2012 seems to be the year when the simracing world is coming alight, as has been discussed before on various portals. With a number of new products in development or beta this year things are looking genuinely exciting for the simracer. As such, it was only natural that I popped over to Köln for GamesCom 2012 for a browse around the show.
Of course, the sim that seems to be garnering a huge chunk of excitement is Kunos Simulazioni’s “Assetto Corsa” (AC). With new screenshots nearly every day on their Facebook page and tasty titbits of obscure programming weirdness on Stefano Casillo’s twitter feed, people are growing almost insatiable for new information about their upcoming simulator.
So they went to GamesCom, and invited excited simracers to come and try out the development version of the sim.
As covered in the March issue of AutoSimSport, I paid Kunos a visit earlier this year to try out the simulator in an earlier incarnation. Since then plenty has been written about the ethos and design of AC and I won’t bore you with it all over again. Suffice to say that Kunos plan to learn from their experience with netKar Pro, and hit the market with broader horizons. Does this mean that AC will be the most incredible piece of driving simulation software ever conceived? It’s hard to say, but such a claim, to me, seems an unfair one to lay on such a small development team.
With limited resources to hand, it is unlikely to expect a sim that picks up the genre and turns it on its head. Their focus for AC is to make it solid, reliable, and drivable. They have laser scanned circuits, but, in the initial release, no promises of variable weather, a bird flight model or arm-waving inflatable tube men by the road sides. Neither are they promising a new era in online action with complex statistics and matchmaking.
No, what they are bringing us is a racing simulator that gives us laser scanned tracks, vehicles modelled in meticulous detail and the chance to race them, both online and offline. It’s a starting point, they say, for a software product that is being designed from the ground up to be adaptable and moddable, allowing the Kunos team to continue to develop it for years to come, and modders to have a go too.
With all this in mind, what we do know is that the guys at Kunos know their cars, and their tyres, and they have some great artists. The screens we’ve all seen show AC to be beautiful, and the videos show that the physics already look pretty sorted. So there is no reason to suspect that AC will be anything other than a hit amongst the more hard-core end of the simracing community.
Of course, going to GamesCom was for more than the hard-core bunch. For Kunos, it was to put AC “out there”, and make the broader gaming world aware of what they were up to. Whether it worked remains to be seen, but on hand were two high-spec sim PC’s at their booth, one with triple screen and a motion platform, and both using Fanatec’s Clubsport wheel. At no point while I was there was there not a queue of people (mainly young lads) waiting to try out the sim, some with more success than others.
When I arrived I had a sit down with Stefano Casillo and Marco Massarutto to indulge in some sort of ridiculous “beer mixed with grapefruit juice” concoction that seems to be all the rage in Germany (Probably everywhere else for all I know!), after a bit of chat (and a Currywurst), I was invited to try out the sim.
Having tested the sim in a more apt environment back in March, I figured this would be a good chance to see how development has come on.
Well, how wrong I was! I can certainly tell you that a huge video game show is no place to really get any solid feeling for a racing simulator. The amount of noise in the arena area behind us was phenomenal, and normal conversations had to be switched into “shout into each other’s ear” mode. In fact, the first thing I noted, taking out the KTM X-Bow, was that I could not hear my own engine, tyre noise, or just about anything at all. Driving deaf may not be as bad as driving blind, but it’s far from ideal. The below video, taken by the blonde, should give you an idea:
Aris barked at me (The only way to be heard) “Use the torque of the engine!” Sadly, knowing what RPM I was doing would have helped with this, it was effort enough to know when to change up!
I moved on, to try out the BMW Z4 GT3, which is a louder car, so I could almost hear it, and did enjoy running it around Monza. Then I hit the Lotus Evora road car around Nurburgring GP. All fun stuff and I will say there were some aspects I did pick up on.
The Clubsport wheel I was using did seem to be to be weaker than I am used to as the force feedback had been turned down to for the purposes of the general public’s use. Where AC really comes into its own is in the communication a driver feels through the wheel. Judging braking areas is very natural as the car squirms, and without any audible tyre noise it was still very easy to feel the understeer and subsequent yaw in the car.
One area that felt much improved from earlier in the year was the transition from under-to-oversteer mid-corner that came across very nicely through the steering, while the fronts scrubbed there was no vagary around when to start peeling away the lock and straighten the car, and catching the odd slice of oversteer was a brain-free experience.
AC continues, for me to slightly change the approach one makes to a racing simulator. In the past I would leap into any given sim and slowly build up speed, as is normal. But often, with other sims, I would get hit with nasty surprises. Say, for instance, a car violently snap oversteers under brakes, so then the next time around I would ensure to brake in a straight line and not let that happen again. This would push back the learning experience as ultimately finding the limit would be tempered by a desire to keep the car in one piece (not crashing in racing sims is an affliction of mine, my mindset goes too much like real life race car driving). As such, finding that ultimate braking limit would be a longer and longer process, as it would in a real car if pushing too hard resulted in an enormous “brown trouser moment.”
The same, in some sims of the past, could have been said about finding the earliest point to get on the throttle out of a corner, get bitten once, pull it back two levels, and then take another two hours to get where you should be.
In AC I find where I build up the speed slowly I don’t get hit by as many of these surprises, I rarely ever had moments where I thought: “Why on Earth did that happen?” that would make me scale things back, and it just meant I could push that bit more over the next lap, and grow closer to that limit. When the limit comes, it’s understandable, and the car does what I might expect it to.
This, however, is early days for AC, relatively. At the time of the show there was no tyre heat or wear build into the tyre model, and this can change car behaviour considerably, as well as this the drivetrain and brake modelling continues to be worked upon.
We shall have to wait to really get to grips with this sim, I am sure when it is released I will get plenty of laps in, for a more solid, and audible, experience.
For now, rest assured, Kunos know how to make a sim-car feel like a real car, and if, for you, that is what racing simulations are all about, you should be in for a treat with AC.