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It’s Easy To Be Brave When You’re Digital: A Primer Regarding Our Video Game Reviews

Before we dive into the ups and downs of this game or that game, we all agreed here at Automoblog that I should explain myself a little. You know, let everyone know where I’m coming from so readers can adjust for any biases. I’ve always enjoyed games. Ever since I was a little kid, playing games was both enjoyable and, for me at least, a safe and controlled environment where a person could be as risky or foolhardy, or as ruthless or conniving, as they wanted to be.

I have worked off and on in “the gaming industry” since the early 90s, helping to design board games, learning experiences, card-driven random experience blah-blah-blahs, and, ultimately, computer games. Indeed, I worked on the Xbox-based driving game Forza Motorsport 4. I was hired as a content expert and sometimes a test driver. I got the gig because while I knew a lot about cars and racing, I also knew a bunch about game design and simulation.

Forza Motorsport is a good game, and it is what I would call a “close” simulation. As good as a modern game like Forza and Assetto Corsa and iRacing (and so on) are, they are not full-on simulations. They are close, but they are not a “real” simulator.

In The Big Leagues

I say this because I have worked with high-end simulators in the aerospace industry. I had the opportunity to be in and around simulators for all sorts of fun stuff. ICBM launch simulators and attack helicopters and satellite maneuvering controls and, at the top of the heap, full motion-controlled, custom-built moving base flight simulators.

The level of fidelity at this stage is beyond the designers of Forza and Gran Turismo’s wildest dreams. I was once doing a Boeing 757 taxi for take-off, and I noticed the tar seams on the ramp were mapped into the simulation. We’re rolling along, and, seemingly right under us – under the cockpit, and therefore, under the nose wheel – there was a dampened “wump” noise accompanied by a slight heave upwards. A moment later – as the main gear passed over the same tar seam – there was a quieter and more distant “wump” and a smaller, more distant heave.

“You guys mapped the cracks in the runway?” I boggled.

“Yup, to the letter. Every airport that’s in the FAA’s database. Down to the types of gravel in the overruns,” said the flight engineer proudly over my left shoulder (I was in the co-pilot’s chair).

So that is my benchmark. I know how good a simulator can get if you have trainloads of money. Which is why Xboxes, PlayStations, and PCs are a minor miracle. For the cost of a 60,000-mile service on your car (timing belt, all fluids, etc.) you can get a pretty darn good “sim” rig all set up and ready to go.

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At Home Versus The Track

Personally, outside of my work for Turn 10, I put in more than a working year playing Forza 4. It’s not that it’s perfect. It’s not that it’s better or even as good as driving a real car on a real road, but it is fun. And it is monumentally safer. When I’m racing in a sim, I’m Tazio Nuvolari on his best day. I have the combined testicular weight of Mario, A.J., and Ari. I will try for that gap, and I bet I make it, and if I don’t, c’est la vie! Why? Because there’s a reset button.

It’s easy to be brave when you’re digital. In the real racing world, mistakes have deadly and instantaneous consequences. Real, closed casket levels of consequences. In Forza? Not only can you just start the whole race over, they even have a rewind button.

Driving games are a virtual paradise for gearheads. The downsides of automotive ownership and competition – maintenance, repairs, insurance, grievous bodily harm, and death – are nowhere to be found. Yet, all of the upsides are there: car collections that take literal acres of garage space, tuning and modifying at the touch of a button, instant transportation from one side of the globe to another to race on a real-world track in “real-world conditions” (although some restrictions may apply). Like I said, these types of games have been a virtual paradise for gearheads for a long time now.

Video game controller.

How We Will Conduct Video Game Reviews

Given my now-apparent biases, I pay the most attention to the fidelity of the experience. How well does a given game handle physics? How does the game deal with stuff like differential tire heating across the contact patch vis-a-vis weight jacking, stuff like that. I’m not so much into rewards, the steepness of the success pyramid, or concepts like that. Basically, if the game doesn’t drive right, I don’t care about how good the graphics are or how funny the victory dances can be.

We’ll also be taking a look at gaming hardware as opportunities arise to do so. In other words, wheel and pedal controllers. If the opportunity arises, we will also review peripheral hardware like monitors, sound systems, seat shakers, and other nifty add-ons that might boost the overall experience or just be a waste of money.

If you are a game maker or hardware manufacturer, please contact us here. Your hard work will be reviewed by someone who knows what makes a good gaming experience. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a Ferrari 250 LM that is getting way lighter through the hump on the Mulsanne than I’d like.

Longtime Automoblog writer Tony Borroz has worked on popular driving games as a content expert, in addition to working for aerospace companies, software giants, and as a movie stuntman. He lives in the northeast corner of the northwestern-most part of the Pacific Northwest.