Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rush: An Adrenaline Shot In Movie Form

When I heard there was going to be a "Rush" movie in 2013, I nearly pissed myself.  They're making a shitty movie adaptation for San Francisco Rush the game, a la Need for Speed?

Actually, no, this has nothing to do with video games, cause this is "based on a true story."  A really good story about two rival Formula 1 drivers, James Hunt (England) and Niki Lauda (Austria).  And thank you Ron Howard for being an actual petrolhead and not f***ing up this movie like Hollywood usually does (the movie cynic in me enjoys poking holes in things, like this).  88% on Rotten Tomatoes isn't bad!

As you can tell, this was in the 70's when safety was of little concern and musicians actually made decent music.  No seriously, they actually play Gimme Some Lovin' in the first racing scene which proves Ron saw Days of Thunder, or something, so tack on an extra star to the final score!  Rubbin' is racing!!!  Boogity boogity!!!

Here you have the two protagonists, Lauda and Hunt, who are Formula 3 rivals that moved up to Formula 1, and they totally contrast in personality.  James Hunt is a raw talent, a brash driver who loves to party.  He defied F1 driver tradition that a driver must behave and be treated like royalty.  Hunt loved the lady parts, as you can see right away within the first 30 seconds of the movie, Hunt is banging the nurse.  So thank you James for turning this movie into a porno.  He's also bulimic because he throws up before every race.

Mim-bo (noun) - a male bimbo.

On the other hand, Niki Lauda is the MAN.  More reserved, cool, calm, and calculated, he could tune cars like no one's business.  He has a cool-ass name and actually stayed faithful to his wife (at least for a little while).  Niki is what's great about racing.

Pictured: my new man-crush.

So quick rundown of the movie.  Hunt and Lauda are in Formula 3, Hunt wins the championship and later gets a Formula 1 ride with Hesketh, some crappy race team that thought driving a bleached white car with no sponsors is a good idea.  On the other hand, Lauda "cheated," denounced his father's boring-ass businessman lifestyle, took out a big loan, and swooned the Ferrari people by building a superior car that outdid the previous ones by several seconds.  Lauda would then later race a coupe through rural Italy to impress two fanboys and his future wife, proving that he's a baller.  At this point, the HEAT WAS ON between the two gentlemen...

Both sweet whips with that vintage 70's camera tint.  Notice the lack of #hashtags on their names (#twitterblows).

Both drivers took turns having strokes of life-changing bad luck.  Hunt was first.  Hesketh ran out of money and fired Hunt, leaving him to sit at home and watch his wife cheat on his scummy ass.  Hunt would later bang the flight attendant in the restroom to showcase his libido.  Lauda would go on to win his first championship, something that is skimmed over in the film.  The 1976 season is when Hunt gets a ride at McLaren and the two begin their duel.

Season begins in Brazil with some damn hot Carnival babes and quick 10-15 previews of each race of the season.  Lauda would take a commanding lead in the points as Hunt's car would frequently explode.  Hunt goes into Hulk mode and strikes back, winning a few races of his own, making them 1st-2nd in the points.

Later it's the German GP at Nurburgring.  Yes, THE Nurburgring Nordschleife with 154 turns.  And to make things worse, it's raining.  One racer was already hospitalized during practice.  Lauda then holds a driver's meeting and tries to call the race off as too dangerous, Hunt basically calls him a pussy, and the drivers race anyway.  Both Hunt and Lauda opt for wet tires at the start only for the track to dry up quickly and both to go to the pits for dry tires after the first lap.

And here's where Lauda's bad luck strikes.  Obviously way behind from the leader, he pushes the car so hard the suspension breaks on one turn as he goes careening into the wall in a blazing inferno as some other guy wrecks into Lauda's flaming casket.  Lauda suffers paralyzing burns and smoke inhalation while Hunt laughs his ass off as he wins races while Lauda is on the hospital bed.

This wreck seems oddly symbolic to my recent woes that I teared up in the theater.  One morning in May 2013, while racing to work on the wet pavement, I push the car harder than I should in an attempt to make up ground.  Eventually the wet pavement gets the best of me as I slide into a dumpster, smashing it up in the process.  Three days later, I would be fired from my job and sit unemployed for five months as distraught me has to watch my friend and rivals move up the career ladder without me.  My story isn't as bad as Lauda's but the similarities are there!  Fuck wet blacktop parking lots, put up a friggin sign or something.

Eventually, Lauda would go through accelerated therapy, have the junk sucked out of his lungs and the bandaids peeled from his head.  A month passed and Hunt nearly caught up to him in the points.  Lauda gets back out there (a burnt up disfigured mess, no doubt) and after giving the best "fuck you" I've ever heard to an asshole reporter, puts up a solid 4th place at Monza with fans running at his car after the race while Hunt DNF's again.  Which meant one thing...


Final race of the season!  It's at Fuji Speedway--PREPARE TO QUALIFY!!!  Oh, and it's raining.  F1 cars can drive in the rain but in the storm that you see here?  Well...yes they could back in the 70's, when they had big balls and the rides were high enough to make wet racing possible.  After one lap of driving through dense fog, Lauda does the most admirable thing a driver can do--goes to the pits and retires from the race.  It's too dangerous, he said, it's not worth risking your lives over a stupid trophy!  Tell that to Hunt who needs to finish 3rd or better to beat Lauda for the grand prize.  It was a nailbiter for Lauda as all he could do is watch and pray Hunt doesn't win...

Obligatory F1 car in the rain shot.

SHOCKER--Hunt finishes 3rd, wins the championship, and Lauda has no regrets.  It wasn't racing, Lauda said, it was stupid of Hunt to risk his life like that.  After a bunch of TV appearances and booze, drug, and women sessions later, Hunt meets Lauda again, Lauda having taken up the hobby of flying planes.  They tip their hats to each other and the movie ends.  Lauda would go on to win two more championships and live to see the premiere of this movie (which he admired, BTW) while Hunt would go on to be a race announcer and die of a heart attack in 1993.  While Hunt turned out to be a washed-up loser who won his only championship cause his main competition was hospitalized by a near-death experience, Lauda later admitted Hunt was the only driver he was ever jealous of.  Which means a lot from the man, myth, and legend that is NIKI LAUDA.

Great movie, would see again.  Very accurate and gives you a sense of what vintage Formula 1 racing was really like  Only disappointment is that there's too much talking in the first half of the movie (come on, I wanna see some racing), plus there's no final race between Lauda and Hunt to settle the score once and for all.  But a final race would be unrealistic.  Also at no point do they play a Rush song in the movie though that would be cheesy as hell.  So I'll give you some Rush right here.

Oh well, I give this FIVE out of FOUR stars (remember the additional one cause of Gimme Some Lovin').  Just go watch the movie, seriously, right away, race in an F1 car to the theater or Redbox now.

1976, same year Fleetwood Mac would release The Chain, best F1 song ever, no question.  I WANNA GO FAST!!!

I can't tell you how many times I typed "Nikia Lauda" while writing this post, lol.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Vehicular Robbery Five Thoughts (GTA 5 For The Idiots)

Alright man, this is a post about Grand Theft Auto 5.  I'm pretty sure a few of you have played this obscure gem of a game.  I mean it only made $800 million on first day sales (beating out Modern Warfare 3's meager $500 mil) and had more than a thousand people work on it.  But I might as well talk about it, especially since driving is a crucial part of the game which means millions of people are gonna go cruising the streets of San Andreas.  So let's get this rant out of the way now--what I liked and disliked about the game.  Please note I haven't played GTA Online yet.


* It's fun, I really enjoyed it.  They loosened up the handling from GTA4 so you have more control at high speeds.  It reminds me of San Francisco Rush but with normal gravity and you're less likely to spin out.  The cars is very springy and the camera shakes at high speeds which conveys a nice sense of speed.

* The car damage is well done too.  Unlike previous GTAs, simply running into stuff at normal speeds won't cause the car to ignite into a fireball.  Instead, the wheels will get jammed or pop which has a slight impact on handling, plus engine power can drop off rapidly which basically renders the vehicle useless on its own.  The cars seem tougher this time around too.  The visual damage is toned down a bit too so you car doesn't look like a total piece of crap after a wreck or two.  The only thing that irks me is that the car lights go out from even the slightest wreck which means at night, you're driving around in the dark too often.

* Love the car selection in the game--you can see pictures of each here.  Watching my brother play the first time, I watched him jack a Porsche and before the text popped up, I said "that's a Comet" and surely it was.  Jacks a Viper, "that's a Banshee."  Jacks a Lamborghini, "that's an Infernus."  I like how they gave fake names to the car manufacturers--Vapid = Ford, Bravado = Dodge, Declasse = GM, Canis = Jeep, Benefactor = Mercedes, Obey = Audi, Ubermacht = BMW, Pegassi = Lamborghini.  I kinda wish there were more definitive vintage muscle cars in the game (they're all kinda bland IMO) as well as a stock car (the Hotring Racer from previous GTAs) but you can always get a Buffalo (Dodge Charger) and put a stock car spoiler on it.  Which leads to...

* Car tuning!  You can take any standard car to Los Santos Customs and soup it up some.  Change the paint job and rims, add a few body mods, even install some performance parts.  The customization is really shallow though.  Paint jobs are still limited to basic two-tone paint jobs (no generic flames/stripe mods) and with the exception of turbo, lower ride height, and bulletproof tires, there's not much improvement you can make to the cars.  Handling and acceleration receive a boost but if you were expecting Forza or even NFS customization, you will be highly disappointed.  Which leads to another...

* One thing that really irks me about a lot of racers is the lack of a speedometer.  I mean why not?  You're cruising along and you have the GPS, ammo count, and maybe the phone, so this whole "minimal HUD = good" crap is nonsense.  So why not add a MPH/KPH counter somewhere?  It'd make cruising down the highway that much more intimidating.

* And now to the subject of actual racing (or driving really fast).  I harped on this before a while ago--how GTA city racing isn't all that great.  The "racing" is kind of tedious for one reason--it's WAY too easy to hit something and come to a dead stop.  In traditional arcade racing, if you smack into something, at least you'll still have some forward momentum.  But here, obstacles littered near the street like trees, power poles, even seemingly innocent things like metal or wooden signs cause you to immediately die and come to a dead stop.  Literally, I saw my brother drive a big Ford (errr, Vapid) truck through a volleyball net, the truck stopped, and the net was still intact.  What's the deal?  Also, are there any other street races in the game besides this one near Franklin's house?

* The camera angle while driving.  I do like how the camera pitch is close to the ground--gives it a great sense of speed and all that.  But sometimes I wish I was driving with a camera that was higher above the ground so you can see over the traffic and get a better sense of the traffic and racing line.  The primary use for this would be when the car pitch changes (you go up/down a hill).  Sure you can use the joystick to move the camera up but that can get tedious.  I can't tell you how many times I would go over the hills near Michael's house only to hit a SUV that decided to stall in the middle of the road and once I saw it, it was too late.

* Added the ability to rotate the car while airborne.  This can be insanely helpful and it's not overly sensitive like the wings from Rush 2049.  But what annoys me the most is that it only affects the pitch and roll, not the pitch and yaw (pitch = up and downhill, yaw = steer left and right, roll = flip over sideways).  It's a real mindf**k because I keep thinking I can change the yaw while airborne, plus I tend to prematurely hold the steering wheel in the direction I want to turn when I hit the ground to steer away from rolling over.  But rolling in midair just makes things more perplexing for me.

* Why isn't there an instant replay feature in this game?  When you perform a nice stunt or narrow escape--wouldn't it be nice to see it again?  Can't tell you how many times me or my brother did something YouTube-worthy only to say "crap, we'll never ever see that happen again."  Here's an example--thank God this guy was recording at the time!!

* Also seems really easy to die when riding a bike or four-wheeler.  It's hella fun to go cruising off-road on one of these but if you hit a rock or tree and stumble a moderate distance, you can die pretty quickly.  Boo!

* One last thing, it's about saving cars in the garage.  Each character has a default vehicle that even if they lose, it still appears in their driveway (Franklin = Buffalo, Michael = Tailgater, Trevor = Bodhi).  That's great and all, you can mod those vehicles and they keep 'em forever, but if I use another vehicle, sometimes it appears in your driveway or impound lot, sometimes it doesn't.  As Michael, I stole a Tornado (Chevy Belair), modded it, took it to a mission, had to leave the car behind and hop in a stupid van or something.  I return back to where I left the Tornado and it was gone.  Thankfully, I return home and the Tornado is parked in my driveway!  I then take the Tornado to another mission, leave it behind, and return home thinking the Tornado will still be there.  WRONG!  Instead, the Tornado is replaced by the daughter's Weeny Issi (Mini Cooper) convertible and the Tornado was never found again.  I really wish you could designate one or two vehicles as "yours" to permanently respawn at your house but I'm not sure you can do that.  Bummer...

* Radio stations!  Guess this belongs in the driving section.  Here's a list of all the songs in the game with YouTube links.  I wasn't too crazy about these this time around.  I'm still convinced Vice City followed by San Andreas had the best radio stations (70's/80's music FTW).  For me, there were a few gems in GTA5 that I had to add to my music collection, primarily The Trammps's Rubber Band and Foreigner's Dirty White Boy.  But a lot of it was "ehh, whatever."  It's like a bag of trail mix--some good songs I really wanted to listen to, others I had to change the channel.  The one classic rock station had some great stuff--Dirty White BoySaturday Night's Alright for FightingPhotograph, Hollywood Nights, Radio Ga Ga, the rest was soft rock I couldn't bear.  Needs more awesome driving music!  Why no metal stations like V-Rock from Vice City?  Probably my most listened-to stations in terms of "switch to it and not change it every minute" would be Radio Los Santos (rap) and Channel-X (punk), also Vinewood Boulevard Radio (dudebro rock) though that last one gets on my nerves quickly.  FWIW, when I heard Adolescents' Amoeba on the punk station for the very first time, instant Tony Hawk 3 nostalgia came to mind and I pissed myself.

* Overall, GTA 5 is a fun driving game.  But a fun racing game?  No, not really.  Aside from one NFS/Midnite Club-style event and missions that involve keeping up with a fleeing target, there's no real "racing" in this game whatsoever.



* Really nice draw distance.  Unlike previous games that would utilize fog to hide the pop-up, here you can see nearly forever.  Stand on Mount Chiliad's summit and see what I mean.  Great work for aging hardware in the twilight stage of its life.

* Shooting!  Okay, the auto-aiming is really nice since you can pop targets one at a time--it's really cheap at times, I admit.  But the problem happens when you fall out of auto-aim, you have to put the gun down, look at the guy, then put it up again just to lock on to the person.  This is tedious as hell when trying to kill people at close-quarters since you have to pivot the camera directly at him--try rotating 90-degrees only to die.  Manual aim is a bit difficult to get used to.  Games like Call of Duty have looking down sights and aim assist to lower sensitivity when aiming at people, though GTA doesn't seem to have that so it's hard to get a precise shot on anything.  Overall, if I wanted to shoot people, I'd rather play Call of Duty because in GTA, shooting people is either too easy or too hard.

* Characters!  The three characters are pretty cool.  Franklin has no backstory other than "he's a hustla trying to make it big" but I'm cool with that.  He seems really "nice" for a GTA protagonist and has the hood lingo to boot and that's fine with me ("shit I always tryin to make some paper doo").  Michael is basically Tommy Vercetti as a family man, again kind of a cool guy with a nice pair of man boobs, plus he has a deep backstory that propels the game forward.  As for, he seems like the quintessential GTA protagonist.  The dude is hilarious.  He does say and do some things you'll find detestable but this is the kind of guy I can see winning a GameFAQs character contest round.  So props to Trevor and his big balls.

* Cops are too aggressive with the stars.  If you steal a car or blow something up, sometimes you'll get one star and get away easily because cops will take a while to get over to your location.  Otherwise, they just have a vendetta against you, being the protagonist of one of the most vile, disgusting games in recent history.  Shoot a pedestrian or gangster dead, get one star.  Bump into a police car, get two stars.  Gimme a break.

* Why is GTA 5's rendition of San Andreas on a big island out in the middle of the ocean?  This was also in GTA way back to 3, possibly earlier than that.  Saints Row could get away with their city being on a continent--here, being stranded on a large island just seems kinda pathetic, really.

* I beat the whole game and the missions were fair with a nice variety.  I don't feel like replaying them, particularly because of the funny shooting segments, but if you're a sucker for movie-based games that hold your hand with liberal use of checkpoints, well here you go, enjoy it.  MILD SPOILERS: The three multiple endings kinda sucked though, only one is the true rewarding ending with some badass missions to finish it off.  The other two are tacked on and don't really tie up anything other than to satisfy some vendetta against one of the other playable characters.  So you know which ending to pick, the one where everyone is happy and all the punk-ass bitches that harassed you the whole game die. :)

* I finally reached 70,000 Gamerscore cause of this game.  And yet I don't plan on getting the Xbox One so I guess my score ends there.  Playing through all these outdated sports games for the cheap achievements will definitely be worth it when I'm 90 years old.

* On the mission where Trevor works on the dock, you can crush this guy here with a crate and the mission still continues just fine.  I've done it on every playthrough, it's great.  I cried laughing over it, man I'm pathetic. :D

* This is the best cutscene glitch video I've seen and I happened to record it.  I only regret that I recorded the very end of it (couldn't find my phone soon enough).  If you get cops tailing you when you begin a cutscene, they will invade the scene and shoot you while it's playing.

Oh my gosh...I've said way too much about this game.  There's a few more things but I want to call it quits now.  Overall, great game despite my nitpicks but I didn't get the "wow, this game is awesome" vibe like I did playing Vice City or San Andreas (the PS2 one) for the first time.  Must be due to my age--I'm too cynical to enjoy games fully anymore--old games are always better than new ones.  Okay, good night everyone.

REVIEW SCORE: A crappy not-well-thought-out 8 out of 10

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Things Are Looking Up For 90's Arcade Racer/Arcade Games

A recent update from the guys over at The 90's Arcade Racer.

At this point some of you may feel like we’ve been working on ‘90s Arcade Racer since the ‘90s. That’s not entirely true, while Antonis and I were indeed playing Scud Race (Super GT in the US) and Daytona USA some 20 years--that was just preparation for the game we’re developing now.

Here’s what’s been happening the last couple of months with ‘90s Arcade Racer.

Physics, physics and more physics!

In the 100+ hours I’ve spent on racetracks combined with the thousands of hours logged playing racing video games, there’s something that feels quite counterintuitive to the genre. You would think super realistic racing games would have super accurate and lifelike physics -- but that doesn't necessarily always make a better product. To really give the sensation of speed, gravity, lateral gravity, as a designer you end up removing many functions that make a vehicle simulation “real”, in the theoretical sense. A driving simulator, more often than not feels like a floaty, unresponsive boat. Part of that is because you can’t feel yourself slinking around a bucket seat, you don’t have the sensation of a vehicle’s weight shift between the four corners; there’s an entirely missing dimension in racing games.

Antonis and I are going for a fun and arcade racing feel, we’ve said that from the start. Those two descriptors are equally important to the project. Getting to the balance of an arcade feel while offering a challenging experience and still giving the car some complex real-world behaviors is where our own challenge begins.

Once you start playing a racing game, especially an arcade-style one, terminology like camber, caster, differentials, toe, torque and drivetrain are quickly forgotten. Initially I spent a lot of time trying to get an arcade feel out of a real vehicle simulation. After extensive experimentation what Antonis and I found was that it just wasn’t working.

In this case it’s much easier to build something from zero and create an experience that perfectly recreates the perception and expectation we all have of a typical arcade racer. Version 2.0 of ‘90s Arcade Racer physics is built within the expressed intention of creating a real arcade racing game. What that means is that the game is really feeling like should. The car reacts in a way that is indicative of an arcade racer, it moves and accelerates properly and now we have a really fun grip and drift mechanic within the game. Although it’s been challenging having to build physics from nothing, this has allowed us to really build the vehicles exactly how we want and how they should feel.

I’m pretty confident that we’re very much in the right direction with the physics and you’ll probably agree once you have an opportunity to play it. Antonis, has been doing great work on creating the world of ‘90s Arcade Racer. But I’ll let him do that update.

Recently, I was concerned about the progress that was made towards the car handling in the game.  I even sent them a note beforehand asking "are you going to post a new video of the car handling?  what's it going to be like?" to which they replied "we're working on it."  I get a good vibe from this recent post--that their heart's in the right place and they aren't going to half-ass the most important part of a racing game.  Visuals are great and all but if I putter around in a car that feels like something spawned from a Unity tutorial, then the whole thing is for naught!

I bolded part of the post above because it's really damn important.  I talked about it before--sense of speed in racing games.  Sense of speed is almost incompatible with realism.  As long as you're in your living room sitting on a couch, you're not going to get a sense of speed by looking at realistic car physics on screen--the "floaty, unresponsive boat" feeling--unless you're willing to break some rules and go unrealistic in some aspects (i.e. excessive vibration of the suspension at high speeds).  I'm glad they recognize this golden rule!

You know, I've programmed vehicle handling over different mediums--Unity, Unreal, and stupid OpenGL car sprites.  With Unity and Unreal, you make these "wheel colliders" that you attach to the vehicle and do all the nitty gritty physics work for you--you set the torque, braking, suspension, skidpad, etc. and let the "realistic" car handling take over.  Yet I don't think it's possible to recreate a Daytona, Scud Race, or OutRun using built-in tire physics--the power comes from the entire car itself, not the four wheels.  Since these are 15-20 year old games, I doubt they were so advanced as to use realistic tire physics anyway.

If you're confused, imagine the car is pushed forward by one big invisible wheel instead of four tiny visible wheels.  By not using wheel physics, you're simplifying the vehicle handling but it allows you to precisely program the car handling the way you want, hence giving the car some predictable effects--like being able to slide at a fixed angle or accelerate/steer normally with your tires shredded up from a wreck.   In other words, you look at the handling of a 2D game like Super Sprint that technically doesn't "recognize" wheel torque and whatnot--it's just a block sliding on the screen--nowhere in the code does it mention "suspension" or other real-life handling terms.  The tire effects are dictated by the car, not the other way around, so when the tires kick up smoke and whatnot, the tires aren't really doing "anything," it's just for show.

I really want to see how they pull it off code-wise because I'm a nerd like that, heh.  If Super Sprint has taught me anything, it's that car handling takes a LOT of iteration to get it right--you can't just skimp on it.  Sadly, me passing on realistic car handling is why I'm often confused by real-life tuning like in GT and Forza.  Oh well, it's a fair trade--would rather make fun racing games than realistic ones! :)

There's still more to do.  They really need to implement manual transmission into the game (which I don't doubt they will), plus get some great audio too.  I want to hear roaring engines and a kickass soundtrack.  Good luck trying to do so without Takenobu Mitsuyoshi or Dennis St. James.  If in doubt, then just emulate AC/DC since that's not bad at all. :)

Just an aside while we're on the topic of realistic vs. non-realstic games.  I stumbled upon a very interesting Grand Theft Auto 5 GameFAQs topic and read a very intriguing post.  Yes, something good that came out of GameFAQs, it's a miracle.  But here's a post from NeonYoshi11:

Just played san andreas 3 months ago.

It looks like crap.

any game going for "realism" will eventually looks like crap.

This is why Art Style matters more than realism.

This is why Wind Waker still looks better than most games today, even the GC version.

IF you look closely, to disguise the old tech in the PS3/Xbox360 they use art that resembles realistm mixed with cel shading.

So it's got a bit of Street Fighter 4 in it, but in a realistic way, this allows them to improve "graphics" while not taking away performance of the game.

That's dead on.  Realism is basically an always-moving bullseye.  Even if you hit it, the bullseye keeps moving without you.  It's why a lot of games which sell off realistic graphics (Forza, Madden, etc.) often go through numerous iterations and why games like Daytona USA and OutRun 2, while super-old, still stand out and look fun to play.  Sadly, I wonder if the gaming gods get the memo since they're fine and dandy with destroying console backwards compatibility and DRMs that shred old games.  Just make sure to give your game differentiators so that your game won't become GameStop used game filler ten years down the road.  Antonis and The 90's Arcade Racer have a firm understanding of this!  Okay, you get the idea, I'm done for now.