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Posted: Sep 24, 2002 @ 02:39 pm GMT-0600
Updated: Feb 16, 2023 @ 03:03 pm GMT-0600
Sorting Tags: Article Interview, Article Software, Articles, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, News – Papyrus Racing Games,

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Photo-realistic courses, the top drivers and true-to-life AI are just a few of the reasons that the latest edition of NASCAR Racing promises to be one of the best yet.

NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, from Papyrus and Sierra, looks to be the kind of simulation that racing fans of all ages and abilities will be chomping at the bit to try.

Consider the array of features that game will have when it hits the checkered flag en route to retailers. Up to 43 players will be able to race simultaneously over a LAN or the Internet; enhanced AI makes sure that the pro drivers don’t make rookie mistakes; real hits mean real damage; and the racing experience ­ the actual handling of the race car — has been improved for one of the most realistic experiences available in PC gaming.

Of course, all of the hallmark features that have made NASCAR Racing one of the top titles in the genre are still intact.

Rich Yasi, the director of design and production at Papyrus, talked with GameZone about this title.

Question: Driving games have advanced immensely during the past several years. What do you think is more important, adherence to the physical dynamics of racing or great graphics?

Rich: “I think it depends on the kind of game that you’re making. If you’re doing something like Mario Kart or a typical console ‘action racing’ game, then the graphics would come first, but if you’re making a ‘sim,’ especially for the PC, the physics model has to come first — no question. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always important to have solid graphics and sound, but the fact of the matter is that if you’re passing your game off as a sim, it’s got to FEEL right first. Then you can go ahead and add the eye and ear candy.”

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of recreating the feel of driving within the game? Without revealing too many secrets about your program, can you give us an idea of what it takes to make this part of the game feel so real?

Rich: “Well, of course the most vital feedback that a real driver receives comes in the form of G forces, and that’s something that really can’t be simulated, at least at the home PC or console level. So the question then becomes: ‘If we can’t give players that real-world seat of the pants feedback that is so important, how CAN we provide enough information to give a proper sense of control?’

“The approach we’ve used has been for us to get our hands on as much technical information as possible, plug it into our physics engine, and tweak it until we get it right. We talk to the NASCAR drivers and mechanics and have them evaluate where we are, and we try to get our hands on as much data as we possibly can. Keep in mind that as you start to model more and more things, you start to really eat up CPU time, so at some point it becomes a question of just how much time you’re willing to give to the physics versus the other elements in the game. Historically speaking, I think we’ve been willing to devote much more of our CPU to the physics than anyone else, and that has certainly helped differentiate us from our competition.”

Q: Explain how you bring the tracks to life? Tell us a little about the fantasy course featured in the game? Who came up with the latter and why a 36-degree banked turn?

Rich: “Our artists are really incredible. First, of course, they get all of the blueprints, videotapes, and photographs they can get their hands on. Next, they usually send at least a couple of people to visit each track and take photos, video and measurements. We take a lot of pride in our tracks, and when it comes to authenticity we do whatever it takes to get the job done right.

“Coca-Cola Superspeedway is the fantasy track you’re talking about, and I’m proud to say that it was my brainchild. The story behind it is pretty simple; it was built to answer the question, ‘How fast could these modern stock cars really go if they went to a giant superspeedway and took those restrictor plates off?’

“I also wanted to build the track so that almost anyone could go around it flat-out with fresh tires, but only a skilled driver would be able to do so with worn tires. So, we basically kept raising and lowering the banking until we reached that sweet spot, and it wound up being 36 degrees.”

Q: How do you go about bringing the driving abilities of the top NASCAR performers like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Bobby Labonte and so many others to life in the game?

Rich: “Well, each of our AI cars has a number of different personality parameters that we can set to simulate a real-world driver. If a driver tends to be more or less aggressive in the real world, we tweak his ‘Aggression’ rating to match. If he’s tough on his equipment, we turn down his ‘Reliability’ rating, and so on. A driver with a Yates engine would get a bit of a boost in the ‘Engine’ category, et cetera. Naturally, we’re not able to model everything, but we’ve got the big stuff covered.”

Q: What do you think will initially blow game players away when they launch this program?

Rich: “It’s hard to say, because we’re giving the whole product a real overhaul. Graphics, sound, physics, and AI are all getting a lot of attention. If I had to pick one thing, though, it would have to be our new bumpy track surfaces. For the first time, we’ve modeled the actual bumps on the racetrack, and it really changes the driving experience for the better. Daytona, for example, is a pretty bumpy place, and going over its tunnel side-by-side with another car can be a real adventure! People are going to love it.”

Q: How do you manage to get 43 players simultaneously involved in a race? Will players with slower modems be penalized during a multiplayer event?

Rich: “Papyrus has been working hard on multiplayer racing technology since the days of the original NASCAR Racing game back in 1994, and now our code is robust enough to support a full field of 43 players over a LAN or over a very fast, stable Internet connection. Just like any other game, the quality of the Internet connection will dictate the quality of the experience. The best programming in the world can’t compensate for horrible service from some flaky dial-up ISP. That being said though, there are plenty of satisfied dial-up users racing our game on, 24 hours a day.”

Q: Sound is such an important part of the NASCAR experience, simply because of the sheer volume of those incredible engines ripping through the RPMs. How did you realize that aspect of the event within the confines of this game?

Rich: “Modeling the sound of a racing engine is very difficult, because its tonal characteristics change throughout the rev range. It’s not a simple matter of getting an engine sample at a particular RPM and then pitch-shifting it. You want to have that ‘grunt’ at the low end and that distinctive wail at the high end, and you just can’t get both with a single sample. So, what we’ve done is take several samples (one at idle and several others throughout the rev range) and devised a system of blending them together as the engine goes through its rev range, and the results are pretty spectacular.”

Q: Where do you think the racing genre is heading?

Rich: “I think that games that feature ‘just racing’ aren’t enough for a lot of people in this era of gnat-like attention spans, and that’s particularly true when it comes to the console crowd. That’s why I think that you’re going to see more and more games like Driver and Grand Theft Auto — where driving and racing is a part of the game, but not the whole experience.

“That’s why I think that as time goes on you’re going to see fewer and fewer ‘pure’ racing titles; and as someone who would be quite happy spending the rest of his days working on sequels to Grand Prix Legends, I think that’s a shame, but the bottom line is that you need to be willing to change with the market or else you’re done. It takes an enormous amount of money to make a game these days, and quite understandably game publishers want to make games that appeal to the broadest part of the market so that they can maximize the return on their investment.

“So although I don’t necessarily see a bright future in terms of where the ‘racing sim’ market is headed, I think the sky’s the limit as far as the mainstream ‘racing game’ area goes. I think that Grand Theft Auto 3 is one of the best games ever made, and I also enjoyed the Driver games quite a bit. There is certainly no lack of creativity in the genre these days and I don’t see it growing stagnant any time soon.”

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