When a commentator is praising a racing driver for a perfect lap in qualifying earning the driver pole position, shouting someone on to pull through with an overtake attempt, or analyzing a racing incident between two competitors, a fierce race is going on somewhere. Anytime we hear those comments right now, it’s safe to assume that the action didn’t happen on the Circuit of the Americas or any other real-world track but on one of its virtual counterparts in a racing sim as racing was brought to hold due to COVID-19 policies. In this article, The Esports Observer explores the world of sim racing.
What is it?
The main purpose of sim racing games is to simulate automotive racing as accurately as possible, including real-world variables such as car physics, fuel usage, damage simulation, tire wear, aerodynamics, suspension set-ups, and more.
As motorsports are rather inaccessible for most because it is the sport with the highest financial barrier of entry (entry-level activities such as a year of karting season easily costs upwards of $5K USD), sim racing against human opponents over the internet is the closest many will come to driving real race cars on official tracks. In recent years, it has also started to become a path into real-life motorsports. Further, real-world drivers regularly use simulations for practice (and sometimes for entertainment).
To become competitive in sim racing, a driver must master all aspects of car handling and racing strategy, which make real-world racing so complicated. Understanding and mastering braking points, racing lines in the dry and wet, understeering and oversteering, load changes, corner entry and exit speeds, and many other things are part of becoming a good sim racer. Those aspects are also the main differentiating factor between racing sims and arcade racing games.
The rise of sim racing esports was only possible because of the development of simulation software capable of hosting 20 or more drivers simultaneously on a highly stable platform that is fair for all and can be adequately officiated to the same standards as a real-life event, continued development of physics engine software, and improved hardware that is capable of providing tactile feedback. Nevertheless, sim racing looks back on an almost 40-year history.
In 1982, video game developer Namco paved the way for sim racing when it released the first-ever sim racing game Pole Position (it wasn’t the first racing game, that distinction goes to Atari’s Gran Trak 10, but the first game to put the driver behind the car rather than taking a birds-eye-view of the track).
A couple of years later in 1984, Acornsoft released a Formula Three simulation called Revs for the BBC Micro and Commodore 64 as the home computing market experienced its first boom. The game pioneered features such as allowing players to configure front and rear wing set-ups, put the driver inside the cockpit, and introduced cars spinning rather than bursting into a ball of fire when crashing with other cars.
At the height of arcade gaming in 1989, Japanese game developer Sega released the arcade game Super Monaco GP, which placed the driver in a reimagined version of the Monaco Grand Prix. The arcades brought a new element to sim racing by featuring a steering wheel with paddles to change gear, taking the impression of reality to the next level.
Almost a decade later, in 1996, MicroProse released Grand Prix 2, which was made under an official Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) license that featured the 1994 Formula One season. Many considered this game to be the first “real racing simulator” as the game combined advanced graphics and extensive set-up customization.
In the following year, Polys Entertainment published Gran Turismo 1, which was designed by Kazunori Yamauchi and his team. The game took five years of development time and featured the first advanced artificially intelligent drivers players could compete against. The game was the most well-received racing simulator at the time, with 10.85M copies sold worldwide (as of March 2013) and is the highest-rated racing video game of all-time.
The next big step in sim racing was marked in 2005 when Image Space released its PC racing simulator rFactor. The simulation first introduced the ability for the game to be modded by independent developers and an advanced physics engine to provide realistic driving experiences. Notably, it also was the first video game to be used by real-world racing teams for their in-house simulators to train racing drivers.
Modern Racing Simulation Games
Over the last decade, sim racing games made another step forward thanks to advances in computing technologies and widely available high-speed internet connections. Currently, iRacing, Assetto Corsa, and rFactor2 are commonly referred to as the top of the line racing sims.
The market also offers easily accessible sim racing games featuring a variety of cars and tracks such as Project Cars 2, Automobilista 2 (which was just released in open beta in March 2020), and Forza Motorsport 7, as well as the free-to-play touring car focused RaceRoom Experience and career mode centric Shift 2: Unleashed.
Furthermore, several racings sims focusing on specific racing series are available such as the Formula 1 simulation F1 2019, the simulation of the Blancpain GT Endurance Series Assetto Corsa Competizione, Rally simulation game Dirt Rally 2, motorbike simulator MotoGP 2019, and the NASCAR simulation NASCAR Heat 4.
Tomorrow, we will outline the four major types of sim racing events as well as breaking down the cost of sim racing in part two of this series.
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