Thursday, 31 July 2014

First look at Elite Dangerous

Elite is a title that truly justifies the term "seminal". It had that magnitude of influence in computer gaming. It put you into a world in which you got to decide what you wanted to do. You could trade, you could steal, or you could hunt down those that did the stealing. It was your choice.

And, by the way, programmers that could fit such a complex world into 22k are artists. Imagine; a game of that kind the size of a modern email.

Well, Elite is back, developed under the leadership of creator David Braben. You won't find it on Steam or your favourite retailer yet, it's still under development, but as a Kickstarter funded program it's open to participation. The early backers received alpha access, spending hundreds to make sure the title got made, and to help develop it through their input.

The beta program is now available, and is more affordable. If you're interested in learning more about it, click here.

I'm not all that far into it at the moment. I'm literally working out how it works. But the first thing that strikes you about it is just how beautiful it is. It may sound like hyperbole, but for the first time I can remember I knew what the high definition resolution on my monitor could really do. Coming up to a space station, or flying through an asteroid belt, is a stunning experience. There's definitely a feeling of scale.

Here I am approaching Azeban City, ready to dock.



At times it has a feeling of Blade Runner about it. That doesn't carry through to all the elements, at least not yet, but it's extraordinarily rich at times. Planetary exploration is promised in a future expansion, and if done right, as they're promising it will be, it should take Elite to an extreme level of immersion.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

iRacing Ruf C-Spec hotlap at Watkins Glen Boot

I'm slowly making progress with the C-Spec. The greatest issue I have at the moment is turning in late. I'm aware that I need to work more on turn in markers, but I find they are the hardest markers to define. I really must spend time at the start of my next testing session to firm up the markers I have spotted, and find clear markers where I have none.



Still, a 1.54.4 time isn't bad. I think the fastest drivers will be around 1.52.5 - at least with default weather. We won't know the actual weather used in the first week until it starts. After that, unless iRacing have changed something, we'll know the weather in advance for every single race week.

Another test session before the week starts, then it's back to the Skip Barber for races at Lime Rock Park, a track I've had success at for the last few seasons.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

iRacing pit macro commands

I'm not sure how well documented pit macros at iRacing. It seems to be something you need to search for as I wasn't able to find it in documents and tools. There is a thread on the subject in their forum, but it's not the easiest place to find things.

Pit macros allow you to define a pit strategy, which can be something as simple as taking repairs alone, or a combination of detailed changes. For example a certain amount of fuel, and tyres at certain pressures. The macros are all proceeded with a hash.

To clear fuel, windscreen and tyre checkboxes:

#clear

To clear the tyres alone:

#cleartires

Now you have a clean car, you can add whatever you desire.

To check the fuel box:

#fuel

To add a certain amount of fuel, in this example 10 gallons:

#fuel 10g

To check the windscreen tearoff box:

#ws

Now we get into tyre macros.

To change the left front tyre:

#lf

If you want to have the tyre set to a certain pressure, in (p)si or (k)pa:

#lf 23p
#lf 23k

The same terminology is used for all four tyres, lf and rf at the front, and lr and rr for the rear.

You can also combine these instructions in one macro. For example:

#clear ws lf rf

That would clear the car, then check the windscreen tearoff box, and replace the front tyres.

Another command which may be useful, especially if more options are added later, is:

#help

Replacing button boxes with VoiceAttack voice recognition software

Button boxes.

If you've ever seen a racing sim video on Youtube where the driver is using any form of complex setup they're most likely using a button box.

What is a button box? Well, simply put it's a box with buttons on it, connected to the computer with a seperate USB cable. What does it do? The buttons trigger certain actions, such as displaying a relative positions display, or a tyre information box. They can also be used too simply display information to other drivers.

To explain how useful they can be, I use a G27, which has six buttons on the wheel. I have used them for centering TrackIR, displaying the relative positions box, the fuel and tyre boxes, and for the toggle and next inputs so I can check off fuel and tyres for the pit box.

That works fine for the Skip Barber. But what happens when there are more options to check off? And in-car adjustments to make during a session?

Then you need more buttons - perhaps a new wheel or a button box.

But there is an alternative. Instead of pushing a button you might simply say what you wanted with VoiceAttack. For a small charge you replace an expensive button box, and the hassle of having to press buttons, and remember what button does what, with a small piece of software that works surprisingly well, while having excellent features and flexibility.

You can download VoiceAttack here and evaluate it for 21 days for free.

At the time of writing this is a safe download. No malware or other installs hiding in there.

The software can be used not only with iRacing but with other games, and Windows itself.

When used with iRacing it can be used to clean up the car before races. Instead of sitting on the grid and fumbling through a clean up process you can simply invoke a macro with a voice command. For example instead of checking off fuel and new tyres on the grid in the Skip Barber I can now say "clear car" and everything is unchecked. True, you can map a macro to a single button, but that's still a button taken up, and you have to remember what button is mapped to what command.

I highly recommend giving the free download a try.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

iRacing 14S3 new build

Now this is a build.

If you're not familiar with iRacing, seasons run on a twelve week schedule. There are four seasons each year, and between each season is what is known as "week thirteen". The important thing about those weeks is that not only is that when new tracks and cars are released, but it's also when the service itself is updated.

I'm not going to go through what's been updated with this build, but suffice to say that it has very much improved car handling. With regard to the Skip Barber that means that the rear feels much more stable. You can push the car hard around corners with more confidence. That has been an ongoing improvement through the different iterations of the new tyre model.

It has also much improved the Ruf C-Spec. Previously the car felt skittish mid corner and was prone to oversteer on corner exit. It just didn't feel right at all. Now it's much more natural. You're concentrating on driving rather than managing the car.

Of course some people are unhappy with the change. And it does seem to range across most if not all cars. The common complaint seems to be based on the idea that racing cars should be hard to drive. I don't agree with that. It's my feeling that generally racing cars sohuld only be difficult to drive really fast. And I think another strand of drivers are unhappy with the change because they have learned through sheer weight of time how to be really fast through learning to overcome the quirks.

That does leave me with the issue of having to decide what to drive next season. I'm considering the C-Spec, Skip Barber and the Radical. The Grand Touring Cup schedule doesn't really interest me, which rules out the Mustang. I might just race the former and practise the latter, given the lower participation in the Radical series. And that does looks like a hardcore series. I'm not keen to simply donate iRating to drivers that have lived and breathed the car for season after season.

The only downside to the update is the continued slow pace. Even the backfires they've added are incomplete. It's simply taking them far too long to move the service along. If it's taking them so long to get backfires in, how long for a fully functioning tyre? For proper road modelling? Day to night transitions? Realistic weather?

Other titles like Assetto Corsa and rFactor are moving along at a much greater speed. iRacing cannot lean on superior multiplayer forever.

But for now, this is the best update I've seen.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Mustang at Bathurst and thoughts on next season

I'm not a fan of Bathurst - or Mount Panorama as iRacing insists on calling it. It's certainly not a fun track to learn, at least not in iRacing where it seems every light scrape results in "wheel damage" that renders the car unable to drive in a straight line.

The Mustang, though, is a lot more driveable with a community baseline setup, rather than the iRacing baseline. I previously thought of it as a boat - the understeer was horrendous. But with a different baseline it's a lot more manageable.

Which leads me onto another point. Why do iRacing keep on producing awful baseline setups? The worst of them all has to be the Ruf C-Spec, which has a brake bias that makes the car undriveable. They changed the braking system but then didn't bother to change the baseline to reflect that. Was it not tested? Or were the testers using their own setups?

For a subscription based service it's unforgivable how they seem oblivious to these issues. It's a fact that people are putting laps in on the C-Spec and wondering why the back end comes around whenever they go near the brake. Will it be fixed for the next build?

Next season I'm still not sure which series I'll primarily concentrate on. The Skip Barber schedule has five weeks out of twelve that I'd like to race. The C-Spec just doesn't feel right mid corner. The SR8 Radical for some reason doesn't inspire me, and the Mustang ... though I do feel I'll learn a lot from it, next season it's moving to multiclass, and I hate multiclass. A D class series with at least two cars travelling at different speeds?

I can make a case for practise but not participating in races, but I would like to put more credits in the bank, as well as getting more race experience.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Skip Barber race at Summit Point

This without a doubt was the best race I've had at iRacing to date. It was one of the strongest fields I've participated in, and though I didn't execute the best moves with regard to passing, I pushed the car as hard as I do in practise, to the point my best lap was two tenths short of my personal best.



With hindsight I realise now the mistake I made when looking to pass wasn't made in turn one, it wasn't even made in turn three when I backed out and twice lost a place. The mistake I made was in not getting a better turn ten exit and beating the driver ahead to the inside line for turn one.

There was a couple of occasions when I could have been more forceful through turn one to make the pass stick, but it's important to note that I had never raced with the driver I was attempting to pass before. I didn't know whether he could hold it together enough to avoid taking me out as I passed him. That made passing on the outside a little more dangerous.

Had I made it to the inside line and been a car length ahead the pass would have been routine.

But overall a very educational race for me. I learned a lot from it.

New personal best for this season in the Skip Barber at Summit Point

Another half a second from my personal best at Summit Point. This is one of the tracks I really feel comfortable at. I have driven it so many times that I'm confident with my line, and if I do make a mistake I know the track well enough to recover without significant issues.



There are two areas I know I could improve the lap. At turn one I can run wider on exit and thus apply more power earlier. The same is true for turn five - the tight left hander at the start of the twisty section. Improvements there could give me a 1.22.6, which would be a massive achievement for me.

I'm not sure about Bathurst this week. I'm generally not a fan of long straights in a wind up car, and the walls there really make it a pain to get the basics down with the constant restarts. But from the point of view of the championship it would be useful to put in a good points week.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

iRacing and driver swaps - like eating brie without crackers

At some point I'm going to post an overview of iRacing and my thoughts on it, but this is something that touches on at least a couple of issues I have with it.

Driver swaps. The official forum is full of comments on how excited people are about it. It's rare to find a post that's in any way either critical or even really analytical.

But wait a minute. Driver swaps? At this time iRacing doesn't even have lighting transitions. It doesn't model tyre wear effects all that well. For example flat spotting tyres is still not in. The "new surface model" that was last mentioned in public perhaps two years ago is still nowhere on the horizon.

And weather. I'm not even talking about rain, but just simple variations in weather, this is still messed up. And not messed up in a "we have no idea how to fix it" messed up, but in a "there's a problem with the weather?" messed up. It's such a small thing it should take them no more than an hour to fix the code. But I have no doubt they're not even aware of it. Just as the head guy didn't know that Spa was messed up for incident points, even though people had been griping about it since the track was released.

So we get driver swaps, but what's the point of having longer duration races without day to night transitions, without proper tyre wear effects, without a track surface that doesn't change?

Why not concentrate resources on the issues that still haven't been resolved, introduced, etc., and then when the framework is there, hang driver swaps on it?

I can't help but think that driver swaps will turn out just like the Lotus 49. Something a handful of very vocal people asked for, but which just doesn't get used all that often when it is introduced because the novelty will wear off fast.