Category Archives: Editorial

One topic from our point of view.

New consoles, new games…same arguments!

With all the recent news surrounding the upcoming PS4 and Xbox One, people are still having the same ‘ol debates.  Gamers will speculate which machine has the raw processing power or the better launch titles or these ease/difficulty of development for the platform.  Hell, my buddies and I used to go through the same routine back at the lunch table in junior high during the height of the SNES/Genesis war.  Much like the cafeteria tacos, these discussions leave a bad taste in my mouth (yep, I’m proud of that pun…suck it).

That said, I refuse to participate.  In fact,  this time around I will do my best to remain positive in the hopes that both machines can co-exist and find their own niche because I think these could be the last consoles…ever.  After all, I own a PS3 and an Xbox 360 like many of you, so I’m more than willing to buy both machines if they each fill a certain gap.  I refuse to believe that there will be a clear winner here and it’s better for the industry and gaming fans alike if Sony and Microsoft both succeed this holiday season.  Oh, and when I say “gaming fans,” I mean those of us who will spend the cash on a console rather than straying from home based gaming in favor of the expanding mobile game market.  If the next gen machines are that good, maybe they can convert the casual mobile gamers into avid gamers.

See?  Now I’M getting sucked into the vortex and losing my perspective!  One other piece of information worth mentioning is how social media will play a role (if any) in the battle for market share.  Remember, back in 2005 and 2006, social media was in its infancy.  We all used Friendster as our at-work time waster and companies hadn’t yet jumped aboard to reach us.  These days, most consumer electronic makers have social media teams or “web intelligence” employees whose sole job is to have their finger on the pulse of how people view their products and their corporate image.  Again, the impact here is not really quantifiable, but it’s a big variable nonetheless.

With any hope, the new consoles will blow us away!  I haven’t seen much in the way of Gran Turismo 6, but “Race Club” looks promising and Forza 5 has me ready to make a pricey pre-order, but I will resist the urge…for now!

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Simulated Comparison

I really love a well written head-to-head comparison in the automotive magazines (or these days on YouTube).  A good article will inform the reader of the characteristics of each car and make them feel how one performs in the real world.  These days, driving games are so accurate in their depictions of cars…how does the game experience stack up against a real comparison?

I recently watched a Motor Trend comparison of the new Focus St and the 2nd generation Mazdaspeed 3 so I decided to give a virtual comparison a whirl.  I took each car out on the Maple Valley track for a 5 lap blast.  This course is a good measure of grip and suspension as you need to maintain speed to be quick.  Plus, there are nice sweeping corners and some elevation changes so it’s a fairly technical course.

Not surprisingly, lap times were super close with a best laps in the 1:51 range for each car.  The mazdaspeed was about half a second quicker omy it’s best lap but I think the Ford has more potential.  Like the Motor Trend comparison noted, the Focus feels very nimble and precise.  It rotates very easily like the real car and Turn 10 studios even put in the aggressively amplified intake noise that Motor Trend loved.  In the game, the noise is more like a Honda VTEC transition as it comes on strong at 6000rpm.

By comparison, the Mazda has a bit more midrange power than the Ford, but the difference isn’t as huge as the video may lead you to believe.  After all, Torque is a measure of force which is hard to replicate in a game.  Regardless, the Mazda was also fairly accurate compared to the Motor Trend commentary.  It isn’t as sharp as the Ford and it feels larger (despite the Ford being bigger in real life).  The Mazda was easier to drive and required less shifting than the Ford on this track but the Ford does indeed feel better.  I think with larger tires better ore aggressive alignment, it’s possible to get the Mazda to have the same “snap.”

Ok so this isn’t a very technical post, but still…it’s impressive how accurate the game experience is.  If anyone at Turn 10 ever reads this, I’d love an office visit to see how it’s all done!!!  That’s right, I said it!!

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LP-700 Craziness

The Lamborghini LP-700 is pure automotive pornography.  In Forza, the experience of “driving” it is exhilarating and boring at the same time…it’s crazy fast, obnoxiously loud and has massive grip.  Plus, it’s just a point and shoot affair in the corners, which is part of what I don’t love about it; it’s too easy to race with.  There is no character with the LP-700…it’s too perfect as opposed to Forzas interpretation of the latest ZR1 which exudes personality and requires skill to drive fast.  I don’t care what car you choose in any racing game, 200mph should be a little scary. Regardless, I got some cool pics!  The interior shot is during a test drive on Le Mans and I love how easy the camera is to use!!

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Gran Turismo Vs. Forza – the debate.

I won’t beat around the bush – for me, Forza takes the prize.  “Horizon” aside, Forza wins this debate in my book from the release of Forza 2 onward to Forza 4.

That’s not to say I’m not a Gran Turismo fan, I am…in fact, I’ll wager I was one of the first.  The original Gran Turismo was released in late 1997 in Japan and wasn’t available in North America until mid 1998.  I jumped in early  just after release with a Japanese import that I paid about $80.00 for at a privately owned local game store (remember those?).  I went into the store one day and saw a few employees crowded around the manager who was playing in arcade mode.  At the time, the graphics were impressive and the tuning system was pretty revolutionary as was the wide selection of cars.  And the replays were killer…It looked like the Japanese Best Motoring videos I’d seen playing in loops at the local tuning shops.  Even then, games were region coded but this wasn’t a problem for me…

Thankfully, my early SCPH-1001 Playstation 1 was able to play imported games using a little trick…as it was explained to me long ago, the region coding was the first track of the CD that the machine read.  With early Playstations, people were able to load up the Playstation logo of a USA game with the console cover open and a piece of tape on the button that normally tells the machine the lid is closed.  This would effectively load the region coding of the USA game…then when the disc stopped spinning, you could swap in an imported game, close the lid and play.

It took one night for me to get simply HOOKED on Gran Turismo.  A few hours into gameplay and I already had a few cars in my garage.  I remember very specifically building a powerful late model Supra Turbo (a car I’d only dreamed of stock let alone upgraded).  GT1 was just about the only game I played until the sequel came out in late 1999.  I was in college then and it took some phone calls before I found a store on release day that had unreserved stock.  Luckily, I spoke to a KB toys employee who was equally obsessed with the first game and he held onto a copy for me until I made my way to the store.  I skipped classes that day and played GT2 ALL day and well into the night.  The one thing I loved about GT2 was the boost gauge…I know it’s silly, but it was pretty neat.

It was the same story with GT3 and GT4…they were my “go-to” games for years.  At that point, I’d played the original Forza game and wasn’t terribly impressed.  I was SO hardcore for Gran Turismo, I probably didn’t give Forza the time it deserved.  However, once I got an Xbox 360 and Forza 2 I fell in love.  I found Forza easy to navigate…the game just made sense.  The graphics blew GT4 out of the water and the sound of each engine was spot on as opposed to Gran Turismo’s typical “buzz.”  I found each successor in the Forza series to improve on the previous game.  In fact, I was always so impressed that Forza could put out new and improved titles so quickly while all we heard from the Gran Turismo camp is “we’re working on it.”

The Gran Turismo PSP release in 2009 was the first sign that things weren’t going well in the series.  It was a bland game that I regret getting.  The entire appeal of Gran Turismo was building a garage of custom cars in career mode and racing in various events.  Unfortunately, GT PSP was basically Gran Turismo 4’s arcade mode and not much else.  My theory is that they had to pay Jay Leno so much to use his voice in the License test portion that little was left in the budget for actual gameplay improvements.  Again, that’s just a theory from some idiot on the internet (me) so take it with a grain of salt.

When GT5 was finally released I was READY!  I got myself a PS3 and pre-ordered the game and was prepared to be amazed.  Afterall, Polyphony Digital had years to perfect their title and revolutionize the genre once again.  Unfortunately, GT5 was a let down for me.  I can’t understand why evey car doesn’t get the same level of detail in the graphics department (some cars have full interiors, others just silhouettes).  The sound is just as buzzy as ever and while the driving physics may be the most accurate, that doesn’t make for a perfect video game.

Again and again, I go back to my Forza games to chase lap times, race online or just build a car and go for a quick blast.  Maybe things will change with the next cycle of games because I really want Gran Turismo to OWN the series again.

 

 

Forza Horizon – the verdict.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to expectations.  The demo was a disappointment and the final game wasn’t any better.  This game seems like the ultimate combination on paper but it doesn’t deliver in execution.  Playing through the game is so monotonous.  The Colorado roads all end up looking the same after some time and no challenge I’ve come across feels fresh and new.

The one factor I keep coming back to in my verdict is that I rarely pick it up anymore.  I find myself going back to Forza 4 and Forza 3 much more often.  “Horizon” attempts to blend the arcade style of the Need for Speed series with the tried-and-true Forza racing experience and it just doesn’t work.  I think they were trying to create a new sub-genre here in between being a racing sim and an arcade game, but to no avail.  I know I’m in the minority here, but I just plain don’t like this game.

Also, I think the little things bug me more than the bland racing experience.  Each character looks like a huge DOUCHE in the way they talk and how they dress.  I’ve been to a million car meets and few enthusiasts actually LOOK like this (achem, some BMW/Infiniti owners). It all just rubs me the wrong way and in a few years it will look very dated because guys wearing cardigans and ties is a fashion trend that won’t last.

Sunglasses at night.  Sigh...

Sunglasses at night. Sigh…

Douche throws down a pink slip.

Douche throws down a pink slip.

Chasing tenths

I am not what you’d call a “people person.”  At work, I am generally a quiet contributor.  While the office is typically buzzing with the usual chatter ranging from TV shows, gossip and assorted personal issues, I am usually absorbed in my work.  I am more comfortable as an observer and it keeps me free of distraction so I can concentrate on more important things (like pivot tables hehe).

When I sit down to play a racing game, it is usually the same story…I race alone.  Every so often I’ll join an online race, but I usually get annoyed by anyone who insists on using their headset just as easily as the guy who has to purposely crash into everyone.  So, I race alone.  In Forza 4, I’m usually playing in test-drive mode (where I can tune while driving) or doing hot laps.  The goal is to go lap after lap, trying to beat my best time.  After about 5 laps I can usually get into a nice groove.  Soon after, lap times get very consistent and I’ll start chasing tenths of a second here or there using my ghost as a competitor.  I’ll try to out brake my ghost, or carry more speed through a corner or try a different line all in order to post my best possible time.

The other day, I was trying to post my best time with an A600 rated NSX on the Maple Valley course (a favorite of mine).  I had a couple of NSX’s in my garage and I tried 2 of them with different tuning philosophies.  I chose the older 1992 NSX-R as my lightweight/lower power car and a 1995 NSX-R as my more powerful albeit heavier car.  Again, the goal was to see which car could go faster with the same class A rating.

The tune for each car ended up being very similar with slight differences in roll-bar and spring settings for each car.  I assumed I would go faster in the light car as I could outbrake the heavier car and try to carry more speed through each corner (since Maple Valley is a fairly high speed course).  In the end, I was almost 2 seconds faster with the heavier car.  The ’95 felt more composed and a bit easier to drive despite it being 500 pounds heavier.  So,  I’ll go back to the ’92 car and make some changes for next time!

According to the leaderboards online, I am ranked within the top 5% on this course with an A-Class car (out of nearly 600,000 players).  However, the leading lap times with similar cars (NSX GT) are over TEN SECONDS faster!!  Crazy!!  Back to the drawing board…

   

   

Rally ’round the family – Part 1

In the great family of racing games, the “Rally” sub-genre is kind of the black-sheep.  You can’t really find rallying on TV anymore these days and I’ll wager that few watched it years ago when the Speed channel was called Speedvision.  While I didn’t follow the seasons too closely, I did look forward to the New Years day special that would run the season in a marathon.  When my family held their annual new years day party, I was the anti-social of the bunch who spent more time glued to the TV with my plate of snacks.  It was glorious!

Back then, Rallying was at the peak of it’s popularity and developers made lots of Rally games.  In fact, there were 3 separate series like Colin McCrae Rally, Need for Speed V-Rally and World Rally Championship, each of which spawned a number of sequels.

Unfortunately, there is a real lack of Rallying in games for current generation consoles.  And don’t mention the Dirt series, please.  Yes, there is some rallying in that series but it’s an X-Games title if anything.  The genre is more popular in the UK as WRC2 and the newly released WRC3 is available across the pond, but they aren’t sold by retailers in the US.  What’s worse, if you only own an Xbox360, the WRC games are region locked.  The news is considerably better if you have a PS3 as there are no region locked games so you’ll have to import one.

So, if you want a real Rally fix in your gaming, you will have to go a generation back in terms of polish, but you can still have a LOT of fun. The other day, I spent a couple of hours with V-Rally 3 and I forgot how much they crammed into this game!  Ok, so the car models aren’t as detailed as Gran Turismo 4 or even Gran Turismo 3 and things can get a little pixelated at times when the camera is close to anything.  Regardless, this game is a joy to discover again.  EA games included a really nice damage system and there are plenty of tracks, cars and surfaces to race on.  The controls take a bit of getting use to, but you can tweak the sensitivity of the steering, throttle and brakes to suit your style.  The backgrounds are also large, colorful and have impressive scale.  You can select from a number of front wheel drive cars which are slow but nimber or step up to the all wheel drive cars which are faster and harder to master.

From time to time, we’ll revisit some old Rallying titles for the PS/PS2 and I’ll also get my hands on WRC2 and WRC3 for the PS3 and put them through the paces.