If I made my own racing game…

Like that would ever happen

With both Driveclub and Forza Horizon 2 hitting the streets this month my mind is fully in racing game mode. We racing fans are spoiled this month with two very nice titles, and I’m racing my days away in them. As of late I am this close to getting a speeding ticket IRL.

I think about racing games a lot. While I’m Destructoid’s resident JRPG guy, I’ve always loved racing games. I’ve been playing them regularly since Pole Position (yeah, I’m old), and I’m perfectly open to racers of all sorts, from casual kart games all the way up to full-on simulations. 

But lately, after spending time with Driveclub and Forza Horizon 2, I’m hung up on what my ideal racing game would be. Both of them hit positive marks for me, but there are plenty of things I’d change or do differently. And I have some ideas of my own that no one has managed to work into a racer yet. 

So here’s what my racing game would look like.

Sim or arcade? Uhh…

Both? No, I don’t want that and you wouldn’t either. But I believe there’s a middle ground between simulation racer and arcade that would make fans of both sides happy as well as serve new players with accessibility. 

Cornering and braking would be realistic — sim-ish — but would be somewhat assisted so that, say, hitting corners at too high a speed wouldn’t be as ridiculous of a situation as it is for new players of fully unassisted sim play. I’d want it to be comfortable for everyone to get in and zip around, though also accurate enough that highly skilled racing game players would still have a good time. It’s possible.

Physics are weird in racing games. You have some of the most accurate simulations ever for things like traction, turning, and braking in some games, but the same title will have you bouncing like a rubber ball against a guard rail. It makes no sense. I’d rather have the whole experience approachable and acceptable than have the uneven response we’ve seen lately. I’d lean more toward fun than realism, but I’d want it all to be at least somewhat anchored in reality.

Crash damage? You can take it or leave it, I say. While I don’t mind either way about my car showing dents and scrapes, I think too much time is spent building this part of racing games. And for what? At 150MPH you’re looking at the road, not your car. When there’s modeling for how damage affects performance, I look at that as an open invitation for your opponents to crash into you. And that makes a bumper cars game, which no one wants. More on that later.

Keep it simple. No turbo/nitro, no boosts, no launch pads, no stunts bonuses, no upgrades — nothing like that. Just a bunch of great cars that can go fast and look cool doing it. Gas, brake, e-brake, steering wheel, speed. That’s all you need.

But none of those on-the-ground racing guide lines. 

One size fits all

I like to compete on a level playing field, so for my racing game I’d have nothing in the way of drive tuning or parts customization. An eight-player match with all racers using Dodge Neons should have them all on the same level, right? How is it fair if one of them gets to change out exhausts to gain 25 horsepower? 

There might be a better way to work up to being able to buy new parts now, but everything up to this point has seemed like a bit of a grind. Wouldn’t you rather just get/earn another car? Acquiring a new car is more fun than clicking through arbitrary parts packs that add minimal improvements to the vehicles.

No ‘buying’ vehicles

I understand the need for a progression — it keeps you playing. Most racing games have you jumping into a starter car or two, with more being unlocked as you progress through increasingly more challenging races. I suppose that’s fine, though I’d rather you have access to every car, straight away (see Forza Motorsport 5). 

But having to work up to unlocking cars, and then working up the virtual cash to buy them? And then, having to buy parts for upgrades? Stepping back, it seems so unnecessary. I think this all gets in the way of the whole point: racing. 

I’d have a system that recommends cars for races, and I’d definitely unlock special cars at points, but for the most part I’d have them all available at game’s start, for free.

And while I’m thinking about it, let’s calm down on the car counts. Why do we need 8 versions of the same car?

Lots of tracks

That should go without saying, right? Lately, some games have launched with what gamers might consider not enough tracks for the cost of entry. There’s only so much you can do with race types and track reversal. And saving some tracks for DLC later? Gross.

Go with lots of tracks. Go nuts. We’re talking Mario Kart numbers here. Who says you can’t do that in a real-world racer. Variety is the spice of life. There’s no need for every track to be based on a real-world locale, or for them to be painstakingly laser scanned, either. Just make some good tracks with some fun S-curves and plenty of straightaways. Put a cornering nightmare in there. License Laguna Seca. Do that one track with the tree canopy that has the sunlight rays peeking through. I love that. 

No fucking bumpercars

Nothing ruins a racing game faster than poor AI. No one liked the brainless, pre-scripted choo-choo train of cars in older racers, and having an opponent magically teleport next to you as you near the finish line (read: rubber banding) is just as bad. 

Thankfully, those problems are fading. There’s only one really large problem left to deal with: bumper cars. This refers to how AI cars will bash and crash against you in single-player challenges. Some of the Gran Turismo games were horrible about this, to the point where your skill played only a small part in winning a race. You had to pray that you wouldn’t get rammed off the course. Restarting after a senseless bashing is the norm in these games. Having cars that bash into you for no good reason (read: as part of the simulation) in your game doesn’t get you there. It’s miserable.

Turn 10 has made progress on this issue with their latest titles with the introduction of their Drivatar system. It’s not perfect yet, but at least you’re more apt to blame your friends than the AI when you get slammed into. Forza Motorsport 5 was the first time that racing against a computer felt real to me. So I’d want something like Drivatar in my racing game.

Right stick gas/brake, full controller/wheel support

A few years back, I tested my lap times in Gran Turismo to compare the traditional right and left trigger gas/brake control scheme to their optional right analog stick scheme. Though it’s far from proper testing, I can say that I always fared better using the analog stick. My reaction time improves greatly, my cornering looks nicer, and I’m less distracted by having my fingers constantly gripping down. This leaves the fingers open for bumpers to serve as paddle shifters, which just feels cool. 

As for controller and wheel support, I know that’s easier said than done. But if we’re talking dream game here, I’d want all the wheels to work. Remember the Namco NeGcon twistable controller? Yes, support that. Put the Jogcon in there, too. Hell, get that Sega Saturn Nights analog controller in there.

Customizations of the right type

I get that customizability is a big deal in racing games. It’s one of the key marketing bullet points, sure. You want a pink car with a pixelated ninja turtle on it? Fine. I’ll be out on the track while you do that. 

I’m fine with leaving in customization options for car decorations, but I’d rather racing game makers spend more time on the customizations that I can really use. How about a variable height setting for the in-car views? I can’t be the first person that has dreamed of this. I’d love to be able to change the size of the rearview mirror, or have variable reflectivity settings for the car glass. Now about some kind of option for visual alerts for oncoming cars with in-car views selected? My racing game would let you do things to the UI to make the view make more sense for the player. 

Personality, please

How did racing games become the most sterile and boring genre of games? Everything is shiny and simulated and cold and flat. How about some personality? Remember Ridge Racer 4? It had that killer intro song, the crazy color scheme, and that pit crew guy with the great facial hair. Great story-based career mode, too. 

I’m not saying I’d copy Ridge Racer, but I’d certainly go farther than some have lately. I like Forza Horizon, but the club culture is more of a design inspiration than genuine personality. We need more.

We don’t need a generic avatar, and you can keep that creepy, faceless driver from the simulation games. Either do it well or don’t do it at all. I don’t think it would take much to inject some personality into these racers. Make it funny. Fart jokes or something. Make the cars talk. I dunno. Just do something!

Music to my ears

I’d find a way to get Falcom Sound Team jdk to do all of the music. How fucking incredible would that be? And I’d actually have the team write theme songs for each of the tracks so that the music would fit the feel. I know they do that in character-based kart racers, but why can’t we do that in street racing games?

But I’d take anything over the shallow, mindless random playlist of go-fast electronic tunes. We need big playlists for the hundreds of hours of play these games will get. Remember how Snoop Dogg did a track for Gran Turismo 3? That was fantastic. And in the same session you could get some cool acid jazz, and then a track that rocked. Nice music in that game for sure. Ridge Racer almost never disappoints; the fifth game had music from Boom Boom Satellites. 

I’m not saying that the songs need to be licensed. Sometimes that’s exactly the wrong thing. I’m saying that game makers should think about their game and have music made specifically for it. Crazy, right?

Multiplayer doesn’t have to be that hard

I think too much goes into creating multiplayer in racing games. I’d stay mostly asynchronous as it keeps things easy. I love time challenges, and those are perfect for asynchronous match- ups. I’d definitely want a challenge system like that of upcoming PS4 game Driveclub. You can take your performance from a single-player race and send that out immediately after as a challenge to friends and others. Constantly running leaderboards track the times and performance of all your friends. That’s all you really need.

Of course, group matches are different beasts. I’d want the ability for 8 or more players to go at it in roll-your-own race events of their choosing.

That’s it. It’s my experience that racing game players are out on their own. We’ll see how Driveclub does, but I’ve found that it’s usually every man for himself in online racing. There could be some way to have multiplayer matches figure into rankings, but unless that way makes sense to the players, they’ll stick to their personal times and leaderboard rankings. And that’s fine by me.

No Paid DLC

This is my game, right? If it is, then I’m giving customers the full game right out of the gate. All the cars, all the tracks, and all of the options, with no surprises later. Maybe that’s crazy.

—–

Go ahead. Tell me you wouldn’t play my racing game. 

My dream game? Its core would be something like a new OutRun game with lots of licensed cars and more tracks, with some rally racing added in. It would be slightly more competitive, with sharper driving control. It would probably be a huge mess of a game that no one would dig.

To be fair, we’re spoiled these days with all of the great racing offerings out there. There’s something to love in just about all of them. And they’ll only get better. If you’re not thinking too hard you can have fun with any racing game. I’m itching to play some Virtua Racing right now for some strange reason.

Dale North