We want that all inclusive racing sim? - from a real driver

  • Thread starter Lawndart
United States
This is a re-post from a post I wrote on WMD’s forum. I thought I’d post it here too as I used to post here more frequently years ago. The intention of this post is to stimulate thoughts and ideas as a community, beyond the old tired physics “simcade” ones. It’s long, but hopefully interesting enough to enjoy with your AM coffee.

And yeah, I mention yet again I’m a real driver shamelessly so it gets a fair shake :P

[Original post]

Hey guys, I've decided to post this here as no other sites have a real general forum, and thought this started out as PCARS specific it's really a bit more general, but SMS are the only real sim developer trying to build a definitive game and sim, this is likely where it belongs the most.

Lets first be clear about sim racing. Unless you're racing in events that are over 4 hours, something that can stress you personally and physically, all sim racing is very mathematical and systemic. People with a natural disposition for geometric math have a distinct advantage over the rest. This actually applies to good real world racers, but they can't avoid the variables of real life. Going beyond the obvious reality of tactile feedback and more into circumstances, whats missing are the variables that factor into all forms of racing. Some might call this "random" stuff like breakdowns etc. But it's really bad design to add "random" mechanical failures due to it breaking nearly every design philosophy of game development "Don't force the player to stop playing". So far only "Battle Royal" games are getting away with it. Flat-spotting and impact damage is one thing but all are relatively manageable in a sim. You can just deal with the wheel shake and modify your braking to deal with flat-spots (all sims tend to correct flat-spots as tires wear, it's mathematically accurate, but not realistic) and damage is either terminal or not really a consideration like a real racer fearing the integrity of the car if they keep going with damage. So the point being, how do we add more variables into a sim, that can also be intuitive enough for the pilot to understand whats happening, but at the same time not be a deterrent. Pretending your in a real car with real financial responsibility and safety for your health isn't really a viable option so what else happens at a track that's not easily planned for or managed systemically?

Animals - Yes, animals. Nearly a 3rd of races I've been in has had an animal affect me or the event directly in some way. I love animals but when behind the wheel of a race car they are dangerous hazards and as slippery as an oil slick. I hit a squirrel once existing turn 2 at Laguna Seca, myself and the guy chasing me both drop a wheel at turn exit, all the way to the lower A-arm (ouch, and there goes another front spliter) everyone had to modify their line for a couple laps until the less experienced drivers drove over it enough that it didn't matter. So imagine looking to corner exit for the a "grease mark" each lap, or going wider at the apex to change your turn exit trajectory. These are called hazards and remarkably common at amateur racing events (SCCA, NASA in the US) due to not many people track side. Once at Texas Motor Speedway (RIP) someone hit a gopher, the race had to be red flagged because so many condors (birds with 8 foot wingspans and 4 feet tall, WAY bigger than vultures) descended on the corps. Despite the little fella being flung 10-15 feet infield, and so many condors showed up they started wondering onto the track... You think Honey Badgers don't give a crap?! Watching the marshals deal with the whole mess was about as entertaining as the racing was. Point being, stuff happens at races that aren't expected all the time, games need more variables, even if animals never appear in sims, it still highlights a point.

Wind - This is a good one, but it's REALLY hard to do intuitively to the player because suddenly their car didn't slow down enough, or they ran slightly wider than normal. Something not clear to the user happened... that's not good design. That same geometric advantage becomes a disadvantage and without a good way for the player to know whats happening. It's implementation has limited value without any means for more intuitive feedback. How much can FFB compensate? There is something that can be done here but unless it's set at a constant and told to the player directly it could easily be a worse experience than not having it despite the authenticity.

Weather - I think it's time we consider this a core standard in sims. Sure, "they say" people don't seem to use it a lot but it's the context for introducing many variables like slick spots, rain direction is a visual que for wind, and managing surface grip is a pilots highest priority and ones ability to manage it is what defines the best real world racers. Want to know if a driver has real talent? Put him on a wet track and watch how he handles it, modifies his lines, pushes the traction circle further than others, etc. Thanks pcars 2, you have a great foundation other sims should strive for, and your engine is OLD so it eliminates a lot of excuses they may have beyond budgetary ones.

In game economy - Racing in real life is 90% wrenching and finances, 10% actually racing (yeah, that's how addictive it really is). Though this has nothing to do with the core gameplay, and would make a horrible game taken literally, it's everything to do with how you approach the core game play. A traditional design would say "no way" as its a complex economy over a complex core gameplay and it's a balance of very different resources and sim devs and game devs are very different. But I think there is something here. It could also be expanded into health and injury, things leagues can do in real time, but single player campaigns just fast forward to the next event you can participate in... unless you died ;o Codemasters have been trying to crack this nut for a decade buy giving you a garage, sponsor mechanics, etc but it's just not gelled up and beyond F1 they moved away from it. iRacing sorta encourages these types of feelings, if not at all literally, in large part because of their ranking system and you'll never hear iRacing ever mention iRacing and game together. In fact they go too great pains to avoid anything that might suggest the term "game". Is it even on metacritic? - Yep, from 2008...

Multi-class racing as a norm, not an exception - Even spec Miata is broken down into 5 separate classes, all called Spec Miata but with specific technical differences). I've won races finishing over all in the middle and back of the pack. Really only pro events have the luxury of single class and that's limited to open wheelers or specialty spec vehicles or time trials events. This is a big one, one that is key to racing, having eyes all around you at all times because you're likely not the pro or pro-am that paid 180k to share a seat with a pro. This whole multiclass point is just a intro to the next topic, rewards...

Rewards - We need more dynamics to placement in a race. For too long it's been win or loose and only a special few get to finish in the middle of AI, not a worry in leagues. We've all pushed ourselves to be the winner, in GT it was wall ridding and using AI as brakes, in others we adjust the AI balance, etc. Its all in an effort to have fun, but it's always biased to over all winning. Face it, run enough events and not being able to finish above mid pack, maybe getting into the points that don't really mean anything? All leagues can sympathize with attrition because people just giving up. This does not happen in the real world, unless they need to save the car for something, but generally its because people paid a LOT for those seats and they want the seat time. So few racers are actually out to win overall, its an entirely different league of driver fueled by circumstance. I showed up to a LeMons race (yes, we ALL do those for cheap track time), bribed the official to lower the class of our car (normal in LeMons, part of the fun) and suddenly our crap car was a contender in C class (cause it was really a B class car) and everything changed, we got VERY organizer, putting 10x the normal effort, and it was MORE fun because of it. But there are so many tiers to a racing event and games only focus on one. Some allow it to be done, but most are just single class... And to be fair? It's likely a lot to do with resources, all those different models of cars and physics layers can quickly become a resource hog... Is it iRacing that can't have more than 6 different cars at once? :/ But the point being, you get nothing in real life for winning but the checkered flag to take home and a mark on your racing resume and bragging rights... ah yes, those selfish impulses, lets go into that topic next, but first, lets mix up events and merge them, this really helps level the field, encourages different skill levels to participate in their own tiers and still respect others on track, and always having a shot at some level of accomplishment, while learning from others on track who are WAY better than you. Now that's realistic. Lets also kill 3rd party apps that are unrealistic and hover on screen, looking at gauges is SO hard in a real race car you learn new ways to compensate, but I digress.

Customization - Ok, lets start this with an apology to other real racers here but we're all a bit narcissistic with something to prove even if we don't know what it is. Racing is this real euphoric experience that brings out the childlike emotions of kids in any adult, as well as childlike attitudes, it just is how it is. That individual need to test limits, compete with a tool, to be the best you can be, it's in our DNA, perhaps from chariots of old, but it's enough to make the most important people in the world throw caution into the wind as they go shooting off in a 3k lbs caged metal box (sometimes plastic! and way less safe than a road going car with all their crumple zones) that a single part that costs 1 nickle could mean all the difference in the world. Point is, we ALL have a screw or two loose and perhaps we're a dieing breed because there really aren't many of us left and I've seen more people drop out of racing schools from fear than anything else... but I digress, a topic for another day. I personally have a very successful career that I'm known quite well for, but nothing is more exciting than saying "I'm a race car driver". So childish, so irrelevant to anyone else, but when I show up to a race track to drive and I see my name on the car as it's being rolled off the trailer I feel 12 again. I think only fighter pilots get the same sensation. But we NEED more customization in racing sims (not talking about NFS car games, keep your turbos and body kits, we don't want them) that is relevant to YOU, own your car, branding it, learn it better than your own kids. Custom liveries should be standard in multiplayer so others can see your car, use standardized number plates and every race car should have a place to put at least your name and flag (so simple, few will see it, but you know it will be there and thats what matters). Personal branding, colors, and other superficial features that further encourage the sensation of ownership and respect for you're steed should be standard.

I'll pull short here, this is already longer than anyone is likely to read. I've done 2 things in my life more than anything else. Race (mostly motorcycles, so I'm more screwy than car guys, first child forced cars over bikes to the wife), and develop video games, 30 years and 23 years respectively. So I know some of this might sound small, but this is all in an effort to mirror reality and identify things that introduce variables, stronger sense of accomplishment, immersion, and being more inclusiveness across various skill levels. But as I don't develop racing games, I have the luxury to simply throw stuff out there for others to figure out mechanically, or just share thoughts for fun. I thought I'd share some topics I think are forward thinking and follow some kind of evolutionary tone, if not literally feasible. Sims are trying to be real, but not doing as good at being convincing. Physics arguments are getting old, I can feel real car behavior in all the current sims, even "sim light" (Simcade is a horrible term) and the differences are more about the designer focusing more on convincing vs real, as real doesn't always translate into a good user experience.

Thanks if you made it this far.

PS Please put spec Miatas in, it's the most raced car in north america on any given weekend. Just copy the Gennetta Jr, it feels nearly perfect to a Miata, requiring all the sliding a momentum based car needs for pace, really well done. Just need the 89'-92' early Mazda version please