Wednesday, November 26, 2008

(50) Kar? What Kar?

I just found out about this obscure video game called netKar. It's supposedly the most realistic Formula simulator on the planet. And yeah, I guess it's pretty amazing.

You start the demo, you're sitting in the cockpit of the car, a Formula Ford 1600. Great. I know these. Good place to start.

But the engine isn't running. I search through the options and find no "ignition" key. I have no idea how to turn the car on.

I'd played flight sims before, and I had this wild idea; do I actually have to click the ignition switch in the cockpit? Sure enough I move my mouse over the master switch and click, lo and behold it moves. Okay, great. Now the ignition. I click. Nothing. Oh, I have to hold it down. Right. *chug chug chug chu-vrooom*

Now that's very cool and all, but come on. What a gimmick.

So I pull it out of the pits (the automatic clutch making sure there is much chugging, as I have no clutch pedal). I got on the straight and rev. Wait, there's no gear indicator or tac! I click wildly trying to turn on the display in front of me. No luck.

Oh well, no rev counter. Whatever.

I take a couple of corners, "guessing" the revs and gears I'm in. The tires are cold, that's realistic. It really feels like my car is bouncing along on rubber balloons, even though I don't have any "force feedback" in my particular gaming wheel.

But sure enough, I get into a spin. I hit the gravel trap and dust gets kicked up, clouding my vision. I really can't see very well. The dust is inside my helmet. That's realistic, I think.

But the automatic clutch wasn't fast enough and I've stalled. I reset the master switch and hit the ignition. *chug chug chug chug*. Nothing. I try again. *chug chug chug*. Nothing. I try again. Silence.

My battery's dead.

Now, I guess I can understand where people are coming from with this whole realism thing. Most people won't get to drive a race car in their lives for various reasons, be it money or health. I understand that this is as close as a lot of people get, and I support the fact that they can sort of experience it. But come on.

In a real race car, 110 miles an hour in a little Formula Vee or Formula Ford is fast. In a video game, it's just plain boring. Stalling and flipping master switches and such isn't fun; it's a chore. Some people say it adds "immersion" (just one of the millions of buzz words that have been creeping into media of all forms lately). To which I say, jump in a pool of lava. That's immersion, too.

It's great to know that we can simulate things like tire degradation and engine heat and little tiny bumps in the road all on a computer. That's really swell, and more than a little cool, and a lot of fun to play with for a while just for the geek factor. But that's not the point, the point is to simulate reality. Why do that? We already have that. It's called reality.

Think about this; if we all had a holodeck in our living rooms, just like in Star Trek, and you could do all kinds of crazy things with it without any risk of harm to yourself, would you use it? Would skydiving be just as fun in that holodeck as in real life? Would you get the same terror from being on the battlefield in the holodeck? I don't think so. Sure, people would play around with it and it would be the gadget to have for quite some time.

But think about it. The designers created this thing to be as realistic as possible. What would people do with it? They'd do fantastical fantasy things. They'd do things that are impossible or near impossible.

And that would defeat the purpose of the entire machine, wouldn't it? You wouldn't have people going into the holodeck to wash dishes. Or drive to work. No, they'd go in it to be Micheal Shumacher, or a Don for the Mafia, or an astronaut and go to Mars, or maybe even something that's not human, like a dragon.

And that brings me to my point. The best racing games, or games period, have been unrealistic ones. The ones where you can make wheel-to-wheel contact and not hit the wall, to be able to take 5 bullets to the chest and keep fighting, or jump 20 feet in the air, or solve mysteries on another planet, because that's the heroic, fantastical and impossible thing.

And how does this relate to netKar (or any racing simulator)? Well, racing games can be perfectly good approximations without being realistic. There was a game recently that was called GRiD. Yeah, the cars were way too fast, the cornering speeds were way too high, you could crash into walls and things and come out fine. But the underlying behavior, the way the tires met the road, the way the cars felt to drive, was perfectly grounded. And in my opinion it's the best racing game I've ever played. No master or ignition switches necessary.

There will always be people who like those uber-realistic simulations, and keep doing what you do. But it's not my thing. Besides, if all this works out the way I hope, I won't ever have to turn to a computer to help settle my race car fix ever again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

(49) Dangerous driver

I still don't have a driving license. I'll be 19 this month.

If only I had the love of driving I do now when I was 16, eh? I'd have a job. I'd probably have my own car. I might've been involved in a lot more track day stuff. I might've learned how to find my way out from under my own hood.

I really have no idea why I've waited this long to get my license.

And apparently I have to wait even longer now.

I went in for my driving test yesterday and, surprise surprise, I failed. I got 100% on my written tests (twice), but I didn't even get halfway through my practical test.

What did I do wrong?

I forgot to check my blind spot when I pulled into a bike lane for a right turn.

Normally this is checked as a "traffic check", which goes towards your 15 allotted errors.

But in this special case, this is put under the "dangerous maneuver" category, which is a critical error, which flunks your test.

Why is this a dangerous maneuver? I could hit a bicyclist, right?

Well the examiner said that hitting a bicyclist is unlikely, since cars go a lot faster. The real danger are other cars. Because the law requires that you get over as far right as possible to make the turn.

Now this all makes perfect sense but the lane I pulled into was one of those 2-foot wide jobs and I checked my rearview before I even slowed down and there were no other cars within a mile of me. There's no way a car could've been there. That's why I didn't look.

The really funny thing here is that I failed my test, I'm classed as a dangerous driver, and they tell me to "drive home" and come back in a month. Isn't the point of the licensing system to keep dangerous drivers off the road? How broken is that? Apart from the fact that I didn't do anything dangerous in the first place.

And to my credit, I've only been driving for 3 months. Most drivers have been doing it for at least twice that when they take their test at 16.

Well, I have to wait a month now and that's a month longer of being a lazy, spineless, no-good leech on society. Ha! Don't I have it good.

In other news. This (click).


Can we just have no speed limits please? It just makes things less complicated. And then we don't have to mount these in our cars.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

(48) NASA? No, not that NASA

Had a good time this weekend at the NASA races. There was a crash later in the 2nd day by one of the Spoon touring cars. It went off in turn 1 which is a small sweeper. The car launched off the hill there and landed in the stands, near some spectators. No one was hurt but the car had to be ripped open to get the driver out. I suspect suspension failure.

Other than that the weekend was dandy. I met some guys from Speed Trapp racing who prep Spec BMW E30 race cars. I got to talking with them and they are really enthusiastic about what they do and they provide some great services. The class is really cool, too. It's one of those classes that I just look at and instantly want to drive. That may be the one I get into, as it's fairly affordable, is growing fast and has a good rule set unlike Spec Miata. Those little BMW E30s are reliable as rocks, too.

Spec E30s on track.

I met one of my instructors, Robbie, from the Skip Barber driving course up at the garages where he coaches a driver in Formula Mazda, which is exactly like Star Mazda but without the TV coverage and national venues. I also ran into one of my rivals from Jim Russell karting who I didn't think drove anything like these cars. I got to hang around the garages and sit in one of the cars.

The Formula Mazda cars up at the garages near the kart track just before their race. My friend's car is the black and silver Andersen Racing look-a-like.

I was going to go talk to the guys at Spoon Motorsports from Japan but their crash kind of put an end to that. They had an NSX-R GT there, too. Which, I'm told, is only 1 of 5 in the world (Honda only made them so they could have their racing version homologated in the All-Japan Grand Touring Championship).

Aparently this car has been somewhat of a myth until Spoon started showing it in 2008.

Anyway, I also seem to like the NASA ambiance more than SCCA. It's a bit more professional and a bit more laid back at the same time. It's still club racing, but that's not such a bad thing really.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

(47) Racking up the miles

Stats update: I finally bothered to add some more figures down there on the blue stats bar. Some of them are truly big.

I've been in the seat of the kart for 8 hours and 8 minutes this year.

If you do the math with my average racing speed and time in the seat, that means I've done 394.1 miles on the track this year.

If you divided 394.1 miles by 0.750 (the length of the track), you get 525.4 laps.

BUT! Take this with a grain of salt. These stats haven't entirely been tracked by a computer like my other ones. For instance I know how many practice and qualifying sessions I've done, but I only have a vague idea of how long they were on average (about ten minutes per session). So that stat is somewhere inside the ball park, but won't be down to the millisecond.

But the other two, miles driven and laps made, are complete conjecture based on my average racing speed (which fluctuates a lot). I'll keep the miles driven stat up there just for fun, and I'll keep re-calculating it based on my racing speed, but don't take it as a biblical passage or something. But do know that my miles driven stat for my RACES is quite accurate and is not based on any statistic other than official lap counts made by a computer and the length of the track they were on.

Total laps driven I won't put up, though, because the distance of the tracks I will visit will change a lot so keeping that one up to date will require a lot more work than it's worth. It only works now because I've only driven one track. As before, my racing laps driven is quite accurate as those come out of a timing and scoring computer.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

(46) And the award goes to...

Not me, apparently.

I just got back from the awards banquet and it was a good time. There were awards for the Rotax Max challenge, the Junior, Cadet and Senior arrive and drives, and all the classes in between. Lots of scholarships were handed out and a lot of prizes and such. I think about 50 grands worth of prizes were given out.

And no, I didn't win anything.

As the points stand, I turned out 9th. So I made my top-ten finish goal, barely, with 1002 points after dropping my worst round. Not bad out of 40 drivers. 9th through 5th were all within 100 points, so a close finish in my area of the board.

Greatly looking forward to next year.

Next week I'm meeting one of my Skip Barber instructors (Robbie Montinola) at a NASA event at Infineon for some chit-chat. That means I'll have spent 5 consecutive weekends at the track. Lets keep the momentum going, eh?