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Why A Bit Of Fantasy in Your Driving Games Helps


One time I got to race on go-karts with some friends. It's been a long time since I last experienced the thrill of karting. I think the last time I went karting was when I was 12 or even younger, and that was during a trip to Australia a long, long time ago.

Going back to my story, so here I was eagerly awaiting my turn to race. I guess I couldn't help but think of driving in video games before I took the wheel. I thought to myself, how far are we, really, towards emulating the entire experience of driving?

After several minutes of laps around the circuit, I realized that the video game technology that exists today just isn't enough to really give you that thrill of real speed. Yes, I know I was on a go-kart and I probably wasn't going that fast....but the sensation of speed is something else. It isn't just visual--it's a full body experience. The one thing that may never be emulated in a video game is the strength of the G-forces on you when you take turns or when you're simply moving forward in a straight line.

When you're playing a simulation-style racing game on the couch, despite all the fancy physics calculations that are supposedly making the game even more realistic, at some point, at least in my experience, I get that sensation that I'm spacing out, getting hypnotized, and essentially nearly falling asleep. This usually happens after several laps when you're in the lead and the AI doesn't pose any real threat.

When I'm on forums I usually read about gamers asking for more and more realism in racing games. It does make me wonder....how many of these gamers can actually play racing games with every assist turned off, and still enjoy themselves in the process? At some point, extremely realistic racing games don't really have that much happening in them, particularly when you've mastered your driving style and can hold your own against A.I..

Of course, online multiplayer in a simulation racing game is a whole other matter entirely; but the problem I've always encountered (particularly in Forza 2) is that there will always be one or two other players in the online match that won't play by the rules or play the game as the racing simulator that it is. There will always be carnage at the first corner, I'd say 100% of the time. And most of the time, this happens because a player intentionally wanted to fool around or mess up the other drivers. This is simply because they don't want to take the game too seriously; and unfortunately, this ruins the game for everyone else.

The 'carnage' that happens on turn 1 is part of the 'simulation' aspect of simulation racing games, but at the same time, it's the thing that makes it un-fun. So the winner of the race will be determined by the guy who 'survives' that first turn? How ridiculous is that? Why is it that when I watch racing on TV, this first-turn carnage rarely happens? If I'm playing a sim-racer I'd want to experience racing in fancy, very expensive cars, and not simply worry about surviving the race....the moment an accident happens on Turn 1, on every single online race, the game ceases to feel like a simulation racing experience; instead, it feels like I'm racing against amateurs in bump cars.

Also, simulation racing can be heavily taxing. I think everyone knows about the phenomenon of restarting your race because of a mishap or two that happens on any particular lap. Imagine having this problem in an Endurance race. You're on your 38th lap and the race ends on the 40th lap...and then you screw up royally. Your car is destroyed. Do you really want to do this all over again? Is this realism or is this punishment? Video games are still video games....they're not going to reward you with real money or anything else significant at the end of the day after you play them. They do reward satisfaction....but having to redo routine over and over and over again; there's a limit to what I personally can tolerate (in terms of repetitiveness).

Now I recognize the technical achievements of simulators like Forza 2 or Gran Turismo, and they're interesting just for the extent that they go into all the details that make up the whole driving experience. I just question how long that fascination lasts....when the game ceases to be a science project and turns into a game, how much of it is a game and not an exercise in routine? I guess if my real life profession was race-car driver, Forza and GT would be really useful to practice off-track. But for players like me who have other things in life to deal with, sometimes the realism in simulators can take too much time investment to really appreciate. When I play racing games, I just want to get that rush, that sensation of speed...that thing that go-karting in real-life absolutely delivers on all levels. I just want to feel the intensity of competition, and the thrill of winning after a close battle on the track. I don't want to worry too much about the controls of the car, but I do appreciate a racing game that takes a bit of skill and doesn't feel like Mario Kart. I feel that the balance for racing games is somewhere between the extremes of arcade and simulation.

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