Off To The Races – Breaking Into Driving Sims, Part 1

By RPS on February 15th, 2012 at 3:22 pm.

17% of all RPS images are now vintage black and white photographs

Mr Craig Lager of GamingDaily fame takes to the podium to present a two-part guide to getting started in – and ultimately mastering – racing games. You can do it!

“You’re not braking to slow down here, you’re braking to put weight at the front of the car so it’s easier to turn in” – my driving instructor shouts to be heard over the Lotus’s engine. “Pull it in here. No, more! I want to feel it rumbling over the curb”. I’m driving a Lotus Exige around a short circuit at Silverstone – part of a track day I got invited to. Earlier I’d taken a Megane touring car around, and next they were putting me in a Ferrari 430 and at some point on this day, something clicked and I wanted to race cars forever.

I‘ve always liked racing games, sure. I played the popular stuff where you can happily fling a car around a track with the expectation of winning if not on the first go, then at least in a couple of tries – but that day opened my eyes. Racing isn’t about burying the accelerator as much as possible and power-sliding around corners.


No – it’s about optimising a racing line, finding breaking points, weight distribution, smooth steering and tyre physics. It’s about pushing a car to a mechanical and physical limit and being inches away from destroying everything as you aim for perfection – and doing this lap after lap after lap while you hunt down the car in front. It’s exciting, traumatic, satisfying, and it’s a feeling I want to share.

 

Unfortunately, I can’t provide everyone with a casual interest in cars or racing games that same track-day epiphany I had, but racing games – and more importantly sims – provide some of the most accurate and tense experiences in all of gaming, while doing a damn good job of emulating – if not replicating – the real thing. It’s something the PC excels at too, far above any other platform; so, with all this in mind, I’m going to get you all to step it up a gear (!) and get on a track (!!) for a far better, far more satisfying racing game experience.

 

Start your engines

 

To get started on this glorious path, all you really need is a control pad with some analogue inputs (a 360 pad is perfect) and a game or two that’s going to be flexible enough to let us mess around on a track now, but challenge ourselves later. Grid, while a few years old, is still well worth booting up, but for something much more current you can grab not-even-a-year-old Need For Speed: Shift 2 for £12 which will do the job nicely.

 

There are loads of games you could pick from though, so there’s no need to buy anything if you already have something suitable – Race 07 and GTR 2 are worthwhile, for example, but they aren’t quite so friendly to beginners, but you can write off anything like Burnout, Flatout, Blur, and any Need For Speed that isn’t Shift. Basically, whatever you choose, just make sure it looks fun, has decent reviews, and can cater well for casual and sim-like racing. F1 2011 is another great option if you’re into the sport, and even if you’re not it’s still a solid racing game but you might want to go for something with a bit more diversity. As a final note, avoid anything that isn’t track racing because stuff like rally is a discipline of its own.

 

 

Now that you’ve got a game selected and installed, start it up and jump into career mode or whatever and take some cars out for a drive. If the game picks some settings for you (like Shift 2 does) – great. If not, or you’re finding it all a bit too difficult, feel free to delve into some options menus and turn on any and all assists. Stick with this for a while and get a feel for the game, have some fun, win some races.

 

Here, this exact point, is where most people stop with racing games. Flying around a track, winning on the first or second try on a new circuit, bumping off a wall not really mattering, content. Good for them, that’s fine, but put your seat belt on because we’re pushing you through to something a bit more special.

 

Staying with the assists on, start putting some tracks roughly into memory. There are a select few that crop up in a lot of racing games so if you know it from one, it’s a lot easier to race it in another. Specifically: Monaco (usually reserved for F1), Circuit De Spa (my personal favourite), Nurburgring (GP-Strecke is the popular layout, but if you have the opportunity to drive the full 8ish minute circuit then absolutely go for it), Istanbul Park, and Silverstone.

 

There are a couple of concepts you want to start working on now too. The best thing I’ve found for teaching this sort of stuff is the iRacing driving school, so while they can appear a little dry, I really recommend watching the videos I embed here – they’ll make you faster in every driving game you play.

 

Mastering the racing line is the main concept to understand, which is essentially finding the quickest route through a track:

 

And looking ahead is something incredibly obvious that you might need to train yourself to do a bit:

Flying lap

 

Now let’s start getting serious. First thing: that pad you’ve got is rubbish. Well, it’s not, but if we’re heading towards a better racing experience then it’s the first thing that has to go. You want a steering wheel – and there are a few things to bear in mind: 1. you generally pay for what you get, 2. Force feedback is essential 3. You want something with at least “flappypaddle” type gear shifting capability .

 


 

You can spend a lot of money here, but for the sort of involvement we’re talking about in this section you don’t want to be going above the £110 or so that will get you the lovely Logitech Driving Force GT. It’s reliable and sturdy. Yes – it was developed to go along with Gran Turismo and yes it makes reference to some Playstation buttons, but it works just fine with your PC. It has 900 degrees of rotation (you turn the wheel 2 and a half times to get from full lock left to full lock right), a sequential gear shift (tap the gear stick up for gear up, down for down), and buttons on the back of the wheel for “flappy paddle” shifting. It’s good.

 

But yeah, it’s over a hundred of your hard earned pounds so if you don’t want to spend that sort of money then there is a wealth of Thrustmaster and Logic 3 wheels available for cheaper, all with various qualities that Amazon user reviews can provide a more comprehensive breakdown of than I have room for – but generally, it’s a false economy to pick up something super cheap because you’ll either want to swap it later, or it’ll break. With this in mind, I have to re-iterate: you pay for what you get. The driving force GT is the one that’s always recommended for people starting out, and that’s something I have to echo but with the caveat that, personally, I went straight for a Logitech G27 which I’ll discuss later.

 

Back to games.

 

Head into the options of your racing game of choice and start tinkering with the assists. When messing with these it’s important to change just one or two at a time, then go back to racing until you’re comfortable with the new configuration. Here’s what you need to be doing, and in this order:

     

  • Steering assist: turn off. With it on, the game will guide you around corners, which is something you obviously need to do yourself.
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  • Throttle assist: turn off. It allows the game to lay off on the throttle if you’re approaching a corner too quickly, which you absolutely have to be in control of your self.
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  • Braking assist: turn off. Like throttle assist, it will put on the brakes if you’re going to be too late braking into a corner. This is different from ABS (anti-lock braking).
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  • Gears: Switch from automatic to manual. This will be the hardest change you’ll have to make but getting used to manual gears will not only put you more in the driving seat but make your races much, much more involved and interesting. If you think “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing” then don’t worry, you’ll soon pick it up. For incredibly general advice: shift down for going around corners, shift up as soon as your rev needle touches the red section on the dial, or just before the red or final light comes on on your in-game steering wheel (there might also be an orange light on the speedo or something which also means shift up).

 

You are now totally in charge of all the inputs to the car – but the game will still apply some exaggerated systems to help you drive faster easier. If we’re heading for a more realistic experience, these need to start going next.

 

  • View: Move your way further inside the car. If you’re starting from an outside view, do something like – outside, bonnet, cockpit. A special mention for Shift 2: the “head camera” that shifts where you’re looking towards apexes – don’t use this. It makes it a lot harder to judge how much you need to turn in to a corner and where you are on the track if your viewpoint is changing without your input.
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  • ABS (anti-lock braking system): Turn off. ABS, as the name suggests, stops your wheels locking up when you slam on the brakes. It’s a real world system – and one that’s used on lots of race cars – but you want to turn this off here; because it’s under “assists” in your settings, it should mean that the game is giving ABS to cars that shouldn’t have it, or it’s exaggerating the effect. With this off you’ll have to start braking earlier and smoother to stop your wheels locking, so there will be a phase of having to relearn braking points.
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  • Traction control: Turn down gradually. Traction control is what stops your car spinning out when you mess up a turn, so you need better accelerator, brake, and gear control. Messing with this setting is going to make the most difference to how the cars handle, so don’t worry if you start flying off the track all of a sudden – you’ll get used to it.
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  • Stability control: Turn down gradually. If traction control stops you spinning out, stability control stops you spinning out as much when the car does go. If you’re coming out of corners cleanly with traction control off, then you should see minimal difference with this coming down.
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  • Racing Line Guide: Turn this on and off as needed (when you’re learning a track for example, by all means keep it on). The racing line puts down a path on the track that guides you through the corners, along with marking breaking points. It will let you pick up a new track much, much faster – but aim to turn it off when you’re on a track you know.

 

So, you should have all your settings sorted now, and depending on what game you’ve got will depend on what sort of difficulty you’re going to be dealing with. Grid – for example – is still pretty liberal with letting you get away with bad cornering and minimal braking with its assists turned off, while Shift is less so, and F1 – if you went that way – can be pretty punishing.

 

For now it’s a case of practicing. Keep learning the tracks and the cars and you’ll get faster – and you’ll pick up skills and experience that you’ll be able to directly transition to other racing games – it’s also worthwhile watching all of the iRacing school. Then, when you’re comfortable, it’s time to push yourself again.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk you through more techniques and best practices, the sims you should aim to graduate to, and the high-end kit you need to really master PC racing.

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70 Comments »

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  1. magnus says:

    “Pull it in here. No, more! I want to feel it rumbling over the curb” – awesome Double Entendre there.

    • trjp says:

      Reply system seems to love first post!!

    • trjp says:

      The picture in my head of ‘cheap’ wheels (and I’ve not tried one in a few years but I doubt they’ve changed) is a horrible ‘sprung’ and inprecise thing which is genuinely difficult to use (and almost impossible hold for longer corners) – and also impossible to clamp down properly and highly likely to break!!

      Even the pricier wheels have horrible ‘grindy’ FF systems which get in the way of smooth steering and whilst I like the Logitech ‘GT’ wheels, their reliabilty has been called into question more than twice (and their warranty support remains cruddy if my keyboard experiences are anything to go by).

      It seems there are far fewer wheels around than there used to be anyway (far fewer racing games too – sadly) and ‘pro’ wheels are not in any way cheap – sadly!!

      p.s. I’m not editting this one too – the reply system for this thread is broken!!

    • Bonedwarf says:

      HAHA! Racing is full of dodgy sounding terms.

      I’m a sim racing addict. I just got done an hour long race the Nurburgring with my league I’ve got two Daytona races this weekend on iRacing. Got a two hour endurance race at Paul Ricard next week.

      And nice to see the DFGT wheel in the post. Awesome wheel.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      trjp: The wheel I’ve had recommended is the Fanatec as that has belt driven FFB and is very quiet and solid. They do a pack of wheel and pedals for $249 and those I know who have it love it to bits.

      And putting F1 2011 in as a sim in this article is a joke. It ain’t a sim. NOTHING that comes from Codemasters is a sim.

  2. trjp says:

    Whilst it’s great to give people advice, there’s a couple of things wrong here IMO

    1 – Need for Speed Shift 2 is not a sim. Someone wanting competitive and realistic ‘racing’ (as opposed to just playing a game) should look to iRacing or the RACE series.

    2 – Sims need a proper wheel and not a controller. Cheap wheels are a WASTE OF MONEY, you need a wheel with realistic lock (more than .75 turns) and proper sturdy pedals (and a shifter pref.) – find at least £90-100 and keep going if you can.

    Teaching people proper lines through corners and stuff like balancing the car flies in the face of telling them you can play NFS and use a Pad where it’s frankly not applicable!!

    That’s not to knock NFS (or Forza or GT5 which are similar titles) – they’re just not ‘sims’ – they teach bad habits by putting you into superfast cars and making them all-too-easy to drive (all IMO)

    • Alec Meer says:

      I do not think you’ve read what you say you’ve read.

    • iainl says:

      The article makes it pretty clear that it’s talking about starting out. iRacing and £300 wheel setups are not where you start. That’s the attitude that killed MS Flight Sim.

    • paterah says:

      The author clearly states games like GRID, Shift 2 and F1 2011 are more casual and titles to get started. They are not arcade or proper sims, I’d say somewhere in between that and can be driven with a controller. Btw, I totally agree with the wheel choice, Driving Force GT is the best wheel you can find at that price point and great if you want to get into sims; a 900 degree lock, a shifter and force feedback, can’t beat that.

    • trjp says:

      I just think it’s not a wise path to follow – if you want to compete in proper sims, you need to start with one and get a good wheel and learn the game.

      I don’t want to sound like a sim snob but there really is a world of difference – if nothing else, moving from Forza/GT/Shift to iRacing/RACE is liking going from a rocket to a bicycle – a bicycle on ice with no controls (it’s not fun – you’ll think it’s broken at first, so slow is your progress!!)

      I’m not knocking Shift2 et al – I enjoy them but you will not learn anything useful in ‘sim racing’ terms – more likely you’ll actually sour yourself against such titles which feel slow and punish you viciously.

    • Sleepymatt says:

      *stunned silence*

    • trjp says:

      @ainl (hoping the reply system doesn’t screw-up AGAIN) – but you’d not recommend someone interested in learning to fly a real plane start with Warhawk, would you?? :)

      I love driving games – all of them, really – but if I were trying to tease people into ‘proper’ racing, I’d tell them to get a wheel and a copy of one of the RACE games and work from there.

      Wheels are expensive but they’re also pretty resaleable on eBay if it isn’t your cuppa – a controller will only frustrate you on proper racing games really.

    • Stuart Walton says:

      Even a cheap wheel with only 270 degrees of travel is better than a pad. You’re going from less than 1″ of movement on a thumbstick to about 20″ of movement at the circumference of a 270 wheel.

      While compared to much better wheels, the more expensive ones do offer good value for money but not everyone has the cash. But for the titles mentioned in this article, a cheap wheel is just fine. If you are into your racing and are looking to play a lot of driving games then considering a higher end device would be advisable.

      I have played with a wheel in 900 mode and there is an amazing level of control. You can drive so smoothly, hit all those apexes, and drive closer to the limit of your tyres.

      My top tip for driving is the from one of the Forza load screen tips. Traction used for turning cannot be used for braking or acceleration – As you smoothly turn into a corner you need to lift of whatever pedal you currently have down: More wheel, more lifting. As you gradually apply the gas coming out of a corner, gradually straighten up: More pedal, less wheel. Drive this way and there’s less chance of destabilising the car.

    • trjp says:

      @stuart – I replied but the system is broken – see UP THERE >>>>

      @sleepymatt – I love people with something to say…

    • grundus says:

      I think the Driving Force Pro would be a better choice for casual ‘I’ll give this a go but I’m not sure I’ll like it’ types because it’s cheaper (as it’s older) and is missing the GT5-specific controls on the front (I can’t really imagine how you’d remap those for a PC sim), but still has 900 degrees of rotation, force feedback and the rest is pretty much exactly the same; pedals, shifter (which is terrible and I hate it and never use it) and all that.

      I also recommend Race 07 way above Shift, Grid or F1 2011 for the beginner, simply because the game by itself is £4. £4! Four pounds! Then when you have that, you can get GTR Evo, Race On (not recommended, though), the Retro and GT Power packs (heavily recommended, along with GTR Evo actually), STCC – The Game, the free Formula RaceRoom F1 car add-on and then a whole stack of free mods on nogripracing.com, whereas I’m sure with the others it’s DLC or nothing.

      It’s also a much more realistic proposition, but has a whole suite of driving aids and configurable AI ability for newer players, it can be played with a pad quite easily (though you’ll want a keyboard as well, but I doubt that’s a problem) and has online play which is still very much alive. The main drawbacks I guess are a lack of content over the others (and I’m not even sure that’s true), no drifting, 2007 graphics (which do actually still look pretty) and… I dunno, really, it’s so cheap I see no reason to not buy at least the base game.

      GTR 2 was better, but it’s difficult to find now. GT Legends is also good but as the name suggests it’s about classic cars, not modern ones, which some may hate.

      I was already toying with the idea of getting a G27 soon but this promised follow-up might tip me over the edge, damn it.

    • Thany says:

      hahaha comparing Gran turismo to a warhawk and afterburner. jezus christ, you know there IS some MIDDLE GROUND between a arcade game like burnout and iRacing/LFS/whatever racing sim you’re jerking to these days.

      that said, Gran turismo is a pretty good sim, the problem is, by default settings all cars get better tyres then they actually have stock in “real life”. if you switch to “proper”, all of the highpowered cars without any electronic help will be hard to drive.

    • salgado18 says:

      @trjp
      So you’re saying that those people that play Mario Kart should skip stuff like Grid or Shift 2 and go to the hardcore experience of realistic racing simulators? That’s like telling those guys playing football out there in the street to compete for the world cup. It’s a different league altogether, they won’t survive all the training that goes in one week just to prepare for a practice match against a bad team, and they will give up.

      I love racing games, cars in general and racing in real life (almost went pro in go-kart once), but I think those racing simulators are too bland to my taste, they’re just “pick car, pick track and race. Rinse and repeat all over again”. Now if I think that, someone who just plays for fun won’t stick to racing, let alone go out and buy a G27 and triple-monitor just to win a realistic race with no stakes at hand. There’s a reason Grid and Dirt sell more than pure racing sims.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      @trjp – You may not want to come across as a racing sim snob, but that’s exactly what you are being! Now I love a proper racing sim to go with my customised Fanatec wheel as much as it sounds like you do. But here’s the thing, most people can’t go straight into them and find them fun. Most people would go into them, get frustrated in 5 minutes and never go back.

      You need a game which is not a pure sim in order to feed into them first and the examples in the article are excellent examples! Many people will find them simmy enough and not move up, some will reach the point where they want more – that’s the beauty of being human, we are all different!

      Now you gave an example about learning to fly – now, how would you learn to fly? Would you jump straight into the cockpit of that plane you mentioned and have a go, or is that a recipie for a very quick death?

      If you want the hobby to grow then you will want new players to play sim racers. If you want new players, it has to be fun for them. If you want it to be fun for them then they have to stand a chance of doing well. If you want them to stand a chance of doing well, you can’t hit them with an ultra realistic hardcore sim straight off the bat.

      Do you see?

    • trjp says:

      What I’m saying – and I’ll put it in large-print if I have to – is that playing Shift et al will NOT make you more likely to like games like RACE.

      Super-easy handling models (even with assists off) and dumb-as-cheese AI won’t tempt you into the world of cars which require real skill to drive – and other players who don’t welcome you using them as braking and cornering aids!!

      I love driving games – I just think telling people to play unrealistic ones (GT5, Forza, Shift) before they realistic ones (which are slower, harder and generally much less ‘fun’) is teaching people bad habits and raising expectations.

      That’s my 10p – Shift 2 isn’t a gateway into sim racing anymore than Mario Kart is because it’s all about giving you uber cars and allowing you to be the winner pretty-much from the off (they’re ‘games’ not ‘sims’).

    • salgado18 says:

      humm…. now I can see your point. You are saying that giving candy to a kid won’t teach them to eat vegetables. Instead, they should learn to like vegetables before, otherwise they will always reject them…

      Now I see why I don’t like those pure simulators much…

      Although I must say that I never found them much fun to begin with. Just get car, get track and race. The semi-simulator games have entire meta-games built around them, that make racing not only an end in itself, but also a means to an end (evolve somehow). Because of that, I don’t think it would be effective to introduce people to racing sims starting from the realistic-but-bland ones.

    • Vagrant says:

      Yup, you are definitely wrong. Start off playing in Gran Turismo! Buy a mid-range wheel! Learn the basics of racing! And then, when you start to get frustrated with the limitations of the game’s physics, move on to more serious sims. I know it can happen because that’s what I did.

      I’ll make the opposite argument from you: If someone’s not already somewhat knowledgeable about racing, then if they start off with a $300 wheel and a ton of money invested in rFactor, they’ll get frustrated, hate it and quit. If they started on softer sims, they’ll stil get frustrated but at least have a general idea on how to get better.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      And I’m the second person who proves your “Fact” is wrong. I got into racing games via stunt driver, Lotus 1,2 and 3 and carmageddon! Seriously, some people will play them and decide that they hate the lack of realism and search for the next level, that’s how it works. What was your first driving game? Bet it wasn’t a serious hardcore simulator.

      Also, the generally accepted thinking is that forcing your kids to eat things they don’t want to eat makes them fussier in later life. But it’s a simile which falls down on so many further levels, I’m going to ignore it.

    • trjp says:

      I think you need to see the difference between “getting into something through something else” and being interested in something but starting somewhere completely different for some strange reason.

      If you have no real interest in cars and racing but fancy a bit of hooning around then there are many games which will appeal to you. It’s possible, whilst playing those games, that you interest in cars and racing will grow and you’d like to try a proper sim with a proper wheel and that’s peachy and good and fine but that’s also the long way around!!

      This article is entitled ‘Breaking into Driving Sims” so I’m not sure why we’re talking about people playing “visuals over content” games like GT5 at all really – it’s not a sim, never has been, never will be.

      Even Shift 2, which certainly tries a lot harder than GT5 to be sim-ish, still panders predominantly to the ‘I just want to drive superfast cars NOW” brigade – and the online community (if I can use that word) is not terrifically serious about their racing (you’ll be lucky if you can find a race where at least 1 person isn’t just being an asshole).

      The BIG thing with racing sims is that you have to race against real people y’see – people of your level of skill and all that. These people who will not be pleased if you screw-up and crash into them every 2 mins and you’ll quickly find yourself unable to get a race at all.

      Nothing you’ll have learned in Shift et al will help you here – in fact it will probably harm you as you assume you have skillz and – and believe me when I say this – you don’t.

      RACE 07 has a demo on Steam – Shift2 has a demo (not on Steam but easily tracked-down) – try them back to back and you might see what I’m getting at.

      If you actually prefer RACE 07 then there’s an amazing world of sims ahead of you – get a wheel and enjoy it.

      If you prefer Shift 2 – buy a controller and get a copy of Driver:SF whilst you’re at it :)

    • identiti_crisis says:

      I agree with Grundus; the Driving Force Pro is every bit as good as the Driving Force GT, sans the extraneous buttons. Similarly, the G25, whilst having fewer buttons on the wheels and noisier gear drive, is also just as good as the G27; although I doubt you’d actually be able to save any money buy buying it instead, since it’s quite rare now.

      Interested to see how this column goes forwards from here. I cut my teeth on games like the Lotuseses on the Amiga, then went onto Papy sims like Indy Car and NASCAR, GPL etc. as well as excellent arcade racers such as Screamer 2 etc. I’m also a massive Gran Turismo fan since the first game. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with starting closer to the arcade end of the spectrum at all. The best thing is that all of these games offer something different. We’re effectively spoilt for choice, and will be even moreso with so many top-notch sim successors competing for visibility on the horizon.

      Finally, some self-indulgence regarding the picture: it took me an age to recognise Stirling Moss in the lead car, although I knew they were 250Fs immediately. It looks a bit like Monza; apparently Moss ran under #36 there in ’56, making #40 Luigi Piotti, according to Wikipedia. The filename is 1965, so it probably is 1956.

      EDIT: It definitely is. Apparently he’d run out of fuel in this picture. He still won…

    • Vagrant says:

      You’re wrong on pretty much every point!

  3. Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

    I’ve been playing ‘serious’ racing games since the day Geoff Crammond’s GP2 came out, and all the above seems sensible enough at first glance. The one thing I’d take issue with is turning a racing line guide off and on when needed. In my experience of getting people in to ‘serious’ sims (I’ve got a few friends who went from NFS to GPL with a wheel under my guidance) people get very, very over-reliant on that line. I’d suggest not using it at all, but learning tracks by following other cars around in a practice session. Oh, and I know a lot of people had issues with it, but F1 2011 seemed to me to be a game that did a pretty good job of being as ‘sim’ as it’s possible to be whilst remaining playable on a gamepad – good one to start with before you get hold of a wheel.

    trjp – I don’t think the author was claiming that they were ‘proper sims’, but that not everybody can be convinced to go spend £100 on a wheel straight off the bat. If you’ve got a gamepad and are trying to work out whether to make that purchase, something like Shift or F1 2011 is probably a pretty good shout. You’re entirely correct about cheap wheels, though – a Logitech DFP should be the minimum, anything cheaper and you’re wasting your money.

    • trjp says:

      On the racing line topic – I agree completely. It’s only going top make you lazy, you need to learn where the line/braking points/apexes are in a way you can work around when there are 5 other cars around you and the racing line doesn’t really help that.

      Following other cars is OK if they’re human driven but beware the AI – esp in games like Shift2 and Forza – because it cheats liberally (Forza 3’s AI cheated in breathtaking ways!!)

  4. Domothy says:

    This is brilliant introductory advice, and pretty much the exact path I followed 12 months ago – slowly progressing through half a decade’s worth of racing games ’till I finally hit those “hardcore” racing sims, like iRacing and the ilk.

    I hate iRacing though – ludicrously expensive, and too keen to punish cars rubbing shoulders, even when it wasn’t even remotely your fault.

    • Vorrin says:

      I would suggest trying netkar pro (I never tried iracing, but tried nearly everything else, and that one has got the best physics/feedback feel amongst them all) or live for speed, if you haven’t yet.

      The former is a bit dead online-wise, but that works out kinda nicely, the community is about 50 people in the world, and everybody knows each other.

      Also since recently, the netcode should be at least somewhat half decent (for a few months/years previously it was unbelievably broken),

      LFS is sort of second best, and it works really nicely in multi, also, lots and lots of different cars.

      Oh, also, if you didn’t get to it yet, I warmly recommend Richard Burns Rally, by far the best rally game I’ve ever tried (and by reading around I think it’s quite far and alone in its ‘best realistic rally’ throne).

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      I had a go at a cracked (naughty!, but I’m not spending that much to find out) copy of iRacing (briefly, before deleting it) and didn’t notice anything that special in the physics. I mean it was good, and what you’re buying in to is a full community of ‘sensible, serious’ gamers, but it didn’t come close to seaming worth it for me.

      netKar Pro, however, is a thing of absolute beauty. Especially for those small single seaters, it’s unbelievable how much information it gives you through the wheel. It’s so precise, you can push exactly to the limits because the FFB is so, so spectacular.

      But, yeah, nobody plays it. But download it and drive around in circles. OH OH OH YOU’VE GOT IT TOO! Right, that’s two of us – RPS netKar Challenge?

    • Gdrk says:

      Yes, because paying $12 for three months of iRacing’s rookie content is ludicrously expensive for a try out.

      Anyway, iRacing’s “new tire model” is slowly shaping up to becoming a *proper* dynamical tire model. It still needs a couple builds worth of iterations to iron out some of the details, but it’s getting there. The new build that came out couple of weeks ago is by leaps and bounds the best driving experience I’ve ever had in my 12-year sim racing “career”.

      I consider iRacing as more of a hobby than a game, and as such it’s psychologically easier to accept the cost of the content, I suppose. Although I may or may not have bought 100% content one drunken night. Kaemmer has my money, indeed.

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      I didn’t know it was that cheap – might have a go in that case.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      iRacing is having a special until April 30th for new accounts at $9 for 3 months. That only includes the base content, of course, but that’s where the majority of the action is anyway.

  5. Vorrin says:

    oh, finally some love for driving sims, I really missed RPS ever taking any interest in any of them, I’m happy :) (Also, go go netkarpro and live for speed!)

  6. FadedCamo says:

    Reading this makes me miss my g25 and playseat. Alot.

  7. iriches says:

    OK…I know I’m a pedant, but when you’re “breaking” into driving sims you need to learn about “braking” – not “breaking”.

  8. MiniMatt says:

    I’ve been breaking into first person shooters for some time and would really appreciate a similarly themed article from an experienced real life shooter of men such that I can enhance my virtual man-shooting.

    Curious and interesting article, though I’d still contest that Road Rash on the Megadrive was the best racing game of all time.

    Oh, and as a recommendation for those interested in racing theory and practice when applied to the far superior two wheeled bikes-wot-go-fast then Keith Code’s “Twist of the Wrist” is still a classic.

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      “… I’d still contest that Road Rash on the Megadrive was the best racing game of all time.”

      Close, but no cigar. Wipeout is the correct answer.

    • Vagrant says:

      Wipeout XL, but close enough for government work. You’re both wrong anyways, because Ridge Racer 4 is racing perfection.

    • MiniMatt says:

      Oooh, Wipeout, well played sir, well played.

  9. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    This column looks great, waiting for the follow-up…

  10. Vagrant says:

    I am a longtime auto racer, been doing it for 10 years now. Contrary to popular opinion, auto racing is not about driving a car in circles as fast as possible; It’s about burning money as fast as possible, in ever-increasing large chunks of cash. Sim Racing likes to simulate that part too!

    It might be just me, but sim racing is significantly harder than real life. In iRacing, it’s also more stressful. I think it’s because there’s the subconscious fear of dropping my ranking.

    Anyways, if you’re wanting to learn how to race, I highly recommend this book:
    Going Faster! Mastering Mastering the Art of Race Driving
    http://www.amazon.com/Going-Faster-Mastering-Race-Driving/dp/0837602262/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1329324390&sr=1-1

    • ascagnel says:

      You hit on my biggest issue with getting into even console-ized racing sims like Forza and Shift: they teach you how to play the game, but they don’t teach you how to drive. Granted, some of this I’ve picked up from getting into watching real-life F1 and touring car races on TV (I can’t wait for 2013, the new NY/NJ GP is about 20 minutes from where I live and I’ll definitely be getting tickets), and some from messing around in these games, but a “driving instructor” mode is really needed. The GT games push you towards this with the license tests, but it really isn’t enough.

      Similarly, as much as the graphs and charts help when trying to set up stuff like brake balance and gear ratios, there’s no entry level “if you do X, it’ll change Y” in most games. F1 is okay with their “this will make the car understeer, this will make it oversteer”, but the basic tuning mode and advanced mode are too disconnected.

      TL;DR: Teach me about cars, not about the sim.

  11. Radiant says:

    “Racing isn’t about burying the accelerator as much as possible and power-sliding around corners.”

    WHHHHHHHHHHHHHHY?!?!?!? WHY NOT?!

    Why can’t the go faster button on my joypad actually mean go faster?

    *cries*

    RIP Black Rock Studios

  12. salgado18 says:

    Oh! I suddenly noticed something very important, that the (great) article did not address: the person learning to race could end up liking very much racing games, but could stop at the semi-simulation category (GT5, Forza, Shift, etc), so don’t get mad at them, it’s just their taste! :)

    • ascagnel says:

      Especially since the higher-end sims tend to require higher-end equipment. And before you know it, you’re looking at buying an old car or go-kart to go real-life racing with.

      Shit gets expensive.

  13. asshibbitty says:

    That’s a very gentle introduction. I’ve a pretty specific gripe with racing sims, I feel they aren’t focusing enough on simulating how the innards of a car work and interact, the damage and wear etc. I’m not really following the genre so maybe that’s changed, if the next part included something on this issue I’d be thankful.

    • enamelizer says:

      The more “hardcore” sims like rFactor, and especially the more realistic mods, put a big emphasis on the mechanical wear aspect. My league runs a mod where you can change the radiator openings to manage engine heat (and thus life span) vs. aero, change brake duct sizes to keep heat in your brakes, choose tire compounds for grip vs wear, and you even have to turn off the engine during a pit stop to ensure your motor does not overheat and explode.

      Even increasing the downforce on the rear wing can change the car enough to where you have to adjust the suspension to compensate for the extra load.

      You can output all of the telemetry into Motec like a real race car and get very geeky about it all if that is your thing as well!

  14. Tim James says:

    One thing the author has to keep in mind: he had the advantage of real world track driving experience to compel him forward. Other gamers may not know why they should bother or what the payoff is. I also came to sims from real-world experience. I merely did autocross, but I read a few books on race driving as well. There I learned basic vehicle dynamics — how tires reacted at the limit of adhesion, how to approach a turn, etc. I was interested enough in mastering those systems that I was thrilled when I saw them work the same way in a sim.

    If this sounds like your personality, you might try watching the iRacing school videos first. Or read a race driving book. Or find a local autocross event if you’re really adventurous. If any of that piques your interest, you’re almost certain to enjoy race sims. Follow the steps of this article, confident that it’ll be worth it. You might even be able to jump straight to the hardcore sims too.

  15. apoxy says:

    If you’re like I was and have purposely bought more than one racing title and are still using a gamepad, spend the money on the wheel. I could never convince myself to, but around christmas I put one on my list as a present idea for my family. My sister bought it for me and have been kicking myself ever since for not having gotten one sooner. It made a hugely positive difference in my experience, especially in super-fast cars where tiny corrections are crucial.

  16. enamelizer says:

    Great article. A few comments:

    The more sim-like the game and difficulty settings, the more you will struggle with a controller. You will spend a lot of time tuning both the car and input settings, and ultimately give up on the controller as you get into it. That being said, I have raced with people that whooped my butt with both controllers and even keyboards.

    The Logitech DFGT listed in this article is a TON of wheel for the money. Don’t bother with the cheaper wheels, this is the one you want to start with.

    Set your wheel rotation low, like 360° or 540° when you start out. As you get better, increase it (or decrease it) to match the car, depending on how much realism you are looking for. But while learning, it is best to have your wheel setup so you don’t have to go hand-over-hand.

    Find a good, noob-friendly sim racing league. This will provide you with a nearly unlimited resource for information, setup help, and most importantly CLEAN RACING. You will get frustrated very easily in the public rooms with all the wreckers.

    Finally, I recommend Race 07 / Race On as the game to start with. With assists on it is a very easy game to come to grips with. It also has a practice mode that shows your lines and breaking points. Very useful for learning a track.

    P.S. No mention of rFactor?

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      Race 07’s the game I’ve used to get people hooked. With all the aids on it’s actually a pretty good laugh with a gamepad, it’s hassle free (setting up something like rFactor is a marathon of faffing about), is a perfectly respectable sim with all the aids off, and has a pretty decent range of vehicles and tracks.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Been simming since the GPL days.

      rFactor 2 is out in beta right now and while the FR and Megane components are okay, the vintage F1/F2/F3 and period accurate Spa and Monaco tracks are mind blowing. AI is very good, and the FFB is the best out there.

      rFactor 1, while popular, has crappy AI, poor FFB out of the “box”. Ton of content though and runs great on older systems.

      iRacing is what a lot of people rave over. Their FFB WAS the best until RF2 came along. Of course monthly fee AND you pay for content, and it ain’t cheap either ($15 per track, $12 per car). Basically it’s for the hardcore who take their simming seriously. Also no AI of any kind.

      Project CARS: Looks lovely, but it’s tiresome having to wipe and rebuild your profile every build, and there’s something funky about the controls. Has huge potential, and shows just how much EA ruined NFS Shift (guys who did Shift and this are the team that built GTR2). Slightly Mad are bloody good.

      GTR2: The best GT racing game out there. Great AI, lot of content available, MID RACE SAVING! Full day night cycle etc… 50 car grids.

      GTR Evolution/Race 07: Very good sim. Official WTCC sanctioned sim. Not so much content made by modders, but very good. Custom championships easily made. NO MID RACE SAVE so this is your tin top sprint racing sim if you so desire.

    • Vagrant says:

      Does rFactor 2 still have the worst UI ever designed? That was the biggest thing keeping me from playing rF1, but I haven’t tried rF2. I’d also say iRacing has the best online pickup races. It seems like other games weren’t that great for online play unless you were in a league.

    • enamelizer says:

      rFactor 2 has a new UI that is much, much better. It also requires a lot more system to run. And I agree with @Bonedwarf the FFB out of the box is one of the best I have seen, and Spa is simply awesome.

      The only reason I mention rFactor is because if you race in a league, chances are you will be racing rFactor. And the leagues are where the clean racing is to be had.

      Disclaimer: I have not run iRacing, too rich for my blood.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      iRacing is bloody expensive and too rich for my blood, but I have precious few vices so wallet be damned.

      RF2 has a nice UI. Much nicer. And yes, Spa is incredible. The weather effects are mind blowing too.

      And yes, my racing league is still on RF. There’s been RF2 events scheduled and nobody turns up, despite quite a few owning it. In fact the fact that I go out of my way to show up even when I don’t want too, and nobody else can seemingly be bothered is a big part of why I’m trying iRacing.

  17. Reapy says:

    I grew up playing car sims casually. Started with papyrus indy 500, used to just see how big of a pile up I could make at the start of the race, but I was pretty young. I spent a lot of time with micropros grand prix 2, but basically drove under full assist, even braking.

    I guess in a way I was on autopilot, but it was the only way I could stay on the track lap after lap. It actually really opened up some of the fun of configuring the car and gear ratios and all that. I didn’t have to worry about my driving that much, could just access all the settings to tweak in the car.

    After that I sorta lost my way with the car games for a bit, until I got grand turismo 2 on my playstation. That was one of the first games I saw that loaded itself down with education about driving and really opened my eyes to all the terminology and ideas behind it. Coupled with the fact that I could my mom’s subaru legacy wagon up to 450hp and burn around tracks, it really was a great game.

    I haven’t really gotten back into driving games too much, I just don’t have the knack for memorizing track layouts and staying hyper enough to hit each turn every time.

    A friend that I used to play with had a natural feel for it. I asked how he did it and he said he ‘felt it’ as he went around corners. For me to race well I basically had to memorize my entrance speed for each corner so I didn’t fly off the track. When I try to race well I steer around like an old man, enough to beat AI, not near enough to catch someone who is fast.

    I think one of the keys though to really start making yourself better are good analog controls. The throw on a joystick is too short. You definitely can use it, but it starts to get really hard to hit precise in between points as you corner and can wear out your thumbs over a race.

    Steering is one part, but next you will really need good analog pedals. As you get better you will find that you don’t want full off or on with the brakes or throttle. I know most modern joysticks have somewhat analog buttons, but what will end up happening is you’ll be pulsing the throttle to maintain that ‘half gas’ state you want sometimes.

    Finally, I know the article says that you should push yourself more and more inside the driver’s seat, but I dont know, I feel like I just can’t see turns at all when I’m down that low. I can’t pick out the graphics enough or look far enough to the sides.

    I feel like I always had a much better feel for the car from an outside view. I mean you aren’t in the car, you have no feedback to tell you the G’s of what the car is doing like you would IRL, so doesn’t it seem reasonable to step back so you can see the car to at least get a feel for it?

    Either way I know a track IR can work in racing games. For anybody who doesn’t know, there is a nice free program called facetracknoIR which I used in IL2 that will give you some of those head movements with a webcam. It works pretty well, though overall I find it pretty jittery sometimes. But it can be a pretty cheap solution to using face tracking, which I know many people use in their racing sims.

    So yeah, I like racing a lot in general, but not at an obsessive level. If there is one on TV I stumble on, I can get into it. But really what I found what drew me in was finding a game like GT2 that had a reasonably interesting simulation, had some measure of tuning the car, and could let me buy street cars. That was sort of the magic combo that pushed me farther along than anything.

    • Vagrant says:

      Required cockpit views in sims have always annoyed me, as it’s kind of unrealistic. Hood view (especially as a windshield view) is much more realistic. Desk = dashboard. Monitor = windshield.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      I agree entirely about forced cockpit view. I’ll usually use it, but if the cockpit is bloody ugly, like the RF mod my league uses a lot, I refuse. It’s terrible to be stuck looking at something so bloody hideous.

  18. pmanpman says:

    I’m still trying to save up for my g27 (poor uni student) but the best buy I ever made was an SRW-S1, all in one wheel, that, whilst lacking FFB is easy to put away, as compact and portable as a pad and perfect if you don’t have a dedicated machine and a set up that works easily for you.

    It takes a bit of getting used to and isn’t suitable for long races but it’s good for RACE07 sprints

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Try the Driving Force GT. Superb wheel. Half the price of a (frankly overpriced) G27. Seen folk bitch about the pedals with the DFGT but I have no issues and quite like them.

  19. pingu666 says:

    the view really depends on the game tbh, but for most sims incockpit does work the best.

    id give another vote for live for speed (extensive demo mode), and if your prepaired to fiddle, grand prix legends (full or demo)

  20. Therax says:

    The description of Traction Control vs. Stability Control bothers me a bit in this article. While both have something to do with preventing spins, it’s not really true to say that Traction Control will always “make the most difference to how the cars handle.” It depends a lot on the car.

    Fundamentally, Traction Control reduces the throttle for you if you’re applying more throttle than your tires can handle at the moment. It will help prevent a spin, *if* the spin is being caused by excessive throttle input. It does nothing for you during braking or neutral-throttle cornering. It has a lot more impact on a very powerful car, where a little bit of throttle can often be “excessive,” even on a straightaway when using a low gear. On an underpowered/over-tired car, it will have much less impact.

    Stability Control does magical things that even a skilled driver can’t do, like applying the brakes on individual wheels, to control motion that threatens to spin the car. Stability control can help if you’re spinning out while braking going into a corner, where traction control is useless.

    This brings me to my own personal hint: start out in the slowest, least powerful car you feel you can tolerate. The Lotus Exige that introduces the article has “only” about 200 horsepower, but it is fantastic for learning the techniques of racing. A lower powered car doesn’t change what you have to do, it just gives you more time to react and think. Too many people playing racing games gravitate straight towards the 800+ horsepower cars, and promptly melt the tires coming out of the first turn. This is where Traction Control can definitely help, but the advice to “learn to walk before you run” definitely applies. When I’m introducing friends to more serious racing, I point them at the Honda Civic, or the VW GTI, or the Mazda Miata/MX-5.

    I started racing on the track only after playing the original Gran Turismo gave me the itch. For me, it was the approachability of being able to drive cars I could feasibly see myself owning, which gave the experience an intimacy I could never get from an F1 simulation, or a rally car simulation, or a supercar-heavy arcade game like Need For Speed. I’ve never gotten into online PC racing, although I’ve got a goodly number of hours into GT Legends, for the same reasons. (For the record, I commuted to school in a 1973 Volvo 1800ES for quite a while.)

  21. Vander says:

    “Circuit De Spa”

    Circuit de Spa-[b]Francorchamps[/b] s’il vous plait monsieur!

    Anyway, good taste. As a Belgian who have the opportunity to go drive here from time to time, i love this track, but more in real life than in games, where i prefer Susuka. Perhaps because you dont feel the sensations that corners like eau rouge-raidillon make you experience in real life.

    Thats the shame of racing sims: even if they reproduce a car perfectly, they don’t make you feel the g’s. Not only it is more difficult to control you car (in real simulations), but take away a big chunk of pleasure.

    But hey, gas and tires in real life are expensive, and a hug with a wall of the nordschleife even more…

  22. Miltrivd says:

    Nice article, good advices for people starting out or that want to race more without/looking-forward-to getting into full sims.

    Sadly, the comments are plagued of people that just sees the name of a game and screams “IS NOT A SIM RAWR!”. That snobbish attitude sends newbies away constantly and diminishes people like me who likes more realistic driving without going into full sim for lack of interest/money/time.

    As I said, nice article, looking forward to the sequel.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      The problem though is pushing, say, F1 2011 as a “sim” means someone may very well say “Fuck this!” and give up, when there are superior sims out there.

      Like if I told you bananas were the greatest fruit out there, and you tried one poorly made banana milkshake and thought “Fuck bananas”. You’ve not tried the real thing. Sure, it’s a taste of what it could be, but it’s not the best that’s on offer.

      It has nothing to do with snobbery, and everything to do with wanting newcomers to have the best experience the genre has to offer.

      • Premium User Badge

        Rikard Peterson says:

        I tried Grand Prix 3, and found that a serious driving sim is not for me. I’ll stick to the Rollcages and Blurs of the world.

  23. Dhatz says:

    Is it impossible to find racing games with freedom? Nothing replaced Cramageddon 2. I hate how every NFS with MW kind of map has to be a childish arcade.

  24. trjp says:

    After all I’ve said about not starting in a ‘game’ like Shift 2, I thought I’d confuse everyone by highlighting that Shift2 is currently on-sale in the Origin Store (UK Only perhaps?) for £5 – including it’s DLC.

    If you really cannot face the work involved in a game like RACE or the cost of iRacing etc. then it’s better than nothing – it’s certainly better than Frid, GT5 or Forza in terms of making you actually work for a living :)