The Last Garage Hands-On - 1000Hz Physics Clarified, AI and Online Discussed
Image: The Last Garage

The Last Garage Hands-On: 1000Hz Physics Clarified, AI and Online Discussed

At the recent Sim Formula Europe event in the Netherlands, OverTake was able to go hands-on with The Last Garage sim racing project and find out further details from its creator.

Marcel Offermans caused a stir recently by announcing a brand-new sim racing platform from his startup – The Last Garage.

Indefatigable in the quest for driving physics perfection, the sim racing veteran not only has a working prototype of his latest project, but some intriguing ideas about the future of online competitions. Then there’s the debate as to how the end consumer, i.e. us, will be able to one day experience it at home.

See direct capture gameplay and hear our initial The Last Garage hands-on impressions by watching our Sim Formula Europe event recap above

Initially touted as a platform for third-party companies to develop upon, the affable Dutch developer seemingly softened during the Sim Formula Europe event. In our experience, visitor reactions were overwhelmingly positive following brief hands-on sessions in a light, rear-wheel drive, car.

“It hasn’t been decided yet, but I would like to do both,” explains Offermans to OverTake when quizzed about its final form.

“I have lots of ideas about how to build a full simulator out of this myself, probably too many ideas, so I probably need to scratch a few of those.

“But I’m also open to others licencing the technology and using it in their projects, whether it is B2B or B2C. I don’t even mind people competing with me using this engine, because I think there can be many different things you can do with it, and I already know I can’t do all of them.”

The Last Garage simulator, classic single-seater
The Last Garage at Sim Formula Europe 2023 – classic single-seater. Image: The Last Garage

1000Hz Physics, All The Time

Tantalising. Especially considering it feels so telepathic to drive like the venerable Leo Bodnar wheel base used to showcase the technology was somehow affixed to the end of our arms.

Detailed – almost every surface imperfection around the undulation Bridgehampton test venue was relayed back to us – yet also naturalistic. Kicking the rear out of the Escort-like car upon corner exit to create an exuberant slide was satisfyingly straightforward.

There was also a classic formula-style car (depicted above as a 3D render in Blender by Mauricio Leiva) which delivered an intense sense of speed. We even grabbed a little air over some of the ‘yumps’.

During the initial reveal last week, one of the bullet point claims was a physics system running at 1000Hz which caused a debate.

The Last Garage classic car interior, Sim Formula Europe 2024
The Last Garage classic car interior. Image: The Last Garage

Offermans clarifies with alacrity: “The whole physics engine is running at 1000Hz all the time, that includes all the vehicle dynamics, all the tyre modelling, etc.

“All those calculations are done within one millisecond and that goes for all the cars that will be in the sim.

“The smallest step you take, the more detailed samples you can take off the road and if you’re driving at speed, even within one millisecond, you move quite a considerable step.

“So, the smaller steps you take, the more detail you get when driving over kerbstones and other rough surfaces, and that feeling that helps you drive the car better. The smaller you can go there, the better it will be for the feeling.

“That’s why we go at 1000Hz. If we could go 2000Hz, I might even do that, but that’s not feasible with today’s hardware.”

While the baseline technology has been newly created – with the Godot 4 platform in use for the graphics and sound – elements of the physics engine are based on an open-source project called Project Chrono, which The Last Garage’s lead is actively participating in the development of.

Ultimately, there is a modular framework, and if you really would like to dig further into the details and individual components, you can.

“My primary concern was to first get the physics right for this new engine, because if you don’t get that right, it doesn’t matter what else you do, you’re never going to make a good game out of it,” enthuses the former Managing Director of rFactor 2 developers Studio 397.

Marcel Offermans testing The Last Garage, sim racing, Sim Formula Europe 2024
Marcel Offermans testing The Last Garage, sim racing, Sim Formula Europe 2024. Image: OverTake

‘Robust’ Online Multiplayer

As the diminutive team is in the relatively nascent stages of development, the quantity of content included isn’t a primary concern currently. Now is the time to create the engine, dial in the physics and gather feedback.

When the question of mods is raised, the Netherlands native is open to their potential, but only if “a way that avoids issues with unlicenced and ripped content” is found.

We are intrigued about elements such as AI performance and online connectivity, the latter an area where the Luminis Technologies alumnus has a unique perspective:

“I want to make sure that the online play becomes more robust.

“[If you have] an architecture where everybody connects to a single server, if something happens to that server or the connection, you are immediately in trouble. That’s not something I think that’s acceptable in the modern world where we have plenty of bandwidth and connectivity.

“I want to make a more robust system where you can have a redundancy. If one server fails, everybody just moves to the other one without disrupting the race in any way – it should be seamless.”

The demo we tested, in theory, is already compatible with LAN multiplayer, with the online components in active development. AI should follow later, explains Offermans:

“Right now, I don’t have any AI yet in the sim. I must start somewhere and [multiplayer] is where I like to start, I think that makes sense.

“AI is always a little bit difficult because if you have such an advanced physics system, it becomes a little bit harder to create 40 or 50 AI cars that use that same system. That’s way too heavy. You almost always see AI cars using simpler physics, so you can have more of them running on the same machine.

“That is an area where I’m working with a few universities to research simplification techniques for vehicle models so I could create, let’s say 100, and comfortably run them with those models being almost identical to the player car. We want to get as close to that as you can.”

Marcel Offermans at Sim Formula Europe 2024
Marcel Offermans at Sim Formula Europe 2024. Image: OverTake

The Year Ahead

Following 18 months of working in the shadows, the Dutch Sim Formula Europe event in Maastricht was an opportunity to see if others agreed with the platform’s direction – something pivotal to Offerman’s development process:

“At some point, you start wondering, ‘where am I with this stuff?’ and ‘what do people think about it?’, so I wanted to make sure that at some point I went to an event and got it as much feedback as I could.

“I’ve made a little list already of things that that I should still work on. One common element I’m hearing, especially in the formula-style car, is that the sound is not great, with too much tyre noise.

“So that’s something I need to fine tune and there are a few other minor things that I’ve noted down that we’ll work on the next couple of weeks.

“I think, add another year, and I will have more details in the physics engine like dynamic roads, tyre, wear, tyre temperatures… those will be implemented, for sure.”

To see direct-capture gameplay footage of The Last Garage, watch OverTake’s roundup of the recent Sim Formula Europe event. Let us know any questions you’d like to ask Marcel Offermans in the comments below, and we’ll keep you updated over the coming months.