First NASCAR Heat 2 Details Surface

Though oval racing certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea around these parts, and the previous NASCAR Heat game was nothing short of a dumpster fire that spat in the face of every fan who had already suffered through countless years of mediocrity, details have began to float to the surface regarding NASCAR Heat 2 over the past couple of days. With the leading company changing names yet again – now operating under the moniker of 704 Games rather than Dusenberry-Martin Interactive – and promises of proper development cycle culminating in a September launch window instead of the rushed process that undoubtedly caused last year’s game to nosedive in quality, NASCAR Heat 2 will once again release on a trio of modern gaming platforms near the end of the actual NASCAR season. A lot of you may rightly assume it’s a bit counter-intuitive for 704 Games to ship a product so late in the year, but this is the exact launch schedule EA Sports would use during their time in possession of the exclusive NASCAR license, so at least there’s a partial effort to retain that same tradition.

Aside from the sketchy name change, which raised red flags when we reported on it a few months back here at PRC, details have remained pretty sparse in regards to what the actual gameplay experience will contain when NASCAR Heat 2 drops this September. With Heat Evolution generating such a negative reaction from fans, not a lot of people are actively seeking out teaser shots or inside information, resulting in a situation where all we know is that the cover athlete will be either Martin Truex Jr. or 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch – decided upon during segment two of the all-star race at Charlotte this weekend, with the cover position going to the higher finishing driver of the two.

However, to my surprise there exists a core group of dedicated NASCAR Heat fans who have actually busted their asses to find out as much as possible about the new game despite the company’s previous releases not warranting any sort of fanbase, and though the major sim racing sites haven’t picked up on it, information is starting to leak. So to the NASCAR Heat YouTube and Twitter community, thank you so much for your dedication.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Brandon Brown heavily implied in a short Twitter video clip that all three major NASCAR national series – trucks, muscle cars, and sedans for those who can’t be assed with looking up sponsor names – will be included in NASCAR Heat 2. This is a major revelation, as once Electronic Arts and Monster Games began implementing several different NASCAR-sanctioned series into their games during the PlayStation 2 era, any developer who failed to include these support series were automatically at a disadvantage and blasted by NASCAR fans for having less content than games released a decade earlier. It’s exciting to know the lower-tier trucks and muscle cars will make a return to officially licensed NASCAR games, as it immediately indicates career mode will be exponentially more expansive than Heat Evolution and the Eutechnyx games were, presumably allowing you to climb the NASCAR ladder as an aspiring professional race car driver would.

This also indicates that all three series will have near-complete fields of real-world drivers if journeymen like Brandon Brown are talking about being in the upcoming NASCAR game, which is a major step in the right direction. Previous NASCAR titles by Eutechnyx and 704 Games – and Electronic Arts as well, though it wasn’t as big of a problem – routinely failed to acquire rights to all active drivers on the grid due to sponsorship or contract issues, leading to situations where feeder series drivers were placed in semi-fictional cars that never actually competed to ensure the 43-car fields would be populated entirely by real drivers. It was like if Codemasters could not get the rights to the Toro Rosso F1 team, so they shoehorned some random GP2 organization in it’s place – which pissed off fans who were hoping for the authenticity advertised on the box to actually be present in the software.

We’ve also learned a bit more about 704 Games, as what we originally speculated to be a questionable name change to get away from the nasty reputation the team once acquired appears to have warranted something much more beneficial – and we kind of wish we knew about this sooner, because it totally changes the atmosphere surrounding NASCAR Heat 2.

Fox 46 Charlotte have reported that the group are now located in the actual NASCAR office building residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, allowing team members in charge of licensing deals and miscellaneous authenticity quips to merely take a brief elevator ride directly to NASCAR representatives, in order to receive the green light for features, licensing approvals, and any creative freedom questions that may arise. Considering how much of the genuine NASCAR experience relies on correctly placed advertisement decals, unique car liveries, up-to-date track renovations, rule changes, and the other fine details of a racing series that many people correctly imply is this weird hybrid of professional wrestling and auto racing, it’s comforting to know that the resources to make a great game are literally two floors above them.

But it also means there’s no excuse if they fuck it all up.

It’s certainly not hard proof that NASCAR Heat 2 will be an overwhelmingly positive improvement compared to its predecessor, but so far it appears 704 Games have the tools in place to get the job done, and signs point to the return of additional series that fans have long requested to be implemented after years of being omitted despite their inclusion on inferior hardware. The key thing I’m looking at here is that on the outset, NASCAR Heat 2 will be enough of a change from the previous game to warrant a purchase and subsequent shakedown on launch day.

But if 704 Games once again release a product that is buggy, unfinished, and suffers from performance issues, their fall from grace will be even more tarnishing to the team, and most likely prompt yet another exclusivity swap. With the Eutechnyx series, at the end of the day you could blame the obvious lack of quality on a group of European game developers who obviously didn’t care about NASCAR and were pushing out a minimum viable product to generate a profit from loyal NASCAR fans. However, now that 704 Games are literally in the same building as NASCAR themselves, and have been graced with a full development cycle, there’s no excuse to ship a sub-par product. The classic Heat games of yesteryear were fantastic, with Dirt to Daytona still actively enjoyed by hardcore sim racers going through hell and back just to get Dolphin or PCSX2 running smoothly. If you can’t recapture this experience with modern technology and the full support of NASCAR, it’s a sign that more than a name change is needed.

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SRTC Silently Pulls “Million Dollar Championship” Service Website, Leaves More Questions than Answers

Back in early February, we here at PRC.net ran a rather perplexing article focusing on SRTC’s brand new online racing portal, which promised a structured sim racing environment for rFactor 2 that supposedly handed out extensive cash prizes for partaking in various championships making use of the game’s vanilla content – and a popular third party mod or two.

With the cost of membership exponentially higher than what one could expect from diving into the deep end of the iRacing pool, prizes said to reside in the four to six figure range, and even a couple of elaborate trips to exotic locales such as Las Vegas and Barcelona offered to the most talented sim racers on the service’s leaderboard, the whole thing seemed too good to be true; select broken English wording and vague advertisements that didn’t really explain much of anything were merely the icing on the cake in a shitstorm of confusion.

https://pretendracecars.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/pricing.jpg?w=1572&h=916

Though a representative from SRTC appeared in our comments section requesting to be interviewed so he could set the record straight, it was incredibly hard to justify giving him the time of day considering the website alone painted a very questionable picture in regards to the company’s intentions. Good, honest businesses looking to provide a useful online racing service to sim racers do not continuously ask for your credit card information and proclaim there is some sort of premium membership experience awaiting behind a paywall that asked sim racers to fork out around $42 USD per month for the highest level of commitment, when the entire endeavor consists of shoddy Google Documents that can be accessed regardless of whether you’ve paid the company money, and empty servers registered on LiveRacers that show staff members tasked with testing the service had failed to turn even a single practice lap.

Yet despite their insistence that the SRTC service was a real, genuine effort to compose some sort of valid alternative to iRacing – the enormous prizes helping to offset the ridiculous entry fees – it appears our expository piece warranted some kind of action after the dust had settled.

SRTC have scrubbed the internet of their dubious One Million Cash Prizes service, with leaderboards linked in the original piece now issuing a classic 404 Error, custom mods they’d released on Steam to ensure a fair playing field no longer available, and the home page now re-directing to a generic splash page. Devoid of any references to the structured online racing service that was once advertised, we’re now told there’s going to be some sort of SRTC community meet-up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and that an online championship called the SRTC Pro Series will receive an accompanying website on June 17th, 2017.

Just like that, their entire endeavor has vanished into thin air.

But the internet doesn’t forget, and it has only made me dig even deeper.

The league’s Twitch account has just one follower and no recent activity, while their Facebook page is ripe with links to sub-leagues, such as SRT Poland and SRT UK, but these too lack natural activity you would typically see from an online league – most posts by the administrator have zero likes and zero comments. Furthermore, once advertised as the primary broadcast partner of SRTC, BenjxMotors have not covered an SRTC event since January of 2017. Though I’m not disputing the existence of Sim Racing Track – which appears to be a simulator cafe powered by rFactor 2 located just outside of Paris – I’m under the impression that something seriously fucked up happened to this whole creation between the time we first reported on SRTC, and, well, today.

Now you may be wondering why a random sim league suddenly closing up shop and killing their website is a big deal, as several grassroots leagues rise and fall with each passing month within the sim racing community; it’s really nothing new by any stretch of the imagination, just how our ecosystem tends to work. However, the shocker here is that a French sim racing blog was able to interview Oliver Floyd in person, and he has revealed some kind of a partnership between SRTC and Studio 397, which means this could have potentially been rFactor 2’s actual planned solution to organized, competitive online racing that they discussed a few months back – which would make Studio 397 look extremely retarded if they were at one point indeed willing to go along with this level of delusion exhibited by the SRTC camp.

Either that, or Floyd is about to get sued for implying SRTC and Studio 397 are linked professionally when they’re clearly not.

Extending through several different interviews that all reiterate the same basic rhetoric, six and seven figure cash prizes are liberally thrown around in the same paragraphs as the label of “professional sim racers” is; SRTC having their heads firmly in the clouds regarding their vision of a world-wide sim racing championship using rFactor 2. Preliminary marketing documents have also surfaced, discussing some sort of major television partnership, custom driver suits, and the chance to “drive our race cars”, turning SRTC’s pie-in-the-sky plans into the stuff of legends. You can read the two documents – one for team owners, another for drivers – in the following links:

http://simracingtrack.com/images/Boost-your-career-racing-driver
http://simracingtrack.com/images/Team-PRO-EN

It’s beyond confusing, though it makes perfect sense that this stuff suddenly went *poof* one day and disappeared; there’s no way a small outlet such as SRTC would be able to ensure all of this would materialize in the intended fashion.

So instead, they’ve upped the ante, because this is sim racing after all.

Within the past month, SRTC have signed some sort of partnership with the Trans-Am Euro Series, what looks to be the European counterpart to the highly popular SCCA Trans-Am Championship that has thrived in North America over the past fifty years under a variety of different rule changes. Alongside their SRTC Pro Series – an online championship we still don’t know much about and hasn’t been broadcasted since January, a pathetic race that included just eight cars on the grid – SRTC will also offer an accompanying virtual Trans-Am series, the winner of which will supposedly win an entire fully-funded season in the 2018 campaign, with podium finishers receiving track day driving experiences, and VIP guest passes to select race weekends.

This is alongside the aforementioned SRTC Pro Series, which will suposedly be broadcasted on Motorsport.TV and consist of several Top Gear-like segments that are so absurdly beyond what a little sim racing league is capable of, I’m genuinely shocked this hasn’t been reported on any sooner.

First, they’re promising a $1,000,000 sim racing championship (or $400,000 depending on the interview you read), yet their entire online racing platform was governed by Google Documents that could be accessed regardless of whether you were a member or not. Second, they promised a chain of sim racing tournaments in exotic locales, and this huge structured online racing community supposedly supported by Studio 397 themselves, but one day the entire thing is taken down without warning – extremely bizarre considering they were openly asking for sponsorship and affiliates with an equally perplexing and vague affiliate program, which you can still apply for as of this writing. All of this by itself is highly questionable on its own.

But now they are back, unable to launch a simple online racing service without coming across as an outright scam and having to trash the thing overnight, but in the same breath planning to launch some sort of television show with segments that will rival the production cost of Top Gear, as well as conduct two major world-wide sim racing championships, one of which will award the winner with a full time ride in the 2018 Trans-Am Euro series. If you can’t figure out why this sounds ridiculously fishy, may I suggest an Internet Safety course for seniors?

Older gentlemen plagued by wishful thinking and highly unrealistic pipe dreams are a cancer to our hobby. If you gave money to these people for any reason whatsoever, I advise you to get in touch with a lawyer as soon as possible. I would love to be proven wrong and have a sweet rFactor 2 Trans-Am league to participate in, but given their already sketchy track record, I expect that too, to vanish into thin air.

Brand New KartKraft Footage Leaked

Just under a month ago, I had no problem calling KartKraft vaporware. A hardcore grassroots racing simulator that had been in development under multiple names dating back to 2007 – and whose development team went through just as many alias changes despite leading man Zach Griffin remaining in charge throughout the duration of the project – it was heavily implied the project would see a release on Steam’s Early Access platform at some point during the summer of 2016. Unfortunately, as last summer came and went, the project failed to materialize, with social media posts from Black Delta seeing a sudden shift in tone, from claiming an initial release was just weeks away, to regurgitating the same basic indirect public relations babble, month after month – failing to inform users what had happened to the game.

The situation frustrated sim racers, as with so many young amateur karting personalities also dabbling in the world of sim racing, a game that seemed tailor made for their exact needs was instead appearing to be an elaborate ruse, stringing people along for almost a complete decade with little to show for it. Aside from carefully crafted preview videos released back when the Atlanta Thrashers were still a professional hockey team, KartKraft was turning out to be one of those projects that can only exist in the world of sim racing; vaporware ever so obscure enough for people to completely forget it existed in the first place.

Today, we can add another chapter to the story. Buried deep within an obscure French iRacing community lies three unlisted YouTube videos depicting the latest beta build of KartKraft. Initial impressions of the title from the user behind the three short gameplay clips are fantastic, claiming the closed beta experience surpasses KartRacingPro, which is seen as the definitive Kart racing sim currently on the market. The videos on the French message board are unlisted, so I’ve taken the liberty to mirror them on YouTube to ensure as many people can see them as possible; obviously someone’s going to get in a lot of shit with this article going live considering strict non-disclosure agreements are said to be in place.

Three videos totaling about six minutes in length depict three different karts on three unique Australian circuits, and it seems as Black Delta have even managed to nail some of the subtle leg moments that I’m sure everyone’s familiar with after tossing themselves around in a kart. It honestly looks really good, but so did the preview footage released in 2012.

At this point, however, I’m still left with more questions than answers. It’s fairly obvious this game still exists and is actively being worked on considering YouTube footage of KartKraft is being uploaded today, but it’s confusing as to why Black Delta have been so secretive about telling people what’s been going on with the project as of late after missing their original release window, and how visually the software still looks as it once did in 2012.

Regardless, if you’ve been looking for evidence that KartKraft is still a thing, there you go. It’s just a mystery as to why it’s taking so long to land in the hands of the public.

When Development Goes Awry: The Seven Biggest Mistakes Made by Racing Game Developers

Racing games are a fairly unique genre of interactive entertainment, as while there’s no formal “recipe” as to what constitutes a great experience, it’s sort of expected that all developers make an effort to include as many features, functionalities, and content seen in the games that came before it. And sometimes, the developers in charge of said projects we’re all told to treat as demigods across various sim racing message boards are anything but; merely pretentious artists trying to shoehorn their own wacky ideas into pieces of software that don’t always benefit from creativity in obscure places, or cutting corners in ways that will fail to accomplish anything aside from pissing off the fanbase. When this situation arises, often times it leads to a complete clusterfuck of angry customers questioning how and why certain decisions are made.

Game development is not for the weak; a sub-par product will unleash a tidal wave of criticism unlike anything actors or musicians will have to deal with, but in select instances, this overwhelming display of harsh criticism is one hundred percent justified. When developers eschew from the traditional formula and still charge full price for their creation, it can unleash a shitstorm of epic proportions.

After the explosion of Halo’s popularity on Microsoft’s original Xbox, and the industry’s increasing reliance on “Call of Duty numbers” – Blockbuster games attempting to appeal to as many potential customers as possible, sometimes as the expense of alienating hardcore fans – developers began really thinking outside of the box when it came to driving games, believing they too could have a piece of the pie by deviating from the unwritten standard formula of driving games in pursuit of a wider audience, or finding ways to extract more money from existing customers. Codemasters gave otherwise avid motorsport fans the ability to rewind time in 2007’s Race Driver: Grid, no longer requiring users to actually get good at the game, instead providing them with a literal do-over button so newcomers wouldn’t feel intimidated by an experience they probably wouldn’t care about to begin with. It was seen as sacrilegious, but thankfully could be disabled for an extra cash bonus in Career mode. Other elements, such as the ability to whip out Mommy’s credit card and unlock new cars and parts in Need for Speed: Pro Street prior to naturally attaining them via in-game progression, still exist to this day.

Small potatoes? It sure seemed that way at the time, until it was revealed that Electronic Arts had secured exclusive rights to the world-renowned Porsche brand, causing headaches for virtually every other racing game developer. Forza Motorsport suddenly shipped with matchmaking features instead of custom lobbies. The beloved Colin McRae series received a facelift infused with energy drinks, fireworks, and a flock of drivers most rally fans recognized as freestyle BMX riders, not talented professional race car drivers. Things got really weird in the genre for a while, and many felt as if the developers they once relied on to push out fantastic race car games, had all fallen off the map.

Some franchises saw these years as a temporary rough patch before restoring their former glory, while others were the subject of virtual public lashings, alienating fans and putting the future of the series into question. Today, we’re going to list the absolute lowest of the low; moments in the history of racing games where development had clearly gone awry, and bizarre, counter-intuitive ideas and gameplay mechanics that surfaced during late-night brainstorming sessions somehow made their way into the final product, nearly crippling the end user experience and/or pissing off legions of fans.

Low-hanging fruit will not be addressed in this list, so the 2015 reboot of Need for Speed requiring an online connection just to play through the single player campaign is exempt from our discussion. The deal between Porsche and Electronic Arts also doesn’t count, as both Forza and Kunos Simulazioni found ways to work around the exclusivity, with the existence of Ruf in other games serving as an acceptable band-aid for the German brand’s omission.

These are the seven worst ideas in the history of racing games.

Burnout Revenge introduces “Traffic Checking”

The most anticipated racing game of 2005, Burnout Revenge was poised to set the world on fire. With a reinvigorated art style that promised a darker, grittier, in-your-face arcade racer compared to the bright, lively world of predecessor, a rocking soundtrack that still holds up to this day, and a development budget dictated by the mighty Electronic Arts – who at that point could do no wrong when it came to racing and sports games – many were chomping at the bit to tear off the plastic.

A game that proudly declared “Revenge is for Losers” on the back of the box, the last remaining element the Burnout series could have used to push it over the top – attitude – had finally been inserted into the mix. Burnout 3: Takedown was an absurdly difficult game, offering instant death around every bend and one of the most rewarding arcade racing experience of our time for those who master it, but the pop-punk production created a bit of a weird design contrast. We were told Revenge would exponentially increase the psychotic on-track activity, and compliment the action with an equally dark artistic theme.

Upon finally throwing the CD into the disc drive, we instead found out Criterion had made the game significantly easier. The trademark Burnout gameplay of racing through busy metropolitan areas at breakneck speeds to acquire boost still remained, as did the highly visceral crashes and accompanying car damage, but we quickly learned the playing field would be tilted in the player’s favor. Unlike the previous three iterations of the franchise, which sent you on a white-knuckle high-speed slalom through rush hour traffic, players could now slam into vehicles traveling in the same direction, using them as gigantic impromptu pinballs to destroy opponents.

This created a situation where you could merely sit in one lane for the entire duration of the race, mindlessly slam into traffic cars, and just sort of waltz your way to victory; AI cars unable to endure an endless stream of taxi cabs being flung at them. The whole draw and challenge of the Burnout series – lightning-fast battles through dense traffic – had been removed. No longer a dance between victory and death, Burnout became boring, with further complaints surrounding the game’s lack of a single race mode littering message boards at the time of release. Unless you managed to snag an Xbox 360 copy of the game, once you completed campaign mode, that was it.

FFB Calibration.jpgSlightly Mad Studios turn Force Feedback Configuration into literal rocket science

An entire novel could be written about the meteoric rise and subsequent fall of the original Project CARS, beginning life as a rogue crowdfunded campaign supported by a massive portion of the sim racing community before being quickly rushed out the door thanks to pressure from key investors and an impending schedule of heavy hitters that could easily steal its thunder in the fall. A visually stunning yet deeply flawed mass-market re-imaging of Race 07 for current generation consoles, Project CARS split the sim community in half; for some it was exactly what they were looking for out of a racing game, while others simply could not stop running into game-breaking glitches and elements that desperately needed more polish. Igniting a fanboy war that still rages on to this day, merely bringing up Slightly Mad Studios and/or Project CARS is asking for a message board brawl guaranteed to last several days.

Despite an abundance of supporters defending the title and aggressively lashing out against their rivals, those infuriated with the end product after years of hype scored a key point when stories of the game’s claustrophobic force feedback configuration menu began to circulate. Featuring no less than three pages of sliders and in-game written explanations that only the developers themselves understood, supporters were forced to write their own guides and upload their own presets for the PC version – as well as start a dedicated webpage for console owners – just for users to figure out how to make their plastic steering wheel rattle a certain way. Already facing an enormous wave of criticism for the unfinished nature of the game, many including myself pointed to the confusing and unnecessarily complicated force feedback menu as the proverbial cherry on top.

Though this entire section of configuration screens can be avoided – as I felt the Classic force feedback preset was more than adequate from what I wanted out of my toy steering wheel – the screens directly contradicted the studio’s mantra of by sim racers, for sim racers. Project CARS was supposed to be a game created with the direct help of the community, and no sim racing community would have openly asked for the most complicated force feedback screen in the history of sim racing, so it raised several questions about what was happening behind closed doors, and why the game was allowed to ship in such a questionable state.

Assetto Corsa fails to include Custom Lobbies on Consoles

A heavily discussed topic here at PRC.net, hardcore simulation nerds unable to shell out big bucks for a dedicated gaming PC were jacked to hear Assetto Corsa would be landing on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, especially after many online leagues in Project CARS and Forza Motorsport 6 were running into several issues with their software of choice and putting their championships on temporary hiatus, believing their organizations would be able to adopt Assetto Corsa as their new league platform and continue where they left off. While rumors circled that the team might end up shipping a broken mess of a game lacking key features and functionality console users were accustomed to, in the weeks leading up to launch, Kunos Simulazioni openly dismissed these rumors promised the console rendition of Assetto Corsa would be nearly identical to its PC counterpart.

Aside from crippling performance and artificial intelligence issues that made the game unplayable for a period of weeks, sim racers were horrified to discover that Kunos Simulazioni did not include any sort of custom lobby option in Assetto Corsa for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Racers were instead corralled into public rooms they had no control over – the vehicles and locations pre-determined by Kunos, sometimes omitting popular pieces of content altogether – forced to compete against random drivers.

Why might this be an issue, you might ask?

Leagues and private racing communities exist because the average online gamer in a public lobby knows jack shit about clean, competitive driving in a hardcore racing simulator. Unable to filter out little kids, trolls, and talentless hacks, online racing in Assetto Corsa reportedly became a cesspool of idiocy and frustration, with most owners opting to outright return the game, or take it out of their gaming rotation indefinitely. Leagues which planned to use Assetto Corsa as their new platform promptly went back to their previous game of choice, while those that stuck around eventually grew tired of the car selection and made their way to the official forums to demand more vehicles and tracks to be thrown into the rotation. Most of the time, Kunos refused to adhere to these demands for several weeks at a time, leading to situations where entire downloadable content packs would be released, only to be inaccessible in online events for those who were content with open lobby races.

When asked why custom lobbies did not make their way into the retail release, 505 Games responded with a generic “our priority is to release a stable game” statement.

No shit your priority should be to release a stable game. This is EVERY developer’s priority!

Those who voiced their frustrations on the official Assetto Corsa forum were promptly attacked by hordes of PC version owners for buying the objectively inferior version of the product, acting as if the console release was a sick joke played on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners, which long-time Assetto Corsa forum members were made aware of in advance. Console owners were also locked out of viewing certain PC-oriented forum sections, as if Kunos were actively trying to prevent console owners from discovering their version of the game was a half-assed cash grab to secure financial stability for the company. As of this writing, Kunos have still failed to implement custom lobbies into the game, a whopping nine months after release. Fanboys continue to demand frustrated console version owners to “be patient”, as if waiting nine months for a developer to add in a feature seen in all console driving games dating back to 2001 is a completely normal, rational thing to do.

rFactor 2 Requires a Season Pass for Online Play

Though this has since been rectified, there’s a reason rFactor 2 remained in stasis for several years, an obscure sequel failing to achieve even a tenth of the recognition as its older brother. While the original rFactor was a flexible modding paradise, helping to launch the careers of talented indie teams such as Reiza Studios while providing a killer, be-all end-all for online road racing, rFactor 2 was a disaster before the game exited the open beta stage. A poor selection of content, dated graphics, and woeful optimization saw one guinea pig from each online community purchase the title out of curiosity, only to run back to their respective gaming cliques and instruct their friends to stay well away from the pinnacle of eternal science projects.

Part of the reason so many sim racers refused to touch rFactor 2 with a ten foot pole was due to Image Space Incorporated willing to implement a Season Pass concept when it came to the game’s online servers.

At the time, EA Sports had devised a clever strategy to make money off of used game sales, which they felt had been biting into potential profits considering how many people were picking up Madden and FIFA second-hand with each passing year. EA Sports locked the online capabilities of each title behind a paywall for about fifteen dollars, though all new games would come bundled with a code on the back of the game manual allowing the first owner of the game to access online components for free. Upon returning the title to GameStop, and another individual purchasing the same exact game disc, EA Sports would eventually receive about $15 from that second purchase when the user inevitably wanted to play online against their friends.

It was a genius move by Electronic Arts, but considering you can’t walk into GameStop and see an entire shelf littered with second-hand rFactor 2 boxes, it didn’t make much sense in the context of a hardcore racing simulator that didn’t even offer a traditional boxed copy. Furthermore, those who did take a leap of faith and purchased the online subscription for rFactor 2 (offered in two formats; yearly and lifetime), discovered their cash merely went towards accessing the same server browser screen they once could open as part of the vanilla rFactor experience, although this time it was full of completely empty servers because not many were willing to adopt rFactor 2 as their software of choice. There was no online stat tracking, no populated dedicated servers, and no organized races like you’d see on iRacing – ISI charged extra to access a screen that you could previously enter and use as part of the base game.

It took five years and a change in developer to completely eradicate this bogus move. Had Image Space Incorporated not moved rFactor 2 to Valve’s Steam platform and offered discount after discount as an incentive for curious sim racers to at least give rFactor 2 a shot, we’d be talking about this game in the past tense.

Codemasters remove Cockpit View from Grid 2

While I began this countdown by implying Codemasters implementing the rewind functionality into Race Driver: Grid was a bad development call, the reality is that the rest of the game was a phenomenal simplistic take on the world of motorsports; just enough reality had been injected into a largely fictional world to provide something for everyone; the artificial intelligence put up a captivating fight against the player car – meaning experienced sim racers put off by the exaggerated driving model could at least be entertained by challenging duels, while the lighthearted team management aspect gave everybody an incentive to play through a large chunk of the game to see what would await at the very top. However, as waves of Codemasters fans grew excited over a surely impending sequel, they were instead given multiple off-road games, a licensed Formula One series, and a spin-off title centered around fireworks, crashing, and nitro boost.

Grid 2 was obviously stuck in development hell for an extended period of time, but upon the game’s inevitable reveal in the fall of 2012, most wished it would have remained behind closed doors for good. One of the first bits of information relating to Grid 2 revolved around the game’s omission of cockpit view, with Codemasters promising a casualized “action driving” experience. This obviously didn’t sit well with the target audience, as what idiot releases a racing game in the modern gaming era without an in-car camera, though what Codemasters did next shocked a lot of people.

Codemasters attempted to justify the removal of cockpit view by claiming only 5% of their fanbase used the traditional in-car vantage point, which led to pretty much all of us wondering what the hell they were smoking because this was the most retarded thing a racing game developer could say at that exact point in time. Supposedly, their own telemetry data had told them so few of their customers were making use of the in-car view that it wouldn’t be worth the extra development time to create for every car, but message board discussions quickly pointed to a different explanation; the new iteration of the Codemasters EGO engine, first seen in 2012’s DiRT Showdown, did not included standard high-detail cockpit view functionality. Not only had Codemasters totally lost the plot, many believed they were openly lying to their customers and saving face for accidentally failing to encode dedicated support for cockpit view into their new game engine.

As predicted, the sudden paradigm shift and loss of focus spread to other, more prominent areas of the game; Grid 2 tanked hard, and Codemasters recycled the assets in just under a year for Grid: Autosport, which sold even less despite being the objectively better product and bringing cockpit camera back into the mix.

Need for Speed partners with Michael Bay

Enlisting the help of Criterion Games saw Need for Speed return to the forefront in 2010 after several dismal years experimenting with radical changes in direction, though the revival of the Hot Pursuit name and the use of the Burnout engine did little in the long run to prevent the ship from sinking; a once-storied franchise was clearly on its way out. However, while Need for Speed was dropping cylinders left and right, Electronic Arts as a company was literally rolling in cash, and as a bizarre attempt to re-invent their flagship arcade racing franchise for a fifth time, award-winning movie director Michael Bay was brought on as a design consultant for what would become Need for Speed: The Run, released in the fall of 2011.

Playing through The Run a few weeks ago, a task that can be completed from start to finish in a matter of about three hours, there are two distinct elements working against each other from the time you start the application, until the precise moment you exit the game for the final time and delete the pirated Mr. DJ copy from your hard drive. Remove one of those elements completely – and you can obviously guess which one from the subtitle of this section – and it’s easy to see the potential this game had.

On paper, The Run is an extremely cool concept. Bringing the point-to-point stages of the very first Need for Speed into the 21st century, The Run is essentially a cannonball run simulator with a spectacular list of cars only Electronic Arts would be able to afford the licenses to. There’s something hilarious yet completely awesome about ripping through the gorgeous Yosemite national park in a 2011 BMW GT3 entry; your avatar stopping every so often to pump his own gas at a Shell station while a small crowd gathers, confused yet awestruck at what is unfolding in front of them. Blasting past traffic at 300 km/h on a rural North Dakota road as a summer storm lurks over the horizon and gradually approaches with each passing stage, hauling ass out of Las Vegas and into a pitch black desert, or dueling with rivals on the Chicago freeway – which actually feels as expansive and bland as a suburban freeway would – there are moments in The Run that are just flat-out cool, and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

But then the narrative elements take over. You aren’t a nameless, faceless driver trying to win races, earn cash, and customize your unique library of cars. You’re some asshole named Jack, the girl that locked you in the friendzone you thinks it’s funny to call you on Skype while you’re three wide for the lead, and the mob is after you because… reasons… Just as you’re starting to have fun with the raw driving element and take in the sights of the United States as seen through the Frostbyte engine, suddenly you’re subjected to on-foot quick time events that quite frankly have no place in any racing game, or being anally ravaged by a group of Porsche SUV’s scripted to destroy you – which turn into private helicopters later in the campaign. There are“boss characters”, but they’re in your rear-view mirror almost as quickly as you’re introduced to them, one asshole is constantly trying to get you killed – but we never find out why – and the final stage in the game is one long scripted sequence continuously wrestling control away from you.

The story is just too intrusive; I dig the concept of ripping from San Francisco to New York in this lucrative illegal street race, because the track design is both extremely creative and exceptionally diverse, the car selection is phenomenal, and I guess the driving physics are sort of okay for what we’re doing. However, the game takes a total nose dive when your avatar is rolling around on the streets of Las Vegas, karate-kicking police officers because you pressed the X button at the right moment, or trying to smash out windows of an busted police cruiser that just so happens to be sitting in the path of an oncoming freight train. The actual gameplay of The Run is a really cool throwback to the very first Need for Speed, but it’s like you’ve given your little brother the remote control to the television, and at random points he keeps flipping television inputs to some shitty early 2000’s action movie just to fuck with you.

Unfortunately, with these non-driving narrative/action sequences so intertwined to the core experience, The Run turns into this bipolar mess of a video game; dragging down what could have been a genuinely intriguing concept into something you torrent, finish, and remove from your hard drive in a single sitting.

Total Team Control marks the end of EA’s NASCAR perfection

Long-time PRC.net readers have most likely grown sick of my love for the officially licensed NASCAR titles of the early 2000’s. A series so good, a majority of the developers were eventually sent to work on the Madden NFL franchise, the EA Sports NASCAR games were ahead of their time, offering tons of unlockable goodies, alternate liveries, immensely detailed career modes, driving schools, bonus tracks, and basically an entire second game’s worth of shit to explore on top of a pretty decent on-track experience that still eclipses anything released over the past decade. After NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup implemented the Craftsman Truck, Busch Grand National, and Featherlite Modified touring series into the game – allowing NASCAR fans to basically climb the ranks from local tracks to the big leagues – expectations were through the roof for NASCAR 06: Total Team Control. We had no idea how EA would manage to improve on what was basically a perfect NASCAR game.

The short answer is that they didn’t; Total Team Control was a distinct regression. At the forefront of the ’06 rendition were the heavily advertised teammate controls, which you can see at the bottom right of the screenshot inserted above. The right analog stick was now a mobile command center, allowing you to issue legitimate team orders to your on-track teammates – which was sort of banned in NASCAR after it was exploited to the extremes in 2013 – and was intended to create a dynamic racing environment in which there was actually a purpose to having teammates, whether it be in the game’s extensive career mode, or just in traditional single event play while competing as your favorite driver.

The biggest problem was that unlike the exact same functionality in Need for Speed: Carbon a year later, it didn’t actually work. You could ask your teammates to block for you, but it never appeared to warrant any defensive driving on their behalf. You could ask them to draft with you at tracks such as Daytona or Talladega, but they would always get held up by cars in their immediate vicinity, and you were better off scooting around them. You could demand for them to move out of the way upon approaching them, or follow you through the pack of cars into clean air, but again, they weren’t actually capable of doing so. Sometimes, the game would actually notify you that your teammate was currently unable to follow your instructions, kind of nullifying any perceived reliance on team orders to begin with. So there was basically this whole major feature in the game that just sort of occupied a quarter of the screen and wasn’t functional in the slightest.

What you could do with this feature, was use it to swap over to your teammates, and drive their cars for an unlimited period of time, allowing you to start the race as Dale Earnhardt Jr., warp over to Martin Truex Jr., crash into everybody, swap back to Dale Earnhardt Jr., and win the race uncontested. There were no penalties for doing so regardless of what mode you were playing, and tutorials subtly encouraged you to do this, turning NASCAR 06 into this bizarre out-of-body spiritual possession simulator akin to Driver: San Francisco. Keep in mind, this was the number one new feature fans were supposed to look forward to, and we’re not talking about a story driven arcade racer, but a major officially licensed release centering around America’s most popular auto racing series. People were fucking livid at the time of release, and within four years, Electronic Arts lost the NASCAR license due to continuously declining sales.

Are there other titles and features I’ve forgotten? Probably. For every mainstream racing game that had mountains of spaghetti fall from its pockets in front a worldwide audience, there are ten others that have been lost to the sands of time, with bone-headed design choices chasing away all but the most rabid and apologetic of fanboys. However, the seven titles I’ve outlined above are what I feel are the most absurd displays of developer incompetence and poor decision making I’ve ever witnessed when just trying to hang out and enjoy an evening of virtual race cars.

Pray nobody tries to take it a step further.

DiRT 4’s Suspicious Lack of Content

I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t been counting down the days until the launch of DiRT 4, though in my journey around the internet to consume every last piece of preview media centering around the resurgence of Codemasters’ beloved off-road series, one aspect has stuck out to me like a sore thumb; one that could eventually lead to the game’s downfall if not rectified in the appropriate fashion.

While Codemasters are said to be dropping the dudebro mentality of the previous games in the series in favor a significantly more serious vibe like the one seen in DiRT Rally – albeit more fleshed-out with proper career mode progression elements, team management tasks, and other intricate moving parts – the actual list of content is scarily underwhelming, just like in DiRT Rally. Yes, we’re getting the ability to create your own rally team, hire mechanics, design your livery, sign sponsors, and compete on lengthy point to point stages created by an in-game algorithm to ensure you’re always kept on your feet and have a slew of new roads to travel, but there’s an equal number of shortcomings that could potentially serve to detract from this otherwise phenomenal experience.

The official website lists just five environments available to select from in DiRT 4, two of which return from the previous game that we’ve all played to death already. Though Spain, Australia, and Michigan will be new additions to the hardcore Codemasters universe, we’ll be trekking through familiar territory in Wales and Sweden. Planet earth only has so many countries capable of hosting a WRC-style event, and we’ll obviously not be blasting through stages in Hawaii or Madagascar anytime soon, but it’s a bit underwhelming to see only three new environments on the rallying side of things, and a mere five rally environments total. Without the official WRC license, DiRT 4 will most likely employ the use of a fictional world rally series, the realism of which will certainly be stretched when sim racers start to reach the upper echelons of the game’s mammoth career mode and the highest level rally season is over almost as quickly as it started.

Look, I understand the automatically generated stages will throw an extra layer of diversity in the experience so maybe it won’t be all that bad, but people are going to get tired looking at the same old Australian Outback very quickly if there are only four other environment options. Here’s to hoping Codemasters have several additional landscapes planned as downloadable content, because what world rally championship only has five rounds?

Things are equally dire on the rallycross front, as the official site lists just six rallycross circuits available at launch in DiRT 4, three of which are returning from DiRT Rally. Unlike traditional tarmac circuits, rallycross tracks are incredibly brief affairs and can be memorized in just a few heats, meaning those who own DiRT Rally have already seen half the rallycross content in DiRT 4, and they haven’t even played the game yet.

It would have been a perfect opportunity for Codemasters to revive the several creative rallycross locations seen in DiRT 2 and DiRT 3 for a vast selection of content out of the box, justifying the grind of saving up for a top class rallycross supercar – because the length of the season would take you on a globe-hopping campaign spanning ten or eleven circuits once you’re finally at the top tier – but instead it looks as if rallycross will once again be this awkward sort-of-coherent diversion where you bust your ass to finally buy a Ford Fiesta, and once it’s in your garage, you’ve exhausted all of the rallycross tracks in the game and are unwilling to touch the mode again.

Landrush arguably suffers the most, however, as we’re told only three tracks – situated in California, Nevada, and Mexico – will be available. Using the dirty Ridge Racer style technique of alternate layouts at one location, we’ll probably have six tracks to select from, but again, we’re looking at so few tracks in general, players might become tired of the entire mode and have no desire to turn another lap after grinding to save for a new truck. Licenses are a genuine pain in the ass so I fully understand if you have to rely primarily on fantasy circuits, but once more I have to ask why tracks weren’t recycled and updated from the previous two DiRT games; if you can see everything an entire discipline has to offer within five minutes of track time, why as a developer would you not make an effort to change that?

The more locations you add, the more relevant online leagues will become. Sure, everyone will undoubtedly race to start their own private online championships among their friends with the built in league functionality, but having a large selection of tracks ensures these leagues will run for five, six, or even seven seasons, instead of just being active for the first month of the game’s launch, and then going on an indefinite hiatus until some YouTube personality starts one up again in a year’s time for a laugh with his subscribers.

Leaked vehicle class screens also indicate the game’s lack of diversity in content stretches beyond circuits and environments. Though the total number of cars in DiRT 4 is said to eclipse over 50 – a pretty good number for any rally game – we have to remember that the game is essentially split into three portions; rally, landrush, and rallycross, so only a portion of that 50 will be purpose built rally cars. Initial reports from footage taken by PlayStation Access sometimes show just two or three cars per rally class, with members of the official DiRT subreddit noting certain classes have indeed seen a reduction in size since DiRT Rally. The 2000cc class will awkwardly pair two 2001 WRC entries against a monster Ford Focus from 2007 now that the Citroen C4 of Sebastien Loeb appears to have been removed, while the highly popular N4 production class is still just two brand new cars despite Rally America grids sporting several years and models of Subaru’s, Ford’s, and Mitsubishi’s. This would have been cool to see in DiRT 4, it was in past iterations of DiRT and we all greatly appreciated the diversity, but unfortunately this practice has not returned.

What this means from an end user standpoint, is that there’s no excitement in saving up to purchase a car in a faster class and exploring what options you have available, because your choices are absurdly limited. Part of what made earlier DiRT games fun is that the various rally classes included all sorts of entries from Ford, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and even Pontiac when they still existed, including several models from each manufacturer, leading to very diverse and exciting grids that offered a car for every driving style. Taking this element away creates a very stale Communist Poland-like game world, in which offline progression and online dick-waving really isn’t something to look forward to since everybody will share the exact same experience, corralled into buying the exact same car at the exact same point in the game.

Will the lack of content cripple DiRT 4? Possibly. I think what’s going to happen is that people will be blown away by the sheer quality of the title, but everyone will suspiciously be dropping it much quicker than anticipated if Codemasters do not plan a heavy Stream of post-release downloadable content. Will it score 9’s and 10’s, and go down as Codemasters knocking it out of the park, winning several Racing Game of the Year awards? Most likely, but without Codemasters breathing life into the title, I can see a situation where everybody talks about how great DiRT 4 was, only to have abandoned it by the end of the summer.