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Stuck in GRID-lock for four hours

by: Randy -
More On: Blog

The game:  GRID.  The car:  Lamborghini Murcielago RGT.  The track:  24 Hours of Le Mans.  The level of idiocy required to actually attempt this race on the real-world 24-hour setting:  Astronomical.

My wife is down in Tijuana, Mexico, for nine days, leading her high school youth group in a home-building project sponsored by Habitat for Humanity.  In keeping with the spirit of selflessly giving her time and energy to a family in need, I decide to stay cool and air-conditioned indoors, sidestepping Oregon's Rogue Valley heat, preparing for a binge gaming session that I will not recover from for at least another 48 hours.  First on the docket is Codemasters' GRID....

Knowing that this is one of my only chances in this lifetime to attempt anything faintly resembling a 24-hour gaming session, I entrench myself into the living room, ready for the long haul.  I've got Kettle brand sea salt & vinegar chips.  I've got a six pack of Thomas Kemper ginger ale.  I've got a Therapist Select Shiatsu Massaging Cushin.  I've got no shame.  And while I fully realize this won't see me through a full 24 hours of gaming, it's a start.

A clock counts down from 24:00 hours in the upper-left of the screen.  The Circuit de la Sarthe is about 8.5 miles long.  I don't have to win, per se.  Simply keeping my car alive for that length of time will be a victory in my book. Here's how it went down.

24:00 -- With only 10.5 miles put on my spankin' new Lamborghini Murcielago RGT, I look once more at the real-world clock out of habit.  It's 9:40 a.m.  I don't have any fancy racing equipment.  I've got a gamepad, just like you; and I've got a stinging fear that my right trigger finger (the gas pedal) will be blistered long before I hit the 12-hour mark tonight.  I've only been in a couple dozen races, I'm guesstimating, and my racing technique reminds me of something comedian George Carlin once said:  "You drive like old people f*ck:  Slow and sloppy."   The light's green and tire smoke fills the lineup.  We're off.

23:40 -- 66.0 miles in and I'm half a car-length ahead of Ron Fellows, a racer I'd been piggybacking since the start line.  He clips my rear quarter and sends me sidelong into a guardrail fence.  Damage indicators light up green in all quadrants:  Gears, suspension, steering, engine, and both front wheels.  I sneer out of the gravel and find that the Murcielago still handles beautifully.

23:39 -- I paused at a bad time.  Coming out of pause, I immediately hit another huge patch of gravel, list right, and roll my car over once.  She lands feet down, so I swerve back onto the road, not much worse for wear.  My trained videogame instincts begin scanning the ground up ahead for a health pack to run over, or perhaps my mind started counting down the few critical seconds required for my shields to regenerate.  Moments later I come to the realization that I'm not playing a first-person shooter.

23:27 -- 96.6 miles in and I'm lapped by first-place Emmanuel Pirro.  He's in a low-slung LMP1 class vehicle.  From what I've gathered, "LMP1" means "Faster Than Me.  One."  I'm currently in 11th place (out of 15).  I unlock the Short Haul achievement, having driven 500 miles in-game.  My pit manager chirps in, "Okay, Dude.  We're looking into the damage to your engine.  It looks like your performance is down 15 percent."  That's the last time I ever hear from him, though things will get much, much worse before this race is over.

23:00 -- The racer in 12th place is making a concerted effort to catch me.  I take a bathroom break.  My urine smells like McDonald's house blend.  I turn on the wife's massage chair and set it to full Shiatsu for 15 minutes as I get ready to unpause.

22:33 -- I've side walled one-too-many curves and my gears are paying the price.  The gears indicator lights up orange.

22:25 -- I side-walled yet another railing, spun my wheels in the grass for a few seconds, and then was promptly dropped from 11th to 13th place.  I panic and begin driving more erratically, with two other racers playing leap frog ahead of me.  I push my car's lightly-damaged limits, hit another patch of grass, start pumping my brakes, and then put it face-first into a farm fence.  My engine's damage indicator is now orange.  (Those were the gears that lit up orange earlier.  This is going well.)  Down from about 215 mph at the beginning of the race, I'm now barely able to push it up to 200.   A wheel noise I'd only suspected before has now increased in volume, especially during slow-down and take-off around tight corners.

22:00 -- I'm a good seven seconds behind 12th place.  I'm more regularly passed by the LMP1 cars.  Second piss break.  I grab a Vanilla Coke, crack it open, and let it start to go flat before I take a sip.  Second 15-minute chair massage begins.  This time on the "rolling" setting.

21:47 -- A near race-ending crash spins out one car in the chicanes (zig zags, I call 'em) before the stadium.  I barely miss the collision, but I carry the other driver's door as a hood ornament for a good 200 yards.

21:35 -- One of the fast-bred cars clips me as we're making the last large bends before hitting the stadium again.  I shoot across the track, overcorrect, shoot back across the track, and plant myself into a wall of tires.  Reminds me of a joke I heard on the 1up Show once:  What do you do with 365 used condoms?  Melt them down, mold it into a tire, and call it One Damn Goodyear.  I'm sure the cries of anguish coming from the audience stemmed from hearing that joke in my head.  My engine light is full-on red.

21:33 -- My driving is better than ever, due in no small part to my inability to driver faster than 194 mph anymore.  Along the straight stretch, I also find that the Murcielago is now pulling ever-so-gently to the right.  Only having a gamepad, compensating for this is a jerky proposition.

21:21 -- Feel like I should begin experimenting more with the e-brake around corners.  But my current driving formula is already failing miserably enough that introducing anything new into the mix right now could prove disastrous.  GRID features a lovely 'rewind' button if you get caught in a bind.  Depending on the difficulty level you're racing at, you'll have more or less of them to play with during any given race.  Without realizing it, I'd used my four flashbacks during the first hour.  I squandered them all.  At best, I should've only used one every six hours.  I'm less than three hours in, and one hard hit into anything and the race is done for.

21:17 -- Wondering what it says about me -- as a person, as a member of society -- having set aside 24 hours of my life to compete in one, single, virtual racing event.  I need to be doing something productive.  Mowing the lawn comes to mind.  Not something I get my kicks doing, but now the need to mow the freaking lawn is suddenly overwhelming.  Instead, here I am, listening to a creaking sound coming from my tires that will undoubtedly narrate my dreams for the next week.

21:06 -- Tom Kristensen pulled in front of me several minutes ago.  I'd nearly lost his tail.  Then he misses a 90-degree turn.  I see a cloud of tire smoke in the corner ahead of me, and one second later, Tom Kristensen is heading right for me, playing chicken (?).  I brake, swerve, and clip the left front of his car at a thankfully low speed; but now I have light (green) damage to my rear driver's side wheel.  I'm currently wondering what it's like to be that third wheel.

21:00 -- 466 miles.  Threw some Papa Murphy's into the microwave.  Let's hear it for Customer Appreciation Day leftovers.  Lack of a soundtrack during the Le Mans is killing me.  Spun the Klaxons' Myths of the Near Future.  That's better.  My eyes have been glossing over, and at one point during the race I'd suddenly snapped to my senses, wondering how I'd made it that far without crashing.  I've experienced that very real fear during lengthy road trips from San Diego, California, to my hometown of Coos Bay, Oregon.  But that's a 14-hour drive.  Only three hours into a videogame, though, has accelerated that feeling prematurely.

20:06 -- Entering a Zen-like racing state of mind.  Things are progressing well.  I'm watching the tree-lined shadows crawl a couple more inches across the road with each passing lap.  My trigger finger isn't complaining anymore.  I'm flipping through a stellar mix of personal albums:  Digitalism's Idealism album; These New Puritans' Beat Pyramid; Holy F*ck's LP, and Add N to (X)'s Loud Like Nature.  I hear a telltale blip from Xbox LIVE informing me that I've just unlocked another achievement:  Long Haul.  I've officially driven 1,000 in-game miles.

20:05 -- The achievement yoinked me out of any Zen-like race state I'd entered.  At the zig zags leading up to the stadium, I began to slow down, but forgot to start cornering.  The car explodes in a tiny fireball.  A screen of statistics tells me:

        Speed of impact:  112 mph

        Force of impact:  83.82G

        Total damage:  98%

I made it less than 17 percent of the way into 24 Heures du Mans (in the French), and a supreme feeling of relief washed over me, not even giving frustration a chance to rear its pointless head.  I walked away from the Xbox 360, headed for the garage, and wheeled out the lawn mower.