- Nov 14, 2013
you are a pretty cool guy!!
great interview!Let's get to know better the creator of such masterpieces as Feldbergring, Fonteny, Deutschlandring and Thomson Road Grand Prix.
"10 Questions for" is a new column that wants to celebrate the modders in our community, put them under the spotlight but in a new and different way: we want to present a more intimate look at them, to get to know them better, as individuals with dreams, hopes, fears, expectations. In short, we want to highlight their personalities, making it possible for the readers to finally see a side of them that wouldn't be otherwise easy to grasp. We hope you enjoy it and feel free to leave your own questions in the comments!
I don't think the guest for this issue of "10 Questions for" needs much introducing. The tracks he has created are some of the most downloaded and appreciated resources in our community. He has been able to create such authentic and detailed environments that I am probably not that much far off in saying that all of the other track makers for Assetto Corsa have learned a thing or two from him. Always kind, very humble, David is one of the most loved modders that we are very lucky to have here at RaceDepartment, and today we wanted to sit down with him and chat for a while.
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Thomson Road Grand Prix
- RD Would you like to give us a very briefly presentation of yourself? Who is David Pemberton?«Hi, my name is David Pemberton. I am a 48 year old freelance graphic designer, live in the UK, and have been playing racing games for about 20 years. The first multiplayer game I ever tried was called 1nsane Off-Road by Invictus. It had soft-body physics, terrible graphics, but I found it was highly addictive to play, especially against other people (rather than the AI). When I worked for a company rather than for myself, we had a copy of the game installed on all the workstations and as soon as lunch break started, about 7 or 8 of us would fire up 1nsane and race against each other for the next hour. It was so much fun! Then, after 2 or 3 years of just racing in 1nsane, I discovered modding, and was able to transfer the skills I had learned through my job into my hobby. I started with skins, then moved on to making cars and finally tracks, all for the same game. Making content naturally led me to online communities, full of like-minded people all with the same passion. This was also my first experience of online forums, and all of the good and bad things that go with them. I stuck with 1nsane from 2001 until about 2007, at which point the website that hosted all of my mods closed down and I just stopped creating. I spent the next few years playing a variety of games, but not creating content for any of them. I tried Richard Burns Rally, Live for Speed, Rigs of Rods and netKar-Pro. All of these were played on a Logitech Dual Action gamepad – that was all I had ever used. It was fine for arcade games, but once I got more into NKP and LFS I became frustrated by the limitations of the gamepad so I bought my first wheel (some horrible rubber-band, non-FFB toy). All of the other games dropped away and I was left with NKP and LFS. I then bought myself a Logitech DFGT and discovered FFB – wow! And then in late 2013 I started reading about this new game that was coming soon – Assetto Corsa. I think there was a free demo with just a Lotus Elise and the Magione circuit. I bought into the Early Access programme straight away and it has been my sim of choice ever since. Along the way I have tried Dirt Rally, ACC, I even tried Project Cars (1 & 2)! But on the whole I just play the one game. I am not a natural racer and find it frustrating to switch between different sims, with different FFB and different physics models».
- RD Which is the thing you hate the most about your everyday routine? Which is instead the thing you look most forward to during the week?«I have to admit that I don’t really hate anything about my life. I work for myself, from my home office, am married to my lovely wife with whom I have two daughters (now both grown up but still live at home), and I also have my best friend, Charlie the Cockapoo! Being my own boss gives me a huge amount of freedom and flexibility, allowing me to decide (within reason) when I work and when I play. Because of that, life is pretty good, quite varied and I think I would really find it hard to go back to working for someone else within a company. The worst part of my day is probably getting up at 6am to get my wife a cup of tea (she really doesn’t do mornings), and cooking dinner each night. Oh, and doing all the housework! What can I say… I am a domestic god! The thing I look forward to most is the evening, when I can get back to working on my current track project. During the day, new ideas will pop into my head whilst I am out walking with my dog, new things to add to the track, or different ways of doing things, so when the evening comes I usually have more things to get on with than I have time for. Occasionally I will fire up AC and just have 30 mins racing against the AI, or have a hot-lap session around the Nordschleife, but 9 times out of 10 I will spend the evening working on textures in Photoshop or modeling new objects in 3ds max».
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Bremgarten (currently w.i.p.)
- RD Why the name Fat-Alfie?«The nickname comes from my early days of online racing. When I started working for myself I obviously lost all of the other guys I used to play against on the office LAN, so I had to find a new way to play. Then I discovered GameSpy and found that it hosted 1nsane races, so I created an account and joined the lobby to play my first truly online game. All of the other people in the lobby had names like MoverPrime, Bangers&Mash, Quickie, B1GSEAN… and I had picked davidpem It just sounded really dull and boring compared to all those other names. I wanted something more interesting, more fictional – it’s hard to explain, but I guess I wanted a ‘different me’ that I could be when I was online. Anyway, as I was sat at the computer I looked down and saw one of my daughter’s picture books on the floor. It was about this big, fat cat and was called something like “Fat Alphie in Love” and I thought it sounded like a fun name, so decided on the name ‘Fat-Alfie’. Of course, you had to have an avatar in the GameSpy lobby and thought it would be funny to alter the Caterpillar ‘CAT’ logo to read ‘FAT’, and that’s who I have been online ever since».
- RD Which is your favorite car and why?«In real life, I am not really into cars. I know that might sound strange for someone who spends almost all of their spare time making content for a car game, but it’s true. I currently drive a 2009 Ford Ka and only use it for grocery shopping and the occasional meeting. As a boy I went through a stage of lusting after an old VW Beetle, then a beach buggy, but I’ve never really had the whole Ferrari / Porsche / Lambo dream. I guess I know that I will never be able to afford one of those cars in real life so I never even entertain the idea. I do appreciate real cars when I see them at events (pre-Coronavirus, obviously), and feel most drawn to cars from the 1950s and 1960s. Period Formula 1 cars, old Jaguars, Lotus, ERAs, Maseratis, Porsches, Alfa Romeos, anything with lots of character, really. In Assetto Corsa my favourite car has to be Kunos’ Lotus 49. For me, it is the perfect car, and it makes me feel alive whenever I drive it in anger. To change gear with my H-shifter, using all three pedals, fighting the steering wheel, controlling my direction with the accelerator as well as the steering wheel; it is just magical. I also spend a lot of time in Stereo’s gorgeous Formula Ford and aphidgod’s Lola T70. I am quite fussy about mod content and must admit that very few mod cars are stored on my hard drive. Most modders seem very capable of creating a great looking model, but mod cars with believable, convincing physics are few and far between».
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- RD For you, what makes classic cars and tracks more interesting than modern ones?«I think the biggest attraction of classic cars is the lack of down-force. I love to feel the car moving around, talking to me, telling me when I take a corner too fast, or accelerate too quickly. I very rarely race online (I have done maybe 5 or 6 online races since I have owned AC), so winning is not the main reason I play AC, or even racing, to be honest. It is mainly for the sensations and immersion. I have no interest in driving a GT3 car with ABS and traction control around a circuit with tarmac run-off areas… it just isn’t fun to me. I understand the appeal for other people, especially those that regularly race online against other people, but for me the more advanced a car is and the more it does for you, the less there is for me to do, and so the less there is for me to experience. I don’t know if that makes any sense to anyone else but it’s as simple as that – I just want to have fun! As for classic circuits, I guess the appeal is how dangerous they were in real life. Places like Spa or the Targa Florio, with no run-off areas, trees right next to the edge of the track, spectators a few metres away from the cars… It was crazy back then, and I am happy that motor racing is far, far safer today, but that is the joy of sim racing – that it allows us to race on these amazing circuits, with very little room for error, where one false move can end your race. We can do all that without any risk to our lives. The fact that those circuits from 50 or 60 years ago were so dangerous is what makes them so enjoyable and so challenging in a sim».
- RD Which is the most hilarious comment or review you’ve got about one of your creations?«Firstly, can I thank both Race Department for hosting such an amazing array of mods for so many sims, and also for the members of our sim racing community that take the time to download and review those mods. As a creator, it really is fantastic to read that other people enjoy using the content that I create. As for answering your question, I’m afraid my answer will be quite dull – almost all of the comments that people have left on my tracks have been very positive and constructively critical, so I don’t have any ridiculous ones I can quote. I have had the following comments left though: “car go vroom”, “Well done, but not quite my cup of tea", “ok”, “I haven't driven it yet, but I already know it's a masterpiece” as well as one guy asking me to add a DRS zone to one of my 1950s tracks »
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- RD How do you deal with negativity, whether it is from comments, reviews, or just everyday life?«This has got easier as I have aged. When I was younger, and especially when I first started out in modding, I couldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t like what I had created. It sounds very narcissistic now, but back then I got a real buzz out of creating and releasing skins, and I sometimes took criticism quite hard. After a while I came to realise that this was quite unhealthy; that I was seeking enjoyment from my hobby in the wrong way; that my enjoyment was reliant on other people’s reactions and opinions, and that was out of my control. Slowly, I was able to focus more on my own sense of satisfaction with what I was creating. I stayed away from requests and decided only to make what made me happy, and I continue with that mind set to this day (with regard to track making). I get my enjoyment from making tracks that I would love to drive round in AC, and once that process is complete and I have finished the track, it seems selfish not to share it with like-minded people. If they enjoy it too then that is fantastic – if it’s not really their thing (and I understand that I do make quite unusual or unpopular circuits), then that is also fine. The vast majority of RD’s members leave excellent reviews, and whilst I sometimes find the praise and very positive comments for my tracks quite uncomfortable to read, they can also be a massive boost and spur me on to try and make my next track even better. The comments I value the most, though, are the constructive criticisms; when someone points out something that could have been better, or spots a mistake that I missed in testing».
- RD Do you have a favorite, among your tracks?«That’s a difficult question to answer. Part of me wants to say Thomson Road, as that was my first track for AC. I learned more in the 4 or 5 months that it took to make that track than I have in the 4 years since it was released. I knew nothing about AC back then, and how its graphics and physics engines worked. I spent so much time analysing all of the Kunos tracks, trying to work out the correct way to make a track, how to make the FFB feel good, how to make the track run well on low-end PCs. It was a very enjoyable process and Thomson Road will always mean a lot to me, but I think my overall favourite has to be Feldbergring. This was the first track I made where I tried to create an environment for the track to exist within. I wanted it to be more than just a ribbon of tarmac surrounded by flat 2 dimensional tree walls. I wanted to be able to give the impression that you were there, in 1950s Germany, looking across the hills, seeing individual trees and bushes, driving through villages and feeling the cobble stones beneath your wheels… I like to think that I did a fairly good job of achieving this. I very rarely use my tracks once I have completed them, but if I want to test out a new vintage mod car I will quite often choose Feldbergring for my first run. Or maybe Fonteny »
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- RD Have there been times where you felt like you didn’t want to make any more content? What gives you or has given you the commitment to produce and keep producing tracks for the community?«Oh yes, absolutely! This is quite a familiar feeling for me. Without fail, I feel like this right after I finish and release a track. They take me so long to make - between 6 and 12 months for each one, depending on how much spare time I have – that by the end of the process, I just feel empty. It’s really quite a strange feeling to have. On one hand, I am overjoyed that the track is complete and I can finally put it to bed. But, conversely, it also feels like something has ended; like something has been taken away from me. For example, by the time I finished and released Fonteny, I had completed nearly 40,000 km round that track. I knew every single bump in the road, every corner, every dip, exactly where the AI would be easy to overtake. What I really want is to enjoy it for the first time like everyone else who downloads it, rather than almost being bored by it after so long. I need one of those memory erasers that they have in the Men in Black films! Anyway, I usually take a few weeks away from modding once I finish a track. I go out cycling more, or focus on playing guitar for a while; anything but sim racing, and eventually it calls to me again. At that point I will fire up AC and try out all of the WIP tracks that I have on my hard drive (and there are quite a few!), usually in the Lotus 49 or Porsche 911 RSR. I spend a week or two driving round these ugly, basic tracks, seeing if any of them spark something in me, and usually one of them feels like the right project to work on next. I start to imagine how it would have looked back in the day, how the road would have felt, what kind of trees would have grown in that area. It starts to come alive in my imagination, and that’s it then – all I can think about is making the picture I see in my mind into a reality. I guess I keep making these tracks because I keep discovering circuits that I haven’t heard of before. I find the history of vintage circuits fascinating, and the research that I have to do is one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole process. Searching the internet for photos, or possibly even a video or two if I get lucky, looking out for old books that might have descriptions of the track, or first-hand accounts of races that were held there. As I said earlier, my biggest motivation is my own enjoyment. The moment it stops being fun will be the time to stop creating, but for now I am very much enjoying my hobby and don’t see it ending any time soon».
- RD Where would you like the simracing community to be in 5 years? What are your hopes and expectations for the future both from developers and community members alike?«I am probably not the right person to answer this question, as I am not your average sim racer – i.e. I very rarely race! I think both the software and hardware sides of sim racing are very good now. The physics models in the best sims seem capable of simulating real physics fairly accurately, and the hardware we have available to us is good enough to transfer this data to our hands and eyes. I don’t see that there is much progress left to make, but I am probably completely wrong about that. I would like to see smaller, lighter and better quality VR headsets. VR was a huge step forward for me, in the overall enjoyment of sim racing. It gave me the ability to be in this world I had created. The first time I tried it, my friend loaded up the Ford Escort mk1 at Feldbergring. I sat down, put on the VR headset and was just blown away! I was there, at this place I had made on a computer; I could see the tyre marks on the road, the little birds I had placed on top of the fences, everything…I was even able to get out of the car and walk around looking at the pit area. It was simply amazing and I can’t recommend it enough. I guess, in an ideal world, Kunos would make AC2, with their improved tyre model, an updated graphics engine with day/night transition, realistic wet weather, but make it completely modable and able to run on my i5 9600k and GTX1080. Before I go, can I say a BIG ‘thank you’ to everyone at RD who works so hard to keep the whole show running, from writing articles to moderating the forum, recording podcasts to hosting the thousands of mods. You all help to make sim racing the wonderful hobby it is – cheers!!»We thank David to have taken the time to sit down with us and thoroughly answer our questions; it has been a fun and very enjoyable chat!
Images courtesy of Fat-Alfie (David Pemberton)