Adventures in simulation racing: Part 2
Learning more about the real and the virtual
The PC racing simulators
RaceRoom Racing Experience is a free-to-play racing simulator now being developed by Sector3 Studios in Sweden. Also referred to as R3E its seen some difficult times as Sector3 Studios assumed the role of developer in late 2014 after the former SimBin Studios fell into bankruptcy.
You can install the game for free on PC through Steam and it comes with a selection of cars and tracks to try out. The rest of the content you can purchase either as single car and track items or in packs through the the RaceRoom store and at this point I own a large majority of it. Opinions differ on the store model but there is a benefit in being able to purchase only the cars and tracks you're interested in.
I think I first tried RaceRoom a long time ago, at the time I was using an Xbox controller with one of the free cars and I recall spinning out repeatedly and giving up. I later came back to it once I had a driving wheel and then began to purchase some content.
RaceRoom features a varied selection of cars and tracks as well as representations of official racing series such as the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) and WTCC (World Touring Car Championship) series. A quick slideshow of some of the featured content below. Similar to how Volkswagen pulled out of the World Rally Championship (WRC), Mercedes recently announced they intend to leave DTM by 2019 which would perhaps affect any potential simulations of the series from 2019 onward.
RaceRoom is known for the quality of its vehicle sounds and includes some of the best in-game audio of any racing simulator currently available. And the force feedback (FFB) when using a driving wheel is also now really good. It's far from perfect though as I mostly play in single player mode racing against computer generated opponents who are often inclined to ram you off the track the first chance they get. I like many live in hope that one day Sector3 will iron out the bugs.
While preparing some images for this post and comparing the representations of Monza and Paul Ricard from the track selection screen of Chequered Flag from the 1980's illustrated on the left to what's now available from RaceRoom below, it's fair to say we've come a long way. And RaceRoom runs on an older game engine so there's no weather effects or day/night transitions so it isn't even the most graphically impressive title available.
A quick video of gameplay from RaceRoom that I uploaded to YouTube. There's no commentary but it'll still provide a good impression of the audio & visuals.
Assetto Corsa developed by Kunos Simulazioni in Italy is another title that like DiRT Rally was first released through Steam on PC and later also released for the Xbox and PlayStation. Similar to RaceRoom above Assetto Corsa has been in a state of continuos development since it was released and many improvements have been made.
Often referred to as a hotlap simulator as there are many who play it just to do repeated laps of the Nürburgring Nordschleife. And there are channels on YouTube which appear to do mostly that, not that it's a bad thing, if anything it's indicative of how many perceive the title to be. There's a vibrant community creating modifications (known as modding or mods) to add additional tracks, cars and user interface elements such as in-game apps to control the force feedback level applied to your driving wheel or to download car setups created by other players. Most of these mods are free to download but there are also some websites offering paid mods.
The game includes a predefined single player element which isn't so great and I don't recall if that's ever been updated. Most would instead be playing their own custom single player races against the computer, the intelligence of which has been greatly improved. And as it supports the setup of multi-class races you can race against a mixture of official content and any modified content you've downloaded and installed. And there's also a vibrant online multiplayer scene.
When the licence for including the Porsche brand in racing games other than those published by Electronic Arts (EA) became generally available again one of the first titles to avail of the opportunity was Assetto Corsa. They released three paid downloadable content (DLC) packs featuring classic and contemporary Porsche marques. Now that I think of it it's in a way not dissimilar to how DiRT Rally presented the history of rally cars, at least in my case there were again several models I'd never heard of so it proved to be a bit of lesson in the history of another type of motor racing for me.
Below an image of the Porsche content packs as they appear in the Steam Store and on the right some of the more interesting Porsche marques. And I should add that RaceRoom now includes Porsche cars as well.
There have been other paid content packs such as the Dream and Red packs which included Ferrari. One of the Ferrari models included with the game is the 599XX EVO pictured below. The quintessential poster on a bedroom wall kind of thing that sells for nearly two million dollars. And below on the right the car interior as presented in-game when viewing the 3D model.
Which leads me to why I sold the aforementioned second-hand Logitech Driving Force GT as I'd purchased a new wheel pictured below on the left. The wheel element is a replica of the wheel from the Ferrari 599XX EVO above. Below on the right an image of the interior of the real thing with the wheel covered in Alcantara which is also used to cover the replica. According to the manufacturer Thrustmaster the Alcantara used to create the replica is produced in the same factory as that used on the original, not such a big deal so course, it's just printed as a selling point on the box. When I first bought the set and showed some photos of it someone joked "all you need to do now is save up to buy the rest of the Ferrari..." yes, I get it.
Along with the new wheel and pedal set I had to purchase a larger Wheel Stand Pro set. I've read comments online and friends who've tried the set have noted that the upright element of the stand sort of gets in the way but it's never really bothered me. The pedal set includes a clutch pedal which allowed me to include the addition of a H-Pattern gear shifter as well. And I installed the included metal brake mod to reduce and stiffen the travel of the brake pedal, pictured below on the right.
The Thrustmaster T300 Ferrari Integral Racing Wheel Alcantara Edition set pictured above is actually the third complete set I've owned. The first set I bought developed an issue after just four months or so and rather than send it for repair I got a refund and later bought a replacement set. The replacement set also developed a problem after around six months so I sent it to France for warranty repair and when it later developed yet another issue I managed to get it replaced by the retailer I originally purchased it from. The story of my PC driving wheel issues is a topic for a another blog post and video I plan to create.
Some may ask if by this point I questioned my sanity as I'd also invested in a pair of Kart racing gloves by Alpinestars, pictured on the left. Which I bought basically to protect the Alcantara material on the wheel, which of course seems a little counterintuitive and it is. The gloves are nice though and help in adding to the feeling of immersion as they say. And back to the "all you need to do now is save up to buy the rest of the Ferrari..." we go.
Many who play racing simulators are using Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. Some have gone from the use of single screen to triple screen setups and now to VR and they claim once you've tried VR you'll never want to go back. I won't delve into the pros and cons of VR as I right now have neither the time nor finance for such as setup.
The Oculus Rift VR headset (now owned by Facebook) had recently been heavily discounted so those who were looking for one got a good deal. To run VR correctly you need suitable PC hardware which right now I don't posess, or at least not one that would provide the proper experience.
To add to the simulation experience I got a TrackIR set for head tracking. Not VR of course, not even close, but okay for me right now. It appears to be compatible with most games, at least with most of the driving simulator games I play and basically allows you to look for example left or right in-game without having to use buttons. Below on the left the motion sensor and the TrackClip that you attach to a baseball cap and on the right the configuration software.
Over on the right a video from my YouTube channel which features the use of head tracking TrackIR set while playing Assetto Corsa. This video, the first of a series of videos I wanted to create also in a way encapsulates all the thoughts and experiences I'm outlining in this post.
Learning more about the real from the virtual
I'm back to pointing out some more about random toys my kids have but bear with me. Again a few years ago my son had received the gift of a toy from an aunt of mine pictured below on the right. And printed on the underside was Mecedes-Benz CLK-GTR and which again at the time meant nothing to me as basically I didn't know it existed. Pictured below on the left is an image from 1997 of what appears to be the CLK-GT1 and sitting on is a 21-year old Australian racing driver named Mark Webber.
The Mecedes-Benz CLK-GTR in 1998 became the CLK-LM and in 1999 came the Mercedes-Benz CLR Le Mans prototype or CLR LM. I found a mod version of this car online for use in Assetto Corsa pictured below.
When comparing the images to the toy, the real thing and the virtual 3D models from Assetto Corsa you can see the progression of the design. And you can see how extreme it looks especially from the rear view shown on the right.
And once more below some images of the the actual car which in 1999 during the 24 Hours of Le Mans race event became airborne. And one of the drivers was the same Mark Webber who luckily survived the impact.
I recently began playing Project Cars 2 which also includes the Mecedes-Benz CLK-LM. And the appearance, or livery of this example is very close to the toy version we have.
There's a six-part documentary series available through Amazon Prime Video entitled Le Mans: Racing is Everything concerning the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. On the left is the series trailer from YouTube which at the beginning includes some footage of the same Mercedes-Benz CLR LM becoming airborne in 1999. And featured in that series is the same Mark Webber who at the time, in 2015 I mean was driving the Porsche 919 Hybrid in the Le Mans Prototype (LMP1) class.
And back again to Assetto Corsa as included in the paid expansion Porsche Pack 3 is a version of the Porsche 919 Hybrid 2016 pictured below. Actually the previous pack included the previous Porsche 919 Hybrid 2015 as featured in the Le Mans: Racing is Everything series. The Porsche 919 is powered by a 2.0 litre turbo V4 engine backed by electric motors as part of the Hybrid system. And anyone who follows motoring and motor sports will be aware of the increased use of electric motors in both hybrid and fully electric powered vehicles.
Included with the addition of hybrid electric cars such as the Porsche 919 Hybrid series in Assetto Corsa were in-game controls for use of the hybrid system which is interesting. Below on the left the internal view of the Porsche 919 Hybrid 2016 from Assetto Corsa displaying all the controls a driver must learn to manage many of which are simulated in the game.
There's an end in a way to this particular topic as Mark Webber announced that he would retire from racing at the end of the 2016 season. He's now acting as a Porsche brand ambassador appearing at events and in videos etc.
After 18 years in prototype endurance racing, Audi announced in October 2016 that it would be leaving endurance racing at the end of the season and in July 2017 Porsche announced the same. So both brands would leave competing in the LMP1 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans to refocus its efforts on the FIA's electric racing series the Formula E championship in 2019. And this championship would also include Mercedes-Benz who haven't competed at Le Mans since 1999 and as we mentioned above announced their plans to leave the DTM championship (as featured in RaceRoom) in 2019 to also focus on the Formula E championship.
Below on the left an image from episode 1 Hard NOx of the Dirty Money series on Netflix which outlines the issues faced by the Volkswagen Group with diesel emissions in North America. And on the right some quick slides of a conversation on Twitter between Daimler and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors. Things are changing in the world of motoring and it of course has a direct impact on the world of motor sport.
I heard recently that BMW will return to endurance racing at Le Mans in 2018 with their new BMW M8 GTE in the GT LM class which is interesting. And Porsche retain a position in that class with their Porsche 911 RSR. And Audi and Mercedes are of course still participating in GT3 class racing.
And a final related note on Mercedes-Benz and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I have an old Scalextric set including the original booklet included in the box which features pictured below some Le Mans class cars and a 24 Hours of Le Mans set featuring the Mercedez-Benz CLK-GT1 which I guess is based around the 1997/98 season. When I originally bought the set I didn't really know what the cars and classes advertised referred to. And these toys were, as they are today based on what was currently available in the world of motor racing. And we've gone from Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Audi who announced their departures from racing series now being featured in racing simulators on PC. In some ways the versions of those cars included in driving simulators on PC have become way to preserve them as many continue to drive them albeit in virtual races only.
And one more toy, the last one I promise...
There's one toy car that I've had for many years, battered and worn and without any of the original livery details. On the base its listed as a Lancia Beta Montecarlo and again something which I didn't know anything about. My brother who is no longer with us went on a school trip many years ago and brought it back as a gift for me and somehow I've managed to retain it. And at this point its become something of sentimental value for me. The past merging with the present you could say, no pun intended.
It appears to be a Group 5 Lancia Beta Montecarlo and designed by Pininfarina no less who has designed cars for many Italian manufacturers including of course Ferrari. I found a reference to it appearing in Microsoft's Forza Motorsport 7 pictured below on the right.
Automobilista is an interesting racing or motorsports simulator and many who play it rate it very highly. Developed by Reiza Studios in Brazil it features a variety of cars and tracks from those included with the game or available via paid downloadable content (DLC) packs. And like Assetto Corsa there is a large selection of mods available to download and install.
The Boxer Cup car pictured below on the left is an unofficial representation of the Porsche Carrera Cup and on the right a car from the Copa Petrobras de Marcas a local Brazilian touring car series.
One of the interesting elements of Automobilista is Niels Heusinkveld of Heusinkveld Engineering in the Netherlands who manufacture PC simulation racing equipment. And Neils is a consultant on vehicle physics for Reiza in Brazil. He has his own channel on YouTube where he talks about the features and physics of Automobilista.
One the interesting additions to Automobilista was the Formula Truck downloadable content pack as well as the Super Truck series pictured below. The Formula Truck at least is unique in terms of the official content included in the list of racing simulators I currently own.
A final title and the virtual meets the real and back again
And finally a note about rFactor 2. Another title where similar to RaceRoom development has been taken over by another team, at Studio 397 who are based in the Netherlands. rFactor 2 was originally developed by Image Space Incorporated (ISI) in the US and the software used to develop the the original rFactor was also used to develop RaceRoom and Automobilista.
rFactor 2 which also supports the use of modified content has been given a new lease on life in a way with Studio 397 testing an upgraded graphics engine (for DirectX 11 from Microsoft), adding some new content and updating some content that it appears had been awaiting updates for several years. And they removed the paid subscription required to access online multiplayer.
Below on the left the current rFactor 2 application launcher, which is to be updated and on the right an image on the content available via the Steam Workshop which is one of the more interesting features of the title. You can install and receive updates for a selection of modified content cars and tracks which is really useful. None of the other titles available through Steam which also support the use of modified content currently support this feature, I'm not sure why this is.
Below on the left an image of the rFactor 2 interface which thankfully Studio 397 are in the process of updating. And on the right some of the example cars I have currently installed based on modified content that I downloaded.
The red car pictured above from rFactor 2 is based on the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo hybrid which competed in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans as featured in the Le Mans: Racing is Everything documentary series on Amazon Prime Video I referred to above.
Pictured below on the left is a driver of the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo hybrid Jann Mardenborough who became a racing driver through his participation in the GT Academy TV show run by Nissan and PlayStation where players of Gran Turismo on the PlayStation 3 could have the chance to become real world racing drivers. And on the right is Darren Cox one of the creators of the GT Academy who also led the project behind the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo hybrid which overall was a failure so Darren later left Nissan to form an eSports company called IDEAS+CARS.
Darren Cox's IDEAS+CARS has since been sold and he's recently worked with McLaren as part of the World's Fastest Gamer program a virtual racing series or eSports competition where the winner Rudy van Buren from the Netherlands was offered a one-year contract at McLaren to test their driving simulator systems.
And the competition, or at least the European elements of it was being run on rFactor 2 with the support of Studio 397. One element of the competition involved competitors completing timed laps at Silverstone in the UK and Zandvoort in the Netherlands in the McLaren 650S GT3.
Below some screenshots of the sim racers that I follow on YouTube attempting their laps of Silverstone in rFactor 2 as part of the World's Fastest Gamer competition. And in most cases not doing so well. I would do a whole lot worse so I admire them even more for trying. Only the simulation racing aliens as their often called would be getting anywhere near the top twenty in terms of lap times.