Earlier last week I was invited along to the historic Silverstone race track where Iíd get the opportunity to race Forza 3, then go onto the circuit and see how our skills had improved. As a racing fan this is always a wonderful opportunity to view behind the scenes; in this case a nose around above the pit straight. A bit like ďThrough the Key HoleĒ except you donít meet the owner (or in this case BRDC members), damn I was dying to meet Damon Hill alas that will have to wait, still its very exciting having a nose and rummage, while appreciating the classic events this venue has seen over the years.
A great view above the pit lane, the Champions Room as seen after any given Grand Prix[/B]
On to the morning breakfast briefing and as the racing gaming community expert of the day it was my job to do my bit in informing a range of journalists on the basics of the games content and clean driving, gear changes and braking markers, then giving some helpful assistance where required. Initially it was slow progress but continued practice yielded greater results, of course there was that pre race tension in the air. A great buzz at a circuit, from karting to track racing youíll always feel it before you step into car and get on with the job at hand, everyone just wanted to get their experience and for first timers its always a fear of the unknown, as they sign their lives away on the regular racing forms. Its funny, Iíve been here many times but the buzz of excitement of getting to a new piece of the circuit or behind what are usually closed doors always gets me, imagine watching the Grand Prix from this viewpoint.
Informing the gathered press on the key details Forza 3 contains before giving a driving demonstration
Running the South circuit it was unfortunate that this happened to be the only variant not featured in the game, hence FM3 practice sessions were conducted on the Grand Prix circuit in the Lotus Exige. Following a briefing by the racing instructor it was off to Stowe Corner where lucky journalists would have their opportunity to try the real thing, how would it square up? The Lotus Exige is a very sporty car, a low centre of gravity combined with great power to weight ratio makes it great fun for anyone to drive while giving that racy experience. So making our way down to the corner itís a quick scenic tour of the typically freezing circuit before pulling up next to the two motors that would be the feature of the dayís events.
Mike the Instructor gives an explanation of what we'll be doing
Stowe cabin, our cosy'ish home for the day
Helmets at the ready and the all important, lifesaving heater fan
Alas I couldnít fit into the car or indeed out of the car, but in preparation for this I rolled in Pat; Pat was our cameraman of the day and has supported VVV in many ways over the years so it was nice to give something back. Concealing his enthusiasm he goes for a quick spin around the circuit while I take a few sporty snaps, first a couple of slow laps by the instructor then its time to swap drivers. I asked Pat to give his impressions of the racing experience:
Lotus Exiges at the ready, alas I tried in vein to fit in but with no joy
My years of Yoga and study of special circus contortion techniques came in handy for me when it came to entering the side window of the lotus (Oh sorry was that the door?). You suddenly feel your world has shrunk, surrounded by the race spec roll cage interior of any given racing car; I do up my very elaborate safety belt/harness, as my instructor talks me through what we would be doing today. First a two lap warm up of the Southern circuit by my instructor, with me sitting in the passenger seat as he shouts out over the roar of the engine what gears will need to be selected for each corner, when to accelerate when to brake and also where i need to be positioned on approach to the bends I feel fully confident in taking this power house around the track and giving it my all.
Pat pushes a bit harder in his later laps
The time arrives to swap positions and for me to demonstrate my skills, ( I havenít told the instructor that I already own a fiercely powerful supercar, a 1994 1L fiat Panda. So I expect that vast experience of darting around the Streets of London at 29 miles per hour in the Panda will hold me in good stead. Seatbelts sorted, seating position adjusted and Iíme ready to go, noticing the Pedals are tight, the gear stick is tight, everything feels very close together, forget luxury this is a racing machine!
Pat = Racing Hero
First gear selected, I over-rev the engine darting forward, 2nd Gear, working progressively though the gears reaching 120 MPH and now learning about speed deception. I could compare it to Forza 3, only that instead of hurtling off the track and pressing the rewind button, my friendly instructor shouts "BRAKE!" as i approach a right hand bend, ok so shifting down to 3rd and taking the corner smoothing, accelerating out at some crazy speeds. After a few laps my instructor has a quick talk and explains a few things to increase my speed and handle the car better, so off we go again this time keeping a constant speed around the corners instead of the aggressive and somewhat jerky accelerate/brake/accelerate method I had previously been using. Much smoother driving follows, picking up my vision in to the distance and breezing around the track. The handling of this car is excellent; every bump every turn is felt giving great feedback while I improve my overall feel of the car and circuit.
Note the brake disks used as weights, previous remains of an unlucky spectator
Following a 2 hour session it was back to the pits and a that all important test to see if the driving experience of the real circuit could improve those in-game lap times. The result was a resounding yes with all contenders at least 5 seconds a lap faster, all noticing the key details of the real course expertly recreated within the game. So following his racing experience and as someone not totally sold on the video game realisation first time around, how did Pat find Forza 3 now?
Itís hard putting this kind of experience into words, so Iíve picked out a few key bullet points, main differences and benefits of playing Forza 3 and real race driving are as follows:
1) You donít have any danger of dying if you crash in the game.
2) Game has rewind button / real life doesnít.
3) Electricity costs a lot less then Petrol and i would imagine this baby uses a lot of petrol!
Finally i would like to suggest how you can add a little bit more realism whilst racing along with Forza 3:
1) Play Forza as normal with a wheel set up, use a racing seat and TV positioned fairly closely; important to wear a crash helmet!
2) Position your washing machine / tumble dryer / electric drills/ lawn mower / cement mixing machine and anything else that makes a lot of noise behind you and switch them all on when racing (replicate amazingly loud engine sound).
3) Have someone who shouts really loud sit next to you shouting "Brake" "Accelerate" "get to the left you idiot" and have this someone occasionally take the wheel from you to correct your racing line.
4) Have a few other people kicking the bottom of your chair every now and again for when you touch the sides or spin off in to the distance.
5) On that note you could also have someone nearby with a few very angry dogs to be unleashed if you crash or spin off (Simulate crash injuries ) - could provide adrenaline rush.
So some helpful advice on replicating the experience but did it result in better times for Pat? Yes again he was faster, noting the exact details present in the game and replicated perfectly in the FM3 realisation ďits perfectĒ noted Pat, ďI can see all of the markers just where they are on the real track and recognize every corner, its identical to the real thingĒ. Its great seeing this test working but this is where driving games are quite unlike any other gaming experience. Driving games require exactly the same controls to play the game as it would a real car, the feeling is of common sense and the heightened perception from being in a real racing environment it what worked to improve these drivers. Coming back they focused on what they would do in the real car, what braking markers to look for and how to get out of trouble, how to hit apexes; keep consistent apex speed and acceleration, overall how to be a better driver.
You canít replicate the visceral feeling of being in a racing car but if you can detach that element and look to the basic operations and interaction of the driver its all here and as technology improves itíll only become better. Overall a successful experiment and this is what VVV is all about, gaming fans getting into real racing and vice versa, it gives an opportunity many of us will never experience while the safety of never risking our lives.
If there's one thing about racing, it always brings a smile to everyone's face