I have been thinking lately about certain inadequacies with current racing games and what it would be like if I could design a game myself without any of the constraints or limitations that are put on us by the pesky realities of things like licensing or the current state of technology.
So, with that tantalising thought in mind, I put pen to paper – or, erm, finger to keyboard – and decided to create this article. This is what I would include in my own fantasy racing game…
Multiple disciplines and a grassroots up career mode
My ideal game would not be either an F1/open wheel game, rally game or a tin-top racing title. It would be an all-inclusive game that you can jump into any of those modes from the beginning if you so wish. You can also start your career in karting and then progress up into different categories depending on where you want to go.
You could rise through the single-seater ranks up to F1 or pursue a career in GT or touring car racing. You could decide you want to be a rally legend hooning about through muddy forests or even a rallycross driver. You could also decide to combine different careers, switch between different ones each season and even try for the fabled ‘Triple Crown’ à la Fernando Alonso.
The choice is completely yours and that is something that I feel is lacking at present. Currently, many games give you the illusion of choice while funnelling you towards a pre-determined end goal.
Some have offered this kind of progressive career, such as TOCA Race Driver 3, but none have pulled off all of these different categories being in one game because of those troublesome licenses and physics engines we talked about earlier. Platforms that do have multiple disciplines tend not to feature an in-depth single player career or a handling model that makes the different specialities all feel suitably different.
My ideal game would have the kind of partial sim handling of the F1 games or Gran Turismo series that reward ability, but are also accessible for those of us who enjoy a race but will never be a full esports driver. The key thing would be that the different disciplines all have their own handling model that makes every category feels unique but enjoyable.
Realistic (but not excessive) damage
Now I know that seeing a crash is never a good thing, especially if someone is injured or worse because of it, but there is also no denying that there is something compelling about them at the same time.
I would love damage in my game to be realistic enough that you can damage different components but you can still press on with a less than 100 per cent car, adapting your driving to match. But, crucially, not overly dramatic where you end up with something that doesn’t even resemble a car at all.
Rally games have always been reasonably good at this and also to some extent the F1 games as well, but I think it needs to be better. My game’s damage would allow for any aspect of the car to be crippled and affect the car appropriately, but within reason. It would also provide different options for the player to tailor the level of destruction to their own abilities.
A Marshalling recovery system
Alongside realistic damage is a realistic marshalling system. At the moment you see flashing lights – or in some games actual flag-waving – to tell you what is happening on the track. If there’s a damaged car sitting on the side of the circuit you never see anyone helping to recover the car. It just disappears after a lap or so with nothing to explain how.
My ideal game would have actual marshalls coming to the stricken vehicles under waved double yellow flags with all the on-track restrictions of slowing down and being prepared to stop, no overtaking and generally, behaving yourself. I want to be fully engrossed in my game and this would be another facet of that immersion. Similar to what is in an old Geoff Crammond Grand Prix game, but updated for the modern age.
Marshalls also deserve recognition for what they do at race tracks around the world, as without these brave volunteers the various racing series would not be able to race, so why not show that in a game too?
Full and unedited VR
This one is very simple. Improve the VR experience. VR in racing games is something that has been underwhelming so far, on console at least. Things are better on PC at present, but it’s not universal and you often need expensive hardware to make the most of virtual reality racing
It has been used primarily as a novelty, whereas I would like to see it be available in all game modes and at full capacity. No reduced graphics or lower numbers of opponents. It should be that the full game is available to play in VR and not just some tacked-on feature to tick boxes.
AI that works
Something else that I don’t think any racing game so far has gotten completely right. Gran Turismo’s AI feels soulless, for instance. It may be ‘technically’ good but it definitely feels like it’s computer-controlled rather than real opponents. Something like PC-sim RaceRoom can put on a good show, but it’s still not quite there.
AI should have personalities that affect how each of them drives and therefore are more unpredictable and fun to race against. I want there to be lots of different types of personality, from the patient style of a Prost or a Turkington to the impetuous dive-bombs of a Verstappen or a certain editor of a racing games website. [Ed – erm, I don’t know what you’re talking about…]
Controllable pit stops
2006’s Formula One Championship Edition had controllable pit stops, something that I would love to see back in games. You had to press a button for each of the elements of the pit stop. So, the front jack, rear jack and fuel hose first, then the four tyres followed by the fuel hose off and dropping the jacks.
With some tweaking for current rules and also for different disciplines, I think this could bring an added element of strategy to pit stops in track racing and also could also be potentially used in rallying during the service areas in some fashion – or even when you get stuck in a ditch.
I admit I can’t actually think of exactly how that could work, but this is a fantasy game I’m making so let’s just roll with it…
An intuitive and customisable race engineer
I’m sure there are other games that use race engineers but the one that instantly springs to mind is Jeff from the Codemasters F1 series. Jeff is somehow really good and really bad all at the same time. When he works well, you do start to build a bond with him.
But there are other times when you just want to unleash a volley of expletives in his direction as he tells you what a great start you made after you dropped five places and lost a part of your front wing.
If the “Jeff” type model could be expanded to use sophisticated AI and learn from your previous races to anticipate your racing decisions or driving style, it could offer genuinely insightful information. On top of that, I would like to have a multitude of different styles and voices to choose from so I could create my own team member from scratch and therefore feel a genuine connection to them.
This could also apply to rallying with a co-driver that you can mould to your own style. Creating your own pace notes and choosing your navigator’s appearance, voice and even note delivery style would be so immersive. That, or I’ve been watching too many sci-fi movies of late…
A Google Maps-style race track creator
Now this one has been left till last as it’s a full-on fantasy that would never happen. One thing I would love to see in a game is the ability to download a map of an area that contains something like Google’s Street View and then lay out either a point-to-point stage or even construct your own street circuit around literally any town in the world.
The game would then extrapolate the roads and all the details from the street view and give you an exact recreation of that area in-game. Imagine creating a track around such landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, The Great Pyramid of Giza or even creating part of a special stage that winds through your local town, taking in the Tesco car park before blasting straight through a McDonald’s drive-thru. The possibilities are endless.
It would also allow you to create a complete fictional track from the ground up, selecting track width, surface type, elevation changes, gravel traps and anything else you can think of. Some examples of existing track creators that come to mind are V-Rally 2 and Gran Turismo 6, both of which were very limited. In the case of Gran Turismo, it required an app and a tablet device to even work.
The current Milestone motocross games make a good go at it and the best one so far was in ModNation Racers several years back for Mario Kart style gameplay. But, this is something I think really hasn’t been exploited well enough in racing games so far.
That’s just what I think would make the greatest racing game of all time if money, processing power and developmental talent needn’t be considered. How about you? What would you include in your perfect racing game or sim should there be no barriers to your creativity. Let us know on social media or join the debate in the comments below.