An Open Secret: Sim Racers Suck at Sim Racing

It’s a sentiment shared in memes, but never seriously discussed. Sim racers are often happy to mock gigantic opening lap wrecks and pathetic displays of driving ineptitude, but unable to to look inward at the root cause of this embarrassing phenomenon. Make no mistake, sim racing as a hobby can, under ideal circumstances, provide thrills unlike Battlefield or Destiny; a hard-fought race is something you’re left reminiscing about for the rest of the evening compared to the fleeting feeling of a good Kill/Death ratio in Call of Duty, but this scenario is quickly becoming a rarity.

The average sim racer is atrocious at sim racing, and this is a sentiment I’ve expressed in past articles on PRC, but only explored on an anecdotal level. Whereas you can usually boot up a game of Madden and be matched up against someone who at least understands the game of football, the “quality of play” in sim racing is practically non-existent. Despite appearing in video games for over two decades, turn one at Monza is still a mess. NASCAR fans flock to virtual versions of Daytona or Talladega in online lobbies, but often wipe out the field before the cars have completed a full lap – only to do it all over again thanks to hyper sensitive caution flags until only one driver remains. Practice sessions are not dick-waving contests over lap times as they should be, but wastelands of broken cars parked along the side of the racing surface; participants careening about as if their parents took them go-karting for their tenth birthday, and they’ve invited their mates along for the ride.

This makes the process of actually becoming proficient at racing simulators, extremely unrewarding. It’s like the hobby has been pumped full of the same Christmas noobs you’d see in Call of Duty every holiday season; players who awkwardly stumble around maps they’re unfamiliar with, reduced to cannon fodder for the early adopters who have owned the game since launch. This is sim racing in a nutshell; confused hobbyists struggling to learn car after car, and track after track, with not much in the way of success as the one or two freaks utterly decimate them. Cannon fodder is great in Call of Duty because it allows you to rank up quicker and unlock the weapons you’ve been eyeing, but in sim racing this instead actively undermines the point of the genre.

People get into sim racing for the sheer rush of racing, or at least as much of a rush that piloting a fake car from the comfort of your man cave can provide. And as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this scenario isn’t impossible; if you love auto racing, a good race is a good race – it doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite driver on television winning by a bumper, or running inches apart from your buddy on the other side of the world. Blowing out the field by thirty four seconds because half of them are upside down, however, isn’t a rush.

It’s quite boring, and most importantly, doesn’t make the people who otherwise love what sim racing represents, want to keep playing. This is an especially large predicament when two of the biggest games in the genre have been designed specifically for playing with others. Private leagues are said to clean up the driving standards to an extent, as are elaborate matchmaking systems that sort drivers by their on-track etiquette – in theory a fantastic design decision.

But what if I told you that all the innovations in the world can’t fix sheer stupidity on behalf of the community, and I’ve got the data to back it up?

The reality of the situation is that sim racing will never succeed as an eSport or a genre, because the on-track product critical to one’s enjoyment of any given title is too reliant on a community whose collective talent level is so preposterously bad.

Originally developed as a ranking system for competitive Chess matches, Elo calculations first found themselves integrated into the world of sim racing with the release of iRacing all the way back in 2008. Though games on Microsoft’s Xbox Live platform frequently made use of the calculations for matchmaking, iRacing’s entire operation revolved around the Elo concept – which was pretty ingenious on paper. Rooms would be seeded by Elo rank in descending order, creating a situation where the best always raced against the best, mid-pack drivers dueled for promotion, and backmarkers would have a friendly environment to improve their skills without getting annihilated by try-hard sim racers.

The concept of Elo is fairly simple; while iRacing doesn’t publicly display your rank until “graduating” into a new license category, every driver begins with a base Elo rank of 1350. Placing in the top half of the field increases this number, while placing in the bottom half obviously decreases the value. Winning a race outright pays out the most Elo points – somewhere between 70 and 110 – yet as you progress through iRacing’s ecosystem, merely placing well against drivers of a much higher Elo rank is more than enough to travel up the leaderboards. This is partially what allows talented sim racers to register for iRacing sight unseen and instantly find themselves to be a recognizable face within the community; a couple of wins or stout finishes in short succession, and your Elo rank will seed you in races among the best because you’ve obviously demonstrated you can compete on a high level from the get-go.

However, the implementation of Elo in the hobby’s most prolific community has also created an unintended way to gauge the validity of one’s musings. Those who display their Elo rank prominently in their personal forum signature openly broadcasts to the world what kind of driver they are. It is quite comical to see sim racers with drastically low Elo ranks discussing physics or racing techniques, only for a portion of their own post to automatically invalidate anything they’ve contributed to the discussion. iRacing’s greatest achievement is not creating a massive online platform for racing, but rather implementing an automated bullshit detector in a hobby notorious for misinformation. You can learn to avoid someone’s car setup advice, hardware reviews, or opinions on other games just by looking at an innocent number.

Which obviously means there’s a database of these numbers. And in turn, we can analyze said database to further learn about the sim racing community as a whole.

Buckle up. Y’all won’t like this.

There are 42,436 members on the iRacing.com service who have made at least one start on the American oval racing side of the simulator – an act alone that indicates they’re taking the hobby at least somewhat seriously. Of that sample size, which despite focusing solely on ovals is still large enough for us to use, only 18,232 were able to improve upon their Elo rank from the default starting value. This means that a whopping 57%, or close to three out of every five hardcore sim racers, are certified backmarkers unable to outweigh seriously poor performances with borderline acceptable results over multiple races in a structured setting.

These are not stoned teenagers renting NBA 2K from Blockbuster and getting blown out by the AI for trying to shoot threes with Shaq. That’s not the iRacing crowd at all. These are people who are spending hundreds of dollars on computer upgrades and toy steering wheels, yet are unable to finish at least sixth in a twelve car field, or fifteenth in a thirty car field, once or twice out of every four races to maintain a net positive Elo rank.

This kind of abysmal performance from a lone individual is possible by signing up for multiple races in a row, and then just walking away from the computer without even launching the iRacing application. It is highly unlikely that roughly 25,000 hardcore sim racers – nearly 60% of all drivers who have ever made an oval start on iRacing, even if it was just out of curiosity – undertook those same procedures. We are talking about a majority of the service being so statistically incompetent behind the wheel, they have fallen below the default Elo rank provided to them when they register. This is an incomprehensible lack of talent; three out of five sim racers are unable to drive in a circle and finish mid-pack against drivers of a similar skill level.

These people of course then go out and purchase other racing simulators, and then shit up online races in those games as well.

A victory, as mentioned above, can net you anywhere from 70 to 110 Elo points, with placing in the top half offering less and less points as you move closer to the center of the pack. Over the years, certain Elo milestones have become status symbols among the iRacing community; during my time on the service, the number a lot of guys had been shooting for was 5,000, though this has since changed due to an influx of new users making for easy cannon fodder, and the same old personalities remaining on the service to grind for points – therefore dishing out even bigger rewards for those who manage to beat them.

The first semi-superficial milestone to achieve would be the 2,000 Elo rank mark, which for any competent driver can be achieved in just an evening of play on iRacing if we’re going off the numbers listed above. Getting home from work at five in the afternoon, signing up for iRacing, and placing well in one event per hour until bedtime, or just winning a few races back to back, will put you over the 2,000 milestone with relative ease. Those pressed for time may take longer, but the core concept is simple; amassing 2,000 Elo points is something that can be done in a handful of starts. Most of these races, at least on the oval side, last for a paltry eight minutes. It’s not a lot of work.

Of course, that’s the best case scenario, in which you’re coming from other simulators you’ve traditionally done quite well in and generally understand how a simulator is supposed to be driven. As I’ve already noted, you don’t have to be a legend to obtain Elo points; merely finishing in the top half of the field warrants a positive Elo gain, even if that gain may not be as substantial as outright winning races.

Therefore, you can easily attain the 2,000 Elo milestone from the default 1,350 in just three nights of light play by basically turning a qualifying lap without spinning the car, and then maintaining your position. Considering we have already established 57% of the people you’re racing against are incompetent backmarkers who are woefully off-pace, failing to achieve the 2K mark is pretty much impossible unless you are purposely crashing into walls.

Only 16% of hardcore sim racers have completed this goal. By playing iRacing for three nights and making zero effort to do anything aside from turn laps in fourth place, you are already a better driver than 85% of the hardcore simulator community.

But it’s when we get to the score of 3,000 Elo that things start to take a turn for the worse. Attaining this score on paper is the numerical equivalent to winning seventeen races; a bit much to ask for a complete newcomer, but given those on a quest for 3,000 have most likely progressed into more prolific classes and are undoubtedly racing against higher skilled rivals, their net Elo gain from just riding around in fifth and not causing any problems in the company of superior drivers will be almost as much as a race win against inferior opponents.

Given iRacing’s tendencies to chop the length of fixed setup oval races in half from what they were the previous season, an Elo rating of 3,000 shouldn’t take more than a week of light play after work to achieve. We’re talking two or three races per night, a commitment of maybe thirty minutes total, starting on Monday and ending on Friday.

Only 5% of hardcore sim racers have gotten past the 3,000 Elo marker. Understanding how iRacing works, and knowing how easy it is to amass Elo when first starting out on iRacing, we are looking at a situation in which 95% of hardcore sim racers are unable to establish themselves as competent, mid-pack drivers who can bring the car home in one piece.

Wow.

So to recap, here are the three main data points I’ve brought up over the course of this article.

57% of hardcore sim racers are unable to offset numerous poor finishes with acceptable results. What constitutes as a poor result in this very specific data point? It’s pretty simple: placing in the bottom half of the running order, something that usually happens due to crashing out prematurely. In other words, over half of the sim racing community, based upon a sample size of 42,000, is incapable of finishing a race. These are people who supposedly eat, sleep, and breathe auto racing.

85% of hardcore sim racers are unable to maintain a brief upward climb of acceptable results. There is a shocking lack of consistency and progression among the average sim racer, to the point where simply maintaining a string of satisfactory finishes over a period of two or three days is out of reach for the majority of sim racers. In a traditional joypad-based game, let’s take Super Smash Bros. for example, a new player will start out potentially not performing well against the AI, but as their understanding of the game improves, both their mastery of the controls, as well as their win percentage, will steadily improve.

According to the data available to us, the majority of sim racers are unable demonstrate any sustained improvement in their skills. Imagine trying to practice guitar every day, but never getting past an off-tempo version of Smoke on the Water for months, if not years on end? This is what three out of every four sim racers experience when taking up this hobby. They’re simply no better than when they first started.

95% of hardcore sim racers fail to make significant strides behind the wheel. The 3,000 Elo threshold is not an elitist status symbol, but merely a tangible milestone indicating said sim racer is able to demonstrate he has some grasp of what’s needed to drive a virtual race car consistently, and has made at least some sustained progress in building his set of skills.

In other words, an estimated 5% of the sim racing community actually have a clue behind the wheel, the other 95% are no better or worse than the very first day they unpacked their plastic steering wheel.

Using the data extrapolated above, in a field of 20 cars for an online event, it means there are basically two people at most who are a genuine threat to win the race. Roughly eleven drivers will struggle with consistency to the point where they are well off-pace and either crash out or are overtaken by the leaders, whereas seven may demonstrate brief moments of competence and may not be as far back as the others, but are otherwise still inconsequential to the outcome of the race.

Let’s see how close those estimated numbers are compared to a real league race. In this example from last year, we had three drivers retire from accidents, and seventeen that were beyond the consistency required to challenge for the lead.So basically, three people actually enjoyed themselves out on the race track and were able to partake in the thrill of sim racing. The other 85% were most likely bored to tits. The data we could extrapolate from iRacing’s leaderboards aligned almost perfectly with a random race I’ve pulled from the fine gentlemen at Realish Racing (these guys run a great show and I was extremely happy to compete with Mike, Craig, and Lee for a title).

Wow.

But what does this tell us about the sim racing community, and what should developers be taking note of?

Well first off, it means a Driving School mode is almost mandatory at this point for any future racing game under development. Not YouTube videos, an actual interactive school. More than half of hardcore sim racers are unable to either complete a race, or simply walk away satisfied with their performance in their most recent online session where restarts are not an option. Three out of every four sim racers can’t even make any light progress behind the wheel when compared to the day they first started. We are talking almost an entire community in which every single day behind the plastic steering wheel is no better or worse than the day before it.

Is that not a giant red flag to try and help these people? Hello? I don’t give a fuck about your third GT3 physics revision – the people playing your game have no fucking idea how to play your game! There are bigger things to worry about!

Second, it actually explains why simulators as of late aren’t selling. Sim racers are spoiled for options, literally spoiled! Yet games such as Automobilista, RaceRoom, and rFactor 2 boast very little activity compared to giants such as DiRT Rally, Formula One 2017, Assetto Corsa, Project CARS 2, and iRacing. Why? The majority of the community fucking suck at the first or second sim they’ve bought, so they’re really not itching to try the ultra hardcore stuff. Instead, purchases come primarily from the 5% I’ve mentioned above.

Third, we now know there is underlying data to suggest why public lobbies across a multitude of racing games are such a nightmare. If only 5% of the community are able to slow down and brake for corners on a routine basis, no wonder every single opening turn becomes a wasteland of trashed race cars. Competent sim racers who understand the basics of performance driving are a legitimate endangered species.

Fourth, almost everything you read on a message board should be taken with a grain of salt if it isn’t already. How are we to be so sure John Smith has put out an accurate review of a new simulator or substantial physics update, when close to 60% of sim racers are prone to consistently junking their cars or being well off pace? It’s like an entire guitar enthusiast forum flooded with guys who literally just picked up a guitar that day.

Yet the biggest takeaway of them all, is the simplest. The average sim racer isn’t merely average, they’re downright brutal. And that is very strange in a hobby centered around depicting automotive competitions in a virtual environment.

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Where Sim Racing *Could* Be

No, I wouldn’t be “better off” sticking with mass-market simcade titles, leaving hardcore simulators to man-children who are impressed with improvements that could be best described as “hair-splitting.”

A few days ago I published an article on here giving a detailed rundown in regards to the three eternal science projects currently at the forefront of the hobby, and this was met with some pretty extreme hostility from anonymous readers who are under the impression I just “don’t get” the world of sim racing. Though I’m too lazy to source exact comments, the general tone from some users implied that the numerous ultra-bland products labelled by the community as “hardcore simulators” are perfectly fine the way they are, and vocalizing the idea that they’re actually unfinished science projects was supposedly due to my own personal tastes. Truth be told, I have spent exponentially more time in DiRT 4 than the elitist sim racers who promptly hit the delete key over a slightly simplified driving model, but there’s still an argument to be made on this topic.

The average racing simulator – and I’m talking everything from Assetto Corsa and Automobilista, to rFactor 2, RaceRoom Racing Experience, and even Project CARS 2 – is an extremely boring affair. Regardless of which simulator you call home, the theme behind all of them is a shared concept: here are some cars, here are some tracks, and here are an enormous number of variables you can tweak before each race. The sim racing community by and large claims that merely refining your driving skills should be your primary incentive to keep loading up the application every afternoon for months on end, but this poses the question of what happens when your driving skill reaches a level where relentless practice is no longer required?

The answer is that there’s no reason to play, because developers fail to provide reasons to keep playing. There are no hidden cars or tracks to unlock – in fact the list of content is so similar between rival simulators, there isn’t much of a need to buy them all. There is no driving school to help you refine your skills or introduce you to new cars that are a bit daunting. In most cases, there is no Career Mode, and when it does exist, I would still label it as something that could have been accomplished in an early PlayStation 2 title. Games such as rFactor 2 don’t even provide you with a proper championship mode; fanboys encouraging you to instead keep track of points by hand on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. There is no in-game paint shop, no rocking soundtrack, no easter eggs to discover, no utterly preposterous challenges set by the developer a la F-Zero GX, and little in the way of creativity.  Online victories never reward you with anything substantial for your accomplishments, and there is no incentive to race cleanly unless you buy the sole game on the market where that’s the entire purpose of it’s existence.

Many will now launch into their trademark angry tirades, proclaiming I should shut down the website and waste my time in the array of non-serious racing games on the market such as Grid: Autosport, while questioning why I even bother with simulators (or running a simulator blog) to begin with.

It’s a very simple answer. I’ve been around this genre for an absurdly long time. There was a point just over a decade ago in which developers realized that their creations needed to not only be robust simulators, but enjoyable games on top of it. I’m simply wondering where that mentality went, and how the same people responsible for such wonderful creations suddenly threw everything to the wayside in favor of absolutely jack shit.

We start with the almighty GTR 2, which by this point should need absolutely no introduction whatsoever. Using the isiMotor engine as a base and featuring the semi-obscure FIA GT Championship, GTR 2 in retrospect is considered by many to be one of the greatest racing simulators ever conceived. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I let my buddy have my old Driving Force GT/G27 pedal setup because he’s been an observer of this sim racing thing for quite some time (we used to tear it up on DiRT 2 back in the day, so by no means is he a shit driver), and to get him started he picked up GTR 2 on Steam for eight dollars – I think most will agree this is a fine starting point.

We’ve turned a lot of laps on this game over the past few weeks.

GTR 2 has existed for over a decade. It does not feature a dynamic racing line like Automobilista does. The tire model wasn’t re-written a billion times over the course of it’s lifespan like iRacing. The transmission and driveline model is pretty simplistic compared to the revisions seen in RaceRoom Racing Experience, which received heavy attention from Sector 3. There wasn’t an earth shattering patch that added downshift protection. There’s no noticeable drivetrain flex – something that came in a major iRacing update. Modern sim developers all advertised these refinements as absolutely integral to the evolution of their games, while some still kept asking why they needed Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to conduct their own offline championships.

GTR 2 by comparison received a single patch in it’s lifespan, going from Version 1.0, to Version 1.1. There was no six-month-long campaign on the part of Blimey! Games to re-write the suspension code or have the car slightly shudder upon changing gears. And yet at the end of the day, my buddy remarked that he’d never driven a game before that felt so much like a real car. He’s not wrong; GTR 2 still drives in a fantastic manner, which begs the question why developers become insistent on splitting hairs over lengthy intangible physics refinements when the average person interested in these games can still be blown away with physics from 2006, sans new tire model 5.0, new surface model, new driveline model, and any other self-masturbatory bullshit?

Wouldn’t the logical progression then be to expand on the “gamey” elements, with physics improvements popping up gradually rather than being the ultimate priority?

Knowing the average person isn’t accustomed to proper competition driving techniques, GTR 2 bundled with it a detailed driving school mode to ease newcomers into the art of racecraft – never forcing them to just sort of hit the track and suck until they started to suck a bit less. The ultra-high default difficulty setting (100%) subtly worked in tandem with the school to give customers a valid reason to sit down and invest time into practicing; rather than allowing users to drop the AI speed to 65% and bomb around like an idiot for their participant badge, they’d have tangible goals to work towards. Once the school was completed, users would then have another mountain to climb in partaking in the game’s numerous championships against rather stout AI to unlock the pieces of hidden content.

You could argue that these elements weren’t much, but what they did was imply Blimey! Games understood that their simulator also had to function as a game. GTR 2 was not a bland sandbox with “some cars and tracks that you can race on,” catering only to hardcore sim racers who are thrilled just to attack a track in isolation with their car of choice. On top of providing a very competent set of driving physics that really didn’t require any major refinements, GTR 2 gave you a set of goals to actually go out and achieve. You didn’t have to be a hardcore auto racing fan to enjoy GTR 2; if you liked cars and weren’t a terrible driver, GTR 2 allowed you to sit down, improve your skills, and chase some dragons while perfecting the skills required for sports car racing in the process. You know, like a game.

This is partially why people were so excited for the inevitable third entry in the series and beyond; what would Blimey! do next? Would we have a career mode in which you could buy, sell, and upgrade cars? Would there be a paint booth, so those without photoshop could still rock a custom livery? Would there be special time trial events set by the developers with ridiculous times to achieve, and rewards like extra cars or tracks for those to complete them? Now that the driving physics had been nailed down, the sky was the limit for the GTR franchise to evolve as a game.

GTR Evolution launched a few years later as a paid expansion pack for an entirely different game. Some cars, some tracks, the end. Several years later, RaceRoom Racing Experience – what you could call a spiritual successor to GTR Evolution – doesn’t have a driving school, wet weather driving, custom liveries, or even tire pressures for the hardcore guys to adjust; press releases and message board rumors instead masturbate over endless physics refinements for what is included.

Disappointment is an understatement considering I still remember buying GTR 2 from Best Buy.

Developers and fanboys alike then turn around and wonder why outspoken personalities such as myself are calling their games “eternal science projects.” I’m sorry that some of us have merely been around long enough to remember when games built in the exact same genre for the exact same target audience also had to function as entertainment.

Shifting gears, EA Sports snatched up the exclusive license to NASCAR in 2003, marking the end of Papyrus dominating the PC sim racing market with their hyper-realistic simulators built on an improved version of the Grand Prix Legends engine. To metaphorically put the nail in the coffin, EA Sports then launched NASCAR Sim Racing in February of 2005, which was intended to replace the Papyrus classic NASCAR Racing 2003 Season by providing sim racers with better physics, a modern set of stock car racing rules, and improved online netcode.

I don’t want to say there was huge support for the title, but a lot of people were curious at the time if EA Sports could genuinely invade a market they weren’t all that familiar with, and provide a valid platform for the hardcore guys to make use of. NASCAR had changed as a sport since the final Papyrus title – a new title sponsor, new cars, a new points system, and some new race procedures – so there was a genuine reason for EA to at least try their hand at the matter.

NASCAR Sim Racing was a brutal game; if you think Project CARS is the pinnacle of sim racing disappointment, you simply haven’t been around long enough. The launch and subsequent post release support from EA was so abysmal, those who did support what EA Sports were trying to do in the oval racing market opted to remain playing the vanilla version of NSR – these were the days of manually downloading and installing a patch executable, none of this automatic stuff from Steam. Though the game did do NASCAR fans a favor by including all three major series – and their respective tracks – in the base package, virtually every other portion of the game was either incomplete, or flat-out inferior to the aging Papyrus title. Just by the lack of third party paint schemes and mods available at the now deceased Blackhole Motorsports, you knew that NSR’s days were numbered from launch.

However, NASCAR Sim Racing still brought with it some excellent ideas.

Traditionally reserved for the EA Sports console releases, the extensive Career mode in which you progress through the three primary NASCAR series while upgrading your car and signing sponsors had now been implemented into the PC game, again implying that EA Sports knew a simulator also had to function as entertainment, and not a generic sandbox for just a few hundred extremely dedicated users. The liveries you could select from weren’t all that aesthetically pleasing, the vehicle models were woefully inaccurate, and there wasn’t much in the name of immersion – just a few additional menus in which you could allocate sponsors or upgrade development time – but the existence of such a mode conveys that the developers of NASCAR Sim Racing saw value in expanding beyond a sandbox.

In fact, this was actually the second time a career mode had been implemented into the PC version of an EA Sports NASCAR title.

The developers responsible were Image Space Incorporated, the same developers who eight years later would entirely omit a single player championship feature in rFactor 2, and whose fanboys would try and convince sim racers to use Microsoft Excel to keep track of championship points in lieu of the feature’s omission.

rFactor 2 doesn’t sting because it fails to match up in terms of features compared to Forza Motorsport 7 – the two titles aren’t even trying to accomplish the same thing. No, rFactor 2 stings because Image Space Incorporated were fully capable of building a game with some kind of rudimentary single player progression system that gave people an incentive to keep racing, and for whatever reason, deemed it no longer to be necessary now that Electronic Arts was out of the picture. Let me break this down for you real quick: Electronic Arts is now the biggest gaming company in the world, while Image Space Incorporated were forced to part ways with rFactor 2 and give the keys to Studio 397 because they had no idea how to make their title relevant.

rFactor 2 would have been an insanely wild ride if ISI opted to include some sort of single player campaign mode that could be modded and re-configured by the game’s users; imagine with simple text editing and image file replacement, a Blancpain Endurance mod in the same fashion of the screenshot above. Picture downloading a mod that not only gave you a fleet of modern GT3 cars to drive at your leisure as you would in a modern simulator, but also converted the game’s default “campaign” mode into a six race schedule, allowed you to purchase a car, upgrade it, and sign a bunch of well known European brands and sponsors?

Suddenly you’ve got a decent reason to play rFactor 2.

Image Space Incorporated refused to continue down this path. “Here are some cars, some tracks, and some incomprehensible babble about new our thermonuclear tire model” they said. “Studio 397 will now be taking over development of rFactor 2,” they said. And I have no sympathy for how the situation played out. Despite the disastrous launch, I watched NASCAR Sim Racing implement some genuinely good ideas into the world of PC sim racing that made me want to mess around a game I’d otherwise have no use for. I then watched this exact same team, eight years later, systematically strip all of these ideas out of their software until nothing was left aside from some cars, and some tracks.

What would a hypothetical NASCAR Sim Racing 2 look like, with an even deeper career mode? What would have happened if ISI recycled the remains of this mode for rFactor 2, but let users modify the shit out of it? Their own schedule, their own cars, their own tracks, and their own sponsors to paste on the cars? Suddenly you’ve got a reason to boot up rFactor 2 again, and again, and again.

We don’t have that. We have a sandbox – some cars, some tracks, and endless physics revisions, even though the average sim racer couldn’t find fault in the original driving model that justified such an extreme pursuit of perfection. The fact that there are still leagues run using the original rFactor, such as the Historic Sim Organization, which pump out brand new mods with each passing year, is a testament to that fact.

Yet in ten years, developers such as Image Space Incorporated couldn’t give us more stuff to do, or improve upon what they had clearly already built. They instead gave us less.

And it’s for these reasons why many within the sim community began to refer to Assetto Corsa as a Chris Harris hotlap Simulator, in reference to the popular automotive journalists who frequently takes out exotic supercars on empty race tracks for his YouTube videos.

Assetto Corsa is not the first game of it’s kind to exist. While in past articles I’ve deemed the Kunos Simulazioni product to be a spiritual successor to the very first Need for Speed, a more adept comparison would be to Enthusia Professional Racing. Developed by Konami for Sony’s PlayStation 2, Enthusia wasn’t so much of a direct shot at the Gran Turismo franchise, but instead an attempt at creating a game centered around highly authentic driving physics. Konami, long before anyone else, had caught on to the fact that Gran Turismo had prioritized car collecting and car culture above a realistic driving model, so the team instead worked to win people over with a much better sensation behind the wheel despite a smaller list of vehicles and locations.

Does this motive sound familiar? That’s because it is; Assetto Corsa is a now multi-platform title after several years spent as a PC exclusive, because Kunos Simulazioni believed a portion of console racers would value high quality driving physics over the meta-game of car collecting. To their credit, they were correct. A lot of people bought Assetto Corsa, whether it be for the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

These people then complained that Assetto Corsa had very little to see and do, despite an acceptable array of cars and locations.

Despite being the same game at first glance – both Enthusia and Assetto prioritized driving physics while featuring a hodgepodge of around 200 cars and a variety of locations – Enthusia succeeded and generated a tangible cult following for one simple reason; there was a game built around it.

Enthusia’s career mode was designed as a complex role playing game taking place in a dynamic ecosystem, offering users greater rewards and quicker progression for intentionally punching above their weight class. Whereas Assetto Corsa offered some extremely generic themed events that you’d be none the wiser for completing, Enthusia challenged you to enter races in a vehicle not quite suited for the job, scolded you for bad driving, and gave you several objectives to complete for your own personal benefit – more cars, tracks, and upgrades awaited beyond each locked door.

Both games brought highly authentic driving physics to the console masses, approximately a decade a part. One offered an entire world to explore, points to earn, an incentive to challenge yourself and race cleanly, while the other merely handed you some cars and some tracks.

Kunos had ten years to study a game that was trying to accomplish the exact same goals as their own work. They didn’t, and then complained that the console crowd is “tough to please.”

I was alive and coherent during the time when developers realized simulators also needed to double as pieces of entertainment, or in simpler terms, games. Better yet, I personally remember being excited at the future of the genre, because I thought the features listed as “new” back then would be a sign of things to come.

“What would GTR 3 look like?” – I’d think to myself. GTR 2 already had a driving school, multiple championships, and unlockable content… will they possible experiment with a career mode in GTR 3? No, they wouldn’t. GTR 3 would turn into a bland expansion pack for a completely different game – just some cars and some tracks. The proper sequel to this expansion pack would also omit wet weather driving, tire pressure adjustments, and custom livery support. I would then go on the forums and see people talking about how great this game is, only to be blasted when I brought up all of the fun stuff that had suspiciously vanished over the course of a decade.

“Go play Formula One 2017”, they told me.

“Would Image Space Incorporated get their act together for NASCAR Sim Racing 2? I’d love to blast through career mode, but the original NSR has some problems.” Oh boy teenage James, if only you knew their flagship title eight years later would ship without a season mode, and people on the forums would suggest you to keep track of points from single races in a spreadsheet.

“Konami had a good thing going with Enthusia, I wonder if the next game will be bigger?”  Incorrect; it will come from a small Italian team and not feature any sort of quirky campaign mode that defined the original game and actually made it worth playing in the first place. It will be a random collection of European cars and tracks, with an AI that doesn’t really work and severe performance issues.

Here is the sad reality; sim racing had an extremely bright future as a both a genre and hobby in the mid 2000’s, which is when all of the above games were released. There was nothing wrong with how these games drove from a physics standpoint – at least not to where they required near-infinite physics revisions post-release – and they accomplished this feat while simultaneously dabbling in game-like elements that gave people a reason to keep playing. The hardcore guys were satisfied by the driving experience alone, while those on the outside looking in could at least try one of these titles out of curiosity, and come away with a mostly positive experience.

Sim racing could have been incredible. The door was essentially wide open for developers to keep improving on an already solid foundation. I don’t think anyone really understands the optimism seen around RaceSimCentral in the mid 2000’s. All Blimey needed to do was take GTR 2 and add just a few more bells and whistles than the previous game. It wasn’t difficult.

Then something happened.

The driving schools were eradicated. Then wet-weather driving disappeared for the genre’s most prolific release, what we know as the original rFactor. Career mode was seen as an afterthought and maybe a bit excessive when a basic season mode would be “enough”, but championship support soon followed. The ability to select your paint job for an online race disappeared, as did custom livery support in select games. Suddenly, “fixed setup racing” became a thing, because learning the in’s and out’s of race car mechanical adjustments was “too hard” for alleged enthusiasts. Night racing was lost. Safety cars were lost. Rolling starts were lost. The ability to jump the start? Yep, that too was cut. Brake fade? Cut.

And they weren’t replaced with anything. This is the key takeaway from this article. Myself and others have not been advocating for pieces of software the developers are incapable of producing. We’re merely wondering why they stopped in the first place.

People like myself, who were around for the golden age of sim racing, are now wondering what the fuck happened to the genre. For voicing the observation that the scene is now polluted with eternal science projects, we’re also being told that none of this actually matters, and sim racing isn’t for us. In some instances, the features, modes, and other little additions we’ve request, only to be shot down fanboys on claims they’re “not essential for sim racing” were once implemented without question by these same developers they’re trying to make excuses for!

Hardcore racing simulators will probably never be on the level of Formula One 2017 in terms of being able to receive R&D reports from a walking, talking avatar sporting your team’s appropriate polo shirt. And that’s okay; I think we can all understand Formula One have probably given Codemasters a blank cheque to do whatever is necessary to push out a premium product. But from 2005 to 2006, sim racing was on a path to be well worth the thousands some would inevitably spend on high-end hardware to pilot virtual race cars, and asking for an improved campaign mode or God forbid night racing in an upcoming game certainly didn’t seem like an awfully preposterous demand.

Yet suddenly, it is. And those who assist in defending the complacency of certain developers are partially responsible for this scenario manifesting in the first place.

The Fall ’17 Eternal Science Project Recap, and a $250 Bounty

Turning the clock back all the way to fourth grade, our humble classroom led by a former Irish nun had been given the task of writing autobiographies as a final English project. Once a week for what seemed like the entire back half of the semester, we were dragged into the school’s computer lab to partake in notoriously lengthy writing sessions that really tested the patience of your average ten year old. Not being a piece of shit in school and already knowing I’d be doing something with writing later in life, I did my best to at least complete the assignment within a reasonable time frame and have something ready to submit for grading. Yet as the year drew to a close, I noticed something exceptionally odd – a firm completion date for the project was never set.

Many times I would ask if I could print my paper and get everything over with, only to be told that it was still too early to hand in my assignment, and to occupy myself with editing in the meantime. So for several afternoons – and these afternoons were spread over a period of weeks – I sat there bored out of my fucking mind, making excessive, unnecessary, borderline pretentious revisions to a paper in which I had no idea when the due date was, in the hopes that one day I would get to call it “finished” and have it assessed properly.

That day never came, and the same mentality of endless pretentious revisions to knock weeks of nothing off the calendar would end up infecting one of my favorite adult hobbies. Welcome to my own, personal hell.

I’ve dubbed them Eternal Science Projects, because that’s what they are. Sim racing developers, at least some of them, have decided over the past few years that their racing simulators should be evolving platforms instead of complete packages. Like a child preparing extensively for a non-existent science fair, teams of nerds from around the planet are essentially “building something in their room” – and that something is a simulator but the questions of “by when”, “for whom”, and “to do what” are never answered in concrete fashion. With no metaphorical “due date” in sight for these games, developers are free to obsess for months over transmission behavior, turbocharger dynamics, and obscure content nobody wants, rather than focus on making a game to captivate their audience for launch day.

It is for this reason that GTR 2, a game released over a decade ago, seems almost timeless when compared to modern offerings. It’s not because GTR 2 is genuinely that good, but because the genre has progressed so little in eleven long years due to the eternal science project mentality, the standard for what constitutes as an objectively good simulator hasn’t changed at all. Because sim developers have spent so long on upping the physics refresh rate, or coding their own turbo model, or modeling their own fake Formula One cars to get around the absence of real Formula One cars, we live in an era of sim racing in which GTR 2 (2006) features wet-weather driving and a built-in race school, but you can buy three “new” PC racing sims that have neither.

To begin the month of November, we will shine a spotlight on the three most prominent eternal science projects in the world of sim racing. Equally mismanaged in their own special ways, you almost feel bad for the people directly involved.

Originally conceived as Reiza’s answer to Assetto Corsa, Automobilista was intended to supercharge the aging ISImotor engine into a formidable current-generation simulator platform. The small group from Brazil had acquired the license to ISI’s extremely popular game engine, which would allow them to upgrade the fidelity of the overall in-game experience and inject new additions far beyond what users had experienced in titles such as GTR Evolution or the original rFactor, thus justifying a purchase on the outset.

Reiza advertised improvements to aspects such as the force feedback, tire model, suspension behavior, and racing surface adhesion, but in execution, your average sim racer simply won’t be able to feel the difference between Automobilista and a good rFactor mod that they can obtain for free. This doesn’t mean Automobilista is a bad game or a blatant rip-off for those new to the scene, it just means that one developer within the ecosystem intentionally went out of their way to work on a project with diminishing returns, rather than attempting to push the genre forward in any meaningful way.

It’s not like rFactor was an unplayable, broken piece of shit with cruddy vehicle handling to begin with that justified a different team to revamp the engine; there would have been no problem using the vanilla isiMotor engine as a platform for a deeper racing experience – career modes, team management, car upgrades, that sort of thing – but Reiza have instead descended to boasting about splitting hairs over new turbo calculations in development blog posts and preview videos (above).

Answer me this, how many of you have outright avoided a racing game because the turbo model was calculated in a simplified manner?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

On top of the diminishing returns, promises of high-profile downloadable content for the most part failed to materialize. While the focus of Automobilista’s content was originally intended to shy away from a primarily South American compilation to ensure a greater appeal to worldwide audiences, the team have done quite a poor job of restructuring the game to include any sort of captivating content. Season Pass owners received a fleet of historic Brazilian touring cars and re-used assets from a previous game (Formula Truck), along with some tracks that most people already downloaded for free as third party mods. Reiza have churned out locales such as Oulton Park, Brands Hatch, Hockenheim, Adelaide, and Imola for paying customers, though high quality conversions of these iconic circuits from other simulators were already available free of charge.

If Automobilista was to be eradicated from my Steam library in five minutes, I can’t say I’d be upset – I’d just boot up GTR Evolution, as it’s literally the same end-user experience, physics engine and all. Reiza could have done something truly exciting and unique with Automobilista; instead they are celebrating an alternate calculation for turbochargers and a slightly different heads up display that will be in the next update.

Whenever that is.

We now move on to discussing rFactor 2, as we’re rapidly approaching the end of Studio 397’s first full year spearheading the title’s development. Again, if you’ve been living under a rock, Image Space Incorporated are no longer responsible for rFactor 2, so there’s been a lot of hype surrounding what might happen to this simulator under the guidance of a brand new outlet. Most believe the unproven clan will somehow resurrect rFactor 2 from the dead and turn it into the all-encompassing platform many thought it would be at launch in 2014, but as is the theme with this entry, there have been some hiccups.

Big ones.

The team to their credit have been great at keeping hardcore fans updated with the title’s progress by means of scheduled journal entries, but in this situation, these blog posts have actively come back to haunt the Studio 397 crew – there’s now an extensive archive of “things that haven’t materialized,” and many of the entries cover the exact same topics over and over again with little new information to reveal. January 2017, April 2017, and August 2017 all more or less introduce the new GUI and talk about DirectX 11 integration that’s still being fine-tuned, before alluding to new content and then ending abruptly; the posts almost formulaic in nature. I know I get a lot of flak here for covering the same topics repeatedly, but this takes treading water to a whole new level. Sure, Studio 397 are giving people a roadmap, but to the end user these blog posts mean fuck all if you’re not saying anything that wasn’t already said before, especially if you can’t demonstrate you’re actively making progress.

These posts, when read back-to-back, give off the impression that Studio 397 aren’t doing much of anything and that rFactor 2 is basically dead.

Did the new graphical user interface finally make it’s way into a new update? No. Are the ranked online races or “competition infrastructure” discussed in February making progress? Also no. Is the DirectX 11 variant of the game stable yet? No. Has MoTec telemetry implementation started yet? No. Have the brand new Zandvoort track and Radical roadster been been improved to a non-beta state? No, that will come sometime in 2018. Will the Corvette C7.R GTE or Tatuus Formula Cars be released in any sort of reasonable time frame? No. Have improvements been made to the game’s spotter code? No.

So what’s the plan for Studio 397 going forward?

Load up the October roadmap with three paragraphs of pretentious self-masturbatory physics talk as a distraction. As with Automobilista, there’s no way in hell the average sim racer will be able to feel the differences these alleged changes will supposedly make, but Studio 397 believe this is the next major mountain for rFactor 2 as a simulator to climb.

To be fair, Studio 397 have indeed released five new GT3 cars for rFactor 2 – albeit in various states of completion, and conveniently in a special rFactor 2 store so negative reviews cannot be left on the content – but since rFactor 2 was handed over to the upstart team, the simulator has needed a significantly more robust resurrection than some GT3 cars that were most likely outsourced to various community members. The game needed a new interface, seamless DirectX 11 integration, a tangible reason to drag people to its’ online servers, and a plethora of exciting content.

After (almost) a year at the reigns of rFactor 2, Studio 397 have accomplished something like 15% of their team goals, and are already proceeding to jerk themselves off over physics improvements that basically nobody will either notice, or care enough for to buy/re-install the game. So you have this company pumping money into a dead game that nobody cares for and offers almost the exact same experience as Automobilista, which itself offers the exact same experience as GTR Evolution (a nine year-old game), all while stuff like Formula One 2017 lets you lounge in the team paddock prior to free practice.

As I alluded to earlier, it’s like a kid building a science project in his room, but there’s no science fair for him to enter, no target audience to woo, and certainly not any guidance to speak of. He’s just amassing a pile of shit and responding with “I made a lot of progress this month” when concerned adults begin making serious inquiries. The most perplexing part of all this, is that the rFactor 2 forum is still full of people who believe that one day, rFactor 2 will rise up against all the critics and regain it’s status as the ultimate racing simulator.

No guys, that ship has sailed.

Another ship that has sailed would be the existence of sim racing’s Holy Grail, GTR 3. In January of 2017, a newly-created sister company to Sector 3 Studios operating under the name of SimBin UK announced they would finally be embarking on a journey to make GTR 3 a reality. Despite a collection of staged renders that did not depict any actual gameplay, the sim racing community was promptly whipped into a frenzy – even as initial interviews indicated the game would use the Unreal 4 engine and potentially tread into simcade territory.

Strange how some sim racers blast Project CARS 2 for being “simcade” while openly endorsing a simcade GTR 3, but I guess my bias is showing.

Since that January news break, we’ve heard precisely nothing in regards to the development or progress of GTR 3 itself, which is scheduled for a summer 2018 launch. What we have heard out of the SimBin UK camp has little to do with GTR 3 as a product, but instead centers awkward promotional pieces that imply the group have already became affiliated with the wrong kinds of people. It would be low hanging fruit to rip on RaceRoom Racing Experience for re-doing their GT3 physics for a third time when tire pressure adjustment still isn’t the game after four years, so this is the direction we’re going in today.

SimBin UK were said to be creating a program by the name of Women and Wheelsan all female eSports sim racing championship said to launch this fall – but there’s a ominous cloud of skepticism hanging over the whole ordeal. It’s now November, and there’s snow on the ground – hardly autumn anymore. There is no scheduled start date, nor have SimBin UK announced what game will be used considering moving footage of GTR 3 has not yet been revealed to the public. There is no official social media account for the Women and Wheels championship, nor is there any sort of official website to find out more information – just a small forum to fill out for Emails on the matter. A google search on Women and Wheels reveals this championship was talked about once, on September 4th, 2017, and has not been mentioned by any gaming outlet or SimBim UK themselves since. Prizes listed on the SimBin UK home page include expensive acupuncture and Skype dates provided by a group called Epiphany Junkie, which is a rabbit hole I don’t suggest any sane person to explore.

If I had to take an educated guess, Women and Wheels doesn’t exist; it was a ploy by SimBin UK to earn brownie points in the eyes of potential investors by having a few nice social justice-themed articles written in their favor.

The second piece of promotional material comes from Punch Technology, who were recently asked to build high performance developer PC’s for the SimBin UK team, and are now offering those builds to the general public. Again, the mock-up screenshots first released in January depicting RaceRoom Racing Experience assets within the Unreal 4 Engine are used liberally, even though they are now ten months old and are literally just proof-of-concept pictures that bare no resemblance to what GTR 3 will actually contain.

For a game that is supposedly six to eight months away from launch, it’s very strange that SimBin UK have placed a metaphorical burka over such a niche project; this isn’t DOOM or Call of Duty, it’s just a sports car racing game, you can’t really spoil a whole lot. Yet their official Twitter has not been updated. Facebook has not been updated. Further interviews with the Speed brothers have not been conducted. GTR 3 isn’t just an eternal science project, it’s a model train set in the basement the rest of the family isn’t allowed to see.

Thankfully, Dave from Punch Technology helped us out. You know how some websites have an automatic pop-up box with an alleged live support representative, but everyone just assumes they’re bots programmed to respond to certain phrases? Dave from Punch Technology is not a bot; he gave us exclusive information on GTR 3 because it’s a Wednesday morning and he was presumably bored at work. Thanks Dave, you’re the real MVP today. SimBin UK have supposedly expanded to at least fifteen staff members, moved offices twice, secured funding, and met their in-house deadlines.

It’s just strange that SimBin UK, despite all of their social media accounts, were incapable of telling their core audience about this.

And it’s for this reason I will close this post by announcing a $250 CDN bounty for the first person who can email us with undisputed proof of GTR 3’s existence. I don’t believe this game will see the light of day. Members of the sim racing community are starting to have their doubts. Eternal science projects suck, but vaporware sucks more, and after an entire decade, we’re getting a bit tired of random teams announcing GTR 3 is on the horizon, only for it to seemingly vanish. For that reason, moving footage of SimBin UK’s GTR 3 in action, or several screenshots/off-screen pictures that haven’t been released to the general public, will net you a decent payday if you submit said content to us. We won’t announce you as the winner for obvious reasons, but we’ll definitely throw up what you’ve sent us if legitimate.

 

Using Forza 7 as a League Platform

It’s supposed to be a car culture simulator; a game in which designing liveries, bidding on vehicles in the auction house – which still has yet to be implemented – and taking photographs is equally integral to the core experience as the racing itself. Morphing into this all-encompassing automotive monstrosity over the past decade and some change, there’s been a bit of talk among series veterans that Forza Motorsport as a franchise always seems to wander further and further from the motorsport side of things with each passing rendition. Those who have been around for the long haul may recall the series once began as a simulation-oriented online racer – a natural progression beyond Project Gotham – but the surge of popularity and development of distinct communities encouraged Turn 10 accommodate the needs of those whom unironically believed racing was secondary in a racing game.

Unfortunately, these accommodations seemingly came at the expense of the overall online racing experience. It is for this reason that Forza Motorsport 7 both succeeds and fails simultaneously as a competitive racing platform, despite offering more cars, tracks, and private lobby options than one could ever possibly make use of within the game’s natural lifespan. Microsoft revolutionized the gaming industry with the launch of Xbox Live, introducing the average gamer to the idea of competing against others online as a normal part of your Saturday evening, yet Forza 7’s approach to online racing in some instances has gone backwards.

When it works, it’s pretty awesome – though there are limitations. When it doesn’t work, it’s very frustrating. And when you find out what’s missing compared to previous Forza games, it’s perplexing.

Turn 10 removed live spectating from Forza Motorsport 7. This means it’s no longer possible to monitor online races with live stewards, broadcast league events to the outside world, or in the case of drifting events, hold the event in the first place – you sort of need judges in spectating mode to do that. The eSports community spawned around Forza Motorsport 6, split pretty evenly between traditional circuit racing and drifting, is now almost non-existent because Turn 10 decided to leave out this otherwise essential feature present in the previous game. The Microsoft product page claims it exists, but at the moment it certainly doesn’t.

(Leagues aren’t operational at the time of this writing, either.)

For private online championships, this means there cannot be a race director issuing penalties manually over voice chat, or just generally watching over the field to ensure all is well. For larger-scale leagues, commentary or professional-style race broadcasts are now a thing of the past. For the hardcore drift communities, using Forza 7 to hold competitive online events with live judges – as is the norm in the online drifting community – isn’t possible, effectively forcing them to stick with the previous game.

There are people who will obviously counter this issue with “just buy a PC simulator and join one of their leagues instead.” That’s not the point; Forza Motorsport for many has offered more than enough cars, tracks, and a dynamic ecosystem in which many just don’t feel the need to look beyond what Turn 10 have built for Microsoft platforms. Just as they became comfortable with Forza as a competitive league platform, Turn 10 removed this functionality.

Turn 10 also removed the ability for the host of a session to arrange starting grids manually. Though you can still hold mock qualifying sessions by scoring a shorter heat race by fastest individual lap, and then having the main event grid ordered by results of the previous heat race, untimely disconnections, application failures, system crashes, or the inevitable opening lap carnage do-overs cannot be countered by a manual user override as they once were. Provided qualifying goes well, you have precisely one shot to start the race with a somewhat proper grid order, and that’s only if everything goes according to plan. Sim racers should know by now that this scenario is a rarity in league racing.

These two major omissions should give some much needed context to the bigger problems Forza currently faces; features integral to fostering a proper competitive scene have disappeared overnight, though you can now spend copious amounts of in-game currency on virtual slot machines in the hopes of acquiring more outfits for your action figure that dances in the menus. This isn’t to say running an online league is impossible in Forza Motorsport 7, you’re just very limited in scale; what functionality exists is more appropriate for a handful of like-minded enthusiasts than a hardcore championship among Forza’s elite.

So naturally, 4Chan started their own semi-private championship to see what could be done. I’m currently sitting second in points out of fifteen scored drivers, with just one win so far. These are my observations.

The rules are quite simple, though Forza Motorsport 7 thinks otherwise. You’re required to install a proper roll cage and equip a set of racing slicks, though how you get to the performance index of S800 agreed upon by series organizers is entirely up to your own experimentation. While in the process of building a car, Forza constantly whines that your ride doesn’t adhere to the respective homologation rules laid out by Turn 10, and the orange caution symbol becomes quite an annoying sight to see when it’s clear you’re creating something intended for private use.

Memory leak issues make designing a livery quite painful; there is talk of Forza painters still using the sixth game to create their designs, and then merely importing into Forza 7.

The lack of an open-ended offline hot lap mode –  as seen in Forza 6, and absent in 7 – also rustles my jimmies just a bit; there’s no simple way to directly compare your practice times against fellow competitors in the days leading up to the event – we’ve instead been forced to write down our times on a Google document the old fashioned way. If you want to attack ghost cars of any sort, Turn 10 want you turning laps on their combinations with their rules packages; creativity is now stifled in favor of finite themed events. The problem here is that Rivals time trial events back in the day used to pay out quite well, giving you an extra incentive to keep practicing a track or chasing after a friend’s ghost – it would actively contribute to your financial stability, which in this year’s game actually matters. Unfortunately, deviating from the predetermined selection of time trial events to practice for an upcoming league race at your own leisure now accomplishes precisely nothing, when that’s not how it used to be.

As a few of our readers have pointed out, there are no shortage of options when it comes to creating your own custom lobby – save for the integral ones, such as the ability to spectate a race and manually order the grid. No, not every track features dynamic weather and time of day settings, but what is available is still equally impressive. Cloud cover and precipitation can fluctuate throughout an event, providing racers with an experience that accomplishes the same end goal as the more complex simulators such as rFactor 2 and Project CARS 2, though there isn’t a dynamic driving line to speak of. When you’re actually in the race, I find Forza’s weather effects very difficult to complain about; it doesn’t really matter that it’s not “truly dynamic.” What matters is that it’s raining, it looks good, the vehicle handling is believable, and everyone is struggling with the adverse conditions.

The biggest problem we’ve run into, is that the rooms aren’t very stable, and just getting a race off requires some patience. We’ve had to eradicate qualifying sessions and start races with 100% random grids because certain people were randomly booted from the session or became stuck in the lobby. Drivers have been placed into races only to discover massive chunks of the track failed to render – a common problem with Forza 7 so far – or in one instance (today), their controller inputs were permanently stuck and caused them to do a 180-degree turn when the lights went out. 80% of participants do not report any problems over the course of the evening, but in a league race, you want 100% of participants to at least take the green flag – justifying several restarts in order to get to that point. Right now, this is proving to be difficult.

Person A gets kicked from the lobby and has to be re-invited. Person B fails to load into the race and we have to start a new room. Person C’s application randomly closed on him and now tells him the servers are offline, so he’s got to restart his PC. The game sits at the loading screen for seven minutes, and finally puts us all in the race when the host backs out of his own lobby – so obviously that too requires an extra five minutes of configuration.

By this time, we’re thirty minutes behind schedule.

Thankfully, the netcode holds up it’s end of the bargain, and this is partially why people are so keen on make something out of Forza as a league platform – wheel to wheel racing is really, really good. And this is also why there has been so much outrage at Turn 10’s botched launch from all sides of the community; Forza 7 performs great when firing on all cylinders, it just takes a while to get there. You can race guys absurdly close without a care in the world as to what direction the netcode will throw you in, and energy upon contact with another car is transferred in a very fluid, predictable manner.

Two talented drivers can knock each other around with various light taps and shunts to free up some attacking space, never once worrying that the game will interpret their aggressive driving as a malicious assault on the receiving vehicle. It’s like a hybrid between Assetto Corsa’s sense of weight when making contact between cars, but the manner in which it’s transferred mimics what you see in iRacing; you can get away with a lot before someone is sideways beyond recovery.

With bad drivers, it’s going to be a clusterfuck, but the same could be said of any simulator. What matters here is that in a league format with like-minded players, Forza’s netcode is arguably it’s biggest strength. This is one of the few driving games on the market where you can stick a fender inside a gap that’s inches away from closing, with complete confidence that it won’t ruin either of your races.

From a sim racer’s perspective, the most prominent challenge one must overcome when playing Forza in a semi-competitive manner would be the way the game handles car upgrading and tuning. Everything you’ve learned throughout your time on PC sims effectively goes out the window here, as Forza’s automotive sandbox skews and distorts the playing field in ways that are otherwise extremely difficult for the average sim racer to comprehend. Most PC-oriented guys are familiar with the concept of downloading a mod or jumping into a class of car featured in the vanilla game where all of the entries are for the most part balanced within a second or so. This doesn’t really happen in Forza; the meta-game is first determining what the best cars are for any given rules package laid out by a series organizer, determining exactly what upgrades to apply, and then tuning them in Forza’s rather unconventional garage area.

You can be a great driver, and yet be anywhere from four to six seconds off pace because you made bad decisions before you even got to the race track. It’s interesting when some dare to call Forza a “casual racer” for “console kiddies”, because I certainly wouldn’t deem the above to be casual. This is more thinking and planning than I’ve ever had to do as a sim racer.

Downforce is measured in pounds, not clicks. Brake bias is backwards. Some cars are just generally better without rear wings and front splitters. Locked differentials are preferable regardless of what you’re driving. For next weeks’ race, I’ve discovered selecting Sport tires rather than slicks, and paying careful attention to my car’s overall weight, warrants a two second advantage – otherwise impossible to make up at the Daytona Road Course. Guys have shown up with one thousand horsepower Mazda Miata’s that can’t turn and still completely decimated the field with tires that were a lap away from utterly melting off.  For the more traditional sim racers, it’s very difficult to digest what’s occurring on the screen, and why.

However, when everything goes according to plan and there are four vastly different cars all within a second of each other, that’s when the magic of Forza Motorsport comes to fruition, and it’s why a lot of people still continue to support this franchise. We will probably never have a Formula One simulator that allows us to design our own car from the ground up and embark upon a technological arms race against our friends, but Forza Motorsport’s sandbox gets pretty close to the same idea.

The problem is, right now Turn 10 have stifled it’s growth. As an online platform, Forza Motorsport 7 is great fun – and a little bit frustrating due to some bugs – when played in private against a group of like-minded individuals who are all on the same wave length in terms of what they want from a hole-in-the-wall online league. Yet in jacking the intensity up a notch, Turn 10 have suspiciously removed integral functionalities that would allow this multi-platform racer to continue fostering it’s own online ecosystem.

Hardcore sim racers may not like Forza Motorsport or what it represents, but there are a large portion of gamers who absolutely do, and were quite happy with the way Forza Motorsport 6 was progressing further and further into that realm by the end of it’s status as the primary Forza title. With this new release, Turn 10 left all of this genuinely great stuff on the cutting room floor. In their places? A virtual slot machine, an emphasis on car classes people never really asked for, avatar dress-up, lame pre-order bonuses, and a chunk of the game’s cars hidden away as rewards that some people might not ever obtain.

Only time will tell if this will be rectified for the better.

10/26/17: Internet Safety Overload

I took a simple day off to celebrate my birthday with some close friends – yes, those actually exist, shocking I know – and returned only to discover all hell had broken loose within the span of about twenty four hours. All three of these stories truly deserve separate articles because of just how wild the individual stories are, but there is no use in falling behind schedule when it’s possible to cover everything in one swift click of the “Publish” button. The world of sim racing continues to be a complete clusterfuck of drama and miscellaneous bullshit that would put off any casual gamer from partaking in the shenanigans alongside us; with October 26th, 2017 establishing itself as a day in which a major developer, iRacing Twitch personality, and former YouTube show host all made themselves out to be examples of why this genre simply doesn’t grow at the rate of others.

This will be a magical journey.

We start with a post over at RaceDepartment, entitled “How did a mod from Assetto Corsa wind up in Formula One 2017?” For those who call Assetto Corsa their simulator of choice, most of the demographic are probably well-aware that the Ferrari F2002 mod created by seven very talented individuals is objectively one of the best third party mods you can obtain for the popular PC racing sim, one which is absolutely free of charge. The mod sees Ferrari’s 2002 world championship entry faithfully recreated while also exhibiting the same level of quality seen in the officially licensed content released as downloadable content by Kunos Simulazioni themselves. Regardless of how you feel about Assetto Corsa as a racing simulator, this modding project is one of the true masterpieces churned out by the sim racing community in recent memory, and something that deserves to be in the collection of every Assetto Corsa player. In much the same manner as we talk about the CTDP 2005 season package for the original rFactor, the F2002 will easily go down as one of the definitive third party mods ever made for Assetto Corsa.

The first iteration of the mod was released in January of 2016, according to RaceDepartment’s upload statistics.

In May of 2017, Codemasters revealed the Ferrari F2002 would be included among a list of Classic Formula One entries for their upcoming title – now out on store shelves – Formula One 2017. The Assetto Corsa mod’s 3D artist, SalamanderSoldier, was extremely excited to see how his rendition of the F2002 would stack up to the same vehicle as modeled by a professional team. Of course, when you compare the two side-by-side, it turns out the Assetto Corsa third party mod is almost indistinguishable from the Codemasters variant, indicating Salamander did a fantastic job working out of pure passion for sim racing.

Apparently, Codemasters thought so as well.

As we’ve covered before on PRC, there are indeed websites – both legal and illegal – that allow you to obtain or simply view assets from various driving games. Salamander had gone on to one of these websites and noticed that a user had posted the Ferrari F2002 as seen the Codemasters release, Formula One 2017. Upon examining the Codemasters rendition, he discovered that it was actually his own model of the F2002.

Fast forward to the F2002 Assetto Corsa mod where I wanted to update but strangely I come across an Artstation page containing some assets for the F1 2017 game. One of those assets was you guessed it the F2002. Now looking at the wireframe was a dead giveaway that it was indeed my model F2002 that I worked on for months. I could see all the choices this artist made that nearly matched all the same choices I made. My heart sunk and I felt disgusted. So the only thing left to do is contact the artist that and await a response. Days go by with no response except that the Artstation page is now taken down. I’ve received no response by either the artist or Codemasters as of this time.

Codemasters will have a lot of explaining to do in the coming days, as it appears the Ferrari F2002 as seen in Formula One 2017 is actually a model taken from a prolific Assetto Corsa mod team without their explicit knowledge. As much as myself and others have enjoyed Formula One 2017, there is probably a lawsuit on the horizon. Codemasters have yet to respond to the allegations, so I encourage you to follow the RaceDepartment thread for further developments. This one is going to get messy in a hurry, especially considering wire frames alone can prove Salamander’s case beyond a reasonable doubt, and mainstream sim racing websites will be sure to cover this story once it gains traction.

We now shift gears to the world of sim racing multimedia personalities, an ecosystem which has taken off in recent years thanks to the popularity of streaming on platforms such as Twitch, and the influx of YouTube commentators dubbing over their driving footage with lengthy voice-overs. One personality who managed to attract a small following from his online notoriety and lengthy Twitch streams would be Jason Jacoby of Athens, Georgia.

The Domino’s Pizza delivery driver in his late twenties burst onto the scene late last year with his elaborate sim rig constructed in a proper Super Late Model chassis, promoting himself in a way that implied his sim racing prowess would help him to obtain a shot in a real car – complete with custom fire suits and mock interviews on his YouTube channel to demonstrate his “media-friendly persona.” Though iRacing themselves did their part to help Jason’s cause by giving him the appropriate positive social media attention, it later came out that the cost of the simulator put him into pretty extensive financial peril. Response to the highly-publicized “Room Tour” video was mixed; deluded iRacers supported Jason’s willingness to “live the dream” and indulge in his fantasy, while more grounded sim racers and amateur drivers opted to mock his questionable life choices. A few gave genuine advice as to how he could step into a real car without blowing money on video games; this went largely ignored.

Jacoby then turned the intensity up another notch and created a GoFundMe campaign; the goal to convince fellow sim racers to pay for his shot in a real car. The campaign asked for $13,000 USDof which $310 has been raised – in order to purchase a Legends Roadster, a popular amateur car based on a 1930’s Ford coupe. Keen observers watching the madness unfold did their own research and discovered Jacoby had recently obtained an ARCA Menards Series show car, promptly slaughtering him for requesting donations while simultaneously blowing thousands upon thousands of dollars on useless impulse items. The absurdity of the story surrounding the iRacing Twitch persona drew devious outsiders into the fray, who were eager to prank call his workplace, and in the process discovered his girlfriend acting as a moderator for his iRacing streams was still in high school. The unwanted attention from his sim racing exploits nearly got Jason fired from his beloved gig at Domino’s, after customers complained the pair were live streaming for his iRacing followers during work hours.

Today, Jason issued a short apology for the GoFundMe campaign on Facebook. Response to the Facebook post demonstrates precisely why things were allowed to escalate this far in the first place; Bible-thumping southerners – whom I’m going to guess are relatives – act completely oblivious to why such a negative reaction occurred in the first place and are quick to dismiss critical comments as “bullies” and “haters,” even as the guy responsible for all of this is admitting he did something profoundly retarded. As I hypothesized back when all of this began, I believed it was a lack of proper guidance from the people around him that allowed Jason to indulge in his delusions. I seem to be correct on that front.

There’s a Romanian saying that goes “if one person at the bar says you’re drunk, you’re probably not drunk, but if twenty people are saying it, maybe it’s time for you to head home.”  This is a pretty fitting way to describe at least one person within the sim racing community who has outstayed their welcome, despite all of their contributions to the hobby over the previous decade. Another year has passed in which somebody has made a lengthy video detailing their experiences with InsideSimRacing’s Darin Gangi, this time coming from SimRacingPaddock’s Will Marsh.

InsideSimRacing was a YouTube show created by sim racers Shaun Cole and Darin Gangi in the mid 2000’s, at a time when YouTube itself was in its’ infancy, and the concept of proper YouTube “shows” were still a few years away from becoming a mainstream thing; the duo could be considered almost pioneers in this regard. However, signs of a strained relationship off-camera began making their way into full-length episodes as YouTube’s worldwide popularity exploded – despite the increase in view count, the pair seemed less charismatic than in years past, and the contrast of hosting a hobbyist show with a busty Instagram model had a lot of people pondering the circmstances behind the scenes. By 2013, Gangi had began using ISR videos as his own personal soapbox to lash out against seemingly random people in the sim community he didn’t approve of – conflicting with the show’s otherwise professional approach to sim racing news topics.

Cole departed soon thereafter, with Lopez following. A string of replacements were brought in, none of which lasted very long. OG sim racing personality Matt Orr, better known by his call-sign “EmptyBox”, uploaded a video telling a story in which Gangi attempted to recruit him for ISR, only to become enraged when Matt declined the offer. It was hard to deny the story that was playing out behind the scenes.

Caught in the crossfire happened to be Will Marsh, who was one of the replacements brought in to help continue ISR as a news outlet. Now running his own operation in SimRacingPaddock, Marsh’s twenty-seven minute video reveals much of what occurred behind the scenes during his time affiliated with InsideSimRacing. This is a long video that’s best enjoyed with a cup of coffee or some snacks from your local 7-Eleven, though to summarize, Darin exhibits traits commonly associated with an individual suffering from some kind of debilitating personality disorder. Will was essentially led to believe he would be the next “main guy” behind InsideSimRacing and persuaded to move out to Spokane to help with the show, only to be told he has autism and be subjected to some pretty hectic verbal abuse.

It’s very difficult to come out in public and say a notable member of the sim racing community was especially cruel to you, considering their face is practically everywhere and marketed as some highly knowledgeable bastion of the hobby. Massive props to Will for following through on this.

Unfortunately, Will most likely won’t receive any sort of apology from Darren for his past behavior, because that’s how these people tend to operate; instead, we as a community will all have to interpret the revitalized InsideSimRacing – hosted by John Sabol and Billy Strange – as an admission of guilt. Gangi recently washed his hands of InsideSimRacing as a brand and handed the keys to a private owner, essentially acknowledging that he himself was too toxic to continue his involvement with the outlet. From what I recall, Gangi is now the customer service guy for a simulation hardware company, though I don’t remember off the top of my head which one.

Anyways, that’s the complete summary of October 26th, 2017 in the world of sim racing. Be careful on the internet.