Let's get to know the physics guru behind the Lola T70 MkII, the 2007 Subaru Impreza WRX, the NFS Tournament cars and many, many more.
Jason Coates, also known as Aphidgod, is one of those names that rings a bell in every simracer's ear. He has worked and collaborated on the creation of so many iconic mod cars for Assetto Corsa, that we would probably need a dedicated article to give them all justice.
He is a natural and we as a community have been fortunate to be able to enjoy his talent which continues to produce incredibly detailed physics for some equally amazing vehicles. So far, he has focused on the classics, and luckily, I might add, since I believe they are the cars with the most character in automotive history and, in some way, also the most difficult to get right due to the scarcity of data available and inconsistency between models too. However, he did not shy from working his magic also on some more modern supercars as well.
If I can give an example of what is, for me, most similar to Jason's craft, it would be Hephaestus, or Vulcan for the Latins, the god of fire, who works tirelessly in his forge, perfecting his work, giving life to metal, like Jason provides 3d artists with an object that now has a soul, unique and befitting, ready to take the track.
Hi Jason, would you like to give us a short introduction about you? Who is Jason Coates?
Hi Davide, thanks for choosing me this round! I'm 42 years old, living in Manhattan, Kansas where I run a one-man company making analog synthesizer modules. I've always been a gamer, especially tabletop stuff like Warhammer 40k, D&D and Magic, but also video games of all kinds (mostly on PC) dating all the way back to the text-based adventurer days. One of my favorites at the arcade was Pole Position & I remember playing quite a lot of Test Drive later on.
I really got into it with the first Gran Turismo game on PS1 & I gravitated to working with setups and getting cars into shape even then. Same when I played Motor City Online... that was such a fantastic engine tuning and setup sandbox, far more detailed than anything else I've ever seen in a racing game despite being two decades old. It never got the love it deserved, a real high point in the industry in many ways. My first physics modding experience on the data file level was all the way back in Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed, where I started similarly to how I started in AC – fixing unrealistic, sketchy mod cars I found online. Admittedly it's a bit apples and oranges comparing those two titles, but...
Assetto Corsa has really eclipsed the rest of my hobbies in recent years, I'm almost 5000 hours in according to Steam and that doesn't account for research time, but when I need a break from all the braining about cars you can probably find me braining about some obscure and unreasonably expensive whisky.
What did you dream of becoming as an adult when you were a child? What were your aspirations or dream job?
I never really had one dream job as a kid. When I was 5, I wanted to be a train conductor. When I was 9 it was professional baseball. At 13 I wanted to be a scientist and at 17 I was sure I'd be a musician. At 21 I had a go at being a professional miniature painter while also majoring in creative writing at university, and at 25 I started college over for a graphic design degree. Ten years ago, I quit my design career to make synths full time. After taking that pro I needed a new hobby, so I got into physics modding in 2015 when AC was released. (I really wanted to see my WRX in the game!) Even I have no idea what's next.
If I could pick one of those things to have succeeded at, it would probably be the miniature painting.
How did you get interested in car racing or cars in general?
I must've been born this way? Nobody else in my family knows the first thing about cars. At least as far back as my grandparents. We never owned anything interesting (Camrys and Accords, oof) but for as long as I can remember I've been fascinated by sports cars. I had Ferrari posters all over my walls as a young kid, I collected Hot Wheels and Micro Machines, I built models of F1 cars, I had R/C sports cars, I had a slot car track. I even bought a 944 when I was 20 and hid it from my family for 3 years...
I'd say my dad (who is really not a car guy) was also a bit of an influence. He's an architect and designer, he has a good eye and does love cars on an aesthetic level. He's responsible for the Ferrari posters, a few of the models, and for nurturing my inherent interest if nothing else.
If you were to find a genie in a lamp, granting three wishes, what would they be?
- The ability to speak to dogs.
- A patent for production-ready, industrial scale atmospheric carbon capture technology.
- A stronger Subaru 5 speed gearbox.
A greater capacity and desire to understand the experiences and perspectives of others.
You own a Subaru Impreza, a truly remarkable tuned version that you have made available to the community for free to drive in Assetto Corsa. What do you like about that car? Is there another car that would be tempting enough for you to trade it in?
Thanks! I do love the thing. What I really appreciate about the car, now that it's “done,” is its attitude. It's still cool with whatever. It's capable of that kind of performance while still working on the road every day, in all seasons, on road trips with the dog, or with my parents in the back. It hasn't been compromised as a daily driver at all. The clutch is a bit of a workout in stop-and-go traffic but that's about the worst I can say.
Short of someone completely losing their mind and offering me a 1956 D-type or a brand new GT2RS, though, it's hard to imagine anything I'd trade it in for. Maybe a clean FD or a Skyline to build out, but I don't know if I even want to start at the bottom of that mountain again. At this point it's quicker than most anything else with 4 doors and a back seat and it costs less to maintain than any of the stuff that can beat it. Plus, it's still maybe the best-supported and most buildable platform around if (when) I decide I need more.
Real talk, what I actually want is a beater pickup truck in case of broken project car, muddy dog, or for the 3 times a year I need to haul something to the dump. Adulting...
Judging by your portfolio, you tend to prefer working on classic and vintage cars rather than more modern vehicles. Is there something you find in those cars that contemporary ones lack or do not have?
There are a number of reasons I've gravitated to those kinds of cars. The first is purely aesthetic – very few human-built machines look better than historic racing cars, in my opinion, so the chance to work on things like the XJ13, the D-type, and the T70 was impossible to pass up. The XJ in particular is just achingly beautiful.
Another reason is simply the driving experience – I prefer mechanical grip cars over those which rely on electronic systems or complex aerodynamics. The '60s racers were the last generation before aerodynamics started to really dominate racing car design and the '90s was sort of the last era where supercars were largely “analog,” so I'm kind of clustered in those two zones for the same set of reasons. There are some modern cars that fall into those categories too, of course, but that stuff tends to either exist as stock content anyway or to get more love from other modders. This niche was open and I'm glad to fill it.
Thirdly... physics guy isn't the top rung on the modder pecking order, for reasons I can't quite understand. =) It's usually the 3d artist who picks the projects and we fill in where we're needed. Luckily, Dan (A3DR) has pretty similar taste in cars so that partnership has worked out beautifully. But really, you have him to thank for the Need For Speed project and most all of the 90s stuff we did alongside it.
You managed to release for free, in AC, a car that was part of the roster of vehicles of a competing sim, rFactor 2, then owned by ISI. Something practically unique in the Simracing scene. How did you pull that off and why did you decide to undertake such a project?
This was a fun one. The model we used is obviously from the rFactor 2 Lola T70 mod by Crossply hosted here at Race Department. I've always been a fan of that car from its Can Am days and had been working on AC physics privately for about a year. One day I was chatting with Lilski about it and he encouraged me in his... gentle manner to shut up and get permission to convert and release it already. So, I sent a DM.
Crossply (John) is a total gentleman and was all for it, but he informed me that some of the underpinnings of the model were original ISI assets & that I should probably check with them too. We're talking like... a couple of engine bay textures and a rear-view mirror or something, but still. Fortunately, this kind of thing wasn't unprecedented, they'd authorized conversion of a track the year prior, so I figured it was worth a shot.
I got in touch with Tim Wheatley via email and we had a productive conversation. There were some stipulations involved, including putting “rF2” prominently in the name of the car, but he was supportive of the project and made it very easy to come to an agreement. Someone had already done an unauthorized conversion of the car for AC and both he & John were aware of and a bit annoyed by it. I think they probably appreciated the chance to authorize a better-executed version... I'm sure that helped my cause.
You have worked on both free and paid mod content. What is your take on paid mods? Do you think they open up new possibilities?
I have absolutely no problem with paid, scratch-made content. I can't possibly fault anyone for asking to be compensated for this work. I know exactly how many hours go into top tier mods and I know how many years it takes to develop the professional-level skills to even pull them off in the first place. It's not a trivial investment of time or energy and it's not “owed” to the community by anyone.
For my part, I don't feel like I've worked on a “paymod” as such. I worked on a couple of commissioned cars which were destined to be paid mods sold by their owner, but I treated that as more of a contract employment gig. Anyway... splitting hairs, I guess. I'm not really interested in selling anything myself. I even recycled all of the money I made doing those paid commissions into commissioning A3DR to model my Subaru... and then gave that away for free. So, it's whatever. I just want to make some cars and share them.
As far as the acceptance of paymods bringing new possibilities to the scene, I can imagine a future where we have an aftermarket of professional creators selling high level content like IER's P13C, but I don't think we're quite there yet. RSS does seem to be keeping their momentum, which is definitely a good sign, but I know others haven't had such success.
Is there anything you think needs to change in the Simracing community?
I object to the question; you only gave me a week to write this!
No... kidding of course. It's easy to identify and focus on the negatives when you've been into something for years and you've “seen everything.” But there's nothing to be gained there, and it's always unfair. There are so many more positives we simply take for granted as we get jaded. There could be a little less griefing, a little more respect, but that's not simracing. That's just people.
From the narrow perspective of a humble physics modder, what disappoints me most is the unwillingness of so many to care about where their mods come from. There's no sense beating this horse yet again, we all know how the dance goes, but still. It's disappointing. I guess in the end that's not a simracing problem either, it's just people. Everybody likes to get what they want, especially if it's easy.
We reached the end of our interview! Do you have any final remarks?
I'd like to thank Bram Hengeveld and everyone else at RD for giving the Assetto Corsa modders a home when we had to leave the official forums rather abruptly some years back. I think it's probably worked well for both sides, but I do think it was critical in keeping the community mostly intact through that transition. And thank you for making the effort to bring more attention to our little group of creators.
Also, I had so many questions to ask out of curiosity to hear your answer that I forgot to ask you: why the nickname Aphidgod??
If you think about it, pretty much any human has the power of a god from the perspective of an aphid. Really, though... it's an old, accumulated online name. Started as something completely different and ended up here after some years. Many stories (and a few interesting people) behind it. ⦿
I want to thank again Jason for his collaboration and the genuine enthusiasm he showed towards the interview, like David and Ben before him. It really means a lot! Ad Maiora, Jason!
(PS thanks for the Testarossa, flat engines are the best engines, especially if they come in twelve cylinders )