Next up in our series of interviews with the major players in the sim racing market place, RaceDepartment has a conversation with Assetto Corsa developers, Kunos Simulazioni, and talks about enhancements to the current game, future updates, the move to consoles and the successful Italian developers' future. We'll find out what players can expect to find in the console release and what the Kunos guys value most in a racing sim, so be sure to check out this exclusive interview! Kunos Simulazioni is a software house specialized in developing driving simulations, mainly for the Windows platform. The company started in 2005 as a one man show and now involves various professionals capable of producing the required technology which satisfies different requirements from professional training software for drivers and racing teams to promotional channels for companies; to advanced video games dedicated to sim racers looking for a driving model with maximum realism. With regular updates, DLC releases and an impending move to consoles later this year, RaceDepartment takes this opportunity to sit down with the guys from Kunos and see what the future holds. RD: Hello, many thanks for the opportunity to have a chat with you today. I wanted to open this little Q&A by asking you to introduce yourselves and tell us a little about what you do day to day over at Kunos Simulazioni? MM: Marco Massarutto, 43 years old, I'm the co-founder of the company and I lead the production of content, licensing, PR, as well the commercial and legal aspects of our activities. SC: I [Stefano Casillo] am one of the founders and lead programmer at Kunos Simulazioni. I wrote most of the basic engines at the base of Assetto Corsa. AV: Hi I’m Aris Vasilakos and I’m responsible for vehicle physics input and User Interface graphics. RD: Thanks guys. So it’s now customary in these Q&A’s to start off with some light questions about yourselves. First things first, what cars do you guys drive on a day to day basis at home, being Italians I would expect something cool and bad on fuel… (laughs) MM: Mercedes Slk premium (a more spicy than standard version), a Triumph Bonneville and an Alfa Romeo GT Junior '71: actually the worst on fuel, but I couldn't care less... SC: I come from a (yet another) intercontinental relocation so right now I just ride a bicycle to be fully in line with my new country of residence: The Netherlands, where it seems to be the main form of transportation (more bikes than people here). AV: Nowadays I drive a BMW 330d E91 wagon. Family, necessity to do long trips with decent fuel consumption and stupid Italian car taxes make this the best compromise I could do. It’s a bit tuned to make me happy, but I get my medicine from circuit tests with other cars as I’m lucky enough to be trusted and able to do. RD: On the topic of circuit tests, seeing as you are based right next to a real world racetrack in the shape of Vallelunga, what sort of track experience do you guys have yourselves, and how does it compare to its virtual counterpart? MM: I've got an amatorial experience of 3 years in karting, then I moved on motorbikes (not competitions, just track days with my Daytona: riding on track -for me- is much better than driving any car on track). I've had my first car-track experience in 2003 in Misano with BMW, and by 5 years I've regularly the chance to drive in Vallelunga lot of nice cars - Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, BMW M4, etc. I've driven three times at Nordschleife, and also on all tracks included in AC, during our surveys. With Aris we had the chance to drive some Lotus models much before their official launch on the market, at the Lotus track in Hetel, and it was a great experience, but the Nordschleife is my favourite one. SC: It always surprises me how quickly I get over the first emotional impact of sitting in a car and step into a weird "hold on, I know how to do this" mind state thanks to sims. At Vallelunga it takes me as long as it takes to get to the Cimini corner, once I brake and throw the car in there, I am pretty much in the zone already. AV: Modesty apart, plenty of track experience with a very wide range of car types. Personally I find sim-driving and real driving on a track a very very similar experience. Obviously there are differences but that’s my job, find them, analyze them and try to eliminate them. RD: Be honest, who’s the quickest driver [virtual] over at Kunos then? MM: Aris and Luca Sodano are very close to each other, Stefano is faster than me at the simulator (not the Dallara one, though..). SC: It should be Aris in both virtual and non virtual although I'm not sure I've seen him competing in a long time and because of that, Luca Sodano might have a little edge on him right now.. we should have some serious races to find out. AV: Obviously me… Seriously, as Stefano said, maybe Luca has a slight edge on me now, but I still think I’m better with car control over the limit because I’m more trained on that. I’m also better with setups. RD: Back to the digital world, could you share with us what your favourite racing / road car is to drive outside of Assetto Corsa? MM: I spent ages with the Ferrari 458 Italia at Nordschleife in Gran Turismo 5, and I had nice times with the Mazda MX-5 Cup in iRacing. SC: I enjoy the Skip Barber in rFactor 2 a lot. No idea if it's realistic or not but surely it's an handful. AV: I’ve heard good things lately for the iRacing F1 McLaren but haven’t found the time to try it properly. It’s been really tight in terms of free time lately at KS. RD: When not driving the digital recreations or hosting developer lives streams, do you play any other type of game? What’s in your virtual library at the moment that you might play in your free time? MM: My library is full of games that I don't have the time to play. I love platforms (Ori and the Blind Forest, Counterspy PS4), Alien Isolation and those game that pushes the hardware at the best. I purchase also most of all racing titles available, even the ones I don't like, looking for some inspiration and to measure where we are in terms of gameplay, graphics, physics, and so on. SC: Not as much as I would like. .. I just bought Naval Action and I am enjoying it a lot. I've been trying to find the time for Elite Dangerous for ages, but I keep failing. I spent some nice hours in Football Manager and Pixel Piracy. AV: As I said before, not much free time so lately I’m watching my 11 year old son, exploring the Elite Dangerous universe and I’m both proud and jealous of him. RD: What is, for you, the most important aspect in a race simulation? MM: The driving experience: if I don't get the right feeling with the car, all the rest doesn't keep me on it. The driving experience must come with a nice selection of cars. SC: Coherence, things should work together and support the illusion of being there. I find a lot of projects tend to obsess over 1 or 2 minor details losing the overall vision. We've been guilty of this (and probably still are) but I think the main strength in AC is the fact that we're trying to evolve everything at the same level. AV: Driving experience. I’m in it for the driving sensation. Everything else is very important but always comes second in the priority list. I just love driving too much I guess. RD: Kunos have a number of highly regarded titles in its back catalogue prior to Assetto Corsa but are still a relatively small team compared to some larger groups in the sim world, how many people do you have working at in the studio currently? MM: We have a core team of 10 members, and about 17-20 freelance graphics modelers. RD: Obviously the advantages of being based at a real circuit are utilized in the development of the game we all know and love and we’ve seen images of drivers such as former Ferrari Grand Prix pilot Nicola Larini playing AC in the past. When you get professional drivers having a go in your offices, and how do they compare it to their real life race cars? MM: It's just a matter of personal attitude. Some of them are very competitive and they try to give their best whatever they do, some others tell you “I know what to do” before you say hello, and then crash at the very first corner (and not rarely they do the same later, on the real track...). With the Grasser Racing (official GT3 Lamborghini team) we had one of the best experiences, since Shinya Michimi (official driver) he's also a very good simracer, and he pays us a visit each time he comes to Vallelunga for tests. The last time also the Team Principal wanted to try Assetto Corsa, and now they are setting a complete race simulator featuring Assetto Corsa PRO in their factory, inviting us to help them to tweak everything at the best. SC: Feedback quality varies a lot from driver to driver. It comes down to character and familiarity with a simulation environment. Usually they are surprisingly good... but I confess that I find conversations with race engineers way more interesting. AV: You need to understand how drivers give feedback. 9 times out of 10, they do not judge the realism of the sim, but the handling of the car, and professional race drivers always complain about their cars. When their race engineer give us the thumbs up saying that they give the same complains for the real car, then we know we are close. The most satisfying part though is having them drive right away, taking the same lines, trying the same things as in the real car and never have a strange spin. They focus on driving and not trying to understand the sim and how to stay on track. This is the best feedback we can get. RD: Along a similar line, does real life driver feedback get incorporated into the sim, and if so how useful has that been in developing the physics and feel of the game? MM: We have found a common path: take two-three drivers, allow them to drive the same simulation featuring the same conditions. The faster will say “perfect, the sim is great”, the slower “the real car doesn't drive like that, it's oversteering, understeering, whatever”. This means that the simulation is good, because actually they say the same about their real cars! Jokes apart, if you can choose to talk with race engineers, is always better because they give you numbers, and numbers never lie. SC: Driver feedback is usually too high-level to be directly reflected in the game. I suppose Aris might find it interesting to work on setup defaults. As per Marco's comments, race engineers' data and observations are usually way easier to translate into something tangible to insert into the game. AV: Driver feedback is very interesting to understand what the race engineers and telemetry data won’t tell you. In tyre behaviour and car handling, there are still obscure data that are not known or simply not measured. In real life, many times a professional driver will complain about a car handling characteristic that cannot be explained with the data in hand by the engineers. That can happen because the driver might have a driving style that goes a bit too far away from the optimum way a car has to be driven… Being tyre heating, aero imbalance or whatever else. If you know well enough the driver, and you know where your data might lack information and you have the experience, you might find out interesting situations and test it in the simulator. RD: VR and Triple Screen usage continues to rise in sim racing and is already incorporated quite successfully in game. With the recent release of Oculus Rift lighting up the marketplace how are plans developing to improve and implement support for these items coming on and do you plan anything exiting our VR using readers might like to know? MM: In my personal opinion, 21:9 single screens work better than a triple screen solution and now they feature 4k resolution: easier to [configure], and supported by more games. About the Oculus, our priority now is to close and release the console version of Assetto Corsa, and then we'll see how we can support the customer version: since the latest SDK has been almost totally changed, we can't just “update” our code, we need to rewrite it, more or less. SC: We'll do our best to support new technologies like VR. RD: Assetto Corsa features many fantastically replicated cars and tracks that are used in endurance racing, and from the '2016 and Beyond' letter it sounds like there are many more on the way. With this in mind, will we see Multiplayer receive the necessary updates to facilitate endurance and semi-endurance races (i.e. time of day progression, timed races, driver swaps)? SC: The first 2 are firmly in my To-Do list already, driver swap it's not and I don't think we'll be touching that for Assetto Corsa v1.x RD: Also on the topic of multiplayer / player to player interaction could we have a little insight into the developer’s thoughts about a robust player ranking system similar to the system we see in titles like iRacing? MM: I understand the will of sim racers to get a robust player ranking system like the one featured in iRacing. On the other side, I also think that is fair as well that a racing simulation that costs 40 Eur can't feature the same service of one that costs about 100/year, not to mention the cost of each single content. Therefore it's just reasonable that iRacing features this kind of multiplayer system. SC: It's an important feature. We support it via a server plugin architecture. I don't see us getting directly involved with this. RD: The selection of cars in AC is already excellent with a nice combination of road and track machines. It seems the current model is to release single item cars, would the possibility of a fully licensed series appeal to Kunos and is it something we might see in future? MM: It's something that we could take in consideration in future for a stand-alone product: however a fully licensed series is too demanding to be produced as a sort of additional pack for Assetto Corsa. The challenge is that you must choose the right series, because investments are huge and if you don't get the right trend, it might be an epic fail for a little company. SC: It could be a nice challenge for us as we never had this kind of experience before. RD: When creating these many exotic beauties how does the team gather the physics data for the cars, do you have close relationships with the manufactures and access to data or is it based more on driving ‘feel’ and research? MM: Being our Studio inside a racing circuit has been dramatically important for us: when you negotiate with car manufacturers, you discuss with their merchandising & licensing departments, not with their engineers. So it's very difficult to let them understand why we need some kind of data. But when we have the chance to show - directly in our office - what we do and why we need so much information about their cars, everything becomes much easier. And often racing teams and car manufacturers that were skeptical about our requests start to use our technology, while their marketing departments push to use AC for their promotional events. SC: We have a big excel sheet with data we request. The data we receive back varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, sometimes it's awesome, sometimes it's great, sometimes it's disappointing. Considering the amount of secrecy and competition level in the world we're trying to simulate this is hardly surprising. It's sometimes fun to receive weird answers or comments like "why you need this data? You really simulate that? For a video game?” AV: The data that arrives from the manufacturers are the first to go in the sim and are “locked up”. This means once they are verified they will not change at all, during the car simulation development. Then we will try to take our own measurements from the car. Many times this is possible thanks to many privateers that are nice and enthusiastic to have the car measured by us in order to recreate it in our sim. Having good friends in the engineering department of many automotive companies, also helps a lot. We can’t thank enough those anonymous behind the scenes people. Finally testing the car on track is always a great way to validate the data. Another great help is the experience of years and years of data handling. It helps us to understand the manufacturer or engineering decisions behind each car. Nowadays we can see a suspension design and tell you from what car is coming from. Or we can see how each manufacturer is taking clues or even “copying” solutions from another… it’s almost like reading the “matrix” sometimes. In the second part of our exclusive chat with the guys over at Kunos we discuss the move to console, some upcoming new content, product pride and the inclusion of more classic content in future. Stay tuned to RaceDepartment in the coming days to read all about it! Also while you try and find something to do before part 2 launches don't forget to have a quick look in our Assetto Corsa forum for all the latest chit chat about the game. You will find a knowledgeable and enthusiastic community and a great Racing Club scene to enjoy! We know the developers will be reading the comments section on this post, why don't you tell us your opinions and discuss this game with your fellow enthusiasts?!? Speak up and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!