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The Flare Path: Rubber & Blubber

"pleasant trifles"

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This column covers realistic car games with the same boundless energy and fierce incisiveness with which it covers flight sim hardware developments and human rights abuses in Central Asia. The reasons for this are too complicated to fully explain in an intro (In short: tiny desk, gypsy curse, Princess Diana). All you really need to know is that from time to time an opportune alignment of Mars and Snickers, combined with a Super Bowl upset and a special offer on elbow grease at Boots, produce conditions ideal for some guilt-assuaging arse covering. Covering my arse today are iRacing’s Kevin Bobbitt, Kunos Simulazioni’s Marco Massarutto, Studio 397’s Tim Wheatley, and Forward Development’s Eugene Gubanov. After their studio status reports, more Thar She Blows!, a blood-drenched Nantucket AAR in which doomed FP readers pull oars and hurl harpoons.

Dirty Ovals and Deutsch Dash – iRacing’s 2017

Kevin Bobbitt: “2017 was a big year for iRacing. On January 1st we announced we had acquired a license to build several Porsche race cars and we released the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car later that month. This car has quickly become one of the most popular road racing cars in the entire service. More on future Porsche additions later.

In March, iRacing released dirt oval racing. World of Outlaws Sprint cars and Late Models and multiple dirt oval tracks from all around the US including Eldora and Williams Grove Speedway.

We followed up with several more tracks and added USAC Sprint cars, UMP Modified and a dirt Midget car. Dirt racing continues to be a hit with members both new and old.

June saw the addition of the Le Mans winning Ford GT race car as well as the Ferrari 488 GTE. The Ferrari 488 GT3 followed later in the year.

Global Rallycross was another big release from iRacing. Debuting in December with two cars and five tracks, the newest form of racing to come to iRacing features Heat racing on tracks that are a combination of dirt and asphalt and really showcases the dynamic track model iRacing released a couple of years ago. We also began rolling out animated pit crews, starting with the NASCAR series and will continue to add more going forward.

What’s next? iRacing is busy working on a new and improved tire model for an even more realistic driving experience across all racing disciplines. Development of AI racing (racing against computer controlled opponents) and a career mode is well under way as is dynamic day to night transitions, new and improved damage model and multiple graphical enhancements.

New content slated to arrive soon includes both the Porsche 919 LMP1 car and Audi R18 LMP1 car, the Subaru STI GRC car, the Chili Bowl track, Charlotte dirt oval and Limaland dirt oval, plus several road courses. Also in development are short course off-road trucks and tracks. Additional cars and tracks will be announced throughout the year.

Finally, iRacing’s eSport World Championships continue this year with the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series, the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series and the Blancpain World Championship Series. These series pay out tens of thousands of dollars in cash prizes to the champions that are crowned in the fall. We plan to expand our eSport presence with the addition of several new World Championship level series in 2018 as we will become the official eSports partner of both World of Outlaws and Red Bull Global Rallycross.”

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Moor Speed and Realism – Assetto Corsa asserts itself

Marco Massarutto: “After the console release of Assetto Corsa in August 2016, the team focused on the production of new content and features. Just two months before, in June we unveiled an awesome partnership with Porsche AG, and until early 2017 worked with them to equip our sim with the most comprehensive selection of Porsche models (27) ever seen.

This has been an exciting challenge since every model has to be recreated to Porsche’s satisfaction. The colours, configurations, option sets, and, more importantly, the technical (mechanical, aerodynamic, electronic…) characteristics need to be accurate and approved by Porsche as they use our software in all their main Porsche Centres.

But Assetto Corsa is not “Porsche-centric”. We have also been busy improving our tyre and physics models in order to guarantee the highest possible accuracy. In February 2017 we released a new build featuring the Tyre model v.10. This applied to all the cars, improving tyre wear through better modelling of the load operation for each tyre. The release also improved and updated car handling, chassis balance and inertia across the board. Our philosophy is that, whatever car you drive in Assetto Corsa, whether it was one released last month or three years ago, it must exhibit superlative realism.

The February release also unveiled our second fictional track, the “Highlands”. Inspired by Scotland it has been much appreciated by the community (even if some Scottish people didn’t agree about the ‘style’. Which I can understand. It’s like when we see how Hollywood movies sometimes depict Italian environments :D), the variety, beauty and opportunities to push hypercars to the limit being particularly valued. The Highlands was released for free with AC’s  first rally content – the Audi Sport Quattro S1 E2, one of the community’s most requested cars. Another rally car, the Toyota Celica ST185, followed a few months later as part of the Ready to Race pack, our second-to-last DLC. Released in June, the Ready to Race pack coincided with version 1.14, an update that improved AI algorithms adding some new parameters like aggression, and allowed gamers far more flexibility with AI customisation. The new build also improved VR features and refined pit-stops functionality, physics, car balance and setup.

ac02

The last DLC produced for Assetto Corsa, the Ferrari 70th Anniversary pack, as its name suggests, celebrates the story of that famous Italian brand by reproducing some of the most iconic cars designed in Maranello. We consider it very special: firstly, because when we defined the list of cars, instead of following marketing or strategic guidelines, we just listened to our heart, selecting those Ferraris that our devteam loves most. Additionally, one model, the 812 Superfast was suggested by Ferrari, and another, the SF70H, was chosen by our community via a poll won. So, we made (almost) everyone happy.

The Bonus Pack 3 is AC’s most recent update. Released at Xmas, it includes some new modding functionality and, last but not least, seven free Italian dreamcars from Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini, Maserati and Pagani, plus the iconic circuit of Laguna Seca reproduced using Laserscan technology. It’s a ‘thank you’ to our community for the terrific support they’ve given us since we unveiled Assetto Corsa in 2011.

Right now, the new build is under submission for approval by Sony and Microsoft. In fact, all content and features produced for the Steam version of AC have been brought onto console, making our schedule of updates even harder to keep to. But it’s great to see how console audiences welcomed our efforts to bring them a genuine simulation, even if they had to wait a little longer for updates than PC users. BTW, without the support and sales of Assetto Corsa console, who knows if it would have been possible for Kunos Simulazioni to support Assetto Corsa for all this time. PC gamers have reasons to be happy we ported their favourite simulation to PS4 and XB1.

Despite all these updates and activity, some members of our team have devoted themselves to R&D, and Kunos has grown over the past year. In preparation for the challenges ahead, we’ve hired some new programmers specializing in animations, UI, physics and netcode. I believe the work of this expanded team won’t disappoint our supporters.”

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Variety, VR, and Vivider Visuals:  rFactor 2 rFuses 2 stand still

Tim Wheatley: “Studio 397 Bv took over software development for rFactor 2 from Image Space Inc. (creators of the rFactor racing sim series) back in 2016. Since then, the title has become Steam-only, had a massive visual overhaul (including the addition of postfx and Direct X 11 support), started producing first-party licensed vehicles and tracks as DLC, is very close to releasing a wholly new user interface, and has started public testing of a full-fledged online competition structure.

Breaking that down a little, we should mention that Direct X 11 also allowed us to support VR headsets, to enhance our dynamic weather visuals for rain, and to make the title more future-proof as we continue to build high-fidelity tracks of multiple layouts, and integrate VR spectating into them. The new UI will see us building on the sort of features our users now expect, like championship modes for racing against our best-in-class AI and better ways to find people to race against online.

One item from our user wishlist that we have been working hard to achieve is to provide a greater selection of cars from a racing category to choose from. The recent release of our GT3 Power Pack DLC – which featured licensed GT3-spec vehicles from Bentley, Callaway Corvette, McLaren, Mercedes and Radical – is just a first step in aligning our content and giving people more cars to race.

We’re now continuing to work on first-party licenses that will use our ever-improving class-leading physics, including both historic and modern racing content that will compliment existing cars and tracks. We have also begun to allow third-parties to bring their licenses to our title, as seen with KartSim, who will run an official karting eSports series with us.

We’re very happy see rFactor 2 being used in a number of important eSports events recently, including the largest ever prize pool of US $1,000,000 at the VISA Vegas eRace event with Formula E. This event was not only ground breaking in itself, it also lead to the development and release of the FIA Formula E ‘Energize’ DLC pack for rFactor 2 late last year. The Vegas eRace was won by an rFactor series five-time champion, Bono Huis, who took home $200,000.

A further massive event that involved multiple racing games and simulations was McLaren’s World’s Fastest Gamer. This competition saw the winner become the official simulator driver for the McLaren Formula One racing team and opened the door to real-world racing opportunities. We’re very proud that an rFactor 2 user won the title: Rudy van Buren recently beat a number of real-world racing drivers at the 2018 Race of Champions event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.”

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Breakdowns and Breathalyzers: City Car Driving gets even grittier

Eugene Gubanov: “Every year we add some new features to City Car Driving. Since the last time you featured us we have done much and released the simulator on Steam. This helped us to expand our fan base significantly. Now we update the Steam version of the simulator every month, and each time add some pleasant trifles. Among more major changes is support of modern VR headsets, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. For a hardcore simulator it is very important to work on reliability and realism constantly. VR technologies allow users to learn driving with even greater realism.

During 2017 we drastically revised our approach to controllers. Now the simulator supports not only PC steering wheels and joysticks, but also gamepads from consoles. Presets for popular input devices helps users avoid complicated manual controller calibration.

We’ve added German traffic rules, road signs and markings to the sim (CCD already featured US, Australian and Russian traffic rules). The set of sudden dangerous situations on the road was also greatly expanded. Now a vehicle engine can overheat (and jam), tires can puncture and brakes fail. In the Career mode we’ve introduced new exercises and an additional difficulty level. Drunk driving mode is another recent addition. After trying this mode, everyone should appreciate just how dangerous driving under the influence of alcohol is.

In terms of ambience, users now have the opportunity to listen their favorite Internet radio stations while driving, and our virtual cities are gradually becoming more and more alive. Autumn colour is simulated, and on Christmas holidays, you can select festive decorations for the city.

As well as City Car Driving, Forward Development  has also been working hard on many products in the training sector including quarry vehicle (dumpers, bulldozers, excavators…) and forestry machine simulators. For our German partners, we’ve built a truck simulator on a motion platform. Of course, we still have big plans for City Car Driving. In the future we’d like to connect virtual cities, expand the set of traffic rules for different countries, teach traffic AI some new interesting stuff, add new emergency situations, and work on updated physics. Stay tuned, we will try to surprise you!”

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Thar She Blows! (part 2)

Crewed by a rapidly dwindling band of Flare Path readers and captained by an idiot, the Nantucket whaleship Flora is busy harassing Humpbacks in the Labrador Sea. Having lost a talented tiller tender (Gothnak) during his first hunt, Captain Stone has somehow managed to lose a promising cabin boy (Rutiger) on the second. And further casualties seem imminent. When last week’s whale tale paused, Faldrath, one of Flora’s two men of science, was in the drink about to be fluke-slapped into oblivion by a mortally wounded behemoth.

Having overturned Mr Gity’s boat, the dying cetacean set about reducing it to kindling. Our senior harpooner was able to swim clear of the malevolent stern wheeler. His arm broken and his energy spent, all Faldrath could do was tread water and pray. As Jabbywocky’s boat was too far off to assist and Guardian Angels are as rare as giraffes in the North Atlantic, I took it upon myself to answer that prayer.

“Hold hard, Shiloh!”.

“Show your sweetspot, you devil”.

It did and I let go. Two feet of barbed steel, and a similar length of waxed hickory, buried itself in blubber, stilling the angry island almost instantly.

For an eery minute it seemed the remaining foe had fled. Nothing ruffled the ruddy chop but dipping oar blades and flailing hands and feet. We set about recovering our broken shipmates while the gulls overhead mocked our efforts with peals of bedlam laughter.

Then bubbles began to boil under the hull of Jabbywocky’s whaler. Canadave and Rorschach weren’t slow to react. They were straining every sinew to pull clear of the froth when the froth producer appeared in the midst of his cauldron. For a fantastic moment it seemed Mr. Newton was a fraud. Quicksilver, the prettiest of Flora’s gigs, rose like a startled lark. She was thirty feet in the air and turning turtle when her porter discarded her, plunging Jabbywocky, Canadave and Rorschach into the maelstrom below.

Sent reeling by a blubbery cosh, I have difficulty recalling the five minutes that followed. I can see the grievously wounded Canadave struggling to free himself from a cat’s-cradle of harpoon line… blanched hands righting Quicksilver… a ragdoll as large as a man spread-eagled on the head-knoll of a slain whale. I know now that ragdoll was Jabbywocky. Moments before Rorschach delivered the killing strike, Flora lost her third crewman.

The mood as we made for the Azores, our hold crammed with whale fruits, was subdued. Without my fiddle tunes, natural sociability, and zero-tolerance of superstition (My other traits include ‘teetotal’, ‘open-minded’ and ‘old sea dog’) it might have been mutinous. In Horta, Shiloh’s negotiation skills and favourable market conditions, helped boost lays and lift spirits, but I sensed my crew wouldn’t put up with another expedition as costly as the last one. A distraction was required. Watching from the bridge as Stugle and Canadave repaired buckled harpoons, my thoughts turned to Kahekilli’s spear* and snagged there.

*see previous instalment

Her stores replenished and her hammocks filled, Flora sailed for Brazil on July 9th, 1825. That day my breakfast was caught by our new harpooner, Arioch_RN, and served by the new cabin boy, Rituro. Gothnak’s replacement is a callow ‘Level 1’ rigging rat called Burn3r. I’d have preferred someone with a few more calluses on his hands, but beggars can’t be choosers in a one-seahorse port like Horta.

Seven days out the wind died. For two weeks we crawled across the chart like a sick limpet. By the time we caught our first whiff of South American mangrove swamp there was no-one onboard who hadn’t endured Shiloh’s tattoo bodkin or won or lost a fortune in Mr Gity’s weevil sweepstakes.

After the empty horizons and – no offence to Stugle and Canadave – bland victuals of the voyage, Fortaleza roused like a lungful of Velko’s smelling salts. Guided by Faldrath who knows the country well, we explored, sampled, and shopped until our feet, stomachs, and purses ached. Rorschach bought himself a handsome talking bird, Arioch_RN, a plant that eats dead rats! The only unwanted souvenir was Burn3r’s. He picked up an infection with symptoms as painful as they were apt.

The prince we sought resided two days ride from the coast. On hired mounts that regarded every low branch as an opportunity to lighten their loads, Faldrath and myself covered the distance in three. Entry to the palace – a beshuttered wedding cake, besieged by palms – required investment. A handful of coins unlocked the main gate and a handful more the doors to the tiled sanctum where the reclining potentate conducted business while gorging himself on gems of candied pineapple. Our hearts sank when we learnt that Kahekilli’s spear was thousands of miles away, jammed in the jaw of a fearsome Right Whale known as ‘O Inquieto Du’ – The Restless One.

Back in Fortaleza, charts were inspected, pipe stems chewed and opinions canvassed. Eventually the goose chasers – of which, I confess, I was the ringleader – placated the pocket liners with a mongrel scheme. We would set sail for the Antarctic feeding grounds of the Southern Right Whale, doglegging through the Restless One’s briny bailiwick en route. Next week’s Flare Path will carry an account of that terrible voyage.

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This way to the foxer

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