Posts Tagged ‘ racing

The F1 2010 Review

After at least 50 hours of play and 1.5 seasons across PC and 360, my review of F1 2010 is complete and ready for your perusal at GameShark.

There is just one thing I’ll add for now, and that is a wish for the future of this series. Right now you are kind of chucked into the deep end of open-wheel racing. By having your career start with a low-ranking team, the game is actually more difficult than it would be if you started with a good team. Bad cars are much harder to handle and taxing to drive than good ones.

I would consider adding F1′s feeder series, GP2 (I know there are others but GP2 is probably the best fit) and having careers start there. The cars are more manageable and the field is more closely grouped, so it would be easier to know if you’re struggling with the track. With my crummy Lotus, I’m not always sure whether I’m struggling because I’m attacking the track wrong, driving the car wrong, or setting up the car wrong.

Plus, racing in GP2 has a reputation for being a little more wheel-to-wheel, which F1 really isn’t. To their credit, Codemasters didn’t sugarcoat F1 too much. Overtaking is easier than in real life, it is true, but the intervals between cars are still pretty daunting. So while you can pass another car, catching it might be out of the question.

Anyway, go my review covers just about everything you might want to know about F1. So go read it.

Closing out F1 2010

I spent my entire day doing Grands Prix in the 360 version of F1 2010 so that I can wrap up my review this week. I’ve had a good handle on the strengths and weaknesses of the PC version, but I’m glad I took some time with the 360 version. I definitely needed to explore the easier difficulty levels and there are some definite buyer beware issues when you try to play this with a gamepad.

I’ll explain more in the review, but the bottom line is that I don’t think the higher difficult levels are even usable with a gamepad. When 75 percent throttle takes you through a corner at high speed, and 80 percent sends you into the wall, you really don’t want to be relying on the trigger buttons.

But there’s no getting around how gruesome this game, or any game, can become when you’ve got to start powering through it to hit a deadline, or to test some game elements that have seemed problematic. When I took this review, my goal was to bring it up to the same standard as Bill Abner’s sports game reviews, and now I realize how much effort that requires. Especially because, unlike an EA Sports game, a racing game doesn’t let you simply sim a racing season while you check the stats against reality. You want to see how a season plays out in F1? You drive.

But it’s worth it to me. There aren’t a lot of legit racing sim reviewers who can approach these games from a perspective that’s useful to the people most interested in them, and I feel like this is one game where I can provide a uniquely strong and informed perspective.

Still, I’ll be glad when I’m finished. I hear engines and gearboxes all the time now, and the room seemed to be spinning for like a half hour after Monaco. Man, fuck Monaco.

To Hell with "The Show"

I haven’t talked about it much here, but I’m a huge Formula 1 fan. I’ve been watching for about ten or fifteen years now, since around the time Michael Schumacher made his switch from Benetton to Ferrari. At this point I’m addicted to the racing, the engineering, the business, and all the melodrama that comprise an F1 season. Even with all the egotistical posturing and the ruinous politics that have marred the sport, I still tune in on race day to see the best drivers and racing teams in the world competing for the most prestigious title in motorsport. I simply cannot get it anywhere else.

After watching for so many years, and doing a great deal of reading and virtual racing, I see a lot of things that average viewers probably don’t.  I can see battles for position opening up well before cars appear to be dueling, just from the way the pursuing driver is taking corners. I scrutinize pit stops for the slightest misstep or wing adjustment, and can often tell you exactly why this stop took 9.2 seconds and that one took 10. I can see when a driver is beginning to have trouble with his tires, and can probably tell you why. F1 races often look uneventful, the same way golf or baseball can look boring and uneventful, but if you have a trained eye then most of them are fairly filled with interesting action. Just not wheel-to-wheel racing.

Yet it is something of an obsession within the sport’s governing body and among its fans to find ways to improve the show. The argument goes that F1 has become far too processional at the expense of the drivers’ duels that are the reason most people watch the sport in the first place. Something must be changed, perhaps the rules and regulations or the tracks, in order to make passing and fights for position more regular occurrences.

I love great drivers’ duels. The Hakkinen – Schumacher battles around the turn of  century, with first one then the other having the slightly better car, were a thrill to watch even if they weren’t going neck-and-neck most of the time. For years McLaren had the better cars and when Schumacher managed to get out in front of Hakkinen, it sometimes seemed like he was making a heroic fight against the inevitable as Hakkinen surgically trimmed the gap to nothing. Schumacher was perhaps never quite as good a race tactician as Hakkinen, but few drivers could wring as much performance from a car as Schumacher. The clash of styles and strengths was always fascinating to watch.

Perhaps there used to be a lot more of that kind of thing. Certainly in the 60s and 70s the running order seems to have been a lot more fluid, and longtime fans are quick to wax nostalgic about the great battles of the 80s and early 90s.

So it’s possible I’m biased toward the kind of F1 racing that I have always known: strategic and perfectionist. Passing opportunities come only rarely. Most races I’ve seen are about positioning and timing, and it’s not too often that drivers get in a dogfight for a points-paying position. It also makes those moments that much more fraught, because it’s difficult to battle back once a rival passes you.

In order to bring back “the show” that supposedly makes racing worth watching, however, we find ourselves facing the same kind of rule-tweaking and politicking that has made Formula 1 so dysfunctional. One of the major problems with modern Formula 1 cars, as opposed to those of the 60s, is that so much of their grip is aerodynamic rather than mechanical. In other words, they perform worse when they are near another F1 car, such as when you are trying to pass.

One of the reasons F1 cars are such high-performance vehicles is that they are covered in wings, winglets, and diffusers that generate grip. They are able to take turns at ridiculously high-speeds because the air itself is forcing them closer to the track. Problem is, they need “clean air” moving predictably and smoothly over the body in order for these elements to do their jobs. Out on a track by themselves, it’s not an issue. But if you’re chasing another F1 car, with the same aerodynamic elements leaving weird currents and air disturbances in their wake, then you have a major problem. The guy you’re chasing is getting everything from his aero elements, but your performance is suffering, which forces you to either back off or take serious risks.

The solution I hear proposed most often, and one they’ve tried to implement in various forms over the years, is to eliminate the number, type, and placement of aerodynamic elements that a Formula 1 car is allowed to have. Reduce the amount of aerodynamic group, leave the cars more dependent on mechanical grip (suspension and tires), and they will not suffer the same degraded performance in passing situations.

Problem is, they will likely be inferior race cars, incapable of matching the pace set by their aerodynamic siblings. In the name of improving the spectacle of F1, we would be turning the clock back 30 years and mooting the accumulated aerodynamic expertise of racing engineers who have steadily improving on their craft and learning ever more about how to make air interact better with a car’s body.

As I said, F1 is about the best drivers and team in the world competing at the highest level. Engineers are part of that, and to start reducing their role is to reduce the sport. If the cars have trouble passing because of the way they are designed, then that’s the nature of great racing machines. It’s not really a problem we should be trying to fix by hamstringing the cars or their designers.

Casual fans are always going to be clamoring for more, flashier action. A lot of people tune into baseball games and just wait for the home runs to start flying out of the park. NASCAR explicitly markets itself to yahoos who watch it for the crashes. I’m sure a lot of people just wish hockey was just made of brawls and shoot-outs. But that doesn’t mean these sports should go out of their way to cater to this uninvolved, sometime audience. F1 is a hell of a show if you know what you’re looking at: the culmination of the efforts of hundreds of talented, passionate professionals. There’s far more to it than passing.

(I just found this article on, which is thorough and fascinating explanation of the techniques and physics of overtaking, and why modern F1 features so little close racing. I highly recommend it.)

Driving Game

Cleanly! Scores of hours logged at Spa, Magny-Cours, Zandvoort and a dozen other Euro-American racing cathedrals, and all in the service of doing everything cleanly. Passing cleanly on the inside of a straightaway, or neatly nipping through the inside of a corner and slamming the door shut on the guy caught outside.

The Line is clean and perfect, and if I hit all my marks then my driving will be smooth and beautiful. My tires whine a bit as I accelerate through the Parabolica at Monza, but they don’t shriek and the the car doesn’t try to bust loose. My control is perfect, and that is the entire point of the game.

But God, the concentration and practice required. Sometimes I want to play a racing game and I look at my wheel sitting beneath my desk, and at GTR 2 atop my bookcase, and I just can’t go through that. It’s eight at night, there’s an icy draft seeping in through the windows of my apartment, and I just completed a long day of revising the same article until it was good enough to send back to my editor. Who will want more changes, and I’ve already gone from Draft A through Draft L. I want to play a racing game, but my sims want perfect reflexes and sharp senses, and I’m too used up to try and pilot a GT3 around Valencia. The torque alone is more than I can bear right now.

Yet GRID is so messy, like all arcade racers. All the cars slip and slide with greased tires across glass tracks. A simple 90 degree right-hander turns into a crescendo of shrieking rubber, roaring engines, and crunching metal and glass as cars smash each other into walls. I try a clean pass, outbrake my opponent going into a corner, take the line on the exit… and pound my wheel in frustration as he shoves me straight into the tire barrier. We were second and third, but now the entire field is driving past as as I try to extract myself from the the scrum.

We hit the barriers at 85 mph and my windshield is cracked and starred so badly that I can hardly see the track. Replays of the race will show that the front of my car now describes a check mark. It was straight line before. But my crew chief is on the radio telling me that I’ve “got some damage, but nothing too serious.” I reverse into my opponent, slewing him around as he tries to get back into the race, then roar off in pursuit of the long-gone field. The car still handles like it just rolled out of the factory.

Arcade racing games, like the ones that Codemasters produce, merely take real-world racing as their theme. TOCA and GRID are, to borrow a term from Tom Chick, Car-RPGS (caRPGs). You hop behind the wheel and work your way from driving sedans to super grand tourers, buying new cars and kit and unlocking new challenges along the way. Progress is constant, and all your training is on-the-job. Races are combat, where you put bruising hits on the opposition and use guardrails to help you negotiate sharp corners. The great skill in a caRPG is not driving, but in playing automotive pinball through the field until you accumulate enough prize money to move up to the next tier of challenges.

As an aside, arcade racing games also make sure to include lots of tedious bullshit to appeal to the entitled mouth-breathers who thought Gone in 60 Seconds and The Fast and the Furious were the Godfather and Easy Rider of their generation. If GRID is making a selling point out of the fact that you can drive the 24 Hours, or wrestle an old TVR around Donington Park, why is it making me master the pointless unfun of drifting? What could possibly make them think I’d care about such a thing? Let me be clear: drift racing is to real racing as tequila is to good liquor. There are people who are passionately devoted to it, but they a small, crazy subgroup that most of us would rather ignore.

But once I adjust to GRID’s icky collisions and near-gripless cars, I do find myself enjoying the cheerful madness of the racing action and its wise inclusion of a “flashback” that lets me undo catastrophic mishaps. Taking a Mustang sideways into a corner, punching the throttle at the apex and wrestling with the savage force of its fishtailing is exactly the kind of thing I want from an arcade game. I begin to enjoy the take-no-prisoners savagery of the races, especially when you nudge someone else into a wall at top speed and cause a massive pile-up in the rear-view mirror. I love the sudden quiet and solitude that follows the moment you just crashed the entire field somewhere in a chicane behind you.

Still, what I really want is a game that occupies the sweet spot between the mad chaos of a GRID or Need for Speed and the taut immersion of a SimBin game. A game that places a premium on smart, clean driving but doesn’t demand the monk-like devotion that characterizes a racing season in RACE or GTR 2. I love great racing and good driving, but sometimes I don’t want to be my own race engineer, or approach a play session the way Lewis Hamilton must approach a race weekend at Silverstone. Rather than taking a slug of GTR 2 with a GRID chaser, I’d like something that blends their strengths. Something that still keeps the racing clean, but not immaculate.