is to try and place cameras where third parties viewing the clip, not knowing who myself or Justin are, can still watch the race and become invested in the on-track product. And the way I’ve accomplished this is by drawing inspiration from Gran Turismo’s roof cam; it’s something all sim racers are familiar with, and to spectators, it provides a very clear view of the action both in front and directly beside the car in question – giving the on-track product a chance to entertain & captivate them, and possibly enticing locals to check things out for themselves. I accomplish this by mounting the GoPro in the dead center of the windshield, and then aiming the lens about twenty feet in front of the car.

The end product looks cool because sim racers instantly think “ah, Gran Turismo”, while a third party audience – family members, friends, other racers, or locals curious about what the track has to offer – can actually see a lot of what’s going on and get involved in the race.

It’s also an angle that helps to convey the pitch and the attitude of the car, so viewers can comprehend elevation changes, line choices, and general car stability more accurately. I’m not saying roof cam is the be all, end all solution that should be mandated for those running onboard cameras, but before you start experimenting with artsy shit, it’s nice to have footage that clearly displays what’s going on. Roof camera solves that.

Some guys will experiment with dashboard camers – I did as well – but there’s one fatal flaw. Dash cameras lack peripheral vision, which means that if there’s any side by side battles that may occur (and they certainly will), you’re simply not going to see them. You lose the excitement of cars running door to door – both trying to inch ahead of one another – because the opponent’s car has instead completely disappeared from the shot at the most inopportune of times.

But of course, roof cams are only useful in tin tops, and some of you guys reading this might not have the privilege of competing in a full-bodied car, possibly just wanting to record your karting adventures with your mates. In that situation, helmet cameras are certainly the way to go, as GoPro mounts will stick to literally anything, but I’ve found what a lot of people get wrong is in where they mount the camera to their helmets. Most opt to stick the camera right on top of the helmet, but this results in a ridiculously high vantage point compared to what the driver actually sees, and thus reducing the sense of speed. I’m not a fan of telling people “it feels much faster when you’re actually driving” when it’s much easier to just put the camera in the correct spot the first time and convey it through the video itself.

And given most karting facilities mandate you to use your visor at all times, this can be accomplished by placing the sticky mount as far forward as possible, and then tilting the camera upwards. Don’t be that guy with the GoPro on the top of his skull, I promise you the footage looks absurdly goofy.

This is also what many simulation developers fuck up when trying to replicate a proper cockpit view in their respective Go Karts on the vehicle roster. Teams opt to try and convey an ultra-high GoPro eyepoint that makes you feel as if you’re towering over the other karts, when in reality the view should be much lower. Let’s be real, when you head to an indoor karting complex, the wheel is directly in front of you, not in your lap like the teacup ride at Disneyland.

Now at this point you’re probably wonder if it’s possible to combine the two – running a helmet camera inside the car – and I’m here to confirm that yes, it’s certainly possible, but you have to take into consideration the roof height, and your overall level of visibility in the cockpit.

Because there’s a giant piece of sheet metal above your head, using the same mounting point as what you’d make use of in karting just doesn’t work, because every time you move your head, there’s a chance you’re going to bump the camera, or exert enough force on the mount to completely detach it from your helmet, which would obviously result in a $200 piece of equipment rolling around in the car, and sanctioning bodies typically aren’t too fond of that. Now provided you’re enough of a manlet like I am, where a high mounted camera wouldn’t run the risk of clipping the roof, you still run into the problem of creating an awkward, jacked up view point that doesn’t really resemble what the driver sees. Part of the fun in running a helmet cam is being able to convey to friends and family exactly how you’re able to interpret the situation around you. I’m not towering over the nose of my car from inside the driver’s seat.

The solution I used, at least in Hornets, was to mount my GoPro to the side of my helmet, less than an inch away from the visor slot, and then angle the camera inwards so you can still see out my driver’s side window – plus the entire windshield – despite the camera being mounted away from the driver’s side door. This also naturally induces a sort of look-to-apex effect, without the need for any Sony Vegas wizardry.

However, the helmet camera vantage point isn’t always effective. If you’re in a car with super low visibility, whether it be due to the windshield height, or running a containment/partial containment seat, there’s only so far a Need for Speed Shift-like camera can go before you’re back at square one, and can’t see shit. The key for this viewpoint to work is to have a giant cockpit area – something you’ll find in abundance in Chumpcar, LeMons, Hornets, or any discipline of racing that makes use of passenger cars. Late models, not so much, although it’s good for a clip or two to drill home the drastic change in environment from something significantly less radical. At the end of the day, the audience is going to want to see what’s going on out the window to provide context to the driver’s inputs, and if they can’t, they’re not going to stick around for long – the “oh my god you’re wheeling it” element only lasts for a couple of laps before people get bored.

Assembling the videos into something presentable on YouTube isn’t an area you’ll need to dedicate several hours, but it certainly helps retain your audience. People have significantly shorter attention spans compared to twenty years ago, so every last second of your on-track footage needs to be relevant, or at least showcase actual racing. Unless you know what you’re doing and can craft the downtime portions into something ridiculously artsy, viewers don’t want to watch you tightening the belts, sitting in the staging lanes, conversing with an official, turning pace laps, or mindlessly idling around under caution. Auto racing is an already difficult sell to millennial viewers, so this is the part where you really do need to learn the most rudimentary Vegas operations of cutting out stuff that does not serve any purpose whatsoever.

Unless you’re like, screaming in your helmet under caution. In that instance it’s hilarious.

This season I’ve slowly messed around with inserting basic graphical elements just to keep viewers informed about what’s actually happening in the race. As a racer, I often find myself bored to tits watching on-boards from other people, and this led me to inject simple green/yellow/white/checkered flags, along with labels of each session, to give a very basic outline of what point we’re at in the evening. For late models I’ve tried doing this thing where I have a results screen pop up in the center like the EA Sports NASCAR games once you cross the start finish line, but some may not be comfortable revealing their real name to the outside world. I run a website with a shitload of viewers, so I’ve sort of waived that right to privacy, but it’s not something that’s essential by any means.

Basically, you want your GoPro footage on YouTube to be accessible to the point where some random guy prowling for on-board footage can click on your video and be entertained for five to ten minutes, even if it’s just you and your mates slugging it out at the local karting complex.

Throughout this article I’ve talked a lot about retaining an audience and keeping “third party viewers” engaged, and there are two key reasons for that.

Obviously, on-board cameras are a powerful tool to help refine your driving skills and/or settle disputes with other drivers/officials at the race track, but when used to their fullest extent, they’re also a very underrated marketing tool. The reason your local karting track does Date Night, or your local race track does shit like Kids Under Ten Get In Free is all down to marketing; most circuits, save for massive facilities like Daytona, the Nurburgring, or Bathurst, have no fucking idea how to promote local racing or even go-karting to a potential userbase who are otherwise apathetic towards auto racing as a whole, so they basically throw a bunch of shit at the wall to see what sticks – and sometimes the results are pretty fucking ridiculous.

Whether it’s for a karting complex or a local track, aggressive, hard racing is going to reel people in faster than any $1.50 for a hot dog & drink for #Canada150 scheme ever will. If you can use your base model GoPro to capture this sort of racing in a manner that’s easily digestible for the average person with a passing interest in auto racing, and not force them to click through fourteen minutes of your car sitting in the pits because you’re unsure of how to work Adobe Premiere and cut the clip, that’s usually enough to compel them to come out and bring a bunch of their friends – meaning four tickets sold, and a shitload made at the concession. More importantly, it also means less awkward, forced marketing campaigns that have nothing to do with racing.

It’s also an integral tool in securing potential sponsors. Throughout the 2016-2017 off-season, three of my bros who race hornets were able to secure pretty substantial sponsorships from a wide variety of companies just by approaching local shops, introducing themselves, and being able to pull up footage of us beating the shit out of each other on YouTube. Every car guy with a business and a bit of money wants to have their logo on a race car of some level, but the biggest problem is they want to associate with someone they can cheer for and feel like they’re going to win every weekend, which is pretty difficult to do if they can’t immediately see you in action. Yet if you can show them crystal clear footage of yourself – or the entire class – racing three wide to the stripe, or have some sort of compelling video that introduces your discipline as immediately captivating, that’s the extra push they’ll need to hand your operation some cash.

So if you happen to be a sim racer who also campaigns some kind of amateur car on the side, or you’ve got a friend who’s into amateur auto racing and his girlfriend buys him a GoPro for Christmas, don’t let that opportunity go to waste. Learn how to work editing software such as Sony Vegas, take the time to mount the cameras in a position that gives the best view of the action possible, and upload as much as you can to YouTube in a manner that can be easily digested by the common motorsports fan – it’s the correct way to promote local racing, and it’ll settle a lot of fights in the pits, too.

One Hot Night

Environment Canada told us it would be a balmy thirty six degrees centigrade for Saturday’s event at Penticton Speedway, but out on the tarmac, things easily shot up into the mid forties. Chugging water like it was going out of style, and strategically positioning yourself under the pit tent to both keep out of the sunlight, as well as capitalize on any gentle breeze that may pass through the bowl, the southern British Columbia resort town had turned into an impromptu sauna. Track management wisely decided to push back practice – and the event itself – until well into the evening to avoid obvious health problems that may arise, but the effects of the heat were apparent shortly after unloading. Crew members across multiple classes were dropping like flies; the pit area a comical array of those who had doused themselves with water and looking like they’d just come back from a summer concert, in contrast with others slumped against vehicles in a desperate attempt to avoid the sunshine.

This is the environment in which I’d willingly be donning an all-black fire suit and jumping into a race car with no internal airflow for my first late model start. With the gremlins of the previous two race weekends now fully ironed out thanks to Dustin busting his ass, we were now going to dive head first into an exhibition event against some of the best stock car drivers British Columbia has to offer – drivers who had made the journey to Penticton Speedway with the sole intention of beating the shit out of each other and putting on a show for the fans. These were not guys with outdated race cars that had sat in a garage for five years and were merely trying to shake off the cobwebs; brands like Lordco – the same group that sponsored DJ Kennington’s Daytona 500 entry earlier this year – adorned the side of trailers that towered over our relatively grassroots operation.

Was it a recipe for complete and utter embarrassment at the hands of BC’s finest? Absolutely. I was not going to win, nor was I going to finish in the top three. I think that’s a given.

However, if we were able to merely hang with the pack, not piss anyone off, and not be a rolling hazard on the race track for others to scream at in the pits afterwards, just getting through the night would be an accomplishment unto itself. Late model stock car racing is the ultimate goal for any Saturday night short track racer, and most people only get there after years upon years of dedication to the sport – with the majority of my competitors for the evening driving these cars longer than I’ve been alive. I, on the other hand, was coming into the event with about a year’s worth of driving hornets of all things, and a whole bunch of sim racing experience on top of that – most of which taking place within simulators that are largely work-in-progress projects, where even the developers are unsure of their own product’s authenticity.

If we could hold our own among this group with such little experience aside from “lol video games”, it would be pretty ridiculous.

Just three tenths separated the pole sitter from last place in open qualifying – and we weren’t last. Though the car was tight through the center of the corner and needed more rear brake so it would actually rotate, I brought home sixth in qualifying; tying K&N Series driver Sarah Cornett-Ching’s father Joe, and going quicker than my teammate Steve Lengert, a former Northwest Tour driver from the 1980’s. Again, the entire field was covered by only three tenths – roughly a single car length gap at the start finish line, if not less. We weren’t embarrassingly off-pace, nor a cheeky marketing gimmick that everyone wished would shit up another track, but instead quick enough to be worthy of a spot on the grid. Furthermore, a gap that small is meaningless in traffic, indicating there was the potential for us to bring home a decent finish at some point during the evening, whether it be during the preliminary heat race, or later during the forty lap main event.

Seemingly absent of nerves that traditionally overwhelm inexperienced drivers, I took the lead about halfway through the first heat, and then slugged it out with Mark Berriau, who eventually got by me on the outside. His car is more or less an engine and tire swap away from being a full-on super late model, whereas we were down about 40 horsepower due to running our backup motor for the evening, so it was a huge confidence boost just to battle door to door with a driver of that caliber, being fully aware of how much money is in the car next to you, and your absolute underdog status.

As the pack behind me applied pressure, I simply applied more throttle and got up on the wheel when I needed to. The downright ridiculous shots you see littered throughout this article are the work of Ian Plasch, a name many iRacers will be familiar with due to his extensive involvement with the service both as a Twitch streamer, YouTube personality, event organizer, and commentator. Ian is up here for the summer following us around for his upcoming indie documentary, so what you’re seeing right now are merely teasers for something much, much bigger than just another PRC article.

Knowing how outclassed we were by the competition, it was pretty gratifying to come home with second place in our first scored session against other cars, but the biggest shock of them all arrived when consulting Speedhive for the official results. Down on power and driving experience compared to the rest of the grid, yours truly clicked off the fastest lap of the session. Judging by some of the pictures and video clips on Ian’s SD card, I most likely did it sideways, too. Now for veteran teams this wouldn’t be much to write home about – you’re not given points or extra cash for going into purple on the timing display – but given the metaphorical Mount Everest we’re trying to climb with this whole venture of throwing a sim racer into a high horsepower stock car with only minimal prior driving experience, it’s a major victory in itself. We’re not out here trying to win races; we’re instead trying to prove we belong, and that consumer racing simulators can absolutely prepare you for the real thing.

I think we accomplished that.

Unfortunately, the early success did not carry over into the main, but at the end of the day, that’s short track racing. Finding myself on the outside line from the very start, the 40-lap main event was spent being gradually shuffled to the back, with Dustin’s radio chatter consisting of “inside… inside… still inside… one more coming inside…” It’s obviously very frustrating as a driver to be placed in this situation, but very few short tracks feature enough banking where the high groove works; you’re instead trying to get a run on the car in front so you can either dive bomb them on entry, or stick your nose under them on corner exit. I was unable to do either; watching car after car slip past outside my window net.

The WESCAR tour events we’ll be participating in will at least allow me to try and fight back given their 100-lap race length, but considering this was only a 40 lap sprint, my only option was to fall in line behind somebody and click off laps while refining my line. It’s shitty that our finishing position doesn’t exactly indicate how well the night was going, but at least we know the speed is certainly there, and there’s only so much you can do when the pack dynamics take over. Not the first time this has happened to me; I was subjected to the same fate racing Hornets last weekend after trying to pass the leader on the outside and promptly getting freight trained.

With three to go, I got a little too comfortable with the front stretch wall after reeling somebody in, but the damage isn’t all that extensive; despite the wild footage Ian captured, I think I only sacrificed a shock – the door bar took most of the impact.

As I’ve touched on in previous entries, these cars aren’t difficult to drive – unlike what some sim racers may lead you to believe across various message boards. The challenge comes in dealing with the immense heat, the stale air inside the cockpit, the serious lack of visibility, the ridiculous engine noise, and what I’ll lump together as general cockpit G-Force effects – though that’s probably a subject that deserves more than just a footnote. In short, you’re getting thrown around a lot in the cockpit.

But from a pure physics and driving behavior standpoint, I have to re-iterate that real life feels very close to a hybrid between Grid: Autosport, and Project CARS 2. What these games both get right is in how they depict race cars to be ultra responsive and ultra-nimble no matter the situation. I’ve been in a late model for a combined total of three days – one test session, one event we failed to start due to a mechanical bug, and one full event – and powering out of a corner with the wheel pointed directly to the wall is so ridiculously easy to grasp, real life would be given a failing grade by all major simulation blogs.

What makes the driving aspect challenging – and therefore races into exciting back and forth competitions – is that unlike modern simulators, race cars are very sensitive to subtle attitude changes and racing surface irregularities. Now I’m not talking about G-Forces here, I’m talking about how the car itself responds to the track.

Most simulators – even ones that boast laser scanned content – feature track surfaces that are almost smooth as glass and are complimented with a simplified suspension model, meaning you can go out and click off ten or twenty identical laps using the same precision braking and turn-in points, which is why some guys seemingly possess robot-like qualities behind the toy steering wheel. This level of consistency is exponentially more difficult behind the wheel of a live car; entering the same corner ten times in a row, slightly to the left or slightly to the right with each lap, will warrant drastically different results – not uncontrollable or unpredictable, just different. You can get away with being a lazy slob in a simulator without much trouble, but the real world magnifies both outright mistakes, or less than ideal corner entries.

The one game I’ve felt is proceeding in the correct direction, would be Sector 3’s RaceRoom Racing Experience. It’s very difficult yet very satisfying in the Swedish-powered racing sim to hit your marks when pushing for a top time, and this is replicated in part by what Sector 3 have done with both their tires, as well as the suspension. However, where the title needs work, is in the intangible weight of the cars; they aren’t nimble enough through the progression of the corner. Whether this has something to do with simple tire behavior parameters, or the way their engine calculates weight, that’s something in my opinion they should look into. But the principle of what they’ve created – a sim in which hitting your marks lap after lap is difficult – I believe they’re onto something here; I just wish the cars were a bit more nimble, and it was instead the track geometry that made consistency difficult.

Developers who understand this element to race car driving will see competitive online races play out in a much more natural fashion, as the path to victory won’t be reached by running a very rigid line they must not deviate from at any costs, but simply by being consistent and capitalizing on the lack of consistency from other drivers. And of course, with consistency being more difficult to achieve, mistakes would be more prevalent, opening things up for natural passing opportunities rather than the hyper aggressive type of racing we’re seeing across many online leagues today.

With forest fires now popping up around central British Columbia, we’re unsure of whether next week’s event in Quesnel will be postponed by the club until a later date, though if it continues as originally scheduled, we’ll be at it again in just six days. July is extremely busy for us, but we’ll do our best to cover stories if something really intriguing lands in my inbox.

Milestone Presents “eSports”

Well this is certainly awkward.

After praising Milestone’s efforts in both releasing a competent motocross racer – MXGP 3 – as well as their recent acquisition of the rights to an officially licensed Monster Energy AMA Supercross game in the near future, it appears to be two steps forward and one step back for the other Italian developer team whose products most customers approach with the utmost of  caution. MotoGP ’17 released just a few short weeks back, no longer bearing the namesake of Valentino Rossi but bringing with it a robust single player career mode, yet the online element has come under fire from the hardcore motorcycle userbase as of late for a laughably poor implementation of competitive head-to-head multiplayer action.

And as you can probably guess from the title of this article, dubbing this kind of gameplay experience to be “eSports” only rubs salt on an open wound. Devoid of any authentic MotoGP action, the eSports realm of MotoGP ’17 is more or less a pristine example of what happens when developers are completely apathetic towards what actually constitutes as some sort of competitive eSports environment; instead using it as a lazy buzzword to mask on-track action that is no more structured than motorcycle racing in Grand Theft Auto V.

Uploaded by two wheel enthusiast One Racer, the eight minute footage below displays everything wrong with MotoGP ’17’s eSports realm. There are quite simply no rules or penalties in effect, with the on-track product resembling a metaphorical wild west; riders cut the chicanes at Le Mans as they see fit, pile-drive each other into corners, and generally have zero intentions of putting on any sort of clean. respectful race – save for the creator of the video. Had this been a private lobby with a bunch of kids screwing around, there’s really nothing to write home about – it’s kids being kids – but this is instead what Milestone are actively advertising as some sort of hardcore eSports functionality. As a developer of strictly racing games dating back to the mid 1990’s, I’m not sure how Milestone had the balls to release an eSports feature set without any enforced rules or general mandated ettiquette whatsoever. How do you host a competition and offer an array of prizes knowing full well people can just ignore entire sections of the circuit they’re competing on?

It’s all kind of retarded, but you’ll have to see it for yourself in the video.

However, I don’t want to place the blame solely on Milestone for this abomination; I instead want to explore how this blatant example of a developer half-assing the eSports element can be used as a warningfor what’s to come. Obviously with the whole eSports craze still going strong, it’s only natural for developers to try and cash in on the festivities by any means necessary. A full year from now, I’m almost expecting every racing title on the market to feature some sort of tacked-on eSports spin-off mode, with each of them just as pointless as what Milestone have created in MotoGP ’17. And can you blame them? Well no, it’s a pretty simple way to attain sales; move the Ranked Play option to a different sub-menu and call it eSports. Done. Zero effort. Now you have guys who otherwise wouldn’t care about MotoGP buying the title out of curiosity because there’s some prize at the end, and it’ll somehow justify all the time they’ve spent in-game.

The problem which arises, is that continuing to half-ass this stuff is actually going to backfire long-term. The more developers that shamelessly try to tack on eSports implementation when they clearly don’t have the interest in making it a proper competitive format, the faster that particular portion of their audience interested in eSports stuff will turn away from these games altogether, and therefore losing customers – leading to this era of sim racing being dubbed “that awkward eSports period.” Nobody wants an entire selection of games bundled with a feature set little make use of, solely because it’s a waste of time. If you want a good example of this occurring with a previous feature implementation inside the world of sim racing, just look at what happened with Need for Speed’s Autolog feature from a few years back. The dynamic leaderboards were a focal part of the franchise for several iterations on the Xbox 360, but did anyone actually make use of them to the fullest extent, or did they have enough friends who also owned Need for Speed to the point wher leaderboard battles were remotely compelling? No, not by a long shot.

Now the Autolog system has been reduced to an awkward intrusion for those who fire up past Need for Speed titles.The lack of any depth to an eSports element – in some cases – can also act as a shit test for certain developers. If a team such as Milestone push out such a horrid ranked racing environment, it gives customers a reason to believe that other aspects of the game – or entirely separate products of theirs – also suffer from the same lack of vision, cohesion, structure, and compelling aspects, further reducing sales from multiple titles, because the customers were so put-off by the developer’s inability to capitalize on a wave of popularity when it mattered the most. Buzzwords and colorful language aside, it plain and simple indicates the developer team don’t care about being truly innovative with their product, and are mindlessly throwing random shit onto the game disc to see if it works or not.

And if that’s a team’s plan of action, they unfortunately reap what they sow. If their plan is to merely half-ass things and hope people are okay with it, they have no right to complain about “toxic” sim racers slamming the product in reviews and on forums, as that’s the kind of reception you’re going to receive if it’s blatantly obvious you’re just nicking stuff that’s popular in other genres to throw in your game, whether they actually contribute to the experience or not.

Either do it right, or save us the frustration and don’t do it at all.