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Sim (simulated) Racing is the collective term for computer software (i.e. a vehicle simulation game) that attempts to simulate accurately auto racing (a racing game), complete with real-world variables such as fuel usage, damage, tire wear and grip, and suspension settings.[1] To be competitive in sim racing, a driver must understand all aspects of car handling that make real-world racing so difficult,[2] such as threshold braking, how to maintain control of a car as the tires lose traction, and how properly to enter and exit a turn without sacrificing speed. It is this level of difficulty that distinguishes sim racing from "arcade" driving games where real-world variables are taken out of the equation and the principle objective is to create a sense of speed as opposed to a sense of realism.[2]

In general, sim racing applications such as, Grand Prix Legends, iRacing, rFactor and X Motor Racing are less popular than arcade-style games such as Need for Speed, mainly because much more skill and practice is required to master them. However, sims such as Live for Speed and Richard Burns Rally have achieved world wide fame. Also, because of the demands on the computer system, race sims require faster computers to run effectively, as well as a somewhat costly steering wheel and pedals for the throttle and brakes. Most arcade driving games can be played with a simple joystick controller or even a mouse and keyboard.

With the development of online racing capability, the ability to drive against human opponents as opposed to computer AI is the closest many will come to driving real cars on a real track. Even those who race in real-world competition use simulations for practice or for entertainment.[3] Continued development of the physics engine software that forms the basis of these sims, as well as improved hardware (providing tactile feedback), the software gets ever closer to reality.




Early years

The very first racing game with simulation pretensions was probably REVS, released in 1986. REVS was a Formula 3 sim by Geoff Crammond that ran on the 8-bit Commodore 64 and BBC. REVS had a big fan base in England, but not so much in the United States. Sim racing is generally acknowledged to have really taken off in 1990 with the introduction of Papyrus' Indianapolis 500: The Simulation on 16-bit hardware.[4] With Indy 500 simmers could race the full 500 miles (800 km), where even a blowout after 450 miles (720 km) would take the player out of the competition. This racing simulation was successful; it sold over 200,000 copies.

The next major milestone was the release of Formula One Grand Prix (AKA World Circuit in some markets) by MicroProse, also developed by Geoff Crammond. This moved the genre along significantly. Multiplayer was made possible by allowing different drivers to take turns, and racers could also hook up their machines for racing via a null modem cable. This only allowed two drivers to race. Leagues emerged where drivers would submit records of their single player races to compare with other drivers.

Papyrus followed up Indy 500 with IndyCar Racing in 1993 and F1GP was surpassed in all areas. Papyrus later released more tracks and a final expansion included the Indy 500 track plus a paintkit. Now drivers could easily customize their cars. IndyCar Racing sold around 300,000 copies.

The first variant of Papyrus' NASCAR series was launched in 1994. In SVGA (640x480) it pushed the PCs of the time to the limit. Suddenly a resolution of 320x200 seemed a poor option and NASCAR was the race sim of choice for anyone with a capable PC, particularly in North America. It was the first sim where cars no longer looked like boxes. It keyed in on sophisticated physics modeling. This is the sim where drafting/slip streaming was first modeled. This sim may not have started the sim industry, but it made it much larger. NASCAR 1 sold over one million units. Moreover, the first real online racing started with NASCAR 1 using the "Hawaii" dial-in servers and it was not uncommon for these early sim racers to have $300 to $1500 phone bills. Online racing had seen its first true realization, and to many, this was the dawn of "real" sim racing.

1995 saw the release of IndyCar Racing II, updating the first version with the new NASCAR graphics engine. A year later, MicroProse released the successor to F1GP, Grand Prix 2, to much anticipation. GP2 became successful not just because of its detailed and thorough simulation of the 1994 Formula 1 season, but also because it was customizable; this was achievable by way of the online community. Players could change everything about the game: drivers, teams, graphics, physics, car shapes, and eventually even the racetracks. Offline leagues reached their peak with GP2 in 1998.

In 1996, NASCAR 2 was released, further improving the original, and the number of sim racers exploded. The TEN multiplayer hosting service was introduced and the online sim racing community grew.

Graphic accelerators era

Graphics accelerator cards brought a new level of realism to the graphics and physics of sim racing games. These new graphics processing units provided texture mapping, antialiasing, particle effects (i.e. fog, rain and snow), and the capability to perform polygonal calculations faster, while taking the load off of the main processor. F1 Racing Simulation by Ubisoft, was among the first to utilize the new technology in 1997.

After years of development, Microprose released Grand Prix 3, which used a more modern graphics engine and featured the same customizable structure of GP2. GP3 was ultimately seen as a bit of a disappointment though, lacking proper network-multiplayer-support and using only an evolution of the GP2 graphic-engine. Still, its similarity allowed easy track conversions back and forth.

Another milestone in sim racing came in 1998 with the release of Grand Prix Legends (GPL) from Papyrus, based on the 1967 F1 season. It was hailed as outstanding in all areas, but especially the physics and online multiplayer capability. For many, their first real experience with online racing was GPL, or the later variants of NASCAR that used the GPL engine. The release of a third-party add-on for GPL -- VROC (Virtual Racers Online Connection) -- allowed racers to join together online and race in leagues.

Despite its age, GPL has remained a top class sim even in 2008 thanks to a strong community, who collectively have updated the graphics to utilize the current CPU and graphics capabilities and have created loads of add-on tracks of a high quality. Modding teams have managed to create new physics sets, and a 1965 1966 and 1969 variants are now available with many improvements over the original.

Since GPL, Image Space Incorporated has produced Sports Car GT in 1999 and the F1 series starting in 2000, all published by Electronic Arts. Unlike the Papyrus sims, the physics are easily modified, and a large community has developed dedicated to modifying the ISI sims. One such modding team, Simbin, have created their own company and have released several games, including GTR - FIA GT Racing Game, GT Legends, GTR 2, RACE - The Official WTCC Game and RACE 07.[5]

Wired magazine wrote an in-depth article about racing sims called Hard Drive in their February 1997 issue.[1]

Current developments

David Kaemmer, co-founder of the now-defunct Papyrus,[6] has released iRacing, a new multiplayer-oriented simulation run on a subscription model. Rally fans have a hardcore racing simulator with Richard Burns Rally. Eero Piitulainen, lead physics programmer for Richard Burns Rally, is currently developing a new multi-class online racing simulator called Driver's Republic.

A small, 3-man team is developing Live for Speed, which has just announced the third, and final phase of a 3-phase development cycle. Phase 2 brought in many updates, including the first real cars (The BMW Sauber F1 car being included in those), however for Phase 3 the first real-world circuit has been announced - The Rockingham Motor Speedway[7]. The circuit will be laser-scanned for absolute accuracy. Also coming soon is another real-world car - the new VW Scirocco; for which several physics changes have had to be made to ensure a fully accurate simulation[8].

In August, 2005, ISI released rFactor, a highly modifiable sim based on their gMotor2 physics engine. Notable for its initial download-only distribution model, rFactor originally released with fictional cars and tracks. ISI's encouragement of the enthusiast mod community has led to an unprecedented number of add-ons, including 800-horsepower-stock cars. Subsequent releases of rFactor featured Formula One cars and recreations of real track layouts under fictitious names.

Stefano Casillo has released netKar Pro, a new version of netKar which attempts to bring together highly accurate physics and sound modeling as well as DirectX 9 graphics. Development tools for modifying NKP have been announced.

The Sim Factory has announced a partnership with the ARCA Racing series and Image Space Incorporated to create a realistic and sanctioned online racing simulation. The simulation is currently being developed using input from real drivers, real crew chiefs, real data, and engineers specializing in all the areas needed to recreate a simulated stock car racing environment.

More recently, Eugene Cojocar of Exotypos released X Motor Racing.[9]

In November 2006, a sim racing event was sanctioned by the FIA.

Starting in January 2010, NASCAR began the NASCAR Series, a NASCAR sanctioned racing series using iRacing.


It was around the turn of the millennium that the technology was reaching a maturity that enticed pioneers to establish dedicated race venues. Sim Racing Ltd in the UK developed the concept of dedicated race venues for drivers and sim drivers alike. Their first offering came in the form of a range of drivers challenge activities. Sim Racing Ltd are now growing their range of offerings across the UK and beyond. Hyperstim are also opening a number of race centres around the world. Recently a new centre has started in Holland. This centre contains 20 dedicated simulators connected via local area network, using rFactor and GTR as main software simulators. These activities are still relatively low key today but they hold great potential for many more people to enjoy motor sports as a participant activity.

The oldest and longest running simulator racing website is The Pits.[10] Started in 1995 when an entrepreneur editor from the UK wanted a place to host his modification for the Indycar Racing II sim, it has continued to serve the community with a multitude of firsts in the simulator racing world, as well as downloads and helpful information. Some of the firsts include the first complete mod (or modification) for racing simulation software, The Pits Touring Car Championship, released in 1997.

One of the latest trends in sim racing is towards broadcasting the events. There are a growing number of leagues that are now running flag to flag coverage of their events. And like other forms of motorsports the fans can outnumber the drivers by many. There are several places for fans to go to find out more about simulator racing. Since January 2005, AutoSimSport Magazine has provided industry leading content for sim racers.[11] Beginning its 4th year of publication, AutoSimSport Magazine continues to provide quality media for sim racers the world over to keep current with the latest advancements in simulators, hardware, and where the sim racing industry is headed. Now there is also a television style show covering sim racing, Sim Racing Tonight.

See also



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