Perfecting the art of sim racing – How hard can it be? (Part 1)

Fiat 500 Abarth in Assetto Corsa

I’m off to a brilliant start!

Thanks to the recent arrival of Goat Simulator, simulation games have become the butt of jokes throughout the gaming industry. And it’s not an unfair criticism per se – there is a plethora of ‘simulators’ that were meant to be realistic, but pack a physics engine that makes Mario Kart look believable. Make no mistake, however – the simulator genre has some true gems, and no community knows this as well as sim racers.

You see, in most areas of simulation, quality is a rare commodity. Want a truck simulator? It’s Euro Truck Simulator 2 or bust, really. Bus simulator? OMSI is the only answer. If you want a racing simulator, on the other hand, you’re spoiled for choice. Assetto Corsa, iRacing and Project CARS are just a few examples of how high the bar is set in this industry. Not all of these games are pretty, but they all pack immensely complex physics engines. These keep track of tire temperature, wear, and deformation, suspension geometry, and basically anything else that could affect the way the car handles. All of the aforementioned games also come with laser-scanned tracks, so that every little dip and curve is recreated perfectly. iRacing even takes the time to gather the masses and dimensions of the components in each simulated vehicle – and if that means physically disassembling the vehicle to obtain that data, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

2014-08-06_00002

As a result, these are not simulators for the light-hearted. They’re meant, from day one, to be played with the appropriate equipment. Your PlayStation controller isn’t going to cut it here. And a keyboard? Forget it. You’re going to need a racing wheel and pedals, packing force feedback to make sure you feel every curb you ride. This’ll set you back a couple hundred dollars before you’ve even started, and those who really get into it often put thousands into detailed cockpit setups.

Most noticeably however, these simulators have a very steep learning curve. You could have many years of driving experience under the belt and still constantly fumble. That’s because advanced car control is a delicate art – the impatient and ham-fisted needn’t apply. It’s one thing to pilot a tonne of metal from traffic light to traffic light at 50 km/h, but hurling that tonne of metal around a racetrack as fast as the laws of physics will allow? Let’s just say that texting and driving is far less forgiving in that environment.

If you’re up for the challenge, sim racing provides a peek into the alluring world of motorsports without the need to remortgage your house or gamble your limbs away. As a huge gearhead, this was a challenge I couldn’t turn down. This brings me to the entire premise of this article, and the series of articles that I intend to follow with – my quest to become a decent sim racer. A few days earlier, I put down $40 on Assetto Corsa, currently available in Early Access on Steam. Despite technically being an unfinished game, this is a pretty fantastic simulator by all accounts. Plus, I’ve met a few other people who could help me get the hang of it, so it seemed like a perfect starting point. The goal I’ve set myself? Becoming a clean and consistent driver over the next month or so.

2014-08-06_00004

I’ve only put 11 hours into the game, and my experience with other sims is somewhat limited, but I already have a few lessons I can pass on to other newbies. Firstly, patience is everything. You’re going to screw up, you’re going to get frustrated, and that’s going to make you screw up even more. So take it slow, be prepared to make mistakes, and most importantly, learn from those mistakes. Take the time to think of exactly why you spun in that corner, and you’ll stand a chance of eventually fixing it. In order to understand why you spun, however, you’ll need to have a good understanding of the physics at play. So, unless you have a background in motorsports and already understand this stuff, look some basics up on Google. I’ll be covering them in more detail in future articles too, but the one thing I can say right now is that weight transfer is hugely important. You won’t realize it, since your body isn’t feeling any of it as you would in a real car, but there is a whole lot of weight transfer at play. Learn to use it to your advantage, and it will help you immensely.

Tomorrow, I’m going to give the game another whirl and delve into some of my thoughts on it, as well as anything else I learn along the way. My plan is to put in at least a little bit of time everyday, and accompany it with a post, but chances are that won’t always be possible. Nonetheless, I think this should be a fun little learning experience, and I hope you join me for the ride!

Tagged ,

Leave a Reply