Friday, 20 February 2015

iRacing: More gear and more of an idea

It's been a while since the last iRacing update, but that's not because I've given up. In fact it's the opposite, I tend to spend most of my spare time playing the game. When I think about writing a post I decide it would be more fun to turn a few laps instead! I'm also not really sure who I'm writing this for, or why. I'm not convinced anyone really reads these posts, it feels like blogs died out a few years ago.

In the last post I said I wasn't going to concentrate on getting a promotion. Well I didn't, but I got one anyway! I guess I've progressed fairly quickly, I've become a lot better at keeping the car on the track and therefore not picking up silly penalties for off-tracks and loss of control. It was rare for me to hit people before anyway, so with my driving improving, my Safety Rating (SR) started to rise quite quickly. Normally you need to get above a SR of 3.5 at which point you will get a promotion at the end of the season. That's not for another 2 weeks yet, but there is a way to get promoted instantly, and that's to get you SR above a 4.0. So, about a week ago, that's exactly what happened. After a run of very low incident points I got my Class C license in road racing!

This of course means I've now got even more cars and series available to race in. So that opens up the Radical Racing Challenge, Grand Prix Legends in a Lotus 49, the Corvette Challenge, the Advanced Mazda Cup, the Star Mazda Championship, the iRacing V8 Supercars Series and finally the Ruf Cup.

The thing is, I honestly haven't touched any of that stuff yet. I'm perfectly happy honing my skills in the little Mazda MX-5 Roadster. When the season ends in a couple of weeks I think I might include the Spec Racer Ford Challenge in the next season.

Just to show how much I have improved, my record on the track is starting to speak for itself. I've now clocked up a total of 6 wins and I've got 41 top 5 finishes. This translates to a win percentage of 6.9% and a top 5 finish percentage of 47.13%. I'm really happy with that, I think I can improve on my top 5 percentage, but having 6 wins so early makes me very happy.

Click to enlarge
On top of that, I've been working harder on my iRating. When you sign up, you start with an iRating of 1300, you gain or lose points based on your results. Generally speaking, if you finish in the top half you gain points and if you finish in the bottom half you lose points. How may points depends on the iRatings of those you are racing against. In simple terms you take points off drivers you beat and lose them to drivers who beat you... but I think that only happens if the drivers you are beaten by have a lower iRating than you do. As the points are always shared out, it means the average iRating will always be 1300. So, for the first time since I signed up for the iRacing service I have an iRating above my starting point of 1300! I'm now sitting on 1350.... I'm officially above average (just).... YAY!

Click to enlarge
As you can see from the graph above, I started on 1300 and lost a lot of points quite quickly when I started playing. Not really a surprise, most people go through this phase as they learn the ropes in the Rookie series. After that I just sort of bobbed along for a couple of months, I hit my low point around the middle of January. I had a run of bad luck and results. I decided to buck my ideas up and really concentrate on finishing the races, I started a steady rise and then had a slight setback for a week on a course that I just didn't do well on. But this week is a really strong course for me and I've managed to really shoot up. The question is, when we move to a new track next week, will I be able to hold on to those points?

The title of this blog is "more gear and more of an idea", well I've covered the latter part of it, but what about the more gear bit. Well, I've installed an upgrade to my pedals, the brake pedal to be exact. The Thrustmaster T500RS comes with a fairly nice set of pedals, they are well constructed. The problem is that the brake pedal is a potentiometer-based sensor, so the further you push the pedal, the harder you brake. This sounds okay, but it's not very realistic. What I've installed is a load-cell sensor, this means that the harder you push the pedal, the harder you brake. It's a subtle difference, but it makes everything so much more realistic. The brake pedal actually feels like a brake pedal now, you can really stand on it. Before it was just a spring and the force required was the same throughout its travel. With a load-cell sensor it's much easier to be consistent with the brake because it's easier to feel how much pressure you apply compared to how far your foot travels. As a result, lap times come down and my consistency has improved. I took a lot of photos when I installed it, so I might make a separate post on this at some point. But here's just one photo to show what it looks like.

Installing the load-cell sensor with pedals stripped down.
If you want to know more about this mod it's called the Ricmotech Load-Cell Upgragde Kit, click on the link to find out more.

Having installed the mod I found that driving full races was pretty hard on my feet. The metal pedals and the added pressure needed to brake left my feet feeling sore. I started to wear slippers when racing, and that helped a lot, but my slippers are quite big and are the slip-on style. This meant it was far from ideal for driving in! So I started to think about buying another pair of slippers, but then I saw a pair of racing boots, with a nice rubber sole. So they would protect my feet, but still give a good feel for the pedals, something normal shoes with thick soles don't allow.

As the price of the racing boots was more or less the same as a new pair of slippers, I went with that option.... and here they are:

My racing boots with the upgraded brake pedal (it looks the same)
So yes, I'm now one of those sad sim-racers who wears the gear. I've not gone so far as to buy gloves and a helmet... yet. The thing is though, I can actually see the advantage of wearing gloves in longer races. I'm not competing in those yet, but if I ever do I would have no problems getting some. As for the helmet, well I'll draw the line at that one!

Think that's all for this update, I'm sure I'll be back with more soon.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

iRacing: Promotion

Now that I have my new PC gaming rig setup and running (You can read about that in this post: PC Build - It's done), I have been able to get back to the important task of gaming. More importantly, iRacing!

The good news is, I've managed to get promoted out of the Rookie class and I now hold a Class D license. It was achieved through a few more races, just keeping things clean, not worrying too much about my finishing position, but just keeping my incident points low. That seemed to be the key for me, getting the safety rating high and not worrying about trying to go fast. That's not to say I finished every race last, I had a couple of third place finishes, but the goal was to get out of the Rookie class and worry about iRatings later. You see, once you're out of Rookies, you can't get relegated back down. Now I have a D class license I can't get any lower, that's not true of the next tier, C class can be relegated back down to D if your safety rating drops too far.

So now I've progressed I have more options open to me, I can race an open wheel class in the Skip Barber, the SCCA Spec Racer Ford a Pontiac Solstice or Cadillac CTS-V. There's also the Mazda MX 5 too, which I actually really enjoy driving now that I have a grasp on the handling.

The other cars all have their own advantages and disadvantages. The Skip Barber is great fun, but is a nightmare to handle on cold tyres. The Cadillac has lots of power, but is a real handful. Then of course I have a load more courses available to race on, so if I thought I didn't have enough time to get to grips with things before, I'm really swamped now. You need to choose a series to specialise in really, or you'll just be very mediocre in them all.
Skip Barber - iRacing

I would love to get into the open wheel cars, so that would mean driving the Skip Barber. But I don't have the skill yet, so for now I'm sticking with the Mazda. I think I need to get to grips with the tracks in the slower cars before progressing onto the Skippy.

What that means is that I'm racing in races that don't qualify me to get another promotion. The Mazda is below my MPR (Minimum Participation Requirement), but that's not really something I'm concerned with at the moment. Getting into Class C would be a nice achievement, but really if I just concentrated on that I'd be doing myself no favours. I'd be progressing too quickly for my true ability, that wouldn't be fair on other people racing either. I don't want to start becoming a hazard to other drivers on the track!

Very respectable 2nd place (click to enlarge)
But the Mazda can be a lot of fun and it's suprising how much better I am driving it now. I have far less trouble keeping it on the track (thought that's not always true), and my times are more competitive. When people aren't ramming into me or I'm going cross country because I forgot to brake early enough, I can keep pace with the front runners for most of the time. The one thing I do still struggle with a little is my consistency and managing to complete 20 laps without making mistakes.

The good news is that I am quite good at not hitting other people, but the downside to that is I'm probably being a bit too conservative when it comes to overtaking. If I'm faster than the car in front, I generally just drive slower rather than risk a contact by trying to overtake them.

What's more annoying is being hit by other people, I had a race last night where I started 3rd on the grid with a field of about 19 cars. Into the first corner I was hit from behind and pushed off the track, I re-entered in about 10th. Then at the end of the lap going back onto the start/finish straight, the car ahead of me just spun in front of me, I had nowhere to go so ended up hitting his out of control vehicle. Very frustrating, but no real damage as I had managed to brake enough to make it a relatively light contact. But this meant that other cars behind me carrying speed on the straight cruised right by me. By now I was back to about 15th, so a huge number of places lost on the first lap, and all through no fault of my own.

From here though, things only got worse. I had already picked up 8 incident points thanks to the two contacts that I really had no fault in. But on the next lap coming up to a tight left turn, I started to brake at my normal braking point, but the car behind me had carried too much speed through the previous turn, he lost control and spun his car right into the back of mine. Another 4 incident points bringing my total up to 12, and enough damage that I had to get towed back to the pits. After this I was very disappointed, I didn't want to continue. I retired from the race and lost about .22 points off my safety rating, that's a huge hit for barely completing two laps and not actually having any fault!

There was another race where I was actually in 3rd after about 9 laps in a 20 lap race. Myself, 1st and 2nd were all within 2 seconds of each other so it was a close race. Then we came up on a back marker who was being difficult and not moving out of the way. The leader got sick of being held up and tapped the slow car from behind, a good driver would have been able to control that, but this person was obviously not that good as A) their pace would have been quicker and B) they would have pulled over and let us through. Subsequently, as a result of the nudge the driver lost control, 1st and 2nd got through, but then the car lurched across the track and hit my offside rear just as I was going past. Sometimes it just feels like the iRacing Gods have got it in for me!

My car took some damage and my pace suffered as a result, fortunately our pace at the front had been good enough that I was able to lose time on each lap, it meant that the leaders got away from me, but I was still able to nurse my car to the end and finish in 5th, only losing 2 places over the remaining 10 laps.

I'm not terrible after all! (click to enlarge)
It's not all bad news, I have had my first win... YAY! I was still in the rookie class, I started in first and got a good start to keep out of any first corner nastiness. I led the whole race and even had the fastest average lap time to validate my win and prove that I wasn't just holding everyone else up! I did miss out on setting the fastest lap time by around 3/10ths which was a bit annoying, but you can't have everything.

The timing sheet proves it! 1st place. (click to enlarge)
So, my iRacing career is having its ups and downs, but I'm settling in, finding my feet and getting to grips with the vehicles. I hate to be one of those "like driving on ice" people, but it really does feel like that when you have no experience driving these cars. Without the feedback in the seat of your pants from the cars grip and relying solely on the wheel and sound makes it very difficult. But once you've spent time with them, you start to find the limits and can pick up on the indications better. I'm still a long way off being what I would consider to be "good", but with time and practise I hope to get there.

I'll be back with another update when I have something to share.

Monday, 17 November 2014

iRacing: New week, new challenge

So I have a bit of a problem with iRacing, it's nothing too serious, but they change the track that I'm eligible to race on every week. As a rookie I only have the option to race one track and one vehicle in competition. I can drive on any track and any circuit in a practise session, but to be eligible for points, it has to be an official race. So that means each week I have to learn a whole new circuit, thankfully the car remains the same, so at least I'm familiar with how the Mazda MX5 handles now.

The problem I have is that I don't have the time to sit down and play the game every day. So just as I get comfortable with a track, it changes and I have to start all over again. Soon it will loop back to the start, and hopefully then I'll be able to compete slightly more competently. I'm not sure how many tracks there are in total, but eventually they will all come back around.

This weeks circuit is Lime Rock Park, it's the shortest circuit I've raced on so far at just 1.5 miles. But it has perhaps the trickiest section of turns to negotiate that I've seen. The first three corners I've found particularly tough to master. I just can't get a line I feel comfortable and fast with.

Lime Rock Park
So anyway, Lime Rock Park is a fairly simple track on the whole, there's very little braking needed for the majority of it. The second half of the track are just small taps of the brake peddle, or slight lifts.

Turn 5 called "The Uphill" is a superb corner, coming off the apex, you accelerate up a hill. It's imperative to get the car in a straight line before you hit the crest. As you do, the balance of the car shifts dramatically, the car goes light and if you don't have the wheels pointing forwards when the grip returns. It's going to want to swap ends on you! Flooring the gas coming out of that turn takes a lot of courage... I can only imagine what that would be like in real life.

Anyway, this week I got my best result. I managed to finish 2nd in a race of attrition. By just staying on the track and taking advantage of other peoples mistakes I made my way through the field. I had a couple of wobbly moments, making contact at turn 3 on the first lap was disappointing, but there was nothing I could do to avoid it. Well I guess I could have had a better start and not been behind the crash in the first place.

The results, proof that I got my second place finish!
To see my other seat of the pants moments, you can watch the whole race in this replay video below.  Hope you like it, I'll be back with more soon!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

iRacing: F*"$ing turn 9


I'm writing this post directly after my last race, I'm still absolutely furious with myself... and that bloody turn 9!

So here's what happened, I went back for another race, I started in 9th out of 11 people. I didn't qualify, but when that happens (as I understand it) is, those who did qualify go ahead based on their times. Those that didn't are placed on the grid according to their iRating.

So, the lights go green, I get a great start and manage to jump a couple of cars at the first corner by taking a wide line thus giving me the inside line on the next corner which leads onto a nice straight. So far so good, there are (unusually) no big incidents at the first corner, I think I saw one person spin off at the second turn, but otherwise it was a clean get away.

We all settle into our positions, I think by now I was up into 7th. I just try to take it easy, avoid any trouble and get myself into a rhythm. As the next couple of laps unfold, a couple more drivers lose control giving me some free positions. Up to 5th and other than my good start, I haven't really had to do anything other than stay on the track!

I'm now following another car, and I'm pretty close. I'm trying to keep a safe distance, but it's clear that I am faster than he is. The thing is, we're racing for position, and he doesn't want to give it up without a fight... I'm not really ready for a fight this early in the race so I just hold my position.

On a couple of corners he's a lot slower than I am and as a result I have to hit my brakes pretty hard to avoid rear ending him. I keep it clean though, and just sit behind him. My presence is obviously starting to make him nervous and he's getting a bit wild on his exits. The thing is, I'm equally as nervous behind him!

Eventually he goes wide on a corner and I am able to sail past to take 4th place, now I'm getting REALLY nervous! I've never been so far up the field before... 3rd position isn't too far away and now that I'm clear of the previous car I'm able to close the gap over the next lap and a half. By this point it feels like I've been racing for hours, but a glance at my OSD shows it's only lap 5 of 10.

Now I'm sat behind third and my pulse is really racing, I don't want to screw this up! I've also got the guy I overtook before in my rear view mirror. Again, I don't want to do anything stupid, I just sit behind him and stay safe.

Another lap goes by and a couple of opportunities arise where I get better exits and could challenge for the next corner. I don't, because I'm a chicken. As every corner goes by, I'm getting more and more nervous. I really don't want to mess up now, this is going to be an awesome finish for me at this stage, there are 4 laps to go. Just take it easy!

Then, third place gets loose on his exit of turn 7 and I get a clean one, I've got better acceleration and before I know it I'm right along side him with the inside line into turn 8. Unless I brake hard and give it up, there's no way he can keep his position. So I take the corner and he does the sensible thing and falls in behind me.


Turn 9...

This is the turn that screwed me over in the last race...

Now I'm off line on my exit from turn 8, but I'm in 3rd! THIRD PLACE... While my mind is whirling with a mixture of excitement, nerves and adrenaline I miss my braking point and totally lose it in turn 9! Before I can blink my car is into the wall again.


Unlike the last time, the car is totally wrecked, I can't limp back. I have to call for a tow back to the pits. This takes about 2 minutes even though I'm just a few hundred yards away. Then I have to wait for the crew to fix the damage, another couple of minutes!

Finally I'm released, and now in 9th position (10th and 11th had obviously quit earlier due to having their races ruined). All that good work is lost and in my anger I manage to forget the pit lane speed limit. So I'm duly given a 15s stop/go penalty for that infringement. The temptation to rage quit at this point is very strong. I'm sure I've ruined my safety rating due to my crash and I have no hope of catching anyone. But I figure I might as well finish the race, the practise is all good.

So there it is, I had what could have been the most amazing and exciting blog post about how I finished 3rd! As it is, it's a tale of woe and I'm left feeling really annoyed with myself.

The thing that has struck me the most though, is how genuinely nervous I got racing that far up the pack. I rarely experience nerves, but this meant something. If I'd held that position, which I'm sure I would have done had I not got my line wrong from the overtake. If I'd just got out of turn 9 cleanly, I could have carried on racing at a reasonably comfortable pace for me and been faster than the cars behind me. I really could have had a third place finish!


iRacing: Got my first result!

I found out today that the tracks on iRacing rotate, I don't know how often, but today I logged in to put in a few more laps around Summit Point, which I really felt I'd started to get nailed. My lap times had come down and I was more or less able to keep the car on the track unless I tried to push things.

I thought I'd be able to start racing and begin to build up my safety rating after my first couple of outings resulted in disaster! The problem is, going around the track in a practise session is a totally different ball game to when you have other cars around you in a race. I pretty much knew my way around Summit Point following the racing line, but when you get someone who is faster than you, you can't really get in their way. So that means getting off the line to let them pass. The problem with that is you have to adjust your braking and turn in points accordingly. But when you've spent the whole time practising just the one line, that's easier said than done. Anyway, I digress.

The point is, today I logged in and the course listed for me was the Okayama circuit. Bugger! I'd have to start from scratch and learn a whole new track. I was a little disappointed at first, all the time and effort I'd put in to learn Summit Point was now useless to me. At least until the next time it comes around, by which time I'll have likely forgotten it :-)

Okayama International Circuit
My feelings soon turned a corner though when I had completed my first few tentative laps around Okayama. This circuit suited me a lot more than Summit Point had. Now this probably has a lot to do with the amount of time I'd already spent driving the Mazda MX-5 so I was already fairly comfortable with its handling. But I really got the hang of Okayama much faster than I did Summit Point. In fact, I'd become so comfortable with it after just an hour or so of practise that I decided to bite the bullet and enter a race.

Now in hindsight that was probably a stupid thing to do, I'm sure I wasn't really ready to race this unfamiliar circuit. But my patience had worn out, I'd been waiting to race at Summit Point and now I'd missed that opportunity. Okayama seemed a far less technical course, with just a couple of tricky corners. Sure I wouldn't be fast, but I figured I could at least be safe and not cause a danger to any other racers.

The Mazda MX-5
I didn't qualify because I wanted to start at the back anyway, there'd be no point if I managed to somehow get a mid-field position. I'd just end up causing a collision at the first corner because I'd probably be slower than everyone else around me. Better to start at the back, take it easy and avoid trouble. Then get myself into a grove, stay on the track and try not to finish last!

I almost managed to hit all my objectives too...

The first bit of good news is that I actually finished the race, the other two I'd been in at Summit Point had ended up with me getting disqualified for racking up too many penalty points. Mainly for going off the track or losing control. I am able to avoid contact for the most part, except for the chaos of the first couple of corners. So, yay for me actually seeing the chequered flag. That's progress right?

My plan was working well at the start, I let the pack go and let myself take it easy through the first few corners. I even managed to pass a couple of other cars who had made contact with each other and spun off. Things had started well, I just had to keep going for 10 laps!

The first couple of laps went mostly without incident, a couple of minor "off track" infringements, but I wasn't too worried about that. I'd kept the car pointing forwards and when I had gone off track, it was only when I'd gone slightly wide at the corner. The one minor gripe I have with iRacing is that it's pretty harsh with "off track" penalties, you really only have to go slightly over the white line to get one. But I was happy that I hadn't gone mad.

After a couple of laps one of the cars that had gone off at the start caught me up, it was clear he was a faster driver than me. Rather than risk both our races I picked a suitable spot and just let him pass me, I'm not skilled enough to fight for the position, and he was clearly better than me. What's the point in getting myself out of my depth and ruin both our races?

As the laps continued I picked up another couple of places due to other drivers spinning off or crashing out. Then right around lap 5 or 6 out of 10, DISASTER! I over-cooked it going into turn 9 and missed my braking point, under-steered onto the grass and spun the car. Now having lost control of the vehicle there was nothing I could do but sit there helplessly and watch the car spin back across the track and hit the wall! Bugger...

The car was too damaged to continue racing, but luckily I had managed to crash just a few hundred yards away from the pit entrance. I limped back to the pits and sat there for a minute or two while the crew repaired the damage. When I rejoined the race I had some cars behind me coming up to lap me, so I just let them by and continued on my way. After that, it was more or less plain sailing, I finished the last 3 or 4 laps without incident.

In the end I managed to finish up 7th out of the 11 starters, and I was only one lap down. I think I'd have stayed un-lapped if I hadn't had to pit for repairs. So overall, I was happy, I technically only finished one car ahead because the other drivers dropped out or were disqualified. But that was because they had wrecked their cars... which I hadn't. My safety rating improved just slightly, which means that overall this was a huge success! I'm going to go and try another race now and this time I'll attempt to stay on the track for the whole race.

Results table - click to enlarge

Monday, 3 November 2014

iRacing: All the gear and no idea!

I love motorsport, it's about the only sport that really interests me to be honest. I follow the misfortunes of my local football club Brighton & Hove Albion, but I'm not a true fan of football. I also play a little bit of Snooker (badly). But I'm not a sporty person at all.

I love my cars though, and I love to watch a race! There's something about the control the drivers have over their machines that fascinates me. I've been a fan of Formula 1 for more years than I can remember. I make regular visits to my local-ish circuit Brands Hatch to watch various races from the now defunct A1-GP, the BTCC, the legends series and most recently truck racing! I also love going to Goodwood for the Revival and Festival of Speed.

It's fair to say I have more than a passing interest in the sport, though I would never think I could actually get in a car and survive even one lap without killing myself! That's where my other love comes in to it, video games...

I've played racing games for as long as they've been around, from arcade classics like Outrun to home console revelations such as Virtua Racing and Gran Turismo. On the whole though, I've been a PC gamer for the most part. I remember starting out with "Grand Prix Circuit" which ran in MS-DOS and moved on to other classic racing games like Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 2. More recently I've enjoyed the new Dirt rally and F1 games from Codemasters, the Forza games and Assetto Corsa.

To enhance my enjoyment I've used various racing wheels over the years. I started with the old MS sidewinder FF wheel and when the 360 came along I picked up the official wheel for that too. I've also had the slightly less spectacular Nintendo Wii "wheel" accessory for the Wiimote, the less said about that the better!

The MS sidewinder FF wheel was great in its day, but the cheep plastic pedals and lack of a clutch and gear stick left me wanting more. So a few months ago I splashed out and treated myself to a slightly more high-end offering. I bought a Thrustmaster T500RS with pedals and the TH8RS gear stick to accompany it. This wasn't cheap, but having researched the alternatives, namely the Logitech G27 and Fanatec Clubsport range. I decided that in terms of bang for the buck, the Thrustmaster was the only option.

The G27 seems to be a good entry level option, it has the wheel, pedals and gear stick all included and can be picked up for around £250. I'm sure if I'd bought it I'd have been happy enough, but one of the things that put me off my old MS Sidewinder was the size of the wheel. It was much smaller than a real steering wheel and the G27 was similar. It is also almost entirely made from plastic and has a gear driven force feedback system. Reviews suggested it was rather weak as a result.

The Fanatec is supposedly the holy grail of wheels, I'd have one of those every day if money was no object, but the reality is that money very much is the object that stops me getting one of these. The wheel base alone (no actual wheel with that, you buy it seperatly) is £450, the wheels start from £140. Then add on the cost of the pedals (£200) and the gear stick (£150), suddenly I'm looking at spending the best part of £1,000 on a wheel! HAHAHAHAHAHA... If I win the lottery I'll have one, but until then....

So, the T500RS from Thrustmaster was the choice for me, a £350 investment plus an extra £100 for the gear shifter. Less than half the price of the Rolls Royce listed above. It's a thing of beauty too, the wheel is big, the pedals have a fantastic build quality and feel superb. The feedback through the massive motor and belt is enough to rip the wheel from your hands when you have a big crash. It transforms the experience in ways you can only imagine until you've tried it.

Being able to feather the throttle with your right foot, or apply just a small amount of brake to nose in to a corner just can't be replicated with a controller. The feedback you get from the wheel gives you so much information, you can feel the cars grip!

After using the wheel for a while I wanted to take my virtual racing to the next level. I'd heard a lot about iRacing which sort of a bit like an MMORPG for racing. It's expensive, but then what MMORPG isn't? Fortunately I signed up during a half price sale and went for the full 2 years to maximise my savings. It's a big commitment given that I'd never played the game before!

The thing with iRacing is that it's a racing simulation, there's nothing arcade about it. This is all about real tracks, real vehicles and the most accurate physics you'll find! The graphics aren't the greatest, but frame rate is king here and they are more that adequate (I think it looks very nice). The people who play it take it very seriously too, each player has their own license with points attached. Your license level is what dictates which races and vehicles you can access. At the entry level (Rookie) you only have a couple of cars and tracks to choose from.

This seems harsh at first, but it's actually a good thing, as it forces you to get good with the limited access you have. Master the entry level Mazda MX-5 and Summit Point Raceway, then you can improve your safety rating and open up more of the game ... sorry, SIMULATION!

Having grown up playing lots of racing games, I thought I knew a thing or two about racing. Turns out I was wrong, as most rookies, I went into my first race not really knowing what to expect and not having practised enough. I went off the track a lot and got into a couple of crashes, that was my race over and my safety rating took a hammering.

It's all about your Safety Rating in iRacing and it's a brilliant idea. It's what allows you to "level-up". Stay out of trouble and have a clean race and your rating improves, but just going off the track will lead to a penalty. As will losing control and colliding with other cars, it forces you to race properly. You can't just floor it off the line and pile up in the first corner, you won't get anywhere doing that. It still happens at the Rookie level, but beyond that the players... sorry DRIVERS, take things a lot more seriously. You can't afford to crash for fear of losing your licence.

The key to success is practise, practise, practise. You can make as many mistakes as you like in practise sessions, it's only qualifying and racing that will actually effect your rating. So you have to pump in lap, after lap, after lap learning the braking points, turn in points, improving your speed but most importantly improving your consistency! You need to be able to do around 20 laps and not spin off or lose control, keep the wheels of your car between the white lines at all times before you contemplate actually racing. I learnt that the hard way and I'm still stuck in the Rookie class :-( I'm getting better though.

The game looks amazing on my system, I've added a picture of my setup just to show off a little bit. I'd actually love to get myself a racing cockpit for it all, but I just don't have the space for that, and my PC has to do more than just play racing games. Again, if I win the lottery I'll be picking one up just as soon as I can. I've also been tempted to buy some racing shoes, it's tough to do a full race with the pedals while wearing socks. I've tried using slippers but they just don't work

Monday, 20 October 2014

Shadow of Mordor: Enraging not enjoyable!

Middle Earth : Shadow Of Mordor is one of those rare games. It's a game that I had absolutely no idea was in development until AFTER it had been released! Not only that, but when I heard about it from a friend and looked it up I discovered it was getting rave reviews. This is something very unusual given that my on-line social networks revolve mainly around gaming. Therefore it was without hesitation that I purchased this game on Steam without a second thought. This was my first mistake!

I'd heard it was very similar in style to the Assassin's Creed and Batman games, I have played both these games and they have given me varying levels of enjoyment over the years as different versions have been released. I was happy to hear this as I'd read that Shadow Of Mordor improved on the ideas and mechanics of those games, so I was very eager to see what was in store for me.

The first hour of playing felt extremely confusing, I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing, I didn't know who I was or where I was going. I looked at the map and didn't really understand anything on it. So I started to explore... and that's where things started to go wrong! I was attacked by Orcs.. or is that Uruks... I'm still not sure I understand the difference, or if there even is one.

Inevitably I died as the 5 or 6 creatures bludgeoned me to death in a fairly swift and efficient manner. It seems the one who killed me got a promotion, but that wasn't really explained very well. I repeated the same process about 4 or 5 times, each time I'd try to explore the map and each time I'd encounter a group of enemies who would dispatch me back to the afterlife/wraith/ghost tower. Eventually I managed to survive long enough to figure out the ranking/army system used by the hordes of Uruks. I even managed to kill a captain at one point!

For the most part though, it was a case of trying to figure out where to go, ending up in a fight and dying... rinse and repeat for an hour or so. This, I'm sure you can imagine, became somewhat of a chore so I quit.

Not to be outdone, I returned to the game an hour or so later having read more reviews to try and figure out exactly what the hell I was supposed to do to survive for longer than 5 minutes. I thought I had some ideas, stay hidden was one of them. It worked to a degree, but eventually you have to emerge from hiding and as soon as I did, I'd get slaughtered again.

The thing is, Shadow Of Mordor does a good job of ticking just about all the boxes on the list of things I hate in a game. The principle one being re-spawning enemies. I will often quit a game without hesitation if a game introduces re-spawning enemies. Boderlands 2 was a classic example of this, I missed the first game but purchased the second one on the recommendation of friends. I didn't realise the game involved a lot of backtracking and retracing your steps, which the developers figured would be more fun if you had to kill the same groups of enemies over and over again. Not even randomly generated ones, they were the exact same characters in exactly the same locations every time. Needless to say that game lasted a couple of hours before it went in the trash.

Normally, if I know about it in advance I won't bother to buy the game, but I didn't in the case of Shadow Of Mordor. The argument goes that giving you endless enemies to fight enables you to level up your character by grinding away. My argument is that it's a lazy game mechanic that enables the developers to add several hours to the game play without having to make any additional game! If I clear out an area, I expect that area to be clear when I return, unless there is a valid reason for re-enforcements in the story as a one off. But in Shadow Of Mordor, you can be fighting a group of 5 or 6 Uruks, and as you're fighting them, 5 or 6 more will just appear from nowhere, and then another 5, and another 5 until you are totally overwhelmed and dead!

On the occasions that I found a Captain (or one just randomly appeared in the middle of a fight), I would already be in a weakened state with no way of regaining any health. So inevitably the captain would kill me, and he would level up. That's one of the "clever" things in this game and what it's being given huge credit for. As enemies kill you, they level up, become more powerful etc.. they also remember their past encounters with you. The problem with this, as I've found out, is that it sort of breaks the whole difficulty progression.

You see, every time a Captain kills me, he levels up, but I don't. This means the next time I encounter him, he's harder to kill, but I'm still just as weak as the last time I fought him and lost. Do you spot the flaw in this design? It means the game gets harder the worse you are! That's some screwed up logic right there isn't it?

I guess you could just spend even more time grinding the endlessly re-spawning grunts, but even they kill me after a while, and frankly it's just boring.

You start the game seriously under-powered to face the enemies around you and trying to escape that at the start is very difficult. The game at the beginning is punishingly hard and I rage quit countless times. I kept coming back though because the reviews were all so glowing, I couldn't find a bad one! I thought I must be missing something and it would all come together, I can tell you now that it didn't.

I now have 8 hours of play time registered on Steam and I don't think I've actually managed to get anywhere! I think I've completed maybe two missions so far, and that was only through endless repetition and eventually getting lucky. Certainly not because I was able to accomplish it through any skills I'd developed.

I like a game that presents a challenge, but that challenge has to be enjoyable. I don't think I can honestly say I've enjoyed any of the time I've spent playing Shadow Of Mordor, it's just got me stressed and frustrated. I understand that you are supposed to die in this game, that's how the whole Uruk army/nemesis thing works, but I just didn't appreciate being overrun every time I got into a conflict. Essentially, if I started a fight, I'd end up dead!

I felt helpless and powerless to make any progress within the game, you can level up and improve your abilities, but you have to be able to survive some fights to gain the XP in order to do that. I can't!

Now normally a game offers difficulty levels, easy, normal, hardcore etc... and when it does, I invariably chose the easy option. Because I know I'm not that great at games, but I like to experience them and absorb myself in the story and world. If a game doesn't do that, it will usually have some sort of adaptive AI where the fights get easier and it will set itself to be just enough of a challenge to keep you on your toes. Not so in Shadow Of Mordor, it will happily just kill you again and again and again and again. In fact it goes further by punishing you for being bad by making the captains more powerful!

One of the missions I failed numerous times was a stealth mission where if the alarm was raised, you failed the mission (another of my pet-peeves). Well I must have attempted that 30 or more times, eventually getting through to the target, and when I did, I locked on to the wrong enemy by mistake and failed it AGAIN!!!!

The encounters with the Captains are totally random too, I knew the location of one of them as I had him marked. He was the opposite side of the map, but right in the middle of a fight in a camp, suddenly he shows up! That's just stupid and unnecessary.

I can't see any way to escape the misery of grinding hours and hours of grunts to try and match the Captains now. That's my idea of gaming hell and I really wanted to like the game, that is evident by the 8 hours I spent trying to get on top of it. But the repetitive nature of the game play, the endless deaths and retries have finally taken their toll.

The saddest part of all is that I bought the game on Steam so I can't trade it in for something else!