- Jun 5, 2009
It's been nearly 20 years since Codemasters released TOCA 2 Touring Cars, do you think it's time for another serious crack at the BTCC in sim racing, and if so, who is primed to pick up the rights?
Most of us remember TOCA Touring Cars rather fondly, however do you think we will ever see another official British Touring Car Championship game in future? The regulations that govern modern Touring Car racing in the UK have changed considerably since the Super Touring heyday of TOCA and TOCA 2 by Codemasters, however which such a rich variety of cars and an increased presence of official manufacturer support present within British Touring Cars today, it feels like the time is right to finally have a polished modern video game representation of the series.
The BTCC in 2017 looks set to field a full grid of 33 touring cars consisting of 11 different manufacturer brands, five of which are fully fledged manufacturer projects by Honda, Vauxhall, BMW, Subaru and MG. Added in to the mix are a wide range of exceptionally entertaining racing tracks that make up the season calendar and all with their own very unique characteristics, from the flat out blasts of England's fastest track at Thruxton, to the narrow and twisty short blast around Scotland's Knockhill circuit, all the ingredients are seemingly in place for a pretty spectacular simulation racing game. The question is: why has no one shown an interest in recent years, and would the game appeal to the wider sim racing public if they did?
As of the end of 2015 a multitude of networks across six continents around the globe – Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America – are broadcast partners of the BTCC. With viewing figures well into the millions it appears that the popularity of this British national racing series remains strong both home and abroad.
Unfortunately race fans have to look as far back as 1998 for the last official game release featuring the series in the form of PlayStation and PC racing game TOCA 2 from Codemasters. Although not what one would consider to be a fully fledged simulation title, TOCA 2 did a very strong job of representing touring car racing at the height of it's international fame, and to this day remains very fondly remembered by fans of the championship who perhaps cut their sim racing teeth on this Codemasters release.
Fast forward to 2017 and still the race game marketplace fails to count a modern BTCC game amongst it's number. This could in all fairness be for a variety of different reasons, not least of which could be the dramatic decline in the health of the series following the collapse of Super Touring regulations at the end of the 2000 season, forcing the BTCC to drift for several years as the championship attempted to rekindle a fire that once shone very brightly indeed. From 2001 to 2006 the championship propped itself up despite an array of poor technical decisions, mass exodus of top level driving talent and the all but total abandonment of the championship by manufacturers once so keen to be part of the sport in the late 1980's and 1990's.
Enter back in to the fray the magic touch of Australian legend Alan Gow once again, and the championship has seen a rise in quality and participation over the last few years. Although the popular WTCC mirroring S2000 rules that then formed the backbone of the BTCC went a long way towards establishing the championship's quality out on track, it wasn't until Gow revealed the BTCC specific low cost NGTC (Next Generation Touring Car) regulations that the popularity of touring car racing in the UK really skyrocketed back towards that of the 90's heyday. In the last three seasons the BTCC have had to put in place an entry cap on the number of cars eligible to race in the series, such has been the demand for places under NGTC regulations, and the series has even seen many high profile touring car drivers once again return to British shores, none more impressive than 3-time World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx and former double BTCC champion Alain Menu.
So with a grid packed full of variety, some big name drivers and teams, manufacturer support, entertaining and diverse schedule, tight on track racing, worldwide viewing figures and a unique three race programme, why has the BTCC been so long overlooked by game manufacturers?
Well the problem could well be down to the actual licence rights to the series itself. For a long time in racing circles it was a popular rumour that the BTCC management agreed a long term licencing deal with a game developer (thought to be Codemasters) to licence exclusive rights to the British Touring Car Championship. In something of an oversight during the contract signing, it is rumoured that the licence contains no requirements by the holders to actually produce the game itself, strangling the marketplace and allowing no opportunity for other rival development teams to sign up either individual BTCC cars or the full championship schedules.
Now it has to be said that I have failed to ever get a straight answer about the licence situation from anyone despite several years of trying, and the exclusivity licence rumour could well be just that, a rumour. It is worth noting that Image Space Incorporated did once secure a licence to reproduce the very competitive Honda Civic of Team Dynamics and Eurotech Honda from the BTCC for rFactor 2, and we have seen the odd individual car pop up in other less simulation orientated title's in the past, which could lend credit to the thought process that the days of BTCC exclusive development licences are indeed a thing of the past. It remains to be seen if 2017 is the right time for developers to look at a reproduction of modern British Touring Cars in a sim racing marketplace that seems to be dominated of late by GT3 specification racing cars across the majority of current racing titles.
So if the licence was up for grabs who would be in the best position to fill the void of the criminally under represented world of tin top touring cars in sim racing? Let's have a look at the options of the table that we currently know about -
'Not rF3' from Image Space Incorporated. Now we know the team behind rFactor and rFactor 2 are working on a top secret racing game for a while now and they have already confirmed it will not be the third instalment of the rFactor franchise, nor will it be a direct like for like rival to the rFactor 2 currently under development at Studio 397. With that information to hand, it would probably be safe to assume the new 'not rf3' title will not follow the traditional ISI route of open modding platform racing game style as found with their previous two releases. The team have history with the BTCC in the form of the once officially licenced Dynamics Honda Civic, so we know the doors to the series have been opened at least slightly once before in the past.
If ISI are indeed not looking at going down the open modding platform route of previous rFactor games then it is probably a safe assumption that the American's are looking to licence at least one full racing series, although at present no information of any worth is in the public domain.
Now you could say with the studio location in the USA and the popularity of such series as IndyCar and NASCAR, plus all the grass routes championship that fall under those categories, ISI might be more interested in creating something for the American market and leaving rF2 and Studio 397 to cater for European tastes with rFactor 2. The possibility still remains for the developers to build on their previous Honda connection and look to recreate something with a BTCC flavour. After all ISI are known to be the masters of creating FWD cars in their other titles.
'Reiza 17' is another game that could easily have the possibility of being a modern day BTCC simulation in it's own right, or as is more likely the game will probably be a sequel to Automobilista and continue its tradition of offering up a wide and entertaining selection of cars and tracks to enjoy.
Now originally Automobilista and it's predecessor Game Stock Car Extreme were a homage to Brazilian motorsports, however in the past 12 months the studio have shown they are not afraid to represent a wide variety of interesting motorsports from around the world. We already have a nice selection of tin top machines from Australia with the Camaro VRC and the Aussie V8 Supercar replica, and the studio have recently agreed deals and released content as part of their Brit Pack DLC in the shape of three tracks and a range of UK based motorsports cars and manufacturers. So a move by Reiza to licence and represent BTCC cars in game isn't necessarily as far fetched as would appear at first glance.
We all know the exceptional talent that sits within the design studio at Reiza, and anyone who has driven any of the cars in the sim can testify to the undoubted quality of the handling and details contained within all of the cars in game, so in reality maybe a partnership between the MSA (Motor Sports Association) and Reiza Studios could well be a seriously tempting team. If concerns with regards to the mainstream popularity of the BTCC outside of the UK are an issue, Reiza have already proven that you don't need an internationally recognized racing series to produce a commercially successful racing simulation, as the main content of their games for many years have been the Brazilian StockCar series and the Brazilian Truck Racing Championship, neither of which are exactly well known outside of South America and neither of which benefit from the global television exposure of the BTCC.
Option three well rest in the hands of RaceRoom Racing Experience. The PC exclusive racing simulation from Sector3 Studios already hold most of the cards when it comes to experiencing a modern touring car in today's simulations, with official licences for the World Touring Car Champions, the German DTM and many more historic touring car series already covered by the game, and represented very well indeed.
Sector3 (and formally SimBin) have a long history producing official touring car content stretching all the way back to the original 'Race' game that represented the 2006 FIA World Touring Car Championship on PC. BTCC tracks in the form of Brands Hatch already exist in the title, as does the possibility of multiple race event formats and weight penalties as seen in the BTCC. What's more it appears that Sector3 are happy to carry many different official series licences under the RaceRoom banner, so the possibility to bring to the simulation a BTCC "Experience" as seen with the DTM and ADAC GT Masters content in recent years is very real indeed. With the studio's long history in touring car simulation and the fact that both SimBin and Sector3 are headed by Englishmen and racing enthusiasts, a partnership between the BTCC and either S3 or SimBin might be a solid option going forward.
So with all that said, do you think a representation of the British Touring Car Championship in sim racing is something people would want to go out and buy? Could a series that is focussed solely within the confines of British borders achieve worldwide popularity with the sim racing enthusiasts that populate our sport? Personally I would sincerely love a full blooded representation of the BTCC, either the current era or even better something from Super Touring, and I think the series would really be a perfect match for sim racing. The thing is, do the developers and community share that enthusiasm?
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