So I’m big into games, always have been, and I spent many hours with the original Gran Turismo on the PlayStation. That’s the game that really started it all for me, the first game that had great car physics and a variety of production cars to choose from and customize. Ever since GT things have just gotten better and better for gamers who love racing.
The latest and greatest in my opinion is Forza Motorsport 4 on Xbox 360. It really excels in vehicle dynamics simulation, attention to detail in everything from the cars themselves, cockpits, tracks, and customizations. There are plenty of game review sites covering the game itself and why it’s so amazing so I won’t rehash those aspects here. What I do want to talk about is how this applies to racing (great writeup here) and can aid in driver skill development.
Although there is no substitute for what racers call “seat time”, time spent sitting in the seat of a car on a real track, there is something to be said for simulation. Pilots use simulators for training as does the military and as computing power and capability increases we’re only going to see more of this in different fields. For sports like auto racing this is particularly helpful as track time and attending events is not cheap. Firing up your Xbox for a quick game on the other hand is a great supplement (not alternative) to real life racing.
In particular, the game has a good level of customization with regards to settings to aid in your driving skill practice. To get away from the more arcade feel of the game be sure to turn off all assists (except maybe ABS brakes initially) and you can start to really get a feel for how different cars behave at speed. You’ll start to notice you can’t just throw the car around or brake at the last minute and expect to make a turn. Just like in real driving you’ll want to practice you look ahead skills and smoothness with the controller. Start by doing hot laps on a track you know well until you feel comfortable with the car and how it handles. Also, to start, pick a lower horsepower car and try to make it go fast. Just like in real life, you’ll learn alot more about carrying speed through the corners from your technique rather than from the car’s ability to accelerate fast.
I’ve been having a blast with this setup and after completing the career mode I’ve been focused on online multiplayer circuit racing. This can be a mixed bag depending on who you’re racing. Sometimes you’ll have a very clean race with drivers who treat it like a simulation rather than an arcade game and this is when it’s really fun.
I’ve recently joined a weekly series with guys from the Grassroots Motorsports website forums. They’ve organized an SCCA B-Spec series that’s been a blast so far. The B-Spec series is a real life series with cars like the Honda Fit and Mazda 2 (that’s a picture of my in-game Mazda 2 spec car at the top). It was created as an affordable entry into road racing competition. Mirroring this in the game was a great idea as there is a specific customization setup for each type of car that makes the races very competitive and alot of fun.
So if you’re looking for another way to practice driving I’d definitely recommend Forza 4. Setting up the difficulty towards simulation really opens up another aspect of the game, one that can help you in real life.