As another year draws to a close, it seems as good a time as any to look back over the past 12 months and pick out a few personal highlights. In no particular order, and without further ado, here’s what tickled our sim bits in 2013:
Niels Heusinkveld’s “Talk & Drive” videos
Simon:- Niels has long since established himself as a prominent member of our community. He has worked on and released a number of stand out mods for the aging rFactor (and, along with a short list of other noticeable content makers, shown just what the original rF is capable of given some TLC and understanding), as well as having a professional role at Reiza Studios (not to mention ventures into hardware, and having fingers in a number of other sim-flavoured pies).
But here I want to focus on his relatively recent “Talk & Drive” series of videos, and one in particular. The T&D series do exactly what they say on the tin; Niels drives a car (often one of his own making) around a track, and talks about various facets of what we are seeing. Light-hearted and humorous, the videos are also insightful both into the machinery at his disposal, but also often some of the details that went into making them.
Be it teasing an NSX around a karting track, a no-nonsense first look at AC, or drifting an NSX around a snowy (and very slippery) Nordschliefe, the videos always entertain, and pay testament to Niel’s personality as well as his (more than ample) driving ability. With the NSX/karting track combo I thought the series might peak, but then he released what, for me, has to be the sim-video highlight of the year- Episode 7: Ninja Turbo F1 at Adelaide.
The signs of what are about to follow are immediately obvious as an out of breath and rather moist Niels introduces the video. As a demonstration of physicality, insane performance, and also some bloody amazing driving, this video is right up there. I honestly can’t think of a sim video that has had me as tense whilst watching it. During the first viewing (I’ve watched it quite a few times now), I realised I was taught and clenching my tablet, and would have literally been on the edge of my seat were I not literally, erm, lying in bed. As much as I find Niels’ videos interesting and entertaining, this one took it to a different level where it simply had me in awe; there are hairy moments aplenty. It also makes me very much want to go and spend some serious quantities of money on new hardware…
As 2014 approaches, I very much look forward to future installments of this instant classic series. One thing does niggle away at the back of my mind though; his “Merry NSXmas” video surely does beg the questions: what would one of these videos be like if Niels were drunk?…
Jon:- About says it all really. Niels is a top guy and what he has given back to simracing over the many years is impossible to quantify, I avoided these videos for a while on the basis of: “oh, I’ve been sent another YouTube link” fatigue, but hearing Niels brace himself onto a brake pedal and grunt in exertion is a classic simracing video moment.
Jon:- It seems to be quite fashionable to bash iRacing, as the evil empire over there in the shadows that tries to steal all the money anyone had. But the reality is that iRacing is a probably the best all-round simracing product in the market and that has not changed in 2013. Sure, for a new starter it costs a lot, but once you have the content you need, the subs cost is no different to buying two triple A games a year. For that you get problem-free online racing, a huge range of laser scanned tracks and an every growing list of series, all wrapped up into a “game” that gives you something to actually race for.
This year in particular has seen continued development of Big Dave’s (Yes, Mr Kaemmer, for services to simracing you have the honour of being magisterially titled thusly) experimental tyre model, and additions of two remarkable cars that test any sims physics to the limit. Whilst the Lotus 49 may not hit the mark on all yaw angles, the RUF labelled Porsche 911’s feel very pleasant to drive indeed. As well as this, in 2013 we have seen the addition of three not good, but great tracks in Interlagos, Montreal and Bathurst. If there is a car series that suits a driver in iRacing, I can see no reason why they would look elsewhere.
Simon:- The attention to detail and utter commitment to accuracy in their tracks is arguably unrivaled. I don’t dispute whether or not iRacing offer value for money, as I think it is something one has to decide for themselves. For some it all adds up and makes sense, for others it doesn’t. But when you see the man hours poured into the creation of likes of their Bathurst circuit, I think it’s very difficult to contest the asking price, and hard to argue they’re not doing things right.
Simon:- What started with a few highly tempting (but very low on detailed information) videos fairly quickly became a tech demo release. As soon as the demo was available for purchase I slapped down my money, and put it to one side. Now before I go any further, I would like to add that I have spent very little time with it since (hence why nothing has been written as yet). I’m not here to laud it as being anything other than it is for me right now: an incredibly exciting development for simming with huge potential.
Why haven’t I spent any real time with it? Well, mainly because it was released at an incredibly busy time in my life where I was trying my best to avoid all distractions, and since then I just haven’t gotten around to sitting down and having a good play. But even if I were to play it and find it massively disappointing as a driving experience, I wouldn’t really care. For me this is just enthralling and thrilling as a piece of “look what can be done” technology. If they can craft a game around it that ticks all the boxes, then great; if not, I’ve no doubt this technology’s time will come. Watch this space.
Simon:- Before I go any further with discussing AC, I’d first like to clear up a couple of points (that sadly do seem to need to be cleared up):
- My last piece was not serious. It was satire. Those who thought/think otherwise, read it again: there are a couple of subtle clues in there. It isn’t even really about AC.
- I am not an AC “fanboy”, on their payroll or anything else.
This blog site is put together by a few of us with limited free time. We have jobs, families, commitments and so on, and get nothing from writing this site other than a small sense of satisfaction, a few complimentary comments, and a bit of abuse. As such, we write about things we want to write about. Not being sadists, we tend to spend time playing titles we enjoy, and we prefer to write positive things about stuff we like, than spend time putting ourselves through misery (no thanks to Kunos… <- ******THAT WAS A JOKE******).
I have written positive words about AC for no other reason than I feel positive about it. Since its release a short while ago, it has dragged me back to my rig countless times and has seen me rack up a not insignificant number of hours behind the wheel. My heartfelt apologies to any offended by my liking it and wanting to say so. AC still has a long way to go, and still has a lot of areas in which, in time, it really needs to prove itself. But as it stands, for a title at the current stage of development, I see far more to be happy about and to celebrate than to complain about. The recent arrival of the Grp A E30 M3 has given me what I always said I was looking forward to from AC, and right now I am not in the least bit disappointed with it.
If the next year brings continued development, improvements, refinements and content (inclusive and paid), I don’t see that position changing. Unless the AI and MP suck monkey balls. Time will tell.
Jon:- I wrote the exclusive “first drive” piece on Assetto Corsa in AutoSimSport after a journey to Italy to meet the team in March 2011, and was lucky enough to be the first ‘journalist’ to get behind the wheel in the sim. AC has come a long way since then, but the core base of the physics was clear even back then. Over the last couple of years I’ve managed to have the odd go here and there when meeting up with the Kunos team but only recently, when the Early Access Beta hit the public, did everyone else get to see what I was raving about.
Seeing the sim “up in lights” in Steam is a pleasing moment in 2013, and though AC recently seems to have developed a little too much of a social media reality TV show, driving the sim itself never fails to raise a smile. Next year, however, will be the proof of the pudding for AC, and I look forward to the development as it goes on. Oh, and FERRARI F40!
Simon:- First of all, confession time: I haven’t purchased all of Reiza’s releases, let alone played them. As above, that is a simple restriction of time on my part. So I am not here to tell you all to go and play them and how brilliant they are. No, instead I am simply here to celebrate a company who is mixing tradition with some forward thinking. Whilst the conventional business model for sim releases has changed significantly over the last few years, Reiza have stuck to the good old ‘pick a series, model all the relevant cars and tracks, and give people a full series’ approach. Where they’ve diversified is in their choice of series; lacking the clout and finances required to go after the traditional big licenses, they have instead (no doubt partly through choice, too) gone for more abstract and obscure series, with Brazilian stock cars and now Brazilian truck racing given the full treatment.
Not everyone wants the disparate collections of machinery today’s sims tend to offer, and for those who want a full field of similarly specced (but not identical) machinery to race against, Reiza seem to be the only ones offering a solution. They’ve also continued to offer, in my eyes, fantastic value for money, with generous (too generous, perhaps?!?) offerings of content and updates to customers.
If it is a dying way of doing business, it’s at least nice to see someone carrying the flag and making sure it goes out with a bang, rather than a sad “remember the days of Papyrus?” whimper.
Jon:- When GTR3 was rumoured to be coming up from Simbin there was a remarkable reaction in the community, and I think this was partly related to the nature of the previous GTR sims. It is becoming increasingly more and more difficult to licence an entire series and pick up all tracks and cars in one package, as so many of the entities involved have become savvy to securing their own royalty deals. This makes it even more pleasing to see a small group of, what once were, modders, grabbing the bull by the horns and sticking with the tried and tested method and making it work; not unlike Ian Bell’s development of GTR1.
Reiza’s products ooze detail and though the underlying engine may struggle to display graphics on the level of pCARS or AC, each one of their products deserves a space on any simracers hard drive. I mean, where else can you drive an enormous racing truck?
DIY pedal “mod”
Simon:- More. We always want more. More and better than before. Oh, and it has to cost next to nothing. Otherwise it’s a ripoff. Well this year saw me make a very small and cheap modification to my hardware that has made a surprisingly large difference to the experience. After the best part of 10 year’s solid service, I decided to make a modification to my trusty BRD Speed 7 pedals. It wasn’t a fancy load cell mod or anything near as adventurous, rather I simply replaced the pedal pads. £10 on eBay saw a genuine set of OMP rally pedals delivered (for free) from the Italian factory to rainy old York. A quick trip to B&Q, a small pack of screw cup washers, 10 minutes with some pliers and some slightly sore hands later, and my pedals were updated to be a little more car like and a little less computer peripheral. The effect? Apart from just generally feeling nicer underfoot, the key benefit is avoiding the need to contort my legs in weird ways to avoid accidental throttle presses under braking. Not only is braking vastly improved, but heal and toeing is now much easier and more comfortable. For a few quid and a little effort it has made a big difference to my sim driving experience, and leaves me kicking myself for not doing it earlier. For those of you who are angered by the thought of paying for anything, I’m sure you could model something from leftover tin foil or whatever you have lying around.
Jon:- Quietly plugging away in the background the small team at ISI still have a racing sim on their hands that is daring to dream when it comes to the overall race driving experience. Put simply, nothing does weather, live track rubbering, and overall customisation better. Whether rFactor 2 will go on to become the commercial sim platform of choice, as its predecessor did, remains to be seen. The downside is that it can be troublesome for the non-tech savvy to get the sim running right, and some aspects of the sim seem curiously worked out (I see you there, baseline setups!). In beta now for around two years it will be fascinating to see where ISI can take this platform in 2014.
Simon:- It seems quite easy for rF2 to slip under the radar at times. ISI seem quite content to just quietly get on with things without much fanfare along the way. So much of what ISI are doing brings a smile to my face; the environmental side, for example, is so far ahead of what others are doing as to be in a league of their own. But whatever it is, for whatever reason, it just hasn’t quite clicked with me recently. But whilst rF2 might not have been receiving much seat time from me lately, it most definitely has my attention and, like Jon, I’m excited to see where the new year will take it. If Tim Wheatley keeps working on licenses like he has been doing, I dare say sooner or later I will be lured right back in.
Simon:- As I have written before, I am quite a fan of iGP Manager. Christmas day saw the final race of The League Of Rooks’ sixth season, and thankfully all major honours were already tied up and so attendance wasn’t required. This season has seen a few changes in the league, with perhaps the biggest being that we have seen a number of managers reaching the level cap (that’s another discussion for another day…), and so things are plateauing at the top and bunching up from below. Although far from what could described as a tight season for top honours, there was an increased level of competition across the board, with a number of closely contested battles throughout the running order.
The closing up of the field has put more of an emphasis on the manager getting things right on the track rather than behind the scenes, and subtle changes to strategies have made all the difference from race to race. Six seasons (a bit over two years) in, and whilst a few names have come and gone, I know I’m not alone in still being rather hooked. Next season should only see things get closer, and there are probably a good eight or so teams who have a real chance of competing for wins, providing their managers don’t forget to top up the fuel (yes Suresh, I’m looking at you… ;-)).
Jon:- iGP Manager has not really changed much since it’s inception, with focus from the small development team being on stability over the addition of new features. Regardless, the formula for the game has not needed much change, because it is a game of constant learning. Very much in the style of games made twenty years ago, this game leaves the onus on the player to work out what it is they are supposed to do, nothing is on a plate, and so a fresh league starting up with new players will see victory going to those that work it out the fastest. Over the two years and over a hundred races we’ve contested, each new development has been a race to see who can get there first and the competitive order has been shaped by those with the most open minds to creative thinking. As Simon notes, the teams are all levelling out now, which means a different focus will be required for us all.
Most of all what I have enjoyed about iGPManager is that every Wednesday a group of sixteen players have got together to race, but not in a “sweaty in your sim rig” way, but in a “sitting quietly with a beer” way. Friendships have been bolstered and in some cases formed anew, and a sense of kinship exists that makes us all celebrate milestones for other players as well as unite in annoyance against the dominance of team Spamsac! iGP races are a cherished time of the week for me, regardless of where my drivers bring the cars home, and I hope it will be for many years to come.
Jon:- A highlight? What? Yes, yes, I know, in recent years the simracing community has kept up with the rest of the world when it comes to its rants, entitled pricks and comments sections that should be deleted and put at the bottom of the sea.
However, at the same time, solid community sites such as RaceDepartment, DrivingItalia.net, NoGrip and SimHQ Motorsport have retained a semblance of normalcy amongst the many maelstroms that have come and gone. As well as this there are dedicated game forums for the likes of iRacing, ISI, Kunos Sim and SMS that do a great job of bringing players together where other “emergent” social media may be failing. Ultimately, this community grew out of web forums (and newsgroups, hands up who posted on rec.autos.simulators back in the day?), and to this day they can remain a great source of information to newcomers and experienced hands alike, provided they can find the right place to look.
The natural downside is that, just as it ever was, too many people still don’t read through their post and have a think before clicking “post”. It remains a truism that taking a quiet moment to think about whether one’s post will achieve anything productive is a golden art that we all need to try to engage sometimes.
Simon:- It’s all in our hands guys…
So there you have it, a few select highlights from the past year. If we didn’t mention something, it doesn’t mean we hate it or are biased, or they’re not paying us enough; it just wasn’t something we picked out in this hurried together list. Thanks for reading, all the kind words and the feedback this year, and wishing you all a happy and healthy 2014.
The RAVSim team.