Some of them still do, I know, but who can remember those huge, chunky cardboard boxes with a sleeve and a manual that weighed as much as a housebrick? Where did it all go?
Ever since the late 1990’s there seems to have been a big focus in the simracing community for racing online. It’s a natural thing, in the days of VROC racing with other humans in online races was a relatively new and exciting thing, and, for many of us, after racing AI robots for years this seemed the natural progression for the genre. The result being that sim developers started to push more and more weight behind their online components, abandoning the way sims of old had been made for ten years or more.
The template laid down by Crammond in 1992’s F1GP was what defined racing sims for a decade after it. An immersive experience, where one racing series (In the case of Crammond’s game, Formula One) was reproduced in great detail, that allowed the player to race alongside the same drivers they saw on TV in a full season of racing, set around the parameters they desired. Simracing masochists, like me, could disable all drivers aids and set race distance to 100%, practice sessions to full length, and live a race weekend in their own home, going wheel to wheel with Schumacher, Alesi and the gang.
Not long after, in 1993, Papyrus Design Group arrived with their follow up to 1988’s “Indianapolis 500“, “Indycar Racing” (ICR). ICR upped the game for graphics presentation and driving physics, but gave us that same structure of an immersive game where we could play the role of an Indycar driver in the current season, going wheel to wheel with Andretti, Fittipaldi, Scott Goodyear (I seemed to find myself mostly racing virtual Scott), and the rest of the pack. I remember at the time being so immersed in my little world that I would think all the way home from school about how I was going to prepare for the next practice session, where I hoped to qualify, and what I was going to try with my setup. These games had atmosphere, they let you feel like you were really taking part in a campaign that kept you focussed for night after night, your own private racing series. Papyrus then went on to release Indycar Racing 2 and the NASCAR Racing series, each largely evolutions of one another in terms of the driving experience and the eye candy, but all offering this same feeling of immersion that defined what racing simulators had become. Then came Grand Prix Legends, and with it’s great AI, historic tracks and endearing ’60’s feel many who had no idea about historic F1 fell in love. That atmosphere, that sense of fantasy, left many finding themselves evolving their enjoyably rare diversion into a passionate hobby.
Jump to 2012 and it’s all change. With sims like Live For Speed, rFactor, netKar Pro and iRacing the focus moved away to multiplayer racing, with AI becoming a background interest for developers and players, or, in some cases, not there at all. The online simracing community was born and leagues were setup, governing bodies established, forums filled with tantrums and obscenely acronymed magazines written. So did we all stop playing offline?
The consensus would say not. A rudimentarily hobbled together series of statistics I was made party to revealed that for every racer regularly competing online there are ten or more racing offline, but why? Isn’t racing online fun? Of course it is, but it comes with far too many constraints for the average human. Not only do you have to turn up at a certain time, but you may have to obey certain rules, race for longer than you can, and put aside hours of practice to build up speed and setups so that you don’t disgrace yourself. You may find that you are simply not fast enough to compete at the top level and race consistently for tenth place, you may find that your five year old kid comes in to show you his Lego mid-race, you might find that someone turfs you into the wall at the first corner and all that build up was for nothing. You might find the whole thing, as a leisure pursuit, just far too stressful!
So where are Papyrus Design Group now, with their glorious offline sims that oozed atmosphere and immersion, covering the racing series we all wanted to fantasise about racing in? Well, as I am sure you know if you’re bothering to read this, but they have made iRacing, which is without doubt the best sim out there for online racing. It’s official races, rule base, licence structure, iRating, social networking features and hosted sessions are organised through a web interface, they have myriad licensed cars and tracks to race and even a huge forum where people can complain about things. David Kaemmer and the team have embraced the online sim revolution and thousands of players enjoy their sim day in, day out.
But what about all those offline simmers? Should they not get to enjoy the work of a development team that defined the genre for so long? I found myself wondering why not.
iRacing have some major series licences: NASCAR, IZOD Indycar, Grand Am, links to the V8 Supercar series, American Le Mans Series and some others, can these not be exploited a little?
Would it not be great for a boxed sim or two to be released, using the base software that iRacing already uses to provide, say, a Grand Am simuator? Using the template of the sims that came before and bolting in the laser scanned cars and tracks seen in iRacing, letting us race against AI in an offline simultation of the Grand Am national series? Perhaps even with a Daytona 24 hours add on allowing AI driver changes and day to night transitions? Sounds too much? How about laser scan a few street tracks and give us IndyCar Racing 3? I’d pay full dollar for that one.
Players could choose the length of their race, the time that they race, choose whether they want to get a stop/go penalty, and pause the sim when some Lego is thrust into their face.
This not only would allow the offliners to get some fun out of iRacing’s superb content, but also may encourage them to sign up for a subscription to iRacing as a whole. After two full seasons offline against AI, many drivers may have had time to build the setups and pace they need to feel comfortable racing online, so why not make the offline sim bolt into the iRacing online component, letting drivers use the cars they already own in the online sim. Perhaps even tie up their offline gaming career to reflect against their online Safety Rating and iRating?
Could this work? I think it could, and with a few doorstep manuals we could be back to living the sim dream of the 1990’s with the bonus of being able to enjoy the online simracing dream of 2012.