Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Racing Realism Example

Earlier this month I posted about the ways in which racing game developers chase and strive for realism, by visiting real life tracks and demonstrating their attention to detail in things like development diaries. Well, conveniently, Turn 10 have released two videos for the upcoming Forza Motorsport 4 that are exactly what I was talking about in that post, and below I have embedded them so you can understand my article a little better.

Both of these videos focus on specific tracks, one real (Hockenheim) and the other fictional (The Bernese Alps), and as such don't necessarily cover everything that I was talking about in my post, but they're still a great example so I encourage you to check them out if you think you will find it interesting. Even if you're not into racing games like I am, watching the two videos might still be of interest to you if you find the way studios approach their development of games fascinating in any way -- it's very easy to forget, sometimes, about the amount of effort and passion and creativity that goes into these big, blockbuster videogames, so it is nice to be reminded of such when things like these development diaries come along.

Anyway, here they are.

The Bernese Alps:


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Metroid Marathon: Metroid Prime's Magic Moments

[Part of a series of posts in which I discuss my favourite videogame franchise: Metroid. Today, a look at three moments in Metroid Prime that I believe are pivotal for why it went on to become my most cherished game. ]

One of my favourite things about Metroid Prime is how three particular moments define my personal experience with the game, and demonstrate why I believe the game went on to become so revered. These moments are small in comparison to the majority of the game, but they stand out because of their clever use of subtlety and implied storytelling; their demonstration of just how successful the transition from 2D to 3D actually was; and because of the way in which they compel you to keep on playing through the allure of exploration and discovery. They represent my fondest memories from the game and below I detail why.

Space Frigate Orpheon

As you may have gathered from my previous post, I found the opening segment of Metroid Prime to be quite amazing -- not necessarily for what it does or what it shows (though that is impressive), but because of how quickly it put you into its unique take on the Metroid universe, and how suddenly it allowed you to assume the role of Samus Aran. Practically immediately you enter that first-person perspective and see the world how she sees it, and this small but significant fact is why I think the game begins so well: it doesn’t waste time with exposition or trying to set up the differences between a 3D Metroid and the prior 2D ones but, rather, it puts you in Samus’ shoes so she (and therefore you) can resume her adventure. After all, this is Samus Aran: she doesn’t have the time to waste on easing players into her life or explaining why things continue to go awry; she’s on a mission to do her job as a bounty hunter and it’s up to us to engage with that fact, not the other way around. The whole reason she’s even on Orpheon to begin with is to investigate a distress call, not walk us through some tutorials and demonstrate how the rest of the game will play.

But that’s the beauty of this entire level, too: it does teach us how to play in what is, essentially, intuitively designed tutorials, but we wouldn’t ever know it because as soon as we gain control, we have inhabited the role of Samus Aran. Right from the get go we can move our (emphasis required -- Metroid Prime is a shared experience between Samus and the player) visor around to survey our surroundings, our reward for doing so being the large and beautiful Tallon IV that looms in the distance; a nice close-up of Samus’ gunship if we turn around; and asteroids gently hovering past just begging to be used as target practice. A quick couple of shots from the beam cannon reveals the level of detail we can soon expect to be the norm as they break apart, how efficiently our shots can dispatch whatever we line up in our sights, and how pleasing and simple it is to use our primary weapon. Switch over to the scan visor and we notice the distinct red and orange of objects that can be scanned, the boldness of the former suggesting important points of interest whilst the latter gives us information that might be relevant to our interests and/or objective. Like shooting, scanning is also basic and accessible, and it isn’t long before the force field gates standing in our way -- the first, proper hint at a tutorial -- are dealt with, allowing passage to the only door that provides entrance into the frigate.

Space frigate Orpheon with Tallon IV looming in the background.

All of these things are incredibly small compared to the rest of the game and, indeed, even the opening level -- we haven’t even gotten inside Orpheon, after all -- but they’re significant because of what they do to begin the experience. Straight away we learn about our main methods of engaging with the game, through clever but minor obstacles and subtle cues that entice rather than enforce, and almost instantly we are eased into the adventures ahead and our role as Samus Aran. But while these aspects of the opening segment are for the player’s benefit, we also see Samus approaching these unknown surroundings in the only way that she can: agility and acrobatics as she jumps from her ship and lands on the Orpheon; instant investigation as she scans her environment and starts to discover what is going on; and confidence as she moves past those simple gates, shoots a few asteroids and enters the frigate. She may be alone for most of her journey but within seconds of arriving she has already displayed why she is so effective at her job, and why she has as much respect as she does: put simply, she gets the job done, but does so in a way where she’s the most informed and where she can have the best approach -- nothing more, nothing less.

Tallon IV Overworld

Changing pace from the impressive beginning of the game, landing on Tallon IV for the first time stands out for its beauty, as well as the way in which it sets the tone of the adventure. Metroid Prime is organic, its environments coming across as alien but entirely natural at the same time, and our first visit to the Overworld is, perhaps, the best example of this. Flora dominates the landscape, the Red Starburst and Glowing Spidervine capturing particular attention thanks to their bright and (in the case of the Spidervine) luminescent appearance. There’s also a quaint waterfall and small pond in the vicinity, the latter of which is lined with another type of plant unique to the planet: the Tallon Fern. Combine such gorgeous foliage with the rain that saturates the landscape and beads down the sides of Samus’ beam cannon, and you have an arresting environment that is absolutely foreign and yet, at the same time, totally comforting to us (both as players and as Samus), too, given how natural it all looks. It looks like a wet jungle, feels like a rainforest and lends the game an atmosphere that is not only completely different to what was found on the Orpheon, but is much more relaxing and utterly awe-inspiring. In some ways, it’s even a poignant moment: a chance to catch a breath, take in the view, and contemplate before continuing the adventure -- how many other games offer such opportunities (and so early, too) to their players?

Tallon Ferns in front of a very prominent waterfall.

The wonderful thing about this particular moment, however, is how captivating it is upon reflection. It might be engrossing each and every time you experience it, but even more beautiful is how it stands out in the memory and defines your connection to the game. Its organic nature and relaxed atmosphere correlates with some of Metroid Prime’s core qualities: the ability to inhabit and explore new environments, and to do so at our own pace, not a predetermined one. Its immersion at its finest, then, and something that only increases as you progress and discover the intriguing fauna of the Tallon IV Overworld region, and what they add (and mean) to the planet.

Phendrana Drifts

No post about Metroid Prime’s most significant moments would be complete without a mention of the Phendrana Drifts and, in particular, the first time you get to see them. Many players highlight this moment as one of those true ‘gaming moments’ that seldom appear but always resonate, and I’m not one to disagree: it is one incredible moment -- most certainly my favourite -- and it stands out because of how perfect it really is. Everything about entering the Phendrana Drifts region for the first time is amazing, because of how cohesive it all is. The beautiful snow glistens under the sunlight whilst those gentle piano keys of the level’s wonderful theme tune begin to play. The camera slowly pans out away from Samus to reveal a relatively large room, full of new things to see. Obviously, a snowy area is a complete change from all of the levels that had been experienced thus far -- especially the fiery depths of Magmoor Caverns -- but, more than that, what is visible in these initial moments goes a long way in setting up the region as a whole. Standing tall in front of us are some rocky pillars, a small river winding through them. Atop a cliff reside some destroyed buildings, clearly of Chozo origin considering we have already visited the Chozo Ruins and learned that they once inhabited Tallon IV. Scattering about in the sky, hastily, are some bird-like creatures, whilst over on some ledges we can see some small life-forms crawling about -- new species that we haven’t seen before, and which continue to define and add personality to the planet as a whole. An icy lake also exists here, small fish scurrying around proving to be yet another example of the level of detail that can be found in the game.

Screens don't do it justice; this place is stunning.

By now we’re fairly experienced with playing Metroid Prime and certainly familiar with how to advance, what our objectives are, and how to approach whatever lies before us. This means that the Phendrana ‘moment’ doesn’t last long as we are quick to resume our adventure, but even so that doesn’t take away from its incredible impact -- it is this moment that defines the entire game, for me, and exemplifies why Metroid Prime as a whole is so remarkable and unique: it’s atmospheric thanks to the strong cohesion visually and aurally; it instills a sense of loneliness and even mild melancholy because of the minimal life, ruined structures and subdued tone; and despite the moment stopping us in our tracks, momentarily, it becomes nothing more than a memory as we quickly continue on our journey. Metroid Prime as a game is renowned for its atmosphere, isolation and discipline, and despite being quite a breathtaking, mesmerizing scene, we soon ignore the beauty to focus on the task at hand. Like a holiday snap on vacation it recalls a moment in time that was delightful, but as soon as you look away the impact is gone and things return to normal.

Proof, then, that small things can be just as important as their larger counterparts, if not more so, and that the execution of a moment requires incredible attention to detail. Speaking of which, detail is the subject of my next post, with specific emphasis on the little things that make this game such a delight to play.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Metroid Marathon: Remembering Metroid Prime

[Part of a series of posts in which I discuss my favourite videogame franchise: Metroid. Today, recounting my initial experience with Metroid Prime, a title that went on to become my most cherished game.]

Do you remember the first time you played Metroid Prime? I do.

Seeing Samus' Sci-Fi epic begin was an amazing moment, her 3D adventure leaving me in absolute awe as I first stepped into her shoes, but not before a marvelous display of her agility as she leapt from her gunship and onto the opening area: the abandoned space frigate Orpheon. Here to investigate a distress signal, assuming control of her was remarkably relaxing. The planet Tallon IV loomed in the distance, its rich blues and bright yellows standing out from an otherwise derelict, almost ruined frigate. Floating above were small chunks of space debris -- asteroids slowly making their way past, a carefully timed shot from Samus' beam cannon breaking them apart, revealing a neat example of the detail that would later be found throughout the game.

Entering the space frigate was eerie, the initially narrow hallways instilling a sense of claustrophobia (exacerbated by the uncertainty of what was to come next -- particularly for someone completely new to the Metroid franchise) that hadn't been felt in any other game prior. Discovering the first signs of disaster was chilling: a carcass of a test specimen lied uncomfortably across the floor, small parasites chewing at its lifeless hide. Scanning the environment revealed that Orpheon's escape pods had all been discharged, their destination somewhere on the planet below, whilst space pirate bodies were strewn across the room, their cause of death varying from the severing of a spinal cord to traumatic blows to the head. Farther into the frigate's desolate ruins was yet another room with a story to tell, this time containing another example of the specimen found before, safely in a state of hibernation, while helpless space pirates attempted to attack. Their last-ditch efforts seeming almost sad as we swiftly put them out of their misery.

Omnipresent humming sounds and sudden explosions as Orpheon's panels started to collapse ensured an atmosphere that was haunting, our isolation as we continued forward causing brief, poignant moments of hesitation yet interminable curiosity as we discovered yet another piece of information about what may have taken place here. The ship's computer systems provide some facts, an experiment with a substance called Phazon and some of Tallon IV's native life appearing to have played a part in the ship's devastation, while pirate logs reveal a hasty retreat, a reaction to the fall of the planet Zebes, and a fear about the possibility that "The Hunter" (clearly Samus Aran) may be following.

Metroid Prime's first boss may be easy, but that doesn't mean she isn't creepy.

Deeper into the frigate, yet more space pirate bodies and debris lay strewn across the barren floors, our wits tested once again as the ship's defense system, some mounted ceiling turrets, attack on sight. After a short elevator ride a cheeky space pirate drops from the ceiling, his attempt to unnerve us with his sudden appearance failing as a few shots lay the final blows to his fragile body. Then we find her, the Parasite Queen, crawling out of a duct and into the ship's reactor. Protected by shields she begins her attack, though the spaces in her defenses provide an easy way for us to fight back, her timely death causing her to fall into the reactor's core, initiating the ship's self-destruct sequence.

The following escape is intense, the frigate's structure collapsing as we run through its ventilation shafts and tunnels. More defense turrets attempt to impede our progress, but a quick scan of their control panels deactivates them and allows us to continue on our way. Farther along we find Meta-Ridley, a cybernetically enhanced and reborn Ridley after his defeat on Zebes, his fleeing an incentive to follow. Tracking his flight pattern, Samus escapes Orpheon and lands on Tallon IV, its heavy rain providing a distinctive change of atmosphere as we look around and see the lush but alien plant life. Attention to detail is rife here, as exploration and scanning starts to peel back the layers of the planet's ecosystem, its flora and fauna's appearance proving to be surprisingly compelling. Raindrops fall gently onto Samus' visor, an impressive technical feat back then, whilst mist hovers above a small pond. Everywhere you look there are neat little details that immediately make Tallon IV a captivating place, and they definitely make for a wondrous change of pace after the creepy, confined spaces of the now destroyed Orpheon. Instantly, a sense of adventure is instilled inside of me as I search my surroundings and learn, along with Samus, just what this foreign planet has in store for me. Preparing for the unknown, I take a moment to take in the beauty before firing off a shot at the nearest door and continuing on with my... no, our adventure.

All of the above happens in the first hour or so of Metroid Prime and, when compared to the rest of the game, it seems almost insignificant. But despite this, I thought it was worth reflecting on these initial moments, recalling the time I (and perhaps you) first experienced what Metroid was like in three dimensions, and when the game's atmosphere, mechanics and wonderfully alien art direction were revealed for the first time. Like Mario and Link's before it, Samus' transition to 3D was a special one, and it is an experience that will stick inside my memory forever. But it's not the only fond memory I have of this game; there are plenty more moments that deserve some attention, too, and I'll discuss those in my next post.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Marking A Milestone With A Marathon

On August 6th, 2011, the Metroid franchise reached an important milestone: it celebrated its 25th anniversary. That’s a significant figure to mark as few other gaming franchises have the power or the credibility to last that long, and fewer still can point towards such incredible games as examples of why such a milestone deserves to be met. In a word, Metroid is phenomenal, and I couldn’t let the birthday pass without marking it in some way here on the blog. The series means a lot to me and is, without a doubt, my favourite videogame franchise out there, even beating the likes of BioShock. Samus Aran represents so much to me, and her impact on my life goes well beyond the iconic status she so elegantly exudes within this medium. Both the franchise and its protagonist are dear to my heart, and it has been an absolute pleasure to see them reach such a wonderful and significant milestone.

So, to Metroid and Samus Aran: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for such wonderful adventures, memories and inspiration over the years. Thank you for delivering me some of my most awe-inspiring and poignant gaming moments, and providing countless hours of entertainment. Thank you for showing to me just how powerful games can be, and how their design can inform not only other titles, but entire franchises and genres as well. Thank you for giving me a constant in an otherwise unpredictable and sometimes harsh medium, and for empowering me through your remarkable spirit, grace, intelligence and beauty. Most of all, thank you for entering my life, and for influencing my future. I will always love you, and you will forever have my eternal respect. Happy Birthday.

On a semi-related and somewhat convenient note, I have recently been playing both the original Metroid Prime, and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes as part of a (very gradual) marathon throughout the entire series. What you might not have known, however, is that I have been preparing a series about the franchise for here on the blog, covering the individual games (well, the ones I have access to, at least) as well as the entire series as a whole. Below is the overview post I was originally going to publish when I had finished every single post that I had in mind; it’s getting published now as a way to celebrate the milestone, and because I’ve made decent progress in recent weeks. I hope you enjoy the overall series and, beyond that, join me in acknowledging how remarkable this 25th anniversary is, as well as how important the franchise as a whole happens to be.

Metroid Marathon Overview

Metroid Prime is one of the best games I have ever played. I thought that the first time I played it, I thought it the twentieth time I finished it, and I think it now as I play it yet again. There’s just something about it that really resonates with me and every time I play it, it reminds me of why I love videogames and why I play them. But it’s not the only Metroid game; practically the entire Metroid series exudes brilliance and, as a franchise, it deserves every ounce of reverence it has received over the years. It might not be as well-known or popular as Mario or Zelda, it might not receive all the hype and praise that other big-name franchises do on rival consoles, but it has earned and continues to enjoy respect -- quite remarkable for a series that, for whatever reason, generally flies under the radar.

The other notable game in the series would have to be Super Metroid on the Super Nintendo. Despite many years and generations since release, that game still holds up superbly today and stands out as a pioneering title. It played a crucial part in forming the sub-genre we now refer to as “Metroidvania” and has influenced countless titles to date -- not all of which utilize the 2D style that the game perfected. Together with Metroid Prime, you have two fantastic games that have done a lot for this industry -- even if only discreetly -- and combine to create a franchise that is a force to be reckoned with.

But, the other games in the series also deserve recognition for their own excellent experiences. Whether you look at the original game that started it all, the two Gameboy Advance iterations or Metroid Prime: Hunters on the DS, you’re almost guaranteed to find a fun, enthralling game that provides its own unique take on the Metroid universe. Samus Aran has barely put a foot wrong on her many adventures and even when she does find herself in trouble, she always finds some way to get out of her unfortunate situations. The best thing though? She always manages to do it in style, taking advantage of neat new weapons or an awesome new ability. Style, grace, agility and finesse: Samus has it all and it makes for some absolutely wonderful gaming.

Precisely, then, why I’ve chosen to undergo a marathon and play every game in the series that I have access to. I’ve enjoyed each game multiple times over the years but I’ve never looked at them with the more analytical, critical eye that I have developed in recent years. I may come across as a fanboy from time to time (can’t help what’s true, right?) but I look forward to viewing the franchise from a new perspective and I hope it allows me to discover some really interesting things. The marathon begins tomorrow with my look at Metroid Prime, and will continue gradually over the coming months as I play through and discuss each game. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Living The Life: Canada #2

[Part of a series of posts in which I detail the events that occur during my first championship season in Codemasters' F1 2010. These will be written in a diary-esque form describing my thoughts and reactions as I participate in each event. Today, part two of my Canadian Grand Prix.]

Saturday Afternoon, Qualifying, Significantly Overcast

I really don't know how to feel about Qualifying this afternoon. On the one hand, we've had a great weekend which suggests that both it and the race will be pretty good, but on the other I don't want that good form to trick me into thinking that I'm going to have a glorious Canadian Grand Prix, either. It's been a great ride so far and, undoubtedly, topping the time sheets in all three Practice sessions puts pressure on us because people expect that to continue, but I really don't want to believe in something that might not exist. I said in my last entry that I was cautiously optimistic -- that's perhaps the best approach I can have, as I am optimistic that I can continue to perform well here (the track seems to really suit my driving style) but at the same time I'm cautious about just how far up the field I can get, because we are meant to be a backmarker team and because Quali is simply a different beast to Practice. With this in mind, I'm personally gunning for a position in the top ten, with the obvious incentive being the higher the better -- particularly as my grid penalty will automatically drop me five places regardless of where I end up. If I can qualify on top and repeat the performances of Practice (which I doubt but we'll see), then the impact of that penalty is very low because starting in fifth would still be a great result, but if not then anywhere in the top ten should minimise the impact that it might have over my weekend. I don't want to be starting at the back of the field, not after doing so well yesterday and earlier this morning, so reaching Q3 is crucial and is my goal heading into the session. Virgin, on the other hand, have set a goal of fifteenth for the session, which is including the grid drop from my penalty. I think that's a fair and accessible goal given our form in Practice, and it correlates rather nicely with my goal of reaching Q3. If I do, then I'll have met their expectations even with the drop, so again that is absolutely my focus going in. Here's hoping it pays off.


As always, allow me to detail the events of each segment before I discuss my final result.

Almost immediately, it was as if P3 didn't happen. I hooked up with the track nicely and put in a cracker of a lap in my first run to hit a personal best of 1:17.374. This was set on my third lap (second attempt at a time) and emphasised the run in general, too, which was also great. My first flying lap was also a corker until Schumacher forced me to change my line through turn 3 after he exited the pits for his own run. After hitting the track running I elected to stay in and not do a second run, to save my tyres and see what my opponents were up to. Sitting on top of the sheets again was surprising, even with Practice, because I honestly expected the big teams to show their cards, but it also proved to be the motivation I needed to focus in Q2, so I wasn't complaining. Interestingly, Vettel finally broke into the 1'17s with his lap, meaning that Red Bull were edging closer to my times but were still five tenths off.

Q2, Sunny

The clouds clearing for Q2, it was another great segment though once again I only did the one run -- only this time, it wasn't to save tyres but rather because I lost time in the pits after having to get my front wing replaced. Why did it need to be changed? Because, despite a great initial run that put me back to the top, I lost my front wing n-plate after getting turns 3 and 4 wrong on my third lap and clipping the wall. That made things interesting as I was kicking myself for making the mistake, but its impact was minimal as I still finished Q2 on top with a 1:17.683, so it was definitely mixed feelings. Vettel was much closer, on a 1:17.846, and Hamilton finally broke into the 1'17s himself by setting a 1:17.915 for third. Of course, these times get reset so it doesn't matter too much, but it highlighted that the frontrunning teams were closing in (as they should be) and that Q3 was going to be interesting as well. Speaking of which, by sitting on top for Q2 I met my goals of reaching Q3, pleasing Virgin and myself despite the small setback of that front wing mishap.


A disappointing segment, mostly due to things out of my control. I had an average first run which was affected by Mark Webber exiting the pits on one lap, and traffic in the final chicane on another, so I came in early instead. Usually I only go out for one run in Q3 because there's such little time to do anything, but because of the average run I went out for a dash to see if I could improve my time but, ultimately, I was unable to and had to settle for fifth. The provisional time I had set in my first flying lap of the segment. Had I not screwed up my first lap of the dash by running wide in turn 3 (and then having to cut turn 4, which I was warned about), things might have been different but I did and, because of the session ending, I didn't have enough time to 'fix' that mistake and set a faster time. Still, fifth place is still a remarkably decent effort for a rookie driver like me and a new team such as Virgin and, while that result actually means I start in tenth for tomorrow's race thanks to my penalty, I can still be proud of the session overall and my performances thus far this weekend. I know I could have done better, however, with circumstances not working to my favour, and Pole Position perhaps even being possible. It wasn't meant to be, though, so while it proves that timing is everything in this sport, it also proves that I do deserve to be here in Formula 1. For the record my time was a 1:18.369, nowhere near my best, whilst Vettel's was a 1:17.759 which gave him Pole. Button put it in 2nd which surprised a few people, himself included (I imagine), and Webber followed for 3rd.

A post-Quali interview asked if my performance in Quali gives me and Virgin a boost; how I am getting on with the car set-up for Qualifying; and if my title chances this year (being in a backmarker car) are over. I responded by agreeing that we do get a boost from this good result in Qualifying, that set-up has been exactly where it needed to be this weekend, and that I was unlikely to ever be competing for the drivers' title this year but you never know. Once again answers that, I thought at least, were measured and mature, and something that was reinforced when I got back to the garage.

Satisfied with my Saturday, for the most part, I now knuckle down and prepare for what I hope is a good race. I don't expect much from it, but it would be nice if this form continued.

Sunday Afternoon, Race Day, Significantly Overcast

Like the beginning of Q1 yesterday, it's rather overcast today which could be interesting. We'll see if any showers occur during the race but everyone is approaching it as if it will be dry, and we expect it to be too, so things are still going according to plan today. Virgin expect 12th or better which, going on the past two days, is absolutely possible -- hell, a top ten finish seems achievable after Friday and Saturday's performances -- but I'd still like to be realistic and, as such, I've personally set a goal of 15th. Starting where I am in 10th means that it seems like a somewhat lenient goal and relatively easy because of this, but race conditions are always different to the other sessions so, like Turkey, I'm just going to do my own thing and see what eventuates. I do need a good start, though, as it's still an area that I need to work on. I also hope to avoid any potential collisions in turns 1 and 2, which are notorious for incidents because of how narrow and tight they are. Get through those and I should be able to settle into a decent rhythm. Our strategy for today is to come in on around lap 22 or so, a reasonably early stop since we're starting on our slightly worn Option tyres from Q3 (as per the rules), but late enough that we can adapt our strategy on the fly if we need to due to weather. Even if the race doesn't go our way I think both Virgin and myself can be proud of our weekend so far, and happy that we've made such significant inroads towards being competitive and justifying our position in the sport. I'm certainly pleased with everything, that's for sure.

Race (70 laps)

Mixed feelings describe my thoughts on that race, the result itself being good and matching our previous best in China (more on that in a moment) but at the same time also featuring a lot of unnecessary mistakes. For whatever reason I just couldn't find a decent rhythm and continually locked my brakes, ran wide and even had a moment where I let someone through after inducing wheel-spin and having to catch it. It was my best race of the season, probably, but I definitely feel as if I could have (or even should have) done more with it, too, so definitely feeling a little disappointed with how things went. So how did they go? Let me explain.

Despite seeming slow and sluggish at first (with wheel-spin in 2nd gear), I actually got a pretty decent start and managed to keep 10th place heading into the first two corners. Everyone approached them cautiously and slowly, too, so we all got through and that was nice to see. I kept 10th all the way until my pit-stop, too, despite almost passing Rosberg up the inside of the turn 11 hairpin on both lap 2 and 3. He managed to find a rhythm not long after that and drove away while I battled with the two Force Indias of Sutil and Liuzzi, both of whom stayed on the back of my car by taking advantage of my slipstream on the straights. They never really made any attempts to pass, however, so despite feeling some pressure from their pursuit and also thinking that it might look like I was holding them up, I kept my position and ran my own race. The clouds began to clear at around lap 10 or so and, as scheduled, we pitted on lap 22 to switch to the Prime tyres. The pit-stop went well and we left the pits in 13th. Cold tyres saw me get some wheel-spin out of turn 7 which I had to correct, even going so far as to gently bump the outside wall, but I didn't get any damage and was able to press on. I made it to 12th on lap 24 due to Kobayashi pitting but the guys ahead, in 10th and 11th, appeared to be too far ahead to catch so 12th is where I stayed. Not sure what happened there but oh well. On lap 27 I was lapped by the leader Jenson Button, and from then on I was content in 12th place, moving aside as I needed to and running at a pace I was comfortable with. By this point it was clear that the car was behaving a little differently to the sessions earlier in the weekend -- perhaps because it was heavier, perhaps not -- and also that the conditions weren't suiting it as much either, but I was still quite glad to be where I was considering the differences, and that we could have been much farther down the field. On lap 50 Kobayashi had caught me, partly because of me having to move aside for frontrunners, partly because I was running wide and locking up unnecessarily. On lap 52 he got through thanks to me stupidly catching the curb of turn 8 and having to correct the wheel-spin that followed, confirming that I wasn't driving as well (or consistently) as I was in previous sessions and also that my tyres were starting to go off. I got warned for cutting the corner in that mistake, too, which was nice. Moments in turn 4 on lap 64 and again on lap 66 coming out of turn 1 confirmed the tyre wear issues, so I reacted by slowing down a little and maintained a steady pace until lap 69 where I finished the race, one lap down and in 13th place.

It was a good, solid effort, then, but as I remarked before also disappointing because I made some mistakes and just generally wasn't performing as well as I had been earlier in the weekend. I met my own goal of finishing ahead of 15th, which was nice, but didn't meet Virgin's goal of 12th which I felt guilty about after topping the time sheets in nearly every other session. 13th is still good, though, and matches our previous best in China. The reason I said it was probably my best race of the season so far is because, unlike China, we reached 13th legitimately and without rain playing its part on proceedings, but either way both races remain our highlights thus far, with Canada also having the added benefit of such good Qualifying and Practice sessions. The result is certainly higher than a Virgin (and definitely a rookie like me) is expected to be and puts us in good spirits heading into the next round in Valencia. Even though I stupidly let Kobayashi through when I made that error, I feel like the lack of consistency was my downfall today, my inconsistent driving and unnecessary mistakes (even if only minor) sending us down the field a little when, arguably, we should have been higher. Because it was my fault I can accept that the result is still good and certainly remarkable for a team like mine, but at the same time I know I will kick myself for not doing better, too -- especially after doing so well earlier on in the weekend.

Anyway, Button won the race, Vettel came in 2nd and Hamilton followed for 3rd. My teammate Lucas finished in 22nd, which is not bad for him actually, and I remain 21st in the drivers' standings whilst Virgin are still last in the constructors'. According to my agent some other teams are starting to express an interest in my driving -- namely HRT, Lotus, Toro Rosso and BMW Sauber -- so that's interesting; perhaps some contract offers will start appearing if I can continue driving well? Guess I'll find out soon enough. Overall I had a fantastic time in Canada and thoroughly enjoyed both my visit to the country, and my ability to have a great weekend and truly perform -- it felt good, I was in a great mood the entire time and, combined with Turkey, it seems like we are in a really good place at the moment as a team. I hope that continues in Valencia, a circuit I've never been to and another street circuit, too. I may have had a terrible time in Monaco, but I do still love my street circuits...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Living The Life: Canada #1

[Part of a series of posts in which I detail the events that occur during my first championship season in Codemasters' F1 2010. These will be written in a diary-esque form describing my thoughts and reactions as I participate in each event. Today, part one of my Canadian Grand Prix.]

Now that I have had more time to think about it, our previous round in Turkey was a lot better than it initially seemed. While the final result might not reflect it, Turkey felt like a turn around for us, particularly when it comes to our fortunes. On the back of two woeful rounds that really left us feeling depressed and unmotivated, it was great to turn that around with some positive progress in all of the weekend's sessions, be that Practice, Qualifying or, indeed, the race. Again, our 16th placing might suggest an average round, not a decent one, but Virgin and I came away very pleased with how the Turkish Grand Prix went as a whole, and personally I'm satisfied with my driving again after feeling pretty terrible in Spain and Monaco. I hope to continue this new, inspired attitude this weekend, particularly as it's in Canada -- a country I have always wanted to visit.

I can't really explain why but this country has always been appealing to me. Its beauty is perhaps the obvious answer, those gorgeous mountains and serene lakes and waterfalls making for some awe-inspiring scenery, but I don't know, I feel like it is more than that too. Every Canadian I have ever met, back in Australia before I was racing on the world stage, was a joy to talk to, their attitudes seemingly similar to that of our own. Culturally we also appear to be quite on par, though I will admit that something like that is hard to gauge when you've only met a handful of people. Whatever draws me to Canada and makes it appealing to me, it is great to finally be able to make one of my dreams a reality by visiting it, and especially doing something I love, too: racing cars. Speaking of which, that is my job and while I'm elated to be here, I'm not silly enough to neglect that fact, either, so I'm definitely focused on what needs to be done this weekend. I'm looking forward to it.

Friday Morning, Practice One, Sunny

A typical first Practice session, somewhat marred by some confusing warnings and yet another five-spot grid penalty, my third in as many rounds -- not a trend I want to continue. I had the usual, expected run-offs and moments of running wide as I familiarised myself with the circuit -- something that occurred a lot quicker than I expected it to -- and, as is seemingly becoming the norm, I also took the opportunity to run laps early in the session while my opponents played around with their set-ups and ran installation laps. I quickly learned the track, continuing my ability to get acquainted with new venues easily and with little hassle, and also learned that it was a very enjoyable track to drive -- both because it's quite picturesque, and because it's a challenging circuit with tight corners, a generally twisty feel and, of course, extremely close barriers. In fact, Canada reminded me instantly of a street circuit. It also reminded me of Australia and while that venue is more sweeping than Canada, it's an apt comparison because it actually is considered a street circuit (despite not always seeming like one). Leaves are a significant issue, however, with the low-hanging trees dropping their leaves all over the circuit and then wind (not to mention our cars speeding past) blowing them around everywhere. I think the walls that closely adorn the track are why so many of them are contained within; Australia had a fair amount of leaves as well but they always seemed to float up and over its walls, usually landing in the nearby (and gorgeous) Albert Park lake. It won't affect the progress of the weekend at all, but I did find it interesting and thought it was worth noting. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is also a deceptive little thing, its corners enticing you to brake late and accelerate early even though that might not actually be possible. It was this, mainly, which caused my little moments during the session but once I recognised that things weren't as they seemed, I was able to adapt and felt a lot more comfortable after that. I even felt like I could push, which was great because usually that doesn't happen until sessions later in the weekend and also because it suggested we were in for a good round, something that was later confirmed. But more on that in a moment; how did the session itself fare?

It went well, I have to say. The aforementioned warnings and penalty didn't help, of course, but overall I was happy with our progress, our pace and how quickly I eased into everything. Turns 2 and 10 were probably the trickiest to get used to, the two hairpins requiring maximum acceleration as early as possible but both also teasing you into pushing too early and causing wheel-spin. Turns 4, 7, and 9, not to mention the final chicane leading onto the main straight, were also tricky, mostly because you get back onto the throttle so quickly but do so as you ride the various curbs, too, which can also induce wheel-spin if you're not careful. Otherwise, the track was great and very enjoyable to drive. Not even my penalty or warnings could hinder my enjoyment, despite the latter confusing me somewhat and the former a silly and unnecessary mistake on my behalf. I got the five-spot grid penalty on my third run, coming back into the pits. I misjudged my entry and was unable to get the speed limiter on in time, so that was classed as speeding in pit-lane and I was subsequently awarded the penalty for my efforts. I could have taken it as a bad omen and gotten frustrated over it, but for whatever reason I took it in my stride and continued on as if it didn't happen -- an approach that, in hindsight now that the session is over, I'm very glad I did. But what about those warnings? Well, I got a few for cutting corners as I ran wide or off on some laps -- something very easy to do here as Canada's corners usually flow in the opposite direction to the one you just went through, a nice example being the final chicane -- but the confusing one was a warning for illegal blocking, as I cruised down the back straight preparing for a new lap. I was well off the racing line and was being followed by a Red Bull but, apparently, I was in the way and I got warned for it. It was confusing because I didn't impede on anyone's hot lap and the Red Bull was also cruising -- and that confusion went on to affect my concentration on the following lap -- but I got over it pretty quickly despite feeling it was a bit unfair. Traffic, too, played its part as it always does, some laps hampered by slower cars and/or bad timing, the most significant examples for this session being Felipe Massa starting a hot lap as I was approaching to pass him, as he was going slow down the back straight, and traffic in the turn 10 hairpin affecting my racing line at times.

Otherwise, the session was great, our choice to change set-up for my third run paying off nicely as it seemed to suit the track (and car) to a tee and allowed me to really get on with my job. Arguably, I did that too well as, at the end of my fifth run, I was surprised to see myself on top of the time sheets as I looked on the monitor back in the garage. At the time I put it down to the frontrunners having not found ideal set-ups or having not used the Option tyres yet, but I was corrected when, at the end of the session, I found myself on top after 30 laps completed. Yes, you read that right, I was on top of the time sheets. First. Number one. Ahead of the Red Bulls, McLarens and the Ferraris! I couldn't believe it -- I still don't -- and was definitely shocked to see that things went that well. I feel like maybe they weren't showing their cards yet or had struggled to find ideal set-ups, but either way I'm totally ecstatic that my name has topped the time sheets of a Formula 1 session, and seemingly so easily, too, as my time set on Primes would have been good enough, let alone the one I managed on Options late in the session. Speaking of which, that time was a 1:17.565, over a second ahead of Mark Webber in second on a 1:18.896 and his team-mate Vettel who managed a 1:18.904. Surely such a result doesn't reflect the weekend? I mean, how can it? How can my Virgin, a car that is supposed to be at the back of the pack, be more than a second ahead of a Red Bull? It can't be, so while I'm very happy with this result I don't expect it to be replicated in the next session. Guess I will find out later this afternoon.

Friday Afternoon, Practice Two, Cloudy

A mixed session, my good laps interspersed with the drama of little mistakes, traffic and a challenging pit-lane. All of my good laps continued to improve my times and lowered them enough to suggest that a 1'16 was possible (on Options), but ultimately I didn't manage it and settled for a low 1'17, instead. Which leaves the more negative stuff.

First of all, I made a lot more mistakes than I wanted to, locking brakes at inopportune times, running wide and either hurting my laps or having to abort them because I was off in the grass (even if only momentarily), and catching wheel-spin sporadically as I pushed the circuit more and more. For the most part these tiny errors are to be expected and are a by-product of trying to push the limits of a track, but I definitely felt like I was making more than I should have been and certainly more than P1, which is where these mishaps should be taking place. It didn't affect our progress too much (if at all), but it was noticeable enough to be concerning to me personally, and I didn't like it at all.

More concerning, however, was the traffic problems. Multiple laps of mine had to be aborted due to cars cruising, being in a different stage of their weekend to mine (for example, being on Primes while I was on Options -- the faster tyres) or because they simply didn't see me in time to move out of the way. One example of this was a moment with Kovalainen, who saw me at the last minute during my first lap of my second run and didn't move aside enough (in time), causing me to take a weird line to pass which sent me wide at turn 6, ruining the lap. I wasn't angry with the traffic problems -- Canada essentially being a street circuit means that I understand how narrow and tight it can be when cars are trying to find track space -- but it definitely played with the general progress of the session, particularly when opponents appeared to gloss over my (and I assume others') presence when they were driving slow. But, if my strange warning from P1 is anything to go by, I'm just as guilty of it as everyone else so it's not something I am complaining about, or want to dwell on for too long -- it was just simply an issue, and because it was a bit more prevalent here than other rounds, it bears mentioning.

Another issue, undoubtedly, is pit-lane. Both its entry and exit is awkward, and both cause troublesome moments depending on who is where on the circuit, and who is either entering or leaving the lane. Anyone who wants to enter, for example, has to do so by crossing onto the racing line for the final chicane. The approach to that chicane is from the left side, to allow for a straighter line through the brief double-corner, and quicker acceleration onto the main straight. Cars entering pit-lane, usually on the right side of the track if on an in-lap, have to suddenly cross over to find the lane, and it can be a problem if someone is on a hot lap and speeding towards the final chicane, only to have someone cross over at the last minute and get in the way. It's particularly bothersome because it's the last two corners of the lap; having a great lap ruined by such a moment is frustrating, and makes all of the work on the corners prior a waste of time. Despite this, I'd say that the exit of pit-lane is worse, simply because of how distracting it can be. There were quite a few times where my laps were ruined because someone was exiting as I was starting my lap and traversing turns 1 and 2. Whether it was getting distracted after turn 1 because cars were straight in front of me, exiting, or awkward moments as people tried to move out of the way as I was taking turn 2, the exit of pit-lane here is tricky and definitely an issue. I get that we all have to exit pit-lane and that it is up to us drivers to manage both ourselves and our competitors in a generous way, and that the way the Canadian venue flows makes it exceptionally difficult for it to be designed differently, but like the traffic woes it bears mentioning because it can (and does) affect people's sessions temporarily. A characteristic of the Canadian Grand Prix, to be sure, but an issue all the same.

Anyway, aside from those problems the session was great and mimicked much of P1. As I said above my laps improved, my confidence around the track developed with each decent lap and ultimately, once again, I ended up on top of the time sheets. Yes, despite thinking it was impossible I somehow managed to repeat my performance of P1 and put my name on the top again, even though it still doesn't feel right and I believe the frontrunners can do better. For whatever reason I seem to be really hooked up with this circuit here in Canada, even with those mistakes, and it's certainly being reflected with the final results. I'm still not going to treat it as a sign to come but it's definitely great to be able to put my name on that top spot, legitimately, and prove to everyone that I can drive and do deserve to be in Formula 1. Will this positive progress continue into tomorrow? Maybe, maybe not (probably not), but regardless of that it shows that I do have the talent required to drive one of these cars, and to compete at the level that I do. My time was a 1:17.552, only slightly better than the time I managed in P1, but still an improvement nonetheless. As I suggested before I felt like a 1'16 was possible but a combination of the aforementioned issues and worn tyres (I used the Options I used in P1 again) meant that it didn't happen. Once again I was a full second ahead of fellow Australian Mark Webber, who set a 1:18.598, and Vettel who achieved a time of 1:18.633 for third. How I can be quicker than the Red Bulls is beyond me -- am I dreaming? -- but I'll take it and, no matter how the rest of the weekend fares, I think I can be proud of my performance so far here in Canada. Bring on tomorrow!

Saturday Morning, Practice Three, Sunny

A bittersweet session, the final result reflecting the positivity of yesterday but marred by mistakes (again) and discomfort in the car.

I don't know, the session as a whole is really hard to describe as I just don't know how I feel. I'm very happy to be on top of the time sheets again (something I will address in a moment), but at the same time I am unhappy with either my performance, the car, or just the events that transpired. Maybe all of the above? Whatever it was, it was a disheartening session, sort of, but the result doesn't reflect that so maybe I'm seeing something that isn't there?

Anyway as I said there were mistakes in this session, a lot more than I would have liked, and perhaps even more than yesterday's P2 session. The session itself started off nicely enough, my form appearing to continue early as I reached second place quickly and decisively, but what followed was a lot of locked brakes, moments of wheel-spin that had to be caught, and confusion as to whether it was me struggling to find a rhythm or the car behaving differently to yesterday. I felt like I was running wide more than usual (suggesting understeer), I was having to back out of laps after catching the car from wheel-spin, and even missing apexes (even if only slightly) was putting a damper on the spirit I had for the session. Combined with the expected traffic woes I described in P2's write up, I just felt like the session was going nowhere even though, upon its conclusion, I was still on top. I only managed to do 17 laps, too, due to constant aborting and coming in early because of affected laps -- be it through my own mistakes or opponents getting in the way. Still, I suppose I shouldn't dwell on it too much because, as I said, I did top the time sheets yet again, continuing my remarkably positive weekend and hammering home the point that I belong here in Formula 1. I just feel as if the session could (and should) have been better than it was, so the impact of my name on top for the third session in a row (even if it is only Practice) is less than it was at the end of the two sessions yesterday.

Anyway I was ahead by a margin again today but it wasn't as big as it was in P1 or P2, Sebastian Vettel closing the gap as you would expect. I set a 1:17.884 (on Primes, which is why it's slower than my previous times) while he managed a 1:18.378, which makes Quali later today interesting if my form continues. Webber followed him for third, setting a 1:18.430, suggesting that it is yet another Red Bull weekend if I stop putting a spanner in the works and start falling to where I arguably should be, at the back of the pack. My team-mate Lucas is certainly there, finishing in 24th in all three sessions so far. I wonder how he is feeling seeing me up the front while he finishes in last -- it can't be good.

A post-P3 interview with David Croft asked how Virgin felt about my qualifying performances, if we're getting the best out of the Practice sessions (by testing new parts and etc.), and if I feel like Virgin is giving me 100 per cent. I responded by saying that Virgin and I are working well for Quali (an answer I thought was mature despite the great outcomes in Practice so far this weekend), that we appear to be on target in terms of new parts and general progress across a weekend, and that Virgin are doing the best they can (for me and themselves) for their first season in Formula 1. Virgin seemed to be happy with my answers, my engineer confirming that my level-headed approach to the weekend despite some great driving is probably the best approach, lest we become complacent, cocky or oblivious to the realities of the sport and our position within it. I agreed with his assessment, and not long after that we started to discuss and prepare for qualifying later today.

So, overall, I'm happy with how I have performed in the three Practice sessions so far but at the same time I do feel disappointed in how P3 fared. It wasn't inherently bad and the 'negative' niggles were minor at best, but something felt off in that session and contemplating what that might be definitely affected how I felt about the session as a whole. We're in a good position and topping the time sheets three times in a row certainly bodes well for qualifying, but I'm not stupid enough to ignore the fact that things change quickly in this sport and that what happens in Practice might not happen for the remainder of the weekend. The transition from our horrible Spain and Monaco rounds into the generally great Turkey one is the only example I need to prove this, so it's with a cautious sense of optimism that I now get ready to qualify. Wish me luck.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Racing Realism

Realism in videogames has been an important goal for quite some time now, the chance to replicate the real world an enticing prospect for developers across multiple genres. It is most prevalent, however, in the racing genre, with simulations and even arcade racing titles -- now selling themselves on things like their accessibility for real world tracks and cars, rather than presenting, say, a fictional experience like Mario Kart -- aspiring to be as realistic as possible. It’s an interesting thing to observe as companies like EA and Codemasters fight over who has the most realistic looking game or who can deliver the best handling physics, but it is even more interesting to contemplate, particularly as we have now reached a point where games are (or can be) so good that the hunt for realism may be redundant. To understand this, let’s take some time to look at how racing games are marketed, and what developers do during development to ensure authenticity.

On the development side, more and more these days the various racing game developers out there -- Codemasters, SimBin, Polyphony, Bizarre (RIP) and etc. -- will take the time to visit locations they may be using as settings for their tracks, taking thousands of photographs to ensure that every last detail can be replicated authentically. While they are all aware of how gameplay (IE: the racing) is the absolute most important thing -- and they are prepared to take liberties where necessary to ensure that -- the more realistic these locations can look in a game, the better they feel the final product will be. This is true to some extent: racing around the Nürburgring or Silverstone is great in theory, but it is not going to feel like you, the player, are doing so unless it looks like you expect it to, be that impression from something like TV footage or an actual visit yourself. This means ensuring all the corners appear to be angled correctly, reproducing the ‘flow’ of a circuit and correlating that with the image you might have of it in your head; that undulations and bumps are simulated as they exist in real life, lest your track feels flat and, by extension, dull; and making sure that buildings, pitlane and the general environment looks like it does at the real venue because, otherwise, you’re not racing at that track, are you? Such attention to detail coincides with some developers’ strong desire to make everything perfect, such as Polyphony, and the result is the highly competitive, high fidelity graphics push for (or towards) perfection that defines, in some respects, titles like Forza and Gran Turismo. But that’s appearance, just one aspect of the equation -- audio and, most importantly, feel are significant too, particularly if a game is purporting to be a simulation.

Real or in game? You decide.

The aforementioned developers also allocate time during development for “track days” or “recording days” to try and capture (both literally and figuratively) the realism of racing cars in real life, focusing on things like engine notes (sound) and oversteer (feel) in order to accurately reproduce these elements in the final product. On the sound side of things microphones will be attached to a variety of vehicles as they are being driven around a track, capturing the melody a car makes as it brakes for corners, accelerates out of them and even when they lose control or crash. A car’s engine sound is, obviously, the most important noise that has to be captured, but these sessions also record everything from the tyres to track ambiance and a car’s various clanks and clunks as it rides over bumps and bounces off of curbs. Cars will be also put on Dyno machines so an engine’s revs can be recorded at ranges that mightn’t necessarily be reached out on track, and so things like gear changes can also be reproduced as accurately as possible. A racing game just isn’t going to feel right if a Ferrari sounds like a Corvette (IE: using generic sounds because a budget doesn’t allow for the real ones to be captured) and, as such, this practice has become common for realistic racing games over the years. Less frequent amongst the industry is developers attending track days or visiting real world circuits in order to get a feel for how cars behave on a circuit, and to understand what needs to be included in a physics system to ensure that, once again, it feels ‘right’ once it is integrated in the final product. The big names -- again, Forza and Gran Turismo -- have done it for years because their reputation and consumer respect rides on the intricacies and subtleties their simulations can deliver, but it’s still somewhat rare for other developers to do it, and that’s a shame. This generation has seen that approach change, somewhat, and developers like Codemasters* are now making the effort to attend rally schools for a game like DiRT 3, to make sure that their product delivers on the expectations created by their players. You don’t want a rally game to feel like you are playing Grand Theft Auto, after all, so getting a feel for how a car behaves as it slides on mud and dirt is essential to the kind of experience you can ultimately deliver. You can portray the general idea, sure -- as games in the past have -- but it’s simply not the same as going out there, on track, and understanding how a car behaves as it takes chicanes and hairpins at speed. In other words, any racing title that doesn’t make the effort to record sound and car behaviour, and capture the essence of a circuit’s appearance through photography, is selling its customers short, and offering an inferior product when compared to the competition as a whole. But such attention to detail isn’t necessarily going to sell your game; there are, indeed, other methods too.

The first of these uses everything I have just described above. You need to demonstrate, to your customers, that you are serious about realism and authenticity, and the way to do that is to provide proof. This can be achieved by, for example, showcasing some of the photos taken at the locations visited or posting up an audio file of a car revving its engine, or you could go deeper and actually document your visit to the track with developer diaries. The entire medium is accustomed to developer diaries these days and the reason for that is because it’s a great way to highlight your intentions as a developer, explain what it is about your game that makes it worth buying and answer any questions that may be frequently asked. For racing games in particular, it is also a great opportunity to show that yes, you did actually visit a city or circuit. Footage of designers hooning around a track, sound producers capturing audio and your development team explaining what you’re doing at these venues can go a long way in conveying how important realism is for your product and it also becomes, in some instances, a selling point itself. Evidence of your attempts to ensure authenticity -- or in other words, practicing what you preach -- is a big coup for people who want the racing experience you purport to be making, because you are illustrating to them, directly, that you get it and understand what it takes to make a game like this. Taking the time to explain what you’re doing in detail can also grab the potential customers who don’t understand the science of racing but want to participate in a game that replicates what it is like to drive around Le Mans, or what it’s like to be in Formula 1. In other words, showing, not telling can be crucial to selling your product, and does a much better job than the other commonly seen practice: borrowing the names of famous drivers.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this is a real photograph.

Colin McRae (RIP), Mario Andretti, Ken Block -- these are all names that are synonymous with racing games, perhaps even more so than the sports in which they compete, and the licensing of these names can go a long way in selling a product. This is something that isn’t exclusive to videogames -- celebrities sell, it’s just the way it is -- but definitely suggests an authentic experience to those searching for one. If a racing driver is involved then, clearly, it must be realistic, right? Well no, money talks and no matter who you manage to obtain for an appearance in your game or, indeed, its title, it doesn’t mean a thing if the end product is poor. But the implication that comes with it is enough to make a game appealing to a wider variety of people and, generally, coincides with the effort I’ve described above. Enlisting a driver means enlisting their talents: getting them to test your game to see if it feels right or using their knowledge to improve accuracy drastically affects the game you are making in a positive way, and can be the difference between whether you nail it or fail it. It also means that you can capture details that your inexperience mightn’t have noticed, enhancing the overall experience even if the majority of its eventual players won’t pick up on them. This is the kind of stuff I’m referring to when I say, for example, that Forza 3 has more nuance than Gran Turismo 5, and while those two games don’t use real world drivers as a selling point, the information they can glean from people like Sebastian Vettel or Mika Salo certainly makes the difference. The combination of a real driver’s input and the data obtained at track visits can ensure that, yes, you do deliver on authenticity and realism, and demonstrating that you took the time to gather that information publically can guarantee stronger sales. That’s not to say that doing this can’t be deceiving -- some games do rely on a driver’s name or footage from a track day to sell a game even though the final product is still rather unrealistic -- but generally speaking if you take the time to do it, people will take the time to play your game.

Ultimately the push for realism has elevated the racing genre to levels that were unfathomable back in the PS1 era (for example), but that doesn’t mean the various racing games out there are perfect and there’s definitely a lot of progress yet to be made. Graphically, photorealism is practically already here so the graphics contest is beginning to slow down, but there’s still a lot that can be done with the way cars handle and how a track changes over time, so I look forward to a future where that level of realism can be parallel with fidelity and delivered confidently across the entire genre. In the meantime, what we have is already incredibly impressive and by writing about it here, I hope I have highlighted that because it is something, unfortunately, that is mostly overlooked. Happy racing.

*That’s not to say that Codies or anyone else hasn’t done it in the past, just that generally, such effort hasn’t been seen as being crucial to development and now developers are beginning to understand the impact such a practice can have on their games.