Dirt Rally and racing simulator mechanics

So I would like to dive into the racing video game world again as it is my favorite genre and the only type of game I can play for hours without even a thought as to why. While the mechanics of the games usually are pretty simple and straight forward what I really want to analyze is the matter of it being a “compelling experience” because comparatively to racing real cars there are some important feelings that are missing from the games to truly consider them a simulation, mainly the g-forces felt as a driver.

Dirt Rally will be my basis of evaluation, there have been a few different types of driving games coming out recently. Some games are going down the route of having open worlds like GTA but letting you customize your cars and giving you improved over such games like GTA where its more about the car and the adventures you can have in them, games like Beam.NG and Forza Horizon, then there are racing games with tracks that have boundaries of which you must stay within to complete the race. These games usually have an area where the car can go the fastest it can and areas where it will be slowed down if you say try to cheat or cut a turn, usually a grassy area or trees in the way. Dirt Rally falls into the second category as you drive on dirt roads that are surrounded with trees, rocks, water, barriers, and people. All these things you don’t want to hit and keep you on track as you want to get the fastest time.

Top: Dirt Rally follows a predetermined path with hard boundaries. Bottom: Forza Horizon 3 does not have any boundaries within its limits so the driver is free to roam.

Another factor that plays into the performance of how well you do in the game is your car and its performance, there are two real factors into how fast you can go on a stage. Grip and Power are the only factors that effect your driving. Grip refers to the amount of traction your wheels have with the ground surface of the game which can vary from dirt, asphalt, snow, ice, gravel, and sand. All of which have different characteristics and effect the cars in different ways and require different driving styles to master. Ice requires a more sideways approach to cornering, whereas asphalt requires no sliding and staying as straight as you can to go faster. All conditions do interesting things to the car which end up looking like this

Ok so yeah you still end up being pretty sideways despite the various road surfaces. But that what real rally racing is like mostly because of how tight the courses are and the power these cars make which is my next point. Most rally cars today are limited to 300ish horse power which really isn’t a lot but their torque numbers are not limited and they end up being around 500-600 Ft-Lbs, to put that in perspective a Ford Mustang V8 makes about 400 Ft-Lbs, so it’s a lot. This high number breaks the tires loose really easy and makes it a challenge to find grip, but it also makes the car accelerate faster so you can get to the finish line faster. Tradeoffs are the real name of the game, sometimes the slower cars are faster just because they are able to handle better.


A 2WD Ford Escort Mk2 can be faster then its 4WD competitors because it is small and nimble with lots of traction.

Dirt Rally has your basic control layout for a racing game, with a throttle, brake, a clutch, steering, shifting, handbrake, and looking back. Despite the platform and different games with different physics any games that considers itself a simulation will have these controls. Nothing new at all because well you can’t really reinvent the wheel (In this case a steering wheel) but what you can do is take how you input those functions into the game.

For me while I have transitioned over to Pc through the years I have stuck to using a Xbox controller for playing racing games, mostly because using arrow keys to drive is almost an insult to anyone who considers them self a racing fan. Throttles are never just wide open or closed (Key pressed or un-pressed), and steering is never full right and full left especially in half a second it takes to press the button. A game pad fives you some more fine control over these options but really what any real racing fan will convert to is a steering wheel with force feedback. Gamers claim this gives them a realistic racing experience as if they too were in the car and not just playing a game. Some gamers have even gone an extra step and added racing seats to make it feel more realistic.

Driving simulators with pneumatic pistons to help create g-forces on the driver are coveted by gamers but also extremely expensive.

Problem with these simple wheel setups is they can only simulate one aspect of racing (the feedback from the wheel) the real simulation would need to come from the g-forces created from acceleration, deceleration, and cornering. Some people have created simulators to recreate this effect with some success. But they barely scratch the surface of what its like to really be in a car. Although many would claim these games accurately depict real racing and as long as it feels realistic to some then there must be some merit there to the games mechanics.

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