With 2016 already a distant memory it feels like a good time to sit down and take stock of some highlights from the past twelve months, as well as having a look at a few of the things we can reasonably expect to enjoy during the coming year. We all know sim racing is a rather niche genre of gaming that probably won't ever match the sheer number of players games such as Call of Duty or FIFA have the luxury of attracting. However evidence does suggest that our favorite pastime has slowly begun to turn a corner towards the more mainstream gaming public's consciousness. Although many new game builds, fixes and improvements alongside the odd high profile license agreement took place over the last twelve months (more about that later) for me some of the biggest noise to affect sim racing has been a little swept under the carpet in all honesty. We probably all know about the Road to Vegas Formula E / rFactor 2 initiative - where a select group of sim racers have fought for the privilege to race in a $1m showdown against real life Formula E drivers in Las Vegas (creating the largest and most high profile Sim Racing eSport event in the history of sim racing) but for me one of the biggest stories to come from last year that could well give most cause for optimism is, in my opinion, the news that Sector3 Studios of RaceRoom Racing Experience fame are looking to begin a journey with their software that will make RaceRoom a dedicated eSports racing platform, with the intention of taking the challenge to the US centric, and often cost prohibitive, iRacing.com online service. Of course RaceRoom won't be abandoning the offline single player element of their game by any stretch of the imagination, one of the key things that make it unique from the iRacing model they look to challenge, but at long last a proven studio have seen what many sim fans have been more than vocal about for some time now - the need to have an established, supported and promoted online platform to take on the dominant force of iRacing, whilst at the same time maintaining an affordable entry level price point that doesn't cost players literally hundreds of pounds to purchase relevant content in which to keep competing in events. Ok I appreciate it is very early days and no solid information is available with regards to how Sector3 envisage the eSports element of their title to operate, but just by the very fact that the studio are looking to address this area of the sim racing genre with the might of brands such as the World Touring Car Championship, ADAC GT Masters and DTM behind them can only be a good thing. This could be a game changer for sim racing, I'm looking forward to how the team address this new direction in the throughout the coming year. In other news from 2016 we saw the much fated return of Porsche to modern day simulations, with Italian development studio Kunos Simulazioni securing the rights to bring the popular German brand to Assetto Corsa and finally bringing an end to the dominance of EA Sports hogging the Stuttgart vehicles across their array of arcade style racing games. The three Porsche DLC 'volumes' for Assetto Corsa have been wildly popular with fans, and gone a long way to bringing Assetto Corsa to mainstream gaming attention during the year just past. As if to cement the fall of Porsche exclusivity deals, iRacing have very recently announced an agreement to bring the German cars to their sim during 2017 with both Project CARS 2 and Forza Horizon 3 also strongly rumoured to have secured the rights to the brand, well and truly marking the end of the exile from sim racing of one of the most prominent and well regarded manufacturers in all of motorsports illustrious history. So before we go on to have a look at what lays in wait for sim racers over the next twelve months, let's have a look at what happened during 2016... rFactor 2 gets a new backer - enter Studio 397 Announced during a busy Sim Racing Expo event in September, Image Space Incorporated confirmed they have transferred the development rights for rFactor 2 to newly formed Studio 397, headed up by veteran sim racer Marcel Offermans. With 397 having taken a number of staff from former employers ISI alongside a wealth of experience from their core existing structure under the Luminis brand, one of the first tasks publically announced by the team would be the imminent arrival of both DX11 and support for Virtual Reality (VR) devices within rFactor 2. Coming as a welcome boost to a sim perceived to be stagnating in recent years, the move over to Studio 397 seems to have injected new life into the title and has gone a long way towards building back up fan support that has steadily waned since the game was released back in 2013. In just three short months things already appear to be moving forward with the sim, with Studio 397 having already delivered on their promise to maintain a regular line of communication with the sim racing community in the form of regular written updates, as well as scoring a big win with the release of the much delayed Nissan GT500 machine and the popular USF2000 car from the 2016 season. Additionally a popular move by the studio was the removal of the often criticized paid only multiplayer module, bringing free multiplayer access to all owners of the simulation and substantially reducing the entry level costs of playing rFactor 2. This move has not found favour with all sections of the community, with some gamers who have already parted with a substantial sum of money for online access are understandably disappointed with their now unnecessary investment. To be honest this move was essential for Studio 397 to ensure they have the best chance possible to make up lost ground on their sim racing rivals. Sector3 Studios work hard on RaceRoom, secures new content RaceRoom Racing Experience has had its fair share of critics in the past, however the team over at Sector3 have continued to work hard behind the scenes to bring the simulation up to standard with its current sim racing rivals. Not content with securing an array of new content licenses during 2016, not least of which is the continuation of the DTM, WTCC and ADAC contracts but also a move towards the latest generation of GT3 machines, more open wheel content and of course the first laserscanned circuit in the form of the fearsome Nordschleife making an appearance in the game during the previous year, the team have also continued to plug away at developing and expanding the core features of the simulation. 2016 has seen the introduction of many new features such as multiple races per weekend, reverse grids, events by either times or laps, a new mini HUD display and other such goodies as revised physics for a variety of cars, new suspension animations (for open wheel vehicles) and of course the removal of the traditional "experiences" from the core game - bundling up a number of the unique rule sets into the main overall title. Without doubt the studio still have a long way to go before they can claim the simulation is a fully feature rich title the likes of their earlier GTR2 release, however the positive signs are that Sector3 Studios are committed to improving RaceRoom Racing Experience over the long term. Automobilista feels the wrath of the FIA, comes back stronger still When Reiza Studios announced they would be releasing the fully updated and enhanced Automobilista title from the ashes of Game Stockcar Extreme back in July 2015, they would probably have had no idea how much close scrutiny the game would come in for from the ever watchful eyes of the FIA. With an admittedly close to the bone version of a mid 2000's Formula One style car and liveries included in the vanilla release of AMS, Reiza found themselves in a touch of bother with the governing body of motorsports - so much so that the Brazilians found themselves having to remove AMS from sale for a period of time whilst the legal wrangling's behind the scenes could be resolved between the different parties. Nevertheless Automobilista returned to our digital shelves with a selection of new paint schemes across the different era Formula cars and the game has since gone from strength to strength. With an ambitious post release plan already well known to beta backers of the title, Reiza have so far gone on to deliver above and beyond the expectations of sim racing fans throughout the past year. Automobilista now contains several post release DLC packages (some, for the first time in Reiza's history are paid-for content) and many free core improvements to the game and its features contained within. Benefitting from vastly improved force feedback values, updated graphics and shaders, dynamic road surface, advanced AI, downshift protection, a new online portal and multiplayer environment to name but a few, AMS has grown considerably since its days under the former guise of GSCE. With 2017 promising more of the same before development wraps up to concentrate on the new Reiza title, the year ahead still looks very promising for one of the most popular development teams in the industry. Gran Turismo Sport delayed, laughable FIA licence initiative flops Gran Turismo Sport is in danger of becoming a game that will almost immediately fall in to the category of out of date before it has even been released, that's how long the title has been in development by Polyphony Digital without actually seeing the light of day in a public release. Scheduled to hit the shelves for PlayStation 4 owners towards the close of 2016, sadly GT Sport has been delayed yet again to an as of yet undefined date in 2017. Despite this an evaluation copy of the title has been doing the rounds across various gaming shows throughout the last few months, showing that visually at least GT Sport looks to be pretty much a finished product. One of the most dramatic talking points however is the move away from the traditional Gran Turismo style as known by the current crop of fans. With GT Sport Polyphony are looking to take the game into an e-sports orientated structure rather than the offline career focused theme of previous releases to the franchise. On face value this is not a bad idea, and community support suggests GT Sport may have found an interesting way of diversifying itself from several similar offers out in the marketplace at present. To help give the title a little edge compared to its traditional race game rivals, Polyphony have secured a unique, and slightly gimmicky agreement with the governing body of motorsport, the FIA, to bring a bizarre license system to game. The GT Sport FIA licence entitles eligible players to apply for an officially recognized Gran Turismo FIA racing license - even giving a lucky e-sport winner the chance to collect their trophy at the official end of season FIA prize giving gala! Sadly for Polyphony many fans have seen this element of the game for exactly what it is, a worthless attempt to legitimize the e-sport element of the title that does more harm and embarrassment that its obviously good natured intentions originally planned. With the FIA tie in quickly becoming a bit of a running joke in the sim community, it is yet to be seen how popular this side of the game will be once GT Sport reaches a final, much delayed, release. iRacing goes DX11, gets Le Mans 2016 has been a big year for the folks over at iRacing.com, what with the long awaiting upgrade to DX11 and the big name release of a laserscanned Le Mans, plus ongoing development of the new loose surface terrain model pushing well on towards a first public release, iRacing are indeed in the middle of a boom period for the simulation. With the usual flow of new build releases continuing at their standard pace, one of the biggest stories to come out of 2016 is no doubt the strangely timed April Fools Day announcement that iRacing will be developing a selection of vehicles and locations to cater for the dirt oval racing fans of the service. iRacing have initially announced a couple of well-known dirt locations alongside the Late Model and Street Stock cars, as well as securing the rights to produce a RallyCross specification Ford Focus RX - as driven by American X-Games pilot and all round national star Ken Block. Although at this stage no notifications of any Rallycross style circuits have been revealed by the developers, one would suspect this is an area of the sim they will look to flesh out in the coming months. Other notable highs for the service come in the form of several new content announcements in the form of the previously mentioned Le Mans track and Imola track that was scene of the San Marino Grand Prix. Additionally a number of reasonably high profile manufacturer signings have been brought to the forefront in the year just passed, including the very recent Porsche deal that will bring a large number of the cars into the sim - adding yet more Porsche content to simulation titles outside of the Electronic Arts stranglehold of recent years. That's all for now but stay tuned as tomorrow we will continue our look at some of the highlights from 2016. We will be taking in one of the best things to come out of a Codemasters project in a long time, having a think about the first PC motorsport themed management game that resonates with the wider gaming audience and take a look at what happened to proposed GT Legends 2 title from Tiny Feet Studios... plus much much more! Don't forget to check out the Club Racing scene here at RaceDepartment! We have a whole bunch of interesting events across most sim racing games. Take a look at our Club and League Racing Calendar for more info. Sim Racing is AWESOME! Stay tuned for more tomorrow!