Can there be a perfect racing game?
Photo credit: eRace of Champions
With the new Trackmania, another racing game is about to be released very soon. Racing games as minimalistic as this make you think about what a racing game actually needs to be a good game. So we sat down with professional (sim) racer James Baldwin and discussed this topic.
Many ways to go
“For me, there isn’t the perfect racing game out there just yet. Every racing game has it’s pro’s and con’s,” Baldwin says. “I think as long as a game has some very good elements, that could be physics, it could be graphics, then it has to be classed as a ‘good’ game.”
The current World’s Fastest Gamer champion raises the most important point first: Not every game will ever appeal to everyone in the same way. So it is important for developers to address a certain audience with their game. But is it really enough, to only deliver fine graphics, good steering or realistic physics? A lot of games do so but some of the most beloved games (coming back to Trackmania) are objectively not the best according to any of those metrics. So what is their secret?
A good game needs to fulfill the specific needs of its target group. This can be accessibility and uncomplicated, quick action that works alone or with friends in games like Trackmania. Or it can be the replication of reality and the feeling of true competition, like racings sims do.
And even here you can find differing opinions on what constitutes a good game, as James Baldwin mentions:
“For example, rFactor 2 isn’t the most user-friendly sim out there, however most people still class it as one of the best due to it’s good physics and very good tire model.”
Everything a compromise?
So it seems that sometimes one overwhelming outstanding characteristic can outweigh others. Racing games which can’t provide that often try to make the difference by offering an enormous car pool. Whether it is a big variety of licensed “everyday” cars like in the Need for Speed series or the authentic racing vehicles of certain competitions, championships and classes.
Coincidentally Need for Speed is living proof that a giant car pool alone is not enough to make a good racing game. The “Underground” games of the series are called some of the most popular racing games ever by impressing with easy-to-steer racing, fine graphics and huge tuning options. Other editions like “Undercover” or “The Run” earned harsh critique for their poor gameplay.
One series has always tried to deliver the best compromise between all disciplines: Gran Turismo. It combines beautiful presentation with massive car pools and physics that are just as realistic and accurate enough to appeal to simulation fans and beginners alike. With its current iteration GT Sports the game also took a huge step into multiplayer gaming and esports competition.
The popularity the Gran Turismo series has enjoyed with PlayStation owners for years speaks for itself. Xbox and PC fans get the same phenomenon with the Forza series. So even if there might not be perfect racing game right now: Some developers intentionally chase that goal.
James Baldwin already knows what the perfect game for him would look like:
“In my opinion the perfect game would have extremely realistic physics such as Assetto Corsa Competitzione, with the tire model of rFactor 2, the user interface of F1 2019 or Gran Turimso, but with the general racing structure and licensing system of iRacing. That sounds like an unreal game!”
Entering another world
It doesn’t seem surprising that the 22-year-old only names sim racing games, as his life revolves around competition on the highest level, even reaching over to racing in the real world. Additionally, it reveals another fact about what aspects make a good racing game: The demands on competitive levels differ much from casual gaming. Whereas casual gamers are mostly impressed by and drawn to stunning graphics and the feeling of (sometimes unreal) speed, competetive drivers like Baldwin put their focus on control and best performance possible.
A lot of drivers competing at the top of say, F1 2019, turn the graphics down a lot to improve the framerate of the game which is far more important. iRacing and rFactor 2 are both probably lacking a little bit in the graphics department compared with say, GT Sport, but we all know which games have the better handling model. If you want an immersive experience to try and replicate real life, then good graphics are great, and if your PC can run them without running into any issues, then that’s a bonus! But it really isn’t essential, framerate is what matters as you can react to the track and what the cars doing a lot faster with more accuracy.
He’s got a point, as even Gran Turismo creative Director Kazunori Yamauchi has addressed in an interview with gtplanet to strive for a framerate around 120 FPS or even 240 FPS with Gran Turismo 7.
Competitive racers also regard matchmaking and licensing highly. Although the latter point is the least important point to James Baldwin when rating a game:
I would say the licensing system is probably the least important thing to incorporate into a racing game. I think the way iRacing does it is great, but I don’t think it would be the end of the world if it wasn’t there. For example, some of the top esports championship’s and big races on iRacing require the driver to have a very high iRating to be in the top split’s, and that takes a lot of time to grow the license to such a level, so you can’t really just jump onto iRacing and compete at the top, even if you are extremely quick which I think is a negative to be honest.
In the end racing games probably have to devote every aspect to fun. The most important thing for this might be the controls, as every racing game is naturally about constant movement. It doesn’t matter if the game pursuits a realistic approach or unique fiction-related gameplay like in Onrush or fun racers like Mario Kart. As long as the players don’t have the feeling of proper control, they won’t have much fun with a game.
A nice presentation can support that, but isn’t necessarily needed to make a game great. As long as the presentation supports the central gameplay, everything can work out. Trackmania is the probably the best proof of that as well as the fact that competitive racers are willing to turn down graphics for a better gameplay experience.
Content is way more important after all. Even the best controls don’t bring much fun if you have nothing to do. If a game is designed for multiplayer, matchmaking and a proper online service can become vital to it, but as James Baldwin mentions, they are not mendatory.
In the end there are lots of screws for him that can be turned to enhance the overall experience:
“The thing I think is missing from the ‘Racing Esports’ scene is that all round great game that is near on perfect in every area. Hopefully that will come soon though!”
With the next generation of consoles just around the corner, another generation of racing games will try and take racing games to new heights.