There is something intrinsic to motor racing that has all but disappeared in the virtual world of racing games. Can you guess what it is?
Well, the title of this article probably gave it away but yes, it is commentary and specifically in-race commentary.
It’s hard to imagine watching your favourite form of motorsport without the excitable narrative provided by the commentators. F1 has ‘Crofty’ and Martin Brundle, BTCC has David Addison and Tim Harvey and WorldRX has a friend of Traxion.GG, Andrew Coley.
They provide details of what’s going on and background insights on the drivers or teams. But, even more than that, they provide emotional investment. Who can forget Murray Walkers famous; “I’ve got to stop because I’ve got a lump in my throat” line? These moments are what helps to make motorsport so memorable.
Why has contemporary gaming mostly ignored race commentary?
The Psygnosis/Studio Liverpool F1 games certainly had it back as far as the 90s with the iconic Murray again, and although it was flawed, it definitely added character and excitement.
F1 games in general seem to be the only games that have had this type of commentary, possibly because it’s one of the most popular motor racing licences that gets translated into a virtual release.
The last game that I could find that had in race commentary was F1 Championship Edition from 2007 featuring James Allen on comms. But it also had a race engineer, and that made it a tad confusing and indeed may explain what has happened to commentary since then.
Race Engineers have seemingly replaced commentators as the in-game means of giving you information about what is going on, just look at the current F1 games and their use of Jeff. This is logical, as in real life, drivers are not listening to the commentators (funny as that would be) but instead to their engineers – unless you’re Kimi…
This has allowed games to be more focused on you and your own race, whereas commentators are there to provide an overview of the entire event. So at the moment, the job of the commentators has been relegated to voicing over the pre-race build-up or post-race results and, in truth, this generally works better thanks to it being less distracting.
How commentary should return to virtual racing
I seem to remember some of the older F1 games having commentary from during the post-race replays. Or should I say ‘highlights’, as a full race replay would be too ambitious to cover!
I feel that is something that could be explored further and indeed may be the best way to bring commentary back to gaming in some form. Sports games such as FIFA, Madden and NBA do a (mostly) engaging job by utilising banks of recorded lines which the game then picks from during events, and if this same level of detail is applied to the after-race highlights, they could be actually worthwhile watching back.
The first key issue would be ensuring there are enough recorded soundbites so that it doesn’t just repeat the same phrases over and over, which is something that football commentary often suffers from.
The second is making sure the highlights are actually worth watching. In order to do this, it would probably take some fancy programming to pick out events that happened in the race of note. Ideally, they would deliver an overall race picture not just of your own happenings – which is what the highlights in F1 2020 show, for example.
This would obviously be easier in longer races as there are more opportunities for dramatic moments to happen. It would be simpler to implement for single-player racing, but in my head, it would be simply amazing for online multiplayer highlights too, adding an authenticity to your activities.
This is something that I hope could be implemented primarily in the Formula 1 releases as they already have a highlights functionality. But hey, this is entering the realm of fantasy land, so I would also love to see this in any upcoming BTCC and DiRT games (which has the WorldRX licence) using the aforementioned Addison/Harvey/Coley in their respective fields.
It almost goes without saying that commentary is something that works better in motorsport-licensed games that have pre-existing commentators to call upon, but even the likes of Gran Turismo could use esports commentators, such as Tom Brooks and Jimmy Broadbent. Despite the effort needed to implement this in-game most likely not be worth it to Polyphony Digital, I can still dream, right?
So, yes. I believe commentary should return to gaming but in a revised and more appropriate way for modern gamers. What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on social media.