Falling Behind the Times

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With no racing or any sports to speak of going on right now, many motorsports fans and drivers have jumped onto the eSports bandwagon. Those of us over sixty used to refer to these as video games. Somewhere along the line, the term evolved into eSports – I guess to make it sound more athletic.

I’ve noticed coverage on social media where professional drivers are racing each other or even fans. To be honest, I paid little to no attention to it. It’s not something my generation pays a whole lot of attention to these days. But it’s becoming big business and has become a way to attract new and younger fans to the sport – something we’ve all acknowledged is very important.

I’ve tried iRacing, but I’m not a fan of the web-based subscription concept. Plus I found the tracks very difficult. iRacing is not for your average Joe who might occasionally hop behind the wheel of a racing sim. It’s for your real hard core racing fans that actually know something about setting up a car for different tracks.

I tried a three month trial subscription for iRacing about three years ago. For a total of $19.80 for all three months, I figured “what have I got to lose?” What I quickly found out was to be any good at iRacing, it had to almost become your full-time job. Between a real job that keeps me very busy and this website – my days are pretty full. I soon found out that I did not have the time to devote to iRacing to be any good at it.

I don’t know this for certain, but I think most of these eSport races took place on the iRacing platform, because I know a lot of professional drivers do use the sim to practice on.

Back in the day, I used to love racing on my computer. In the last nineties and early 2000s I bought practically every PC racing sim that came down the pike. My first was CART Precision Racing, which I think came out around 1997. I remember that because I had just gone through my divorce and I thought this would keep me entertained. It didn’t.

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Even back then, I found its graphics to be elementary. I also had just bought Microsoft Flight Simulator 98, which had much better graphics for that time. Let’s just say that CART Precision Racing did not scratch my itch.

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There was also a very basic IRL game called ABC Sports Indy Racing that I had, but it was bad, and I mean really bad. What I remember most was that the only realistic part of it was the sound. Unfortunately, they got that 1998 IRL engine drone sound down to a tee. It was so perfect you wanted to turn the sound off.

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During this time, the NASCAR games and Formula One games were much better than any open-wheel game that was around. I had NASCAR 3 and NASCAR 4, along with NASCAR Heat. They all had downloadable graphics from third party sources, where beer and tobacco sponsorships would actually be on the car instead of some lame lookalike fake sponsor. Dale Jr’s car would actually say Bud across the hood instead of Dale. And the graphics were far superior to what you would see on the IndyCar games of the day. I’ll never forget how realistic the tire smoke looked on those NASCAR games, the first time I saw it.

Around 2001, there was a bootleg IndyCar game someone developed for online download that was built off of the NASCAR Heat platform. As long as you owned NASCAR Heat, you could run its open-wheel version. There was a CART version as well as an IRL version. They were both fun to drive and all the sponsors were correct – the Penske cars all said Marlboro on the sidepods. But when that computer crashed and I had to get a new one – I lost the game for good.

One of my favorites was Grand Prix Legends. It was one of the toughest to drive, which told me it was probably realistic. The cars were Formula One cars from the 1967 F1 season. Jim Clark’s Lotus and Dan Gurney’s Eagle were just two of the classic cars from that era that were in this game. The graphics were outstanding and you could race tracks like the original 13-mile, 154-turn Nürburgring, Watkins Glen and MoSport.

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I also owned Formula One 2000, which was our first glimpse at the IMS road course. The game came out before the road course was even finished.

In 2003, IndyCar finally joined the game with IndyCar Series from Codemasters. It was a decent enough game. It featured cars from the 2002 season – some real, some fictitious – and all of the tracks from the 2002 IndyCar schedule, which was still all-ovals. Most importantly, it featured the Indianapolis 500 and a good graphic representation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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I designed my own car No. 14 in Coyote Red and found an online perfect setup cheat for a perfectly balanced car that was fast through the turns as well as down the straightaway. Finally, I was able to scratch that itch. I would spend countless hours at night turning laps at IMS. Sometimes I would practice with other cars on-track, sometimes I’d race, but other times I’d just do a test session with just me on the track. It served as my therapy after a rough day at work or with my kids, who were just entering their teen years at the time.

An updated version came out in 2005, but I didn’t get it. I had heard that other than updated cars and liveries, there was no real improvement in the game. Change is bad, so I stuck with what I had.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that IndyCar Series 2006 would be the last game released featuring current cars of what would become the NTT IndyCar Series. Just out of curiosity one night a year or two ago, I put my IndyCar Series game CD into my computer with Windows 10. It was not compatible at all. Maybe I don’t know which box to check, but there were so many glitches, the game was basically unplayable.

Although many swear by it, iRacing is not for me. I still like owning a game I can pop in at anytime and not have to pay a never-ending subscription fee. I’ve never cared f online racing because there is always some idiot that has his car so tricked out, it does about 400 mph at IMS and can even go through the turns flat-out. Or there was always the guy that would be getting beat, so he would just do a U-Turn in the track and start running the wrong way, thereby ruining everyone’s race.

I am told (thanks Chris DeHarde) that Formula One and NASCAR are still releasing new games every year, yet IndyCar has not had anything since IndyCar Series 2006. If the racing-sim market had dried up, I could understand that. But apparently…it hasn’t.

I will fully admit, I no longer keep up with such things – partly because I don’t like the subscription-based, web-based iRacing. While we watch movies OnDemand and on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon – I still prefer to have a blu-ray disc sitting on a shelf. It’s the same with my racing-sims.

Had IndyCar been behind a project for a PC game (I’m too old for an Xbox or Playstation) over the past fifteen years, I might have bought it and kept up with it more – especially since the game I really liked is no longer compatible with my current PC.

Although I’m really out of the target demographic for racing-sims, why has IndyCar not tried to get behind a game, sim or whatever for the younger generation that spends hours playing Fortnite? For years, we’ve heard about attracting that coveted young fan. Any race track today features a kid-friendly fan zone, but I don’t think they are hitting a nerve with them. Give them something new to put into their gaming console and you might have something then. Who knows? If IndyCar were to come out with a decent sim that teens liked, I might buy it too – not because I’m trying to act young, but because I would love to see today’s graphics at work on an IndyCar sim.

With no racing or live sports for the foreseeable future, it might be fun to spend a few weekend hours playing some racing-sims, especially using current cars. There is no question that IndyCar has fallen behind the times is pursuing eSports. The question is…why? Perhaps, after fifteen years, this will change under the guidance of an 83 year-old who is now calling the shots. It’s a shame it came to that.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Falling Behind the Times”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    I’ve been sim racing since the early 2000’s, spent a long time on consoles but moved to PC about six years ago. There is plenty of IndyCar content out there but not a dedicated game. Project Cars 2 probably has the most content outside of iRacing, it has maybe 2/3 of the tracks and both brands of cars. I didn’t think much of the game but recently found a force feedback modification that makes it feel a lot better and it’s surprisingly decent. rFactor 2 has some IndyCar stuff, including the junior series. There’s some IndyCar mod content available in Assetto Corsa and RaceRoom and Automobilista have non-official representations of current and past IndyCars. Lots of fun to be had. Online racing with a group of good drivers can be a helluva lot of fun and very intense.

  2. Tony Dinelli Says:

    Papyrus had a great Indy Racing game back in the day. Paul Page had a voice over as it loaded.

    • I used to play that mid-90s CART game by Papyrus or Sierra I think. Was pretty good. My graphics were cranked down due to my mid-level (at best) computer setup, but even with basic forms, I loved racing on the computer. I was driving with a joystick however since I already had one from what may be my favorite computer game of all, Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat. Paying $99 plus for a basic wheel at that time was just not in the budget of this racing team. Using a stick and trigger method made oval racing enjoyable, but road courses were painfully difficult as there was no progressive feel to turns or throttle control. Such was my experience.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Papayrus’ Indycar Racing and Indycar Racing 2 were the gold standard for Indycar sims into the 2000s, especially because you could paint the cars with the correct alcohol and tobacco company logos if you so chose. Even their primitive late 80s release, Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, is a playable sime even today.

  3. Mark Miles was interviewed on a recent episode of the Marshall Pruett podcast. When asked about video games, sorry, esports, he seemed to imply that game developers wanted the league or series (Indycar) to cover the cost of developing the game, and treat it like a marketing expense. Reading between the lines, Miles implied that the series wanted to spend its money in other areas.

    It’s disappointing that Indycar doesn’t have a dedicated game out. But I would guess it could easily cost 7, if not 8 figures to develop one. I’d love to hear from someone with experience in the industry.

    Races on NBCSN get 600,000 viewers, and only a portion of those fans are into video games. I can see where it might not be worthwhile to spend a few million on a game to sell to a portion of 600,000 people.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Much as I enjoy them, I’m not good at video games. The sim (relatively speaking) that I have spent the most time with is EA’s middling 1996 release, Andretti Racing, which I own for the Sega Saturn. I usually reset the game until it gives me the RC Cola car, which I then use to race to 15th place (of 16 cars) ahead of Scott Pruett. This game hates Scott Pruett.

    I am a big fan of top-down and isometric tabletop racers and the 1992 NES port of Leland’s arcade cabinet Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat is one of the best in that category. It is, essentially, Super Off-Road with pit stops and fuel strategy and it is every bit as fun as Super Off-Road, or other tabletop racing classics like Micro Machines, RC Pro-Am, and Rock’n’Roll Racing. Good as it is, Danny Sullivan is a dirty cheater in it, especially at Long Beach. Beating Sullivan at Long Beach in Indy Heat is one of my greatest gaming accomplishments!

    • The NES version of Indy Heat was (is, I suppose) fantastic, and yeah, there were some ridiculously hard portions of that game (namely, yeah, trying to beat Danny at Long Beach). It was always fun back in the day to knock other cars off of their air jacks in the pits and wind up flattening one of the members of the other teams’ tiny, pixelated pit crews.

      Other than Indy Heat, my faves were Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Challenge (through high school and college, I had a tradition of doing a 500 miler at Daytona on the day before the real 500, and I was even crazy enough to once attempt a 500 miler at the flat-as-a-pancake Sears Point, although I got bored and quit at around half distance, when I was 3-4 laps up on 2nd place), Al Unser Jr.’s Turbo Racing (which was mostly fun to see how the game designers had taken the contemporary F1 tracks of the era and rearranged the turns to make completely different layouts) and my personal favorite, Michael Andretti’s World GP (notable as maybe the first ever racing game that I played that required braking and downshifting for sharp turns…this took the realism to a whole new level vs the other games of the era which were essentially flat-out-all-the-time, even though a “Lola-Chevy” was apparently the best available F1 car in ’91-92).

      Oh, the days when I had time to play video games……good times.

  5. It’s so frustrating. Just last night I was playing NASCAR Heat 3 on my PlayStation 4. Whenever my wife sees this she’ll often say “It’s too bad IndyCar doesn’t make a game. You don’t even like NASCAR.” And there you have it. The 25 bucks or whatever I paid for the NASCAR game? I’d happily pay twice as much for a good IndyCar game. But I can’t. Because it doesn’t exist.

  6. What I find quite intriguing about watching videos of people playing video games is that this is about the only way in which you can see IndyCars run on tracks they don’t normally run on or would never run on. Yet still, these kind of videos are somewhat hard to find because it is a special interest, basically.
    For example, the DW-12 going through the banked Peraltada corner of the 90s era Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez Mexico City track would be fun to watch on a simulator. Also, the Donnybrooke circuit at Brainerd International Speedway in Minnessota with its long high-speed passage would be cool to watch on a simulator. After all, open-wheel racing does have a real history with this track from back in the 60s. Virginia International Raceway would probably be fun to watch on a sim, too, because it’s probably just not possible in reality.
    Neither is the Speedway in Nazareth, PA, but it has been preserved in sim racing, just like Riverside has been. Imagining the DW-12 at Riverside gives me goosebumps in a way.

  7. James Legault Says:

    Late to this topic but I’m just catching up!

    I’ve been on iRacing since the beginning, in fact, I was a beta tester for iRacing before it went public. And I’m not an “alien” sim racer. I’m mid-pack at best. What I like about iRacing is that it enforces a system where safe driving is rewarded and reckless or risky driving is punished. That’s called the Safety Rating and it directly affects the class of car you are eligible to compete in. They also have a competitiveness rating that is used to group drivers of similar abilities together in races.

    I understand your dislike of the subscription model, but I’ve been a subscriber since 2008. It works because iRacing continuously improves the physics of the product, and introduces new tracks and cars on a regular basis. They couldn’t do that without the steady, predictable income stream coming from the subscription model. I see it as receiving a high degree of value for the money.

    You are correct that it isn’t an “arrive and drive” video game. It’s a simulation. Even the numerous fixed setup series (the IndyCar modeled in iRacing has both fixed and open setup series), where your setup options are extremely limited, require a fair amount of practice in order to develop the muscle memory required to drive safely, if not quickly!

    Finally, in my judgement, Mark Miles is correct in choosing to not use IndyCar’s available resources for development of a series specific video game. That ship has sailed. The return on investment isn’t there anymore.

    Marshal Pruett has an interesting column on Racer today called “The eRevolution has to be televised”. I think it provides an interesting and valid perspective on where the whole eSports thing is headed, as it relates to motorsports.

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