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ďRacing SimĒ Edition (Hint: We donít need another NASCAR Game.)
By Mark H. Walker
two great passions: Racing and gaming. In 1965 I saw Jim Clark (deceased
Formula One World Champion) blast flat out through Spaís famed Eau Rouge, and I
was hooked.† Although my taste in
computer games is wider than the racing genre, I have never lost that passion
for speed imbued by Clarkís deep green Lotus 33.
the speed is real --ingested at the wheel of my ITB Corolla-- or simulated,
matters not. What does, however, matter is the direction the games that
simulate speed are taking† --the future
of racing simulations, so to speak. Itís a bright future, but that doesnít mean
itís a good future. Let me explain.
crystal ball is easily read. In the coming years weíll see a never ending
stream of simulations depicting two types of racing: NASCAR and the FIA Formula
One World Championship. No doubt, the games will sell well. Americans buy the
NASCAR simulations while the rest of the planet snaps up the Formula One games.
Yeah, weíll see the occasional GT3, TOCA
2, Viper Racing, or Sports Car GT, but if you donít like
NASCAR or F1, youíll often be out of luck.
Not here. Developers will continue to wow editors with better graphics and drivers
with supposedly more realistic physics models, but the nature of the beast will
remain the same. Hey, I like high-gloss, reflective-paint cars as well as the
next guy (or gal), but does it really change the racing experience? And
realistic? Puhlease donít talk to me about realistic. Decreasing the surface
traction coefficient and making the steering more sensitive does not qualify as
realistic. Any coder can make a game impossible to drive.
same-old-stuff point: Grand Prix 4 and Papyrusís NASCAR Racing
series. Grand Prix 4 is a solid game; Geoff Crammond has once again hit
the game-engine sweet spot, making the Ferraris, Jordans, and McLarens a joy to
pilot. The graphics, while not stunning, are at least pleasing. But thatís it, Grand
Prix 4 feels like an updated version of Grand Prix II, nothing more.
same token, NASCAR 4 (or is it
version 5 or 6? Iíve lost count) is little more than a prettier version
of the original NASCAR Racing. I respect Dave Kaemmer; he is arguably the
finest racing simulation coder/designer in the history of gaming, but Papyrus
needs to give NASCAR a rest.†
essence, racing simulationís bright future is the same old wine in a
brand new bottle. The game boots, the gamer chooses practice, single race, or
championship season, and the game plays. The cars are a bit more appealing than
the gameís predecessor, but little else has changed.
of the other future, A.K.A. that good future? Iíve seen it, and it lives
in games such older games as Monaco Grand Prix Racing 2, Dirt Track Racing, and
NASCAR Heat. The good future consists of racing
simulations that eschew either the tried and true NASCAR/Formula One series
or† present it in a unique manner, or
Grand Prix Racing 2 is another Formula One game, but it includes more
options than a neophyte long-distance phone company. At the top of the list are
the gameís scenarios. Why practice, qualify, and race when you can hop into the
seat and drive a scripted scenario? These mini-races run the gamut, from
helping a teammate win a championship to fighting off the competition on the
final lap. Theyíre new, creative, and most of all, fun. Similarly, NASCAR
Heat offers not only its Beat the Heat challenge scenarios, but Race the
Pro, which allows gamers to pit their skills against actual hot laps laid down
by Winston Cup drivers. On the flip side of the coin, Dirt Track Racingís strength is its subject matter. Where else can
you get the luscious feel of sliding sideways through the dirt at darn near
1000 miles per hour?
we wonít see many unique racing venues from major publishers in the coming
years. There isnít a fan base to support it. What we can hope to see is a new
face on the simulations we buy. A face that includes scenarios, laps against
real pros, and other as of yet thought of innovations. The days of slapping 200
new pixels, a slightly enhanced physics engine, and the latest tracks into a
box and calling it new are drawing to a close. Letís merge racing simulations bright
future with its good future and make a great future for gamers
and publishers alike.
© Mark H. Walker, LLC 2001
H. Mark H.
Walker is a veteran interactive entertainment journalist who has written over
40 books and designs games including his soon to be released Lock Ďn Load
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