July 20, 2012 4:30 PM | John Polson
[Driving Discussion is a week-long feature aimed at examining unique racing and driving indie games and the developers who are pushing the genre forward.]
Not all indie driving games are created abstractly. Ashley McConnell's free-to-play Online Racing Championship (ORC) aims to improve realistic racing with advances in physics, networking, graphics, and ranking. McConnell posits that ORC can stand on its own as a free-to-play title without any programmed AI, too.
Despite another generation of AAA games aiming towards realism, McConnell believes there's still work to do. McConnell thinks driving games can add more of a social aspect, something FPS games, in his opinion, do very well.
He also shares that peripherals such as wheel controllers with force feedback can be improved, having experienced an in-development wheel with "incredibly fast response time and strength."
What's your game dev background?
I have been playing about with game development for about 12-13 years, I previously had a project called "Sirocco Racing", which eventually morphed into ORC. Initially it was just a fun hobby project, but 4 years ago I decided I would give it a go for a few years full time.
And your racing game background?
In terms of sim racing / racing games I've been playing them for a very long time. I played "chequered flag" when I got my Spectrum 27 years ago, I've played a fair percentage of racing games since then, but my favourites have been Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix Series, Papyrus Indycar and Grand Prix Legends, rFactor and Live for Speed.
If you had to pick one, what game inspired you most from your youth?
Grand Prix Legends really was a huge inspiration. The physics were outstanding at the time, the networking worked fantastically even with a 33.6 modem and the atmosphere was amazing. Definitely a game I fell in love with.
How did you land your Formula 1 Team partnership?
It was through a friend of mine who made the physics engine for ORC. To be clear, it was his physics engine that was tested by the F1 engineers and they were very happy with it. Unfortunately they went bust a few months later and had to withdraw from the F1 championship. It was a shame for them and for us, but it allowed us to develop ORC as a game rather than a motorsport tool, although there are a lot of similarities.
Does this team have any creative control over your title?
Nope, I am indie as a big indie thing. ;)
Do you think innovation is needed in peripherals to improve the racing experience? How so?
It's something I've very interested in. I didn't really think that force feedback wheels needed a huge amount of improvement over my [Logitech] G25 until I visited a friend in Holland recently. He let me have a go on an in-development wheel that has an incredibly fast response time and strength. The difference in the driving experience was incredible, the ability to drift the car and catch spins made the driving experience so much better.
Any suggestions for tools for devs to begin creating the aesthetics of cars? Tracks?
I don't really have a lot of modelling experience, I have had a number of 3D artists that have helped me in that area. I have used Ogremax along with its ability to tag scene objects with user data to get data from 3ds Max into Ogremax. It allows my artist to tag special objects, e.g. the tyres or the steering wheel, for use in the game.
Might you suggest tools for creating the physics of driving? Racing AI?
My physics engine is a custom vehicle engine written by a friend (Dr. Gregor Veble). He takes care of all the hard Maths :). ORC currently doesn't have AI as I think it's viable these days to have an online-only game, but I may in the future try to add it. For any devs looking at racing AI, the TORCS project might provide some ideas.
Do you feel most major racing game releases this generation have been a push for realism?
I have mainly been a PC gamer, so I don't know a great deal about PS3/Xbox racers. I do have PS3 and GT5, but I haven't had much time to play it. I've been mostly been working on ORC or having fun with my 16 month old son :). I do think GT5 is a really decent simulation (when driven with a decent wheel), although there seems to be an obsession between GT and Forza to have a HUGE selection of cars. To be honest, this isn't what interests me about racing sims. I would rather have a small number of cars and tracks but have full servers of tightly matched cars and drivers racing inches apart.
What is left to simulate? Where can developers innovate in the areas of simulation?
Gregor's physics engine has innovated past state of the art, namely that all car components (wheels, uprights, engine, driveshafts) are modelled as individual coupled rigid bodies, each with own mass and inertia tensor, something you can only find in professional simulation tools such as ADAMS. He has also included heat transfer between wheels / tires / brakes, which as far as I'm aware isn't included in other simulations. Hopefully these features when combined together will lead to a fuller experience for the sim racers.
For us, future innovation is in tire models, right now we use a brush-string type of model that captures most of the essential tire physics, and this can be improved upon by further refinement of the tire structure and rubber grip modelling, however, the real issue is getting reliable experimental tyre data to fit the models to, so this is something to strive for.
I do think there is some space for innovation around damage and better AI. I think Rigs of Rods have made great advances in car damage, it'll be interesting to see what they come up with!
Where can devs innovate outside of realistic driving/racing?
Where we are hoping to innovate is to give the driver more of a social experience, where they will be able to have a group of friends that you can compare achievements and lap-times / wins and other stats. I think this is something that the bigger FPS games do well (my weapon of choice is MW3), achievements and interesting stats gives you a sense of progression and bragging rights with your friends, I think it adds to the fun. I think that a realistic "serious" racing simulator can also be *shock* fun!