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The Great Debate: Is it Simulation or Arcade?

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by Danny Asbury, Oct 28, 2011.

  1. Danny Asbury

    Danny Asbury

    The argument goes back to the foundations of simracing itself, back to when the hobby was first incepted with a little title called Pole Position in the early eighties. Is it real? Does it actually depict racing? And as the decades have rolled passed, more titles and more franchises have appeared, claiming and succeeding to take the “simulated” racing experience to the next level. But, as with all things, opinions formed and the people became divided. Fan against fan; driver against driver. Now more than ever, with so many games--or “sims"--on so many platforms, the debate has reached a boiling point. Simracers belittle other simracers, leagues belittle other leagues. And now even game developers are squeamish when asked the question, because whatever answer they give, they’re damned. What question am I talking about? Exactly what topic of conversation has divided simracing like a civil war? It boils down to one thing, the gauge that every driving game inevitably is measured with...

    Is it a sim? Or is it an arcade racer?

    The answer to that question is as varied as... well... there is no answer because there is no baseline. So what to do? Well, I think it’s about high time we set the record straight...


    But before we get to the down and dirty logistics of this thing, we need that baseline, a point in which we can “base” the argument on what actually constitutes a true racing simulation game. However, there technically is no “dictionary” definition for the word simracing. So where to begin? Well, it certainly is no end-all-be-all, but here’s what I found on wikipedia: “Sim (simulated) racing is the collective term for computer software (i.e. a vehicle simulation game) that attempts to simulate accurately auto racing (a racing video game), complete with real-world variables such as fuel usage, damage, tire wear and grip, and suspension settings.”

    Hmm, seems straight forward enough. And, well, that’s because it is. Going by that definition games like GPL, rFactor, netKar Pro and the like are easily covered as sims. But so are games like Forza Motorsports and Grand Turismo. Hey buster! It says ‘computer software’! You think to yourself, or are about to post in the comments section below. But before you do that, think of it like this. Take the term “computer software” and redefine it as “virtual software”. Or keep it as computer software, doesn’t really matter. Playstations and Xboxs alike are both computers, we just happen to call them “Playstations” and “Xboxs”. So it needs to be thrown out that if a game isn’t on a PC (personal computer) it isn’t a sim. Fact is, Forza, Grand Turismo, Race Pro, and many other consoles games fulfill the same criteria for a sim as outlined above in the definition on wikipedia. So, technically, by definition, those games are race sims.

    “YOU IDIOT!” You say. A complete n00b! You think. Fine. Get it out of your system. But let me finish. I said “race” sim, not driving sim. If you don’t think there’s a difference, maybe you’re pointing out the wrong n00b between the two of us.

    This whole debate about whether or not a game is a simulation or not ultimately hinges on the understanding that there is a difference between simulated “racing” and simulated “driving”. Games like rFactor, iRacing, Grand Tursimo, GTR, and Forza all simulate racing, and to some degree driving--some more than others. In all of these games, you have overtaking, defending your position, drafting, accidents, ect--things you see in any real motorsport race. And all these games are modeling car physics based on actual cars. I mean, they’re not modeling the handling off helicopters. So they are all well and truly “racing” simulators. That cannot be debated.

    Now on to the driving side of this equation. One can argue that there is no such thing as a true simulation “driving” game. No? Disagree? Okay, that’s fine, but would you please point out any game that simulates G-forces, fatigue, and danger?-- things that any real world racer has to deal with every time he climbs into the cockpit? Oh… that’s right… there is no such game; hence, like I was saying, there can be a case made that true simulation “driving” doesn’t exist. But I won’t go that far.

    Thing is, why is it that simracers are so quick to point out the shortcomings of lesser simracing titles (like Forza) and allow major simulated driving factors that are not included in a game, as outlined above, go unmentioned in their praise of top PC simulators? There really is no reason to explain that. For instance, PC enthusiasts will never say something along the lines of “iRacing is good, but I don’t get tired enough to call it a true sim. And I’m not in any danger, so it doesn’t simulate the real sense of being in a cockpit.” Now that is a legit criticism. When being trained as a marine, it's the instructors job to "simulate" situations where the trainees are in danger, that way marines will know how to operate when they're actually put in real danger. Likewise, if a driver is trained purely on a simulator without a sense of danger, and then jumps into a real car, perhaps he isn't able to perform with the thought buzzing about that he could actually get hurt--i.e. he clams up. Therefore the simulator hasn't done its job, technically. Well, obviously, people aren't going to buy death traps to place in their living rooms, so does that mean simulated driving can't exist? No, don't be silly. However, there will never be a “sim” that can simulate the real thing “exactly” like the real thing, hence we call them SIMULATIONS. And real simulations live under the premise that it isn't real, it just holds a "semblance" of being real. So when I hear, “GT5 is good, but it’s not a sim because iRacing has better physics,” I get hot under the collar. Both of these “sims” miss the mark. Yes, GT5 may miss that mark by a wider margin as opposed to iRacing, but it isn’t by a large enough margin to call one game a sim and the other an arcade racer.

    Yet many simracers are incessant in their viewpoint that some games just aren’t simulators. Period. And I agree with that sentiment. Let’s face it, MarioKart isn’t a sim, I don’t care how much my five year-old cousin tries to convince me otherwise. Sure it has overtaking and defending, but none of which is done in a realistic format, hence it’s an arcade racer. MarioKart will never actually help you learn how to drive a real car. But when I hear people dog console games like GT5, I scratch my head. Likewise, when I hear certain PC elitist look down their noses on anything (including rFactor) that doesn’t start with the letter i and end with yet another trip to the bank to deposit 15 bucks for a download, I jump through the roof. (And if you didn’t catch that, yes, I’m once again talking to you, iRacers.)

    Granted, some games, like iRacing, make a very forthright effort to simulate actual driving, there is no denying that. With the technology they have available, they do a pretty darn good job. In fact, I’ll easily admit that iRacing simulates driving better than any other sim I’ve played--granted, I’ve never actually driven a real race car on a real race track before. So yes, that technically makes iRacing “more” sim than other games, from a driving perspective, but it doesn’t automatically turn other games into arcade racers. Any level of simracing game helps close the gap to real racing, except better sims help do that more quickly. Simple.

    So with that ground work laid out, think of simracing like a bridge, a bridge under construction. On one side of the bridge you have a novice driver, on the other you have a real world racer. Better sims help bridge the gap from one side to the other, but that gap is NEVER removed with simulation racing entirely. Things like better racing wheels, monitor set-ups, even driving perspectives, etc, all help to build your bridge, yet nothing will ever “complete” it aside from real life racing itself.

    But let me leave you with a couple examples of what I’m talking about.

    I recently watched a very cool program called Grand Turismo GT Academy. A very neat show for us simracers, indeed. For those that don’t know, it takes an elite group of Grand Turismo drivers and sends them to Silverstone Circuits’ GT academy. They compete in a slue of driving challenges using real cars, and the winner gets a contract to race for an actual manufacturer [Nissan] in Lemans. Very cool show. Anyhow, during one the challenges a driver was complaining that he couldn’t down shift heading into the corners. The instructor said plainly, “Because you’re flatout on the throttle...” Now, remember that bridge we were talking about? Well, here is the analogy in effect. Because this driver hadn’t played many of the higher-end simulators, he wasn’t quite sure of shifting mechanics in an actual race car worked. Meanwhile, an iRacer, for instance, would be more aware of how an actual car downshifts. Yet these GT5 drivers all had the instructors baffled as to how they could drive so well with very little experience. Conclusion, both the iRacer and GT5 ace are simracers; they understand racing line and the general mechanics of how to drive a car around a race track, all because of simracing. Yes, one driver might know more, but they’re still both simracers, not real life drivers; hence, it’s utterly baffling that one should belittle and disregard the other. And the GT Academy pretty much single handedly kills the argument that “you can’t really do serious simracing on console…” Those drivers are better than most PC racers will ever be, and they’re being given a shot to complete their bridge that most of us will never dream of having.

    And the other example I'll give you is this. I was seventeen when I started simracing. Roughly around the same time my sister started receiving driving lessons so she could get her license. So six months passed. My mom took her out in the car one afternoon. I decided to tag along just to see what my sister could do. Anyhow, when she got done displaying are jagged corning skills and led-footed braking ability, I asked if I could give it a go. They looked at me like I was crazy. At the time, I had never driven a real car, and had showed little interest in driving beyond my “dorking” it up in my room. They gave me the wheel, skeptical at best. They were both stunned that I drove better than my sister, who had spent a great deal of money on lessons, mind you. Now, not the biggest achievement, I know. But my point in telling you all that is this. When I got behind the wheel my instinct took over, and it told me I’d been there before, that I knew how a car worked—how to turn a wheel, how to apply power and brake properly. My bridge had been built to a certain degree. And I wasn’t playing iRacing or rFactor or GPL. I had played Forza Motorsport. And if a game can teach you the general mechanics of how a car operates, it’s a sim. And if it can teach you how to go fast, it’s plenty respectable.

    In conclusion, yes, games have different levels of realism, and that helps to bridge the gap between real world and simulated driving. But in the end, there will always be a gap. It makes no sense to brag about your gap being lesser than another fellow driver's. Because, honestly, where does that end? The guy driving with no assists brags to the other driver that uses all the assists; the guy driving a top tier sim brags over the unassisted-guy; the top-class-sim-guy losses out to the nice-wheel-guy; nice-wheel-guy is outdone by triple-screen-setup-guy; triple-screen-guy falls short to projection-guy; projection-guy doesn’t compare to motion-simulator-guy… on and on, until the ceiling is so high you have 5 people in the world claiming to be "true" simracers. Well, that's just not what simracing is about. And you do the hobby of simracing a disservice when you try to make it. And I will admit, I once was on the snobby side, thinking that PC racers and games were just above every and anything on console. But being in simracing for as long as I have, I've been on both sides of this fence: from Forza to iRacing. I'd like to think I see the full picture now. This isn't real. And being "sim" has more to do with how you play than what you play. But in the end, we're all simracers. And for such a small sect of gamers, it makes no sense to be divided. You may like games being more sim, but don’t discount the lesser ones as not being sim at all.

    So there you have it, a man trying to set the record straight. And please, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments box below. Do you agree? Disagree? Or do you think I need to be banned from everything PC and fitted with a straight jacket—not to mention a much smaller word count? Let us know, just don’t tell my therapist! Or editor…
  2. Great read. As you stated, it baffles me how elitist PC users look down on people who use their consoles for sim racing and did a fantastic job at concluding that Xbox and PS3's are just computers with different names.
  3. Great read Danny, you're absolutely right with regards to the iRacing people looking down on those who don't have the cash. If I had the cash, I'm sure I'd play iRacing, but in all honesty you're never going to get a true representation of real life. You can laser-scan a track, sure, and you can model a car and controls to the nth degree... but you can't laser-scan physics, handling and the feel. As I said in my own most recent article, as a simracer, you get into trouble and you simply press the esc key, rather than having a trip down the hospital...
  4. Beautiful. Wish I could have read an article like this earlier in my simracing days. The guys at insidesimracing should really read this.
  5. This is, hands down, the best sim racing article I have ever read. ISR and VirtualR should hear about this.
  6. There is a way to see if it is a simulation. Put a real driver in the real car on the real track and see if the lap time is the same as the sim.
  7. I haven't played any console racers. I've been playing iRacing for quite a while and was seriously considering buying a PS3 when GT5 came out. Your article portrays almost every iRacer as a snob. We're not all like that. I still love Race series,... I don't like rFactor but not because I think it's a lesser sim. I just don't like it. My personal opinion. And I've never tried forcing it onto someone else.Whoever says this sim is better than the other one is very simply a douche.
  8. Danny Asbury

    Danny Asbury

    Thanks for comments guys!

    Matjaz, I do see what you mean. It is not my intention to betray iRacers as a pack of bums. Heck, I mean, I'm an iRacer myself lol. I've just noticed that quite a lot of "hate", so to speak, about other sims comes from them (or whatever the "top" sim is at the time). But, in all fairness, I've seen the same type of thing from Forza players all the way up and down the line. But, you're right, I did whale on about us iRacers quite a bit. :tongue:

    Bart, believe it or not, that has been tried quite often. Still doesn't bridge the gap completely, though.
  9. Super read! Great article :)
  10. I think you know the answers to your own questions and are simply beeing retorical. I cant imagine you really blaming iRacing for the lack of g-force feedback...? :)As for Games vs. Sims. Netkar for example does a great job of "translating" the feel of driving. Grip, weight transfer and so on. Gran turismo does not. I can come home from a day on the track and feel quite at home with netkar and my G27. It gives me the feedback nessecary to give me a clue of whats happening. If I start up Gran Turismo it takes quite a while getting use to the feel of it. (or lack thereof). Contentswise netkar got nothing on Gran Turismo of course, so I guess the latter does a better job of simulating the racing world at large. Its all down to personal preference I guess. Mine beeing "feel" over content any day.
  11. If real life race drivers use sim packages to enhance their skills or, even to simply entertain themselves, then Simming has it's accreditation right there.
  12. Yoeri Gijsen

    Yoeri Gijsen
    aReDeeeLeMeS Staff

    Impressive article. I like how you deal with the different perspectives, Danny and I agree with your main point. I posted a link to it on the iRacing forum. I wonder what 'them iRacers' think of it. ;)
  13. Ricoow

    RedShift Racing RDLMS #6 / RDRC #163 Premium

    @Bart, In a simulation you can take more risks as you are not playing with your life and a million dollar car, so if it is the same, the simulation would probably win as they can take more risks and they will not die, neighter will they get financial troubles.If any of you knows the Grand Prix of Roggel event here in Holland, done by McLaren, Button drove only 1.01 where the amateur in the simulator drove 0.54! The amateur explained it to Button as: 'You can use the walls a little to keep your car in a straight fast line, which would cost you your car.'Comparing a sim with real life will never fully get this problem out of the world.Sim Racing is a different sport to autosport, but the concept is the same. (My opinion :))
  14. Wow that was a nice read . very informative thanks allot. I like reading those kind of "reviews". looking forward to more like those
  15. Tim Ling

    Tim Ling
    It's a million-to-1 chance, but it just might work Premium

    Very nice article
  16. Have you ever asked how much time we spend on trying sims trying to figure out which one is closest to reality?. The thing is, whatever the sim you choose, practice and studying is what makes us great drivers, not the "best" sim.
  17. Andrew Bortz

    Andrew Bortz

    Fantastic read, I had the very same experience from my instructor (although I was all keyboard control back then) the basics had been laid out before me... and has also proberly turned me into the fastest busdriver in Scotland with the more recent driving games / wheel / set up.
  18. Good article. I like to also look at it like this, imagine what sim you'll be racing in 2020. Compare the tech available to you every 10 years. In 1990, 2000, and @ now 2011. In 2020 whatever is out there will be just amazing.
  19. Ok, so now if thats settled lets go back to racing.
  20. Danny Asbury

    Danny Asbury

    This is actually something I wanted to get into, but decided against it due to word count. You make a very good point. Conversely, if something like Pole Position was realesed nowadays, people would laugh and say it is completely unrealistic. So in 10 years it is completely possible that people would laugh at the technology even the top sims of today have. (Which, in my opinion, isn't fair.) So it begs the question, is whether not something is considered simulation relative to the technology available? Okay, I'll stop there, as I could go into a whole side bar about that. Like Konrad said, time to get back to racing. :)