Damnit! Off again, and this time there aren’t enough laps left to catch Massa. The weekend got off to such a great start, too: I secured pole … and then was promptly relegated to the back of the grid as the motor let go on the cool down lap. No problem, I thought, my 2006 McLaren has plenty of juice for the rest of the field with the backup lump, and, as I told the press, a good start was not as crucial as staying out of trouble: The rest would come courtesy of my faster car which would scythe its way through the field all the way to a glorious win.
That was the plan. Before the rain came.
The Nürburgring. I love this track. I am a god here. And no-one will get in the way of my destiny. Not this day. And that is exactly how it panned out—oh yes. I got a hell of a start and made my way from the back row to about fourteenth as we came out of T1. Within ten laps, I’d made my way into the points and after twenty I found myself third, running lap times about a second per lap quicker than the leader, Massa … but I was running out of time, and needed to get by a clearly vodka’d-up Räikkönen before I could attack Massa. His one-time seven second advantage was now down to just under three, and with ten laps to go at a second per lap faster, well, even I could do that math. This one was mine.
And then came the rain.
At first it was nothing to worry about, just a smattering here and there, mere dots of water on the track and my visor. Soon, however, the surface became greasy, slippery, and with only a handful of laps to run, I didn’t dare dive in for intermediates. Besides, I was still making up ground on Massa, now less than a second ahead, like a fly in my vision, a fly I was about to swat.
I decided to wait for the NGK chicane before I made my move as I knew I could outbrake him there. A late-race pass was on the cards, and my fans would speak of this day in awed wonder for decades to come: Oh yes, victory was mine. I made my move, braking deep as I approached the chicane and quickly slid by … not only Massa, but the chicane, the track, the marshals, and about half the infield as well.
I got back in shape, but by now the track was soaked, there were only three laps to run, and Massa was gone. I did the best I could to keep the car on the extremely wet track, but on the last lap had another off at Dunlop. Fortunately my lead over fourth was such that I was able to make it back in the right direction for a third place finish. Not the victory I had hoped for, certainly not the one my enormous talent and vast good looks deserved, but then again, it wasn’t the last place finish I’d managed the last time I came face to face with rain. And anyway, as I told the press after the race, if God had intended for Yanks to race in the rain, he wouldn’t have invented NASCAR. So shut up.
This race took place two nights ago on my blazing i7 Vista rig, and it simulated the 2006 Formula One World Championship. Yes, you heard me right, 2006 F1 on the PC. How? Well, first, thanks to Crammond’s ageless Grand Prix 4, and second, thanks to the ‘F1 2006/2007 (beta)’ mod for Grand Prix 4 by the equally ageless and massively talented Tony, and the crew at GP4Italia. Regular readers of this magazine will by now know that Tony is a living legend in the GP4 modding scene, and gentlemen and ladies, he’s done it again: Not that it’s any secret, as the final version of the mod, released in 2007, has nearly 190,000 downloads at the time of this writing.
Yes, you heard right, 190,000. More than most of our sims have managed to garner since, well, GP4 itself probably!
Grand Prix 4
I have been out of the Grand Prix 4 loop for quite a while. With my lab work, writing duties, and work as a researcher on a full-length feature film of the documentary genre, I simply haven’t had the time: And then, of course, I’ve switched to a home built i7 rig sporting Vista, and I had some lingering doubts in the back of my mind as to how well Grand Prix 4 and Microsoft’s (not so) finest would play together.
When all was said and done, however, I had little to worry about. Not only did GP4 play perfectly, out of the box, but the installation, configuration, and final use of the mod was a walk in the park. Even my wheel setup worked exactly how it always has—for some reason I have always had good luck with wheels and GP4, no idea why, could it be something related to well designed code?
No need to go into an extensive and detailed multi-page GP4 install and mod guide; no, this time it is pretty darn easy. Hell, I bet even Alex could pull it off!
Go to this link and do everything it says; that’s pretty much what I did before I found myself at the helm of what I truly consider the best F1 experience I have ever encountered. And on a seven year old product to boot.
Tony, GP4Italia, the ZaZ tools guy, to call them geniuses is to fall short of an adequate description. These guys work miracles, and what they have done with the (at one time) controversial and difficult to use GP4 is magnificent. Even Vista coughs up! Watch the video, do what it says, and in no time at all you will have your way with not only the 2006 F1 season, but an extensively fleshed out beta of the 2007 season.
Installing the 2006 Track Pack rounds it all out with stunning representations of the, yes you guessed, 2006 season tracks.
A brief examination of the mod specifications reveals that an awful lot of work must have gone on here. GP4 is considered by those who know to be ‘difficult to mod’, but when you look at what is included in this mod, you’d think they just woke up one day and shoved content into the damned mod. And then you see the quality …
We should recall that it was Tony who ably assisted shutt1e on the initial phase of what many consider to be the best mod ever created for rFactor—the ‘F1 ’79’ mod—which began as a GP4 mod. Indeed, we’re in the presence of one of the world’s best modders here, my friends: And he’s keeping the faith with GP4.
The change in look and feel alone, when compared to the out-of-the-box version, makes this mod an instant must-have if for no other reason than just to see it: Just to see what a well-made mod should look like. Yes, we’re concerned with how the thing drives—no worries there as the reworked physics and performance specifications are top-notch and thoroughly fleshed out (if you are driving around in the Super Best Friends car, odds are you won’t win, but it will still be one hell of a good drive as it is, after all, a full blown Formula One car, albeit a bit down on a few bits’n’bobs)—but I just cannot for the life of me get over how it just … looks.
The track surfaces, meanwhile, in the track pack, are modeled with extraordinary precision; bumps, undulations, dips, elevation changes, and moisture on the track are all clearly felt through the wheel as you drive over them or lock the brakes on them. The car has a great feel to it (whatever that means these days!) and while I always found the original game just fine in the physics department, warts and all, the new physics developed for this mod are substantially improved in terms of ‘feel’, weight transfer, acceleration, and braking: Everything has received dollops of refinement, and what we now have is the definitive F1 simulator, period. I will say it again: F1 sims do not get better than this, no matter the platform. End of story.
One of the original sim’s strengths, of course, was the way in which it represented an actual Formula One weekend; that is, it created a believable atmosphere of the event that went a long way to suspending disbelief and making you forget you are in the basement, screen blazing in the darkness. Things like being able, in a practice session, to hit the director camera key, sit back, and watch an ever-changing broadcast type of display as the game switches from one car to the next, one camera angle to the next all on its own, with TV overlay graphics to boot, made the immersion of Crammond’s final sim something truly rewarding. Things like being able, during qualifying, to pop-up a data screen much like the drop-down screen on a real F1 car as your vantage point—the screen displays a multitude of items including watching drivers in real time, or checking the timing information before you make your own run—makes GP4 stand-out amongst today’s sims, at least when it comes to its ‘immersability’.
I’d forgotten, to be honest, what immersion was all about until I fired up GP4 and this mod: Seriously, after five brief minutes, I found myself thinking how amazingly distant out current generation of sims have come from the days when developers actually cared about scene and place …
Like any great mod, the good points of the sim being modded are enhanced, and in the case of the atmospherics of an F1 event, the 2006 mod pushes the bar a few miles higher than the original: And that, you will gather, is like, dude, erm, higher than, like, the stratosphere!
The TV overlay graphics, for example, now closely resemble their real-life counterparts. In addition, the brilliant AI and best-in-class weather of the original remain as they were—just fine. Dirt and grime, meanwhile, cover the visor, and the cockpits all feature enhanced detail and picture-perfect steering wheels, all of them car-specific.
Of course, since the Car Set Manager (CSM) is being used, customization of the mod by the user is but a few clicks away. Sporting an integrated GPxPatch utility in the main UI of CSM, tons of things can be changed (such as those overlay graphics) by simply clicking a box and browsing to a different version. Sounds, physics, performance files, processor affinity, these are just a few of the settings that can be altered in seconds. I must say, the CSM, no doubt mentioned in a previous issue somewhere, has taken a lot of the hassle of installing a GP4 mod out of the loop.
As an example of this, once you have the CSM installed, installing a mod involves nothing more than selecting the ‘install mod’ button, navigating to the CSM compatible file, and selecting it. That’s pretty much it, no messing around with those pesky .WAD files. Once installed, the mod itself is easily configurable, offering complete control of driver choice, track, type of race, difficulty level, texture resolution, track loading method, steering wheel type, mirrors on or off, visors, Lo2k’s Speedo and Rev Counter on or off, pit boards, LOD selection (select lower for better performance), type of rim, 2D or 3D, and two selections for GP4Tweaker—real-time editing, and head view movement. In addition, the customization that GPxPatch offers is, as it always has been, extensive, and it has been thoughtfully integrated into the CSM main interface.
That done, I was ready to roll away the hours as Crammond and Tony transported me into my fantasy-world where I was, for a few hours, a world-class Formula One driver chasing the title.
In reality, meanwhile, I was playing a hardcore modern day Formula One sim with great AI, great weather, and some of the best offline racing this side of Grand Prix Legends.
But all of this improvement does come at a price, and those with lower end PCs may need to reduce a few details here and there in order to maintain a Processor Occupancy value that is always below 100 percent, else odd things with timing may begin to crop up. Even with my relatively fast i7/HD4870 rig I was able to really slow things down to the point of nearly slow motion, but by turning off the heat haze and the video walls, things got real snappy again, and this is, with dynamic environment maps on with the frame rate counter set to forty, plenty for a silky smooth GP4 experience. Of course, your mileage may vary, but given the ease of installation provided by the CSM, the odds of a great experience are much improved over the ‘good old days’.
If you have Grand Prix 4, you owe it to yourself to give this mod a try and find out what nigh on 200,000 other fans have already discovered: just simply extraordinary.
Since we don’t yet know what a Codemasters license of Formula One means for the PC crowd—but God we can only imagine—Grand Prix 4, much like Grand Prix Legends, will no doubt remain the greatest achievement for an F1 sim on the PC for a long-long time to come. In fact, I doubt it will ever be beaten, unless Crammond makes a come-back, or John Henry buys the license for Dave Kaemmer.
Until then, though, we have Tony and friends. Thanks guys! This really is it!