NASCAR: SimRacing

Review

posted 3/11/2005 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: PC
According to EA Sport's web site, NASCAR SimRacing "has been redefined specifically for the unique tastes of the PC gaming community." By this I assume they mean that a higher emphasis has been placed on accuracy and depth of the entire racing experience than on glitz and ease of use. This would fit in exactly with my expectations of a PC-based racing sim versus a console-based version. To be accurately termed a "racing simulator," SimRacing will require a complex physics model, superb graphics and sound, and realistic racing behavior from the computer controlled opponents to provide a highly realistic on-track experience.

Beyond that, to be accurately called a "NASCAR Simulator," SimRacing will have to provide a realistic off-track experience too. Being a NASCAR race driver goes far beyond the driving of the car. The driver must interact and communicate with his team and crew chief to get the best possible setup on the car prior to the race. He must be able to correctly assess the on-track performance of the car and make adjustments to the setup in order to achieve a compromise between stability, controllability, and speed. On track, a driver has to do what it takes to make passes, but has to balance his aggression with caution to make sure he doesn't cause expensive damage to his or other driver's cars. If a driver gets too aggressive and gets a reputation as a dirty driver, he will find it difficult to get other drivers to work with him in races such as Daytona where it essential to have drafting partners. A driver that is not aggressive enough runs the risks of not only finishing poorly and losing sponsors, but of being bullied by the more assertive drivers.

An owner/driver has even more to be concerned about since he will be managing the ongoing research & design work during the season, dealing with current and potential sponsors, and deciding what types of merchandising and endorsement deals will generate the funds needed to get through a long, hard race season. And, of course, there are the inevitable repair costs after each race which will draw big bucks from a limited budget. In any given race, an owner/driver faces the possibility of a complete loss of a car. Because the races are so close together, often times being scheduled one a week for weeks on end, the owner/driver needs to also ensure that he has a big enough stable of cars so that he always has one ready to race the next week should anything happen to this week's car.

These are the requirements for a full-blown NASCAR Simulator. There are not, however, the requirements for a commercially successful NASCAR Simulator. The reality is that not many people have the time, ability, and desire to spend all of the time required to manage those details. Also, not everyone interested in a racing simulator has the skill to compete in a 100 percent accurate physics engine against 100 percent strength opponents. As essential as it is to have very high realism settings available in a PC-based racing sim, it is equally important to have easier settings and 'cheats' available for those that want a fun and somewhat realistic racing experience without having to manage the plethora of details required to be competitive in a fully accurate mode. The best possible strategy for commercial viability is to make the spread between "dead easy" and "dead accurate" as wide as possible.
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