Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Striving For Perfection

I have been playing games in the racing genre for as long as I can remember, starting with fantastic games like Super Mario Kart and Unirally on the SNES and continuing until the current day with titles like Midnight Club: LA and Race Pro. If it has two or four wheels and goes fast, I'm running it through its paces out of a simple love for all things cars and by extension, motorsport. Even if the game is fairly average -- which a lot of them are -- chances are I will still enjoy myself anyway. I can't describe this enjoyment nor do I plan to; all I can say is that to me, it's just part of the passion I have for the sport in real life. I can, however, try and communicate what makes the genre tick for me.

When it comes to realistic racing games (read: simulators), there is one thing in particular that I feel is the defining reason as to why I would play them over and over again: precision.

The desire to be precise around a race track comes from a desire to be perfect, the desire to have that one perfect lap or race. Now clearly it's impossible to achieve such a goal as there will always be a corner that could have been taken faster on an otherwise brilliant lap, or a race that could have panned out differently, but this is also beside the point. It is the desire in and of itself which makes racing enjoyable, intense and exhilarating and ultimately what makes striving for perfection so rewarding.

A lot of drivers in the real world will tell you that they race to win. They are in it to win it and anything less is a disappointment. There is a reason they say it too; to win in a race is to achieve the highest possible outcome, to be better than the rest and to get as close as is possible to perfection. When victory doesn't happen, motivation will come from the desire to be on the top of that podium and thus the cycle continues.

Winning isn't everything though. In the real world, most race events are part of a bigger picture, just one small aspect of an entire championship or series of events. Winning one race may be achieving the highest possible outcome, but it's an outcome that is only relevant to that race. There is always more to strive for, be it more race victories or winning the overall championship at the end of the year. Beyond that, there's consecutive championships to win, or a move into another series to measure success there. Throughout the goal always remains the same: to achieve perfection.

Polyphony Digital have a reputation for being perfectionists. Their Gran Turismo series is renowned for constant delays while they strive for perfection, as well as for achieving things in the racing genre that were not only innovative but also imitated the real world as best as possible at a time when technology was only just starting to allow such an option. Billed as 'The Real Driving Simulator', the franchise set out to allow gamers the chance to experience what it was like to drive a wide-range of cars around circuits in a realistic manner. The franchise established the benchmark for realistic racing games and remained unchallenged for many years. Sure, attempts to beat it were made but none were really note-worthy until the release of Turn 10's Forza Motorsport on the original Xbox. Forza copied the best features of Gran Turismo, refined them and then added its own take on what it believed the genre was about, as well as what it needed. Tyre physics in particular was a defining feature of the original Forza with an emphasis on portraying the effects that wheelspin and weight distribution could have on a car's handling. It allowed players to gauge grip level, something that throughout a race (particularly longer ones) would change as the tyres wore out and lost some of their tread. This feedback -- visually (sliding), aurally (tyres screeching) and through the use of the Xbox controller's rumble (feel) -- gave, in my view, players a more realistic representation of what it was like to race, demonstrating how things change over the course of a race as well as the effects these changes would have on how the player approached not only the track, but the way they drove the car as well. This was further refined in Forza 2 and the end result was a game that, in my opinion, took over from Gran Turismo as the king of simulated racing games.

This brings us to the current day where, fortunately, the competition between the two well-established franchises is a casual one. They are rival franchises on rival platforms, but they both share a common goal in providing an experience that many people out there would love to do in the real world. It's this common goal that is seeing both franchises refine what they have already done as well as introduce more in order to achieve that goal. It is also competition that has inspired other developers who share the vision, to strive for the same goal. I may have been a little critical of it in my last post, but I am extremely impressed with SimBin's first attempt at a console simulation game in Race Pro and I seriously cannot wait to see what they do next.

As is probably obvious, I am one of these people who would love to do it in the real world but unfortunately motorsport is extremely expensive and I do not have the financial capacity to pursue it. Naturally, the next best thing is these racing games and I'm very thankful that these developers share a common goal and strive for perfection. By doing so, they give people like me the ability to enjoy their passion in a way that watching it passively cannot and that's a very rewarding feeling. It may not be the real thing, but it will suffice if it means we can aim for victory, aim to be better than the rest and most importantly, strive for that same perfection that our favourite drivers do in real life. If that's not the next best thing, then I don't know what is.

No comments: