By on May 8, 2015

pcarskotaku

Project CARS is probably the most hotly-anticipated automobile-related video game to “drop” in the past few years. It’s ridden a positively Kanagawan wave of media hype and compensated “viral” marketing to its release – but at least one well-informed source is saying that this new emperor is decidedly trouserless.

The site is called Pretend Race Cars and although its “Community Assisted Review” of Project CARS is well into TL;DR territory for all but the most committed, here’s the money shot:

I don’t know what to say, other than we told you so. It sucks that a large portion of the community was turned into viral marketers for a game described as “middle-of-the-road” and playing with a traditional controller “borders on impossible.” We pointed out the abundance of bugs mentioned in the WMD forums several times. We pointed out the internal discussions of poor controls. We had others confirm performance issues. We called the lackluster driving physics and shoddy AI. It’s a flop, guys.

If you’ve followed the so-called “GamerGate” controversy over the past months, you already know that gaming journalism is under precisely the same sort of close community scrutiny that is applied to the autojourno biz only once in a while, and that the results of that scrutiny have been disturbing to say the least. It’s been shown that the vast majority of new products aimed at the “gamer” market are reviewed by people who have nontrivial reasons for promoting many of those products and ensuring their success, and that those reviewers are often actively hostile to, or contemptuous of, the gamers who are supposed to be the audience for their reviews.

Does that sound familiar? It should. We’re fighting the same problem here in automotive journalism. Our founder, Robert Farago, created this website because he wasn’t comfortable following the manufacturer-provided narrative. Years after his departure, we’re still trying to bring you the truth about cars, regardless of how unpopular it makes us at the auto-show dinners. So I’m not surprised to see something like the screenshot at the top of this piece that shows Kotaku publishing the same basic promotional article over a dozen times. Just substitute “new Mustang” or “Cayman GT4” for “Awesome Screenshot” and you’ll have a microcosm of the world of auto media. What did the Apostle say? And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.

But the problems with Project CARS go beyond a merely compliant gaming media. The business model followed by Slightly Mad Studios has been utterly fascinating to observe; the more you paid, and the earlier you paid it, the more say you could have in the development of the game. This is brilliant for multiple reasons, but perhaps the most pertinent is the tendency for people to have a bias towards their own purchase decisions. Speaking personally, I wonder if I would have been able to evaluate the BRZ/FR-S twins honestly had I managed to succeed at getting into the “First 86” early release. The more you spend for something, the less likely you are to call it a piece of shit in public.

The exception to this, by the way, would be the Superformance S1 that I purchased new in 2001. I’m perfectly willing to talk about what a piece of shit that was despite the fact that I handed over nearly forty grand in cash to make it happen.

The large number of people who had bought into the Project CARS, er, project took even the mildest criticism personally:

pcars3

Reading this and other comments, I can’t help but think of the people on the various GT-R forums who openly wished for my violent death after I suggested that Nissan might have been gaming the so-called “Nurburgring record”. None of them were Nissan engineers, and none of them were on the Nissan payroll; they were simply emotionally invested in their prospective purchases. You cannot buy the kind of rabid loyalty that your own customers will award you simply for accepting their money.

The combination of a see-no-evil media and a large group of pre-purchasers intent on justifying their credit-card bill can be a powerful one when it comes to swaying public opinion. For that reason alone, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more automakers adopt a long-lead strategy of getting customers for new automobiles on board early with small deposits and constant communication. It’s what Elio Motors has done, and if you could see the behind-the-scenes statistics for TTAC articles, you’d know that Ronnie Schreiber’s articles on Elio are extremely popular and controversial even months after they’re written. It isn’t because the man on the street knows or cares about Elio; it’s because the average Elio “intender” is far more involved in the fortunes of the company than the average man or woman who just wanders onto a dealership and buys a Camry is in the fortunes of Toyota.

The end result appears to be an underwhelming product released to overwhelming acclaim. Does that sound familiar? It certainly does, but it might not be the last word on the subject. In the modern release-now-and-fix-later mindset, Project CARS might yet be whipped into shape by its developers. Software is much easier to revise post-sale than a real car is. For now, however, those of you who haven’t yet handed over your money might want to follow the same advice that used to be given to potential purchases of GM cars: wait until they get it right.

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29 Comments on “Project CARS, Just Like Many Real Cars, Can’t Match The Media Hype...”


  • avatar
    John R

    Looks like Gran Turismo is still king. (Can’t speak to Forza, however. First and only time I played it I wasn’t impressed.)

    Shame that Kotaku fell into this.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Forza was good at first (if a bit short), and then with subsequent releases they simultaneously improved graphics while reducing the number of cars and races. The long endurance stuff went away, and all became shorter in pursuit of the casual gamer. You’re penalized in your in-game credit rewards by using a car at the top end of the power spectrum for whatever particular challenge you’re doing.

      Speaking of, when you use a higher power car in these challenges, in exchange for reducing your reward the computer will put in lower power competitors with low-spec cars for the race.

      So you think oh, I’ll just use a worse car so the competition is more even, ok. *Goes to buy worse car intentionally to make it a bit more lucrative.*

      Except now that you’re using a worse car, half the cars in the lineup are now changed, and they’re the top spec cars like the one you were previously using, and you can’t win the race unless you’re an absolutely -perfect- driver. So you concede and use the lower power car with some added mods to it, so you can finally win (albeit at reduced credits reward).

      There’s an additional issue with the AI, at least in Forza 3 or 4, can’t recall. The last half mile of the last lap, one of the competitors magically will find 75 horsepower in their engine which was not there the rest of the race, and pass you with ease shortly before the finish. Complete BS.

      And there’s my problem with Forza. Overall GT is still much better, and has many more things to do with a longer rewards structure.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        That one AI driver passing you just before the finish was probably M Rossi. He was a PITA in 2 and 3, not sure if they kept him for 4.

        I have a strong preference for Forza vs GT. I don’t think GT5 held my attention for more than a month. Unlocking the cars felt like doing work, not having fun. It also didn’t help that half the roster looked like it did on a PS2. Conversely, I still play Forza 3 on occasion. Haven’t picked up 4 yet because I don’t see the point in getting another racer just to play with the standard controller; I’m either going all in with a wheel or not bothering.

        No interest in Forza 5 (or really anything from the current console generation) with all the micro transactions and pay-to-play philosophy. I don’t know why people think that’s OK in a game that sells for full retail.

        • 0 avatar
          TonyJZX

          I’m in two minds about Forza vs GT.

          Forza overall, has the better drive model. It feels more resolved like as is Turn 10 actually went that extra mile for realism. On certain racetracks I can get the car to powerslide on command… however they sacrificed everything around it to get there. I never had any issue with the AI in Forza. It was ok, rubberbanding wasnt visible, it didnt feel unfair.

          GT6 isnt as good as far as model goes but it has everything else. They are still updating the thing with new seasonal races.

          I know you guys dont like the commercialisation of these games. Thing is I got Forza 5 free with the console so its fine in that regard.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Yerp. More confirmation to soldier on with my Forza 4 + Fanatec CSR setup.

  • avatar
    Driver8

    Wasn’t iRacing the go-to sim for real driving?

    • 0 avatar

      Yup. It can also get crazy expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      The stuff from Simbin (GTR, GRR 2, GT Legends, Race…) is pretty good if you are looking for a one time purchase. A lot less like an arcade game than the stuff from EA or Codemasters. Though “Dirt” is still pretty fun.

      IMHO you absolutely need a decent force feedback wheel to make any worthwhile. I don’t see how kids get anything out of using a standard PS or XB controller for racing.

      Then you can get multiple monitors, TrackIR…

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    As a PC-only gamer, I still keep crashing into others in Burnout Paradise. Whole discussion over my head, I guess.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    “Speaking personally, I wonder if I would have been able to evaluate the BRZ/FR-S twins honestly had I managed to succeed at getting into the “First 86″ early release.”

    I’d still question whether it has been evaluated honestly here. All the buff books and other outlets had slobbered all over it for 6 months prior to TTAC getting seat time, so a review stating that it is a very nice handling little car that won’t wow anyone in a straight line* would have been noise. Since the hype was so positive from everyone else, TTAC hit with equal and opposite hyperbole to the point that Derek listed it as one of the few bad cars you can buy today… which is utter nonsense.

    *I own one and I believe that statement is absolutely correct. Very fun car that isn’t fast and is probably a couple grand too expensive.

    • 0 avatar
      wmba

      Apropos of Jack’s article here and the basic premise, I was consumed by the hype on the GT86 and spent hours on the FT86Club forums. From Nov 2011 till May 30, 2012.

      That’s when my super-keen anticipation crashed in flames upon driving an FR-S. A nastier little tin box with a gutless mechanically noisy engine it would be harder to imagine if you’ve ever owned a decent car.

      I felt quite literally betrayed by the hype. The mind will conjure all sorts of things in anticipation of a future happy event. For me, I crashed out on the reality. I notice some who couldn’t believe that it could be so bad and bought one anyway, trusting the hype.

      Three years later, they sell maybe 500 a month, which reflects what a poor excuse for a car it is to everyman. If, on the other hand, the first adopters (actual purchasers) had raved about the car, there would still be a supply shortage. A really great product sells, whether it meets actual needs, because the want overwhelms the need. Any old excuse can be thought up as justification and is. People do it all the time.

      I hate hype, it wastes my time on testing useless “praised” stuff that if the truth of its touted merits were actually met, I’d buy.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        The BRZ does an average of 500/month. The two of them move 1500/month on average.

        • 0 avatar

          For the unwashed masses the tC offers 9/10 the car at 7.5/10ths the price. Plus, it has a pretty roof.

          • 0 avatar
            lzaffuto

            It killed the Initial D fanboy in me, but the TC’s main advantage is that it is 1000% more practical. I could have done the FRS instead if it were a hatchback, but without it I already have an NA Miata for use as a toy and it is too expensive to replace that vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        multicam

        To quote the immortal Mr. Spock, “you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting.”

    • 0 avatar
      Eric Aubanel

      OK, I’ve been waiting to make my first comment to TTAC, and this is it. I’m a sim-racer with iRacing and I own an FRS! Interesting parallel between Project Cars and the GT86. Despite the hype and its imperfections, I really enjoy the FRS as an inexpensive second “fun” car. So the Mustang, or Tc, or whatever might be better by some metric; what’s wrong with some diversity, particularly with inexpensive sports cars?

      Project Cars looks very seductive, but there’s much more to a good sim racing platform than gorgeous graphics. iRacing is a seriously fun simulator that provides a large supportive community, and cutting edge engineering simulation.

  • avatar
    Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

    The one thing I would crowd source fund would be a video game that uses actual Google Maps Streetview footage, accurate driving physics, and allows you to navigate the streets of London, Bangkok, Lagos, and Paris complete with traffic and pedestrians.

    Oh, and a Cannonball Run mode from coast to coast.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      There is an add-on like you are describing for Microsoft Flight Simulator. It is called Tileproxy; and it replaces the generic scenery tiles with aerial photographs taken from the various mapping sites:

      http://www.edtruthan.com/tileproxy/tutorial/

      I love it, and have used it extensively to take virtual tours of various locations around the world. Obviously the Grand Canyon is one of my favorite locations; I also have installed a high resolution mesh to further enhance the experience. But using MSFS/Tileproxy also shows the problems and pitfalls with attempting such a linkup.

      First of all, simulation software already taxes many systems to the max; Microsoft Flight Simulator always had a reputation of requiring more hardware than was available when each version came out. Having enough hardware to also support the process of downloading the scenery and converting into the .bmp files used by Microsoft Flight is sometimes more than some systems can bear; unless you reduce the resolution of the scenery.

      Second is the fact that the resulting scenery is flat. There are no objects involved, just flat scenery. It all looks great at a height of about 3,000 feet, but as you take off or land and are close to the ground, you became aware of the lack of 3-D objects. So, nothing to see, nothing to collide with.

      Then, there is the resolution. Even the sharpest of aerial photograph looks fuzzy when you are sitting on top of it. How good the resolution is depends on the source of your aerial photographs and the part of the world you are flying over; some parts of the world have better than coverage than others.

      (Notice in the above link that on the right are buttons that show the view at various ground resolutions; the highest is only 30 cm (or roughly a foot) per pixal of ground image. At that resolution, you can make out cars; but not tell what make and model they are.)

      Google’s street view not only capture locations, but moments in time as the Google car drives along. So if you attempted to drive it in a 3-D world, people and cars would randomly appear and disappear depending on whether you were driving the same route as the Google car, or say in the opposite direction. They would also once again be 2-D images, the processing power needed to take all those images and render them into 3-D, collidable objects would be more than most computers could handle. It simply would not work.

      Finally, Tileproxy let’s you pick who your mapping service is. But Google in particular does not like third party software like Tileproxy sucking resources off their servers without displaying the advertising they offer when you are on Google’s site; so Tileproxy can only use Google for brief period of time before Google cuts it off.

      In closing, it might be just be coincidence; but both of the computers I ran Tileproxy extensively on suffered hard disk failures. Tileproxy trashes your hard disk hard as it saves the aerial photographs to your disk drive, then coverts and saves them to the .bmp format that MSFS uses, along with Flight Simulator itself. It also consumes a GB or more of disk space in the process. But the end result can be breathtaking; I have shared my virtual flights over Israel, from Brazil to Peru across the South American continent, and down the Grand Canyon online; and readers thougth I really did make those flights. Like racing in video games, it lets you go places and do things that would be dangerious or illegal in real life. (Flights down the Grand Canyon are illegal now, and I can fly all over a busy metropolitan area like the DFW metroplex without having ATC vector me around.)

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      Driving on the roads of rigorously pre-planned but still mostly empty cities like Naypyidaw, Burma and Ordos, China would be pretty rad, too.

  • avatar
    sprkplg

    The breadth of your knowledge often surprises me, Jack, and I’m duly impressed by the Romans 12:2 reference. That’s one of the most underappreciated concepts in Christianity.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    I don’t know much (or care at all) about “gamergate” but the notion that so-called corruption in the gaming “journalism” field is in any way comparable to the corruption of automotive writers is laughable. You get a bad game you might be out as much as $60 or as little as nothing. You get a bad car you might be out $20,000 or more or even die.

  • avatar

    “The combination of a see-no-evil media and a large group of pre-purchasers intent on justifying their credit-card bill can be a powerful one when it comes to swaying public opinion. For that reason alone, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more and more automakers adopt a long-lead strategy of getting customers for new automobiles on board early with small deposits and constant communication.”

    The opposite of “buyer’s remorse”.

    A nutritional supplement company in the UK, Protein World, ran a $370,000 ad campaign with subway ads showing a model in a bikini and a slogan about getting your body beach ready. They found themselves the target of activists complaining about “fat shaming”. Instead of apologizing, they figured the activists weren’t going to buy their stuff anyhow and they went on the offensive, even getting a hashtag “growupharriet” to trend. They got a million pounds worth of business right away and their customers, 84% women, became online brand champions.

    Jack says you can’t buy that kind of brand loyalty, but Protein World’s example shows that you can cultivate it.

    What’s interesting is that truly knowledgeable fans of a brand recognize its shortcomings. People who collect 1955-56 Packards will tell you why their torsion level suspensions had issues (mechanics who didn’t understand the system, which needed to be maintained, mostly).

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    pCars is gorgeous, but you know what they say about beauty, right? Yeah. It’s wonderful to look at, but to drive, well… not quite as much. It’s not a complete mess, but there’s something about how the rubber meets the road – literally – that’s off.

    First, the FFB is, for lack of a better word, rubbery. It may be tweakable, but I’m playing with one of the best FFB wheels money can buy, and I employ the programmer who wrote its firmware so I can change anything I want about it on a moment’s notice, and it’s just… rubbery. It feels like you’re driving through six inches of wet sand, all the time.

    Second, it chatters when you’re on the limit. The FFB and the car both hop; this seems to occur whether you’re driving a Lotus 49 or a modern prototype with tons of downforce, and the chattering affects not only the FFB but the chassis itself, which I know because I’m playing in a motion platform. Get the car ‘up on the tire’ and it’ll shudder all the way around a corner in a very bizarre manner. You can feel, mostly, what it’s doing ‘through’ the chattering, and it seems broadly correct, but you have to listen to the car over the din of this shuddering and bouncing.

    Positives? The weather transitions are gorgeous (as is the whole game) but not only that, they work well physically. The game feels much more at home when you’re driving in the wet, perhaps because the tire model never gets to experience its own rough edges, and it’s great fun. Even if the other issues don’t get patched out, I’m probably going to keep pCars around (and recommend it to customers of my motion systems) as long as nobody else does wet weather; the rain is that good.

    It’s a bit frustrating, because I get the feeling that they really went in with the intent of doing something polished, but it also feels a bit like they never finished the physics engine: Somebody said, “Damn, we sell another 5000 copies every time we do new screenshots” and the priorities shifted; graphics got updated and placeholder physics became shipping physics. It’s just a guess, but I’ve been around this business long enough for me to be reasonably confident that something along those lines occurred.

    (It’s worth noting that the wheel chatter I noticed may not be very noticeable on consumer wheels; the one we’re using in-house now has probably close to 40 times the torque of a G27 so you can feel stuff with it that would be swamped by the gearing in anything normal. But the fact that it’s there at all, and that it’s big enough to affect chassis behavior across vehicles of disparate types, suggests that there are some significant holes in the tire model.)

  • avatar
    slow kills

    I’m on the Elio mailing list, but never put up the $100 deposit. If I had, I do suspect I’d actually read the updates instead of deleting unread and maintaining the subscription just to know when the thing is finally available.

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