Following Fridays Sim Racing Expo announcement of the partnership between Image Space Incorporated and Studio 397, we have been lucky enough to sit down with Tim Wheatley of ISI/Studio 397 to discuss the new arrangement and what the future holds for rFactor 2 in 2016 and beyond. In our two part interview, we will be looking at what the new partnership means in real terms to the ongoing development of the sim, how some of the already announced intentions are shaping up, talk about licencing arrangements for new content and a few little surprises as well... Read on below for part one, and keep an eye out here on RaceDepartment for more rFactor news due to be announced over the course of this weekend. RD: What does the announcement mean to you guys at ISI? TW: Well for me personally, I now have two jobs. I work for Studio 397 and also for ISI as well. For the people working for the company, content guys just have a new employer. They just keep on going as usual and I bounce between the two and undertake a little bit of work for both. ISI was starting to get to the point where rF2 was going to get pushed down and "not rF3" was going to start coming up. Many of us within the company felt that rF2 wasn't ready to be pushed down yet. It's still got things that I consider to be incomplete. I think everybody would obviously agree with that one, and there's a lot of features that other sims have that rF2 still needed, that just weren't ever now going to be brought into the product. From a practical standpoint, the partnership basically allows rf2 to keep going, to stay with or ahead of the other sims as far as the development is concerned. ISI is pretty much focused on "not rf3" going forward, but the cool thing is that the new studio has full rights to the source code and branding of rf2 and will be developing on that. Also Studio 397 effectively have the scope to hire ISI to do work on that as well so it's actually quite a cool arrangement. RD: So when you say the content guys have moved over, are their number to be bolstered with new staff members at Studio 397? TW: The goal on the content side is to speed that up in a big way, but also to take another look at modding and supporting modders. There are various things that have been discussed. Marcel has even proposed to accept the rf1 tyre model in rFactor 2 because, let’s face it, the tire model is the barrier for a lot of modders. He was also talking to various modders through his connection with the community, and he was basically talking about building a tool that you could put an rf1 mod into and it would spit out an rf2 mod. The first thing that I think with that, is it would effectively put rf1 out to pasture and more easily move everybody over to rf2, as there would be no need to stay with rf1 anymore. It lets all of those people in that consider the rf2 tyre model too complex or who can get similar things from the rf1 tyre model with enough tweaking. People like Niels and other physics gurus are quite content with the rf1 tyre model, and that can be the primary reason why some of these people haven't done any rf2 modding. It is important to listen, and that's what Marcel has been doing. RD: In effect then, it sounds like Studio 397 have a bit of a free reign to develop rf2 how they see fit going forwards? It's not really commissioned by ISI to develop it...it's in effect being handed over to 397? TW: Yeah, it’s my understanding the new studio has complete control. If Marcel wanted to change the name he could do, but obviously he would lose a lot by doing that and that’s why it’s a little rebrand instead to try to give a freshness. RD: So from a business point of view, does this mean ISI are losing business because of people that were creating content being paid by ISI moving over to Studio 397 or are 397 a subsidiary of ISI? TW: Well ISI doesn’t have to pay as many staff anymore, so its income from rF2 evens out. Studio 397 is a subsidiary of Luminis, not ISI. RD: Will ISI be making any profit from rf2 anymore? TW: Yes, it will still be taking a cut, and obviously ISI is wholly responsible for rF1, Pro, etc. RD: Was the move over planned or has it kind of progressed by itself? TW: First time I heard about the possibility was a few months back. Marcel has been working with ISI since the rF1 steam release, and this transition seemed internally like a natural thing. As ISI itself was looking to focus on "not rf3", the rf2 focus became less. It's one of those situations I didn't personally like being in, and over the years we’ve had intentions to add various elements to the sim, that I confirmed to the community when told to, that at a later stage found themselves taken off the table again. I kind of feel like I appeared to be seen as lying to the community about certain features I was told were going to be implemented, and basically was told later that we are not going to be adding that to rf2. Now, via Studio 397, they’re back on the table and that takes a load off me as well as the rest of the team. Marcel, I think was sensing that just at the time rF2 was getting it’s legs, we were going to be winding things down with it. There were talks and it became an actual possibility that he could take over development and basically continue almost what he'd been doing already, but instead of being a contractor to ISI he would be the actual developer and just be paying a revenue fee to ISI. RD: So basically it's picking up from where ISI have left off ? TW: Yeah exactly, but with more focus and without the distraction of “not rF3” in pretty much every single way. And there certainly will be many things Studio 397 bring to rF2 that ISI had decided not to (VR being one of those). What's nice with this arrangement that a lot of the other developers don’t get, is that Studio 397 can hire ISI for work when needed. ISI obviously know the engine a lot better than any other contractor would! RD: So, why's it called Studio 397? TW: Most laps driven at Le Mans in the 24 Hours: 397 Laps! RD: In the announcement you speak about VR implementation. What are your impressions of VR in a sim racing environment? Is that the sort of thing you always wanted to see in rf2? TW: I was actually very much a VR sceptic in the beginning until I ended up getting hold of a DK2. I tried all the demos and things like that and what I found really quickly was I got motion sickness from the first person perspective ‘walking’ type games. What I noticed straight away was though that in a cockpit based environment, where you have something in your field of view that isn't moving or moves with you, then it took away the motion sickness for me. I started to think of flight sims, space sims and racing sims, whether it's a the top and bottom of the helmet you might see, whether it's the cockpit itself, you can very effectively make it so you can reduce motion sickness through the visual input. I tried the Live for Speed demo on the Oculus website at that point, tried a space sim too, then effectively the first time that I sat in the cockpit and looked around I was sold! I just thought to myself yes, this is absolutely amazing. Literally that 10 or 15 minutes on just a couple of titles sold me on the entire concept. I was the guy in the company at ISI that was really pushing constantly for it! I've always been the kind of guy and Gjon has been the kind of boss that I can argue with him and he can take it! It's a very nice relationship from that kind of standpoint, and I love that. The only issue that I had with VR, the only reservations was that you needed a really powerful PC, the rumours that they were only going to make it available for a later Direct X version (which they did), and the resolution. That's a reservation that I still have, and it's why this year I took to upgrading my personal PC to be VR ready and I'm really hoping that during 2017 we will see a higher resolution come in with some second generation VR headsets and basically I'll be good to go with my new PC. But yeah, my reservations really are minor and considering I went into it a complete skeptic thinking it was kind of a fad, that's pretty impressive of a technology to turn someone around like that. RD: With the upgrade to DX11 and mentioned performance tweaks, will that make the transition to VR easier for you than trying to force VR into an already established DX11 title and does the skill set for this work already exist in the studio are will you be looking to recruit? TW: Well I posted a picture today of VR running on a screen. That's actually Joe from ISI who's doing that work for Studio 397 right now. Currently we are looking to implement for Q1 2017 as at this early stage work has already started on the project. RD: What kind of VR implementation are you looking for in rFactor 2? TW: The current rf2 UI would not support being displayed in VR. So currently at the start of the race you would have the countdown and you would put the headset on (similar to AC right now), that's something that we'll have to sort out. Marcel has said that UI is going to be a focus though, so we may end up with a VR compatible UI in the future. RD: Moving away from VR for a bit, has the partnership moved you away from the original roadmap you had for the sim? You mentioned earlier that the arrival of "not rf3" kind of moved rf2 down the order a bit. Was that always the plan or did "not rF3" force the issue a little bit? TW: Marcel didn't come from a development background. He's an actual sim racer and the kind of things that he wants are the same things many others want and pushed for that the development side has often pushed back on. Marcel is now more open to those things because he also sees the perspective from a sim racers side. Actually in many ways it feels like a fresh start, like a more motivational situation right now. I think developers do get burned out as well. "Not rf3" is another racing title, but it's something different from rf1 and 2 enough that it's appealing for the coders to go and do that. I think there was definitely a little bit of burn on rf2. Some people disagreed on where the focus should be, and what’s nice is that ISI and Studio 397 found a way to make everyone happy, including the community. RD: So who is left at ISI from rF2 that will work on "not rf3", or are you looking for a new influx of staff for the new project? TW: The full time coders in the office at Ann Arbor are no longer focused on rF2 but on some other stuff most of the time now. A couple are doing some Studio 397 work as I type though… RD: It appears that Luminis work in the cloud computing industry. Would it be too wild to speculate that rF2 may find itself looking at an iRacing style online setup in future? TW: It's certainly been looked at and Luminis actually have a few different software solutions that are very very powerful. One of the other ones that they have which have also been looked at are like a schooling situation where we could have a racing school as well. Things like that a definitely being look at. RD: Is the racing school interactive or a video type setup? TW: Kind of a mixture between those two sort of things. But at this point it’s just a discussion point, nothing more. RD: Should the move have any effect on licencing arrangements? With Studio 397 be making use of the contacts formed during rf1 and rf2's lifetime? TW: All existing licensing has transferred over. But it’s also important to look at this and talk about it, as one of the major issues with the product previously was that we often didn't have a budget for the big name licenses. That made what I did, bringing in the cars and tracks that we did difficult but interesting. Places like Indianapolis Motor Speedway actually understood modding and were very very nice. Essentially they understood and came into the discussion aware that if they didn't licence it to us and ensure quality that way, there was a good chance that it was going to appear in our product anyway from someone else, maybe of lesser quality, and that allowed us to make sure that we were able to get a first party licence and do a first party track for a reasonable amount. I wish everyone respected the difference between huge studios backed by Sony or Microsoft and the tiny guys like us. We all have an audience and our audience loves racing. I’m glad that the budget should be a little better, it was a very difficult situation so yes, the new arrangement actually opens things up a little bit and gives us a budget that we should be able to work with, and should open things up to actually licence a lot more things that people actually expect from a racing title of this calibre. I had to walk away from a lot of deals and contacts. RD: Ok that's good. So is anything already in development that we might see released in the near future? TW: There are various things that we are waiting on data for and all of that stuff from ISI that we've just kind of moved over. I’m also close to signing a couple of full series, but we feel it’s also important to get rid of the sporadic single car licenses. If you think about just the launch trailer that was based on the Grand Prix movie, I went to every single team from 1966 except from the Shannon team which didn't even start the British Grand Prix, I think their engine blew on the start line or something, I contacted every single one and really it was only Ferrari that were completely out of our range and probably still are, but all the others gave fairly reasonable prices and I managed to track everybody down. It was kinda crazy and awesome, I got to speak and communicate with some of my heroes, and I'm really proud of the job I did tracking some of these things down but then the other content just never really happened. We licenced, and still have the licence, for the Eagle T1G and what I got from Mr. Gurney on that one was 1966, 67, 68 and 69. For 66 you had the Climax engine, for 67 you had the Weslake engine and then 68 69 you had little things that were different like little down planes on the front and things like that. That's still licenced and I still have the pictures that I took and the reference material and everything, but previously it just kept getting pushed back and that meant that why would I licence anything else and actually get a deal with anything else from 66 when we can't even build the Eagle car that we have? So that's been a big issue with content, and often what has limited us. Single make series it obviously makes a lot more sense, but there is more of a focus now and Marcel seems kind of intent to not have single cars from series that have more than one car. We really need to flesh out some of the bones we have of some of these series types. Another thing I am fond of with licensing is to get the full series. The deal with USF2000 and the Road to Indy I really like, because it allows up and coming racing drivers to be in a racing simulation. The great thing for them or any kind of fan or family or anyone whos using our product, is they can race against them or as them. We had a lot of people contact us when we did the F2 saying how cool it was that their brother or uncle or whatever was in a racing simulation. It matters to these guys and I like the fact that with rF2 we can support the series. All of those sponsors that are on a real USF2000 car aren't being shown in other products that only use player liveries. It doesn't give the sponsors as much, it doesn't give the teams as much which doesn't give the series as much. I like the fact that you are almost supporting the series when you bring in all the drivers, the liveries the helmets and everything like that. RD: Obviously you are plugging in real world data into rf2. That should have some benefits as well for people in that series or those looking to move to that series? TW: There is actually a guy that works with some USF2000 teams called Michael Peters who's posted in the forums a few times. He started to do a USF2000 mod and posted in our forums about it and then he contacted us to say have you guys thought about doing this series. We basically used him and used his knowledge which was pretty extensive to go forward with this. He's helped us a lot to provide us with a lot of contacts and through him we've had 7 or 8 2016 USF 2000 drivers that have all tested the 2016 car for us. The feedback and everything has just been really fantastic. They should be really, really good realistic cars with great data and testing done. RD: So is there a rough ETA on when we might see these in game? TW: The 2016 USF2000 cars are actually pretty much ready to go, we just have a little paperwork to tie up. Part two of our exclusive chat with ISI will be published shortly. Watch this space... Check out the rFactor 2 sub forum for more of the latest news, community discussion, top quality mods, car setups and of course our professionally run club and league events. Did you like the first part of our exclusive interview? What information excites you the most from the article? Are you happy with the rF2 announcement? Let us know in the comments section below!