Thursday, December 08, 2005

Byte: Soft thumbs

Having cracked the magic seven minute barrier on PGR2, I went back to Forza last night after a several month hiatus ("it hates us", more like) and stuck in a few laps around the Nurburgring with a track special Nissan Skyline. Playing a simulation with a gamepad isn't ideal by any means, because your range of movement on the analogue sticks is pretty limited, and if there's anything that Forza requires, it's precision of movement: if you turn the wheels too much into a corner, you invariably find that you just understeer off like a Hillman Imp on wet grass.

This problem really manifests itself on the medium speed corners of the Nordschleife, pretty much regardless of what you drive. After about a lap and a half of this, I realised what I was doing wrong. Whereas you can chuck an arcade racer like PGR2 at the scenery and the deficiencies in the handling model usually let the car come back to you, Forza is far more cruel. You have to treat the cars as if they are real, because that's how they handle. So, I turned off the traction control and relaxed my grip on the joypad a little, remembering what my driving instructor told me all those years ago: don't hold the steering wheel too tight, and be light as a feather on the throttle.

The traction control in Forza, like the stability control, is called a "driver aid", but I've only found it to be a hinderance, as it doesn't prevent torque steer and is of debatable value in preventing power-down oversteer on rear-wheel drive cars, so it doesn't really allow you to get the power down to 100% any quicker than if you didn't have it on. The stability control prevents you from drifting around corners, which is a pain in the arse, because you otherwise have to be super-accurate in getting down to the entry speed of the corner to prevent you spinning off into the boonies. And besides, four-wheel drifting through corners using the throttle to maintain your direction and stability is fun.

After playing about a little with the setup, reducing the brake pressure to prevent lock-ups (or rather, ABS spamming), and slackening off the front anti-rollbar to give me a bit more turn-in oversteer (I like my cars like my women: twitchy and responsive) and just being a little bit more relaxed on the thumbstick and smoother with the throttle, the lap times really started to come together.

The track special Skyline is a beautiful car - not as fast as some of the other S-class track specials (such as the Le Mans GT cars), but it handles beautifully and has lots of power. Despite two bad spins and a few grassy excursions, I still managed a sub ten minute lap, clocking in at 9m 38s (or 8m 50s when you get rid of the time penalties), which was quite pleasing. The whole time penalty thing still really annoys me - and there's not even a cheat or dev code you can use to turn it off - because the time penalties really ruin any sense of satisfaction that you might get from turning in an otherwise good lap, because it's a completely arbitrary penalty that ruins your lap time. There's at least 30 seconds that can come off that, perhaps more. If I had a steering wheel and pedals, taking over a minute off that time would be a distinct possibility, but alas, I'm restricted to pads. But hey, at least it's another psychological barrier broken, and I can get down to really enjoying the game.

Now, if I can get a sub-ten minute lap with a standard D-class road car, that'll be impressive... almost as impressive as the crash I had last night in the Enzo in the super-fast kinks leading down to the first hairpin. I came as close to rolling the car as the physics model allowed me to (perhaps if I upped the damage model to realistic level, the car would have ended up on its back - but I don't know if the crash modelling allows that). I hit the inside kerb of the second kink a little too hard, at something like 215mph, which catapulted me into the air, driving Diamonds Are Forever style on two wheels for about 100 metres, sliding sideways left across the track into the barrier and fencing and coming to a crunching stop before the game reset my car on the middle of the track. If I'd done that in real life, well, let's just say that wouldn't have been a shunt you'd just get up and walk away from... Fun while it lasted, though. Heh.

It just goes to show the difference in car modelling between Forza and PGR2, though. In PGR2, the Enzo is nailed to the floor, super-responsive and has brakes like running full pelt into a brick wall. In Forza, the Enzo is a DOG. The brakes are awful, it turn-in understeers like a bitch and has chronic throttle-oversteer. It's put me off ever dreaming of driving one, let me tell you...
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