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[RANT MODE ON] The future of rally sims on the PC looks rather bleak to me… November 25, 2012

Posted by oktyabr in games, opinions, personal, software.
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I am a “sim racer”.  For those that don’t know that means that my love for all kinds of cars, racing, and anything else that goes fast has been extended to my computer as well.  I not only play racing “games”, I play racing SIMULATIONS!  Specifically I am quite fond of “rally racing”, both as a spectator sport and as a racing type that I like to play on the computer…

ral-ly A competition in which automobiles are driven over public roads and under normal traffic regulations but with specified rules as to speed, time, and route.

sim·u·la·tion The technique of representing the real world by a computer program.

It says RANT MODE ON because frankly I’m more than just a little bit disgusted. Some feelings might get hurt in this one… If so, I’m sorry, but you were forewarned!

Ultimately I’m posting this because I am hoping that someone, some day, will be able to reply with something like “Hey! Have you heard of <insert name of game here> yet?!?!”

That day *might* be today, might be tomorrow, but I doubt it. I’ll keep checking back though so if it’s a year or two or three down the line and someone reads this *please* contribute your suggestion… both for me and for any others that might feel the same way.

At the time of this posting “rally sims for the PC” are quickly moving towards the more arcade-ish end of the spectrum, (as are other racing games too, truth be told) in no small part to developers wanting a slice of that big, juicy money pie called the “console platform”. Sure, you can get a wheel for a console and it might even work ok but really race sims, rally in particular, belong on the PC, where higher end processing power and graphics cards can supply the best of both worlds; an excellent, realistic driving experience combined with all the eye candy (including triple monitor setups and TrackIR, etc.) you could ask for. SO developers try to make a “sim” for the console that is then ported over to the PC. It might look pretty but the realism and modding ability simply aren’t there. This includes the absolutely gorgeous Dirt 3, WRC and their early versions, now highly evolved to present almost photo-realistic graphics, lens flare, bloom, realistic particle systems and more. VERY pretty to look at. And they SOUND great too! Moddable? Most of them, not really. Realistic as a “simulation”? Heh, if they were I wouldn’t be typing this right now… I’d be playing DIRT 3 or something similar!


On the other hand we have that brave, lone soldier, tired and worn around the edges but still carrying the standard of simulation, Richard Burns Rally, aka “RBR”. RBR has a fanatical following… you can’t read a review of any other rally game anywhere without at least one person knocking it over with “You obviously haven’t tried RBR, the best rally sim EVAH!” and the like. Pretty impressive for a game that is quite aged by computer software standards. I know RBR because I just bought it the other day… after only playing a demo a few years ago.

Is RBR perfect? No, not by any means! It IS a great example of a simulation… it has the steep sort of learning curve that is the hallmark of any technical sim. It will take lots of practice before you will even be able to finish a single stage in RBR, not to even talk about getting a “fast” time on one. I see the appeal. BUT the graphics suck. The sounds, even with a major mod installed (RSBRB 2012), are in most cases FAR from what I would call “realistic”, at least in-car they are. Or is this just because most RBR fans actually use a decidedly NON-simulation like third person camera view, or off the hood or something? Because sounds out of the car are generally held to a much higher standard than the in-car ones. 

Configurability? Meh. You can tune a car like you would expect in any racing simulation but where is the adjustment for the handbrake pressure? Force feedback might be great too… with the right hardware, but not everyone has the “right” hardware. I run about $500 worth of Fanatec and yet even with every FFB setting (in game and in driver) cranked all the way up it’s still just a suggestion of what reality might feel like. In other race sims I play I am actually in the habit of taking my hands OFF the wheel when I know I am going to crash, because the FFB can be so violent with my wheel. Not so in RBR. I can smash through fences, hit (and roll) logs under the tires, etc. and if I concentrate hard enough I can *just* imagine that the feedback I am getting in the wheel from it is even remotely “realistic”. Other race sims I can actually feel the *exact moment* when the back tires are just starting to break loose… In RBR it’s a visual thing when the car starts to slide. Did I mention the graphics suck? Ok, not entirely, but again for an old game with years of modding piled on top it does have some nice looking tracks and the animated bystanders that jump out of your way are kind of fun too… But the in-car graphics are generally terrible, I can’t find a UI setting for adjusting seat height (or forward/backward), and honestly the sense of speed just isn’t there. I find myself having to look at the speedometer to tell if I’m going 40 kph or 140 kph. The visual cues that suggest your realistic speed are still far off from “excellent”. ~sigh~

Middle of the road, for me anyway, is a very good and very large rally mod for rFactor 1 called “Rally World”, current version “4.0”.  Google is your friend.  It gives me a good compromise. RF1, for it’s aging graphics, still look pretty good. Sounds? Generally good too. Want to try a Group B rally car on the Nordschleife or Monaco? I can do it. Want to throw a Lambroghini Gallardo around the bends at Pike’s Peak? That’s possible too. RF1 with my hardware has *excellent* force feedback… a track I found recently, Sudschleife 1.0, has a steeply banked turn, active ditches and even cracks in the road that you can feel every inch of, even at high speed. Good fun with rally cars and non-rally alike. And yes, there ARE “rally” stages for RF1. Of course without a properly modded gravel tire, realistic weather system and a working pacenotes facility you still can’t consider even the best rally in RF1 a “real” rally.

I look at upcoming sims like GTR3, RF2, and Project CARS (aka “pCARS”) and while there is hope that at least one of them will continue the tradition of racing sims on the PC, with the latest in eye candy, none of them have confirmed any serious rally plans… at least at the time of this posting. 

So yeah, there ARE NO GREAT RALLY SIMS for the PC today, as I post this! What do I want? I’ll tell you (and any game developers that might stumble across this?):

1) Stupendously good looking graphics! Look, you know you want it too. And as evidenced by the latest and greatest titles out today, whether they are sims or not, REALLY good looking graphics are certainly possible. Don’t stop reading here because a game that has the graphics and nothing else is like baking a cake out of dog $#@% and then frosting it with the prettiest, tastiest sugary stuff you can put on it. Might look mouth watering but after that first bite, in the end, it’s just $#@%.

2) “Realistic” physics and force feedback. I don’t have to go into much detail here… if you don’t know what realistic physics are supposed to feel like you probably wouldn’t have read this post in the first place! Suffice it to say it needs things like accurate tire and suspension models, and a damage system that can create situations through incremental system failures, like a pin hole leak in a brake line or a tire that is slowly running flat.

3) A “live” track system! Some non-rally games are closer to this, the way marbles of rubber can accumulate as a race progresses, changing the grip levels in specific sections of the track. For rally, especially on dirt/gravel/snow the situation needs to be similar. First car to run a newly groomed gravel stage? Nice. Tenth car to run it? I want bigger gravel splashed to the outside of curves with a slicker hard pack on the race line. So many rally sims seem to have lost the forest for all the trees! It’s all about staying ON the road to avoid the things OFF the road. But in reality this shouldn’t be so cut and dried! Would you believe a relatively unknown rally sim, Xpand Rally Xtreme, actually has potholes, cracks in the surface, etc. to be avoided… even when you are staying on the track? (It even has deer that run out in front of the car!  ) THIS is what I want!

4) Weather too should play an *essential* role. Not just eye candy like wipers clearing raindrops from a windscreen or snow falling from trees, but weather that can actually be felt on the road surface, progressively changing as the weather continues. A small dip when dry should turn into a puddle in hard rain with realistic hydroplaning. A gravel road slowly gets slicker as the dirt turns to mud and eventually gets potholes and washboarding as a result of steady wear (I build both paved and non-paved roads in real life, for a living… they DO wear down with use!) Four inches of fresh snow on the road feels MUCH different than that same road after twenty other vehicles have traveled it.

5) Hey! While we are on the topic of weather and road erosion a GOOD rally sim *should* be moddable! One addition to my dream rally sim would be a mod/dlc that shares the experience of off road 4×4. Why not? Build a game that simulates trail rutting, large rocks moving around, or not moving around, mud holes getting progressively worse, etc. for Jeeps and the like, apply it to an actual road (instead of a goat trail in the woods somewhere) and throw some accurately modeled rally cars on it! Kill two birds with one stone.

6) Sound! This is so often overlooked, even in bigger titles, that it’s not even funny. Sound is a HUGE part of true immersion. Cars need to sound different depending on their surroundings as doppler and echo effects make themselves known. I want to hear puddles splashing, tires squealing, gravel being thrown into trees and brush, exhaust roaring between buildings and screaming out in the open… I want to hear my co-driver stutter and pause as the car makes a jump and seats itself back on the track again or rattles over some bad wash boarding. Make him exclaim in fear or panic as we come close to wrecking… or start to roll over and over and over. Give me audible clues that maybe one brake is starting to hang or my exhaust system has broken loose. Come on, there is real sound all over the place… I just want some smart devs to figure out how to inject it realistically into a sim!

That’s about it. Thanks for reading with me so far. I feel better now that I got all that off my chest 




1. Cris - December 8, 2012

Very good post! I agree 100%

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