The invisible problem of racing games is editorial involvement

The invisible problem of racing games is editorial involvement

It was back in 1998 when our eyes first fell on a single phrase: "over 290 cars from the best manufacturers in the world". Gran Turismo has forever changed the concept of racing games, and to talk about one of the problems of modern racing games, you have to start from here, from a structure that involves buying a car, processing it and competing in an event as long as you meet certain requirements. This "dogma" has created a strange side effect: the lack of involvement, a context in which every digital driver finds satisfaction in addition to driving on a track, perhaps with his favorite car.

Over the years we have had several outsiders, who have tried to innovate this aspect, from the various Grids to Project CARS, passing through the Shift. In a nutshell: is a career mode still current consisting of a series of events to complete, as if it were a checklist? But above all, do these video games convey passion? Let's try to understand something.

A difference in approach from the very first moments of the purchase, where the imprinting between the digital medium and the player is created. Who is a racing game for? A video game of this type has car and motorsport lovers as its main target, even if there is no lack of the classic "Sunday player". But let's focus on the most consistent block, which sees the various Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport as an encyclopedia of the car, even if told in diametrically opposed ways. Fans are passionate first of all for the bond that is established with the cold mechanical medium, which evolves little by little until it acquires its own personality. In this, Gran Turismo succeeds perfectly in its intent, especially for the authorial imprint dictated by Yamauchi.

This love can be seen in every corner of the title, already starting from the dealer, which does not provide for the simple rotation of the model but an almost directorial cut capable of making you appreciate the details of the car you are viewing . Kazunori Yamauchi is one with Gran Turismo: when we play a work of him, we are simply playing with his vision of the world of cars, thus creating a means that can be summarized in author-game-user. The choice of the car and how it is transposed is a focal point in this sense, at first sight banal but capable of encompassing all the magic of this world. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to be paying attention to all of this.

Giving a dream as a gift is one of the mechanisms of a winning sale, not only from an economic point of view but also from an emotional one. Forza Motorsport, despite often proposing itself as a technical benchmark, lacks that spark capable of thrilling, with the result of appearing like a cold block of ice. Not that he hasn't tried: Forza Motorsport 4 has introduced the Autovista, a mode that has allowed all fans to admire every detail of the digital car, pushed to the maximum of its technical possibilities. It was more than just "taking a look around": thanks to the partnership with Top Gear, the cars could count on the over-the-top description provided by Jeremy Clarkson, the spearhead of the most followed show in the world.

The Autovista with the voice of Jeremy Clarkson is the highest point reached by Forza Motorsport, unfortunately never replicated. It is thanks to this expedient that those polygonal models acquired personality, passing from cold computational calculation to a warm story, a past and a present capable of making every single car unique. Each object becomes important to us when we are able to associate a story with it and it is here that the fourth chapter has managed to really rival Gran Turismo. Although an element in its own right, the Autovista was Turn10's love song towards the car seen as an icon but unfortunately, over the years and the chapters, this modality gradually lost its charm, until, in Forza Motorsport 7 has become an aseptic way of looking at the model. The relationship with your car, however, is not the only way to create the necessary warmth around the player and over the years, we have had several demonstrations of how it is possible to convey a concept or a feeling starting from another.

RIMS Racing excels in this aspect: the bond is due to the meticulous creation of every detail of the model, which allowed the total assembly and disassembly of its parts. Getting so deeply into each of the bikes available creates a union of intentions, knowing that taking one will certainly lead to better results. Paradoxically, what makes this link so special is its biggest flaw: the small number of models. This aspect leads to a reflection on the quantity of means proposed to the player, as if their number could compensate for how this is transmitted.

Checked the list what remains? What is our story? One of the intrinsic problems of racing games ─ and child of the opening sentence of the article ─ is in fact the disproportionate number of cars available, becoming simple tools to complete a specific event. How many have abandoned poor Mazda Demio in the garage, sun and cold, waiting to be able to put the wheels back on the asphalt in the open air? This vision partly reflects the "involvement" problem, probably using only 10% of the cars available in the game. Gran Turismo manages to mitigate the situation, since each car presents its own story, its own why, inviting the enthusiast to discover its secrets. The rest, do not even try. What leads us to prefer one car rather than another besides the mere technical aspects? The emotion.

Since automobiles first appeared on Earth, they have become a means by which to go beyond human limits, but that bond and those emotions are still there, confirmed by many scientific studies. observed how the human being is sensitive to the sense of power and the sound of the car, even making it increase testosterone. It seems impossible to be able to convey this with a video game but there are those who have tried, starting with Assetto Corsa.

The work of Kunos Simulations is the one that comes closest to us: a precise work on physics, combined with the painstaking reproduction of the traces thanks to the Laser Scan technology, they manage to create a bubble in which you really feel driving a road or track vehicle, giving pleasant sensations even by simply doing two laps on a track. In this case, the personality of the car derives from its dynamic reconstruction and not only from its appearance, allowing any user to get closer to what is experienced in reality. But there are other ways too.

A simple introduction to the race in Shift 2: Unleashed, to make the player feel part of a concrete event. At one point, Electronic Arts decided to have Slightly Mad Studio create a slightly more simulative transposition of Need For Speed: Shift and its sequel Shift 2 Unleashed, are a little over on oblivion, but interesting in many points. of sight. In this case, we tried not to create a painstaking simulation of physics but to replicate the sensations it generates on a driver, thanks to the use of visual allegories such as accentuated blurs, particular filters, camera from the helmet that follows the curve of the curve. as well as the use of audio, such as panting following a bad blow. With these gimmicks, the Shifts managed to carve out their own space, immersing the player in the psyche and emotion of the driver rather than driving the car.

The personality of the drivers, in a racing game, is a completely neglected element, giving the feeling of competing more with cars that drive themselves rather than with other drivers. A major accident will never scratch the cold integrity of the driver of the opposing car, because simply, he is a dummy. How can you be satisfied with a race if whoever we beat is a nobody?

Codemasters tried to fix the problem with Grid. The introduction of the Nemesis system (which has nothing to do with the Monolith system) certainly has some problems and yet it works, transforming a simple label with name and surname into a pilot where it is possible to reconstruct a minimum of narration: we remember that pilot, almost being afraid of it. Simply put, that AI takes on a personality. Having someone to beat, a rivalry, is essential to immerse the player in a digital competition, which is why online sessions are always a great success. In single player, outside of Grid, what remains is a solitary race to the finish line, a feeling of loneliness despite being surrounded by a dozen pilots.

The theatricality of the Grids has evolved over the years and is the only real attempt to make everything more palatable. So far we have seen how current racing games struggle to convey a real passion for this world. Therefore, it is not enough to create a list of cars and tracks to resolve the issue, but there is another element on which we cannot find a square: the career. Here, Grid again intervenes, which reaches its peak in the second chapter despite the sharp turn towards the arcade.

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The creation of the WSR, a multidisciplinary world championship, will see us as the flagship driver of its patron, in search of the best teams to challenge and include in the tournament. Compared to the "Gran Turismo style" here we have a real goal, the awareness of doing something concrete. Furthermore, thanks to the soundtrack, you become the protagonist of a story that is told not only with cutscenes but also with gameplay. It is the general involvement that makes Grid special: despite all the limitations it carries with it, it remains memorable, creating the effect of making the competitors anti-climatic.

At this point, with a Gran Turismo returning to its origins and a Forza Motorsport still missing, does it still make sense to propose a career composed simply of a series of events? In 2022, with all the video games that surround us, is simple driving enough as an input? Gran Turismo, from the beginning, has focused everything on the sense of progression, which has become a must for all racing games. There have been variations on the theme, but with Forza Motorsport coming out worse even if, perhaps, it seems to go in a new direction, one that encourages the player to experience the world of cars rather than be a spectator. Ultimately, we also need stories in headlines where the word "involvement" has been taken too much for granted.

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