Oktober 31st, 2008

just to raise my attention to gtr evolution, i’ve started to test different cars on the Nordschleife. in combination with performance tweaking, i’ve spent about 2 hours with different practise sessions and one race. the caterhams are really brutal biests and especially the helmet view is a nice idea. on one side, this view is a really nice feature if you have a head tracking system, on the other side, it’s not really recommended if you’re not owning such a system. to handle the strongest caterham within a field of 24 other cars is almost impossible if you can’t turn your head and even to have a look on the gauges is very limited.
after having a look into the manual i’ve got an understanding of the performance manager. so i’ve started to switch thru the different presets just to check the recommendation by the performance manager. i’m not sure if it is related to the change of the settings itself or whatsoever, but at the end, the performance manager recommended to set the visual settings to max. this was unusable the days before and a quick practise session was showing a kind of fluid game experience. to stay on the safe side, i’ve kept the settings to high and started a race with the spyker and a field of the related group. since i wasn’t really in the mood to put every nerv into the race, i decided to keep the opponent strength at 90% and skipped the qualify. the preset setup for the car and this track is not bad, pretty good balanced and enough performance to handle an ai strength up to 100% or even more. the next nice feature i was interested in was the pitstop profile. this is indeed something i was begging for since GTR and GTR2 and this would be definitely a ‚blown away‘ feature for endurance races. everything can be predefined, fuel, repairs, tires. it is possible to store multiple profiles, so no problems if the weather starts to change or if you are going to change your strategy. especially with this feature, the absence of endurance races is really not logical. anyway, back to the race. my main interest was to see how the ai will perform on this track and if there are major flaws regarding best line, breakpoints and so on. the overall performance is not bad, the ai is doing most of the time a good job. what’s still a problem is this radical approach to put the own car on the best line without paying too much attention if there is another car or not. after the flying start, the field headed for the first corner, scratching and pushing, just to leave a ton of small parts on the start-finish line. after a few bends, the field started to stay in rope of pearls. i was just following the pack until my tires and brakes started to develop some grip. getting more familiar with the car, i’ve started to push a little bit to stay in touch with the pack. and what a surprise, the ai behaves like in former Nordschleife conversions for GTR/GTR2. there are some strong areas, where it is really hard to follow and there are some areas where it is really easy to collect some seconds without any sweat. the ai is significant slower at Flugplatz, Adenauer Forst, Angstkurve, Kleiner Karussel and Schwalbenschwanz. the pack performs very well between Hatzenbach and Hocheichen and the section around Pflanzgarten. on the long Döttinger Höhe, the opponents tend to drive from the left to the right without any respect to other cars. the mentioned behavior is very predictable, so if there is no chance to pass a certain car due to different power or setups, just follow until you have reached the listed section, keep the pedal to the medal and pass. this is very disappointing because every car behaves like this, so it is not related to model, class or whatsoever. using this experience for a conclusion, i haven’t found any major differences to former GTR titles at all.

review – gtr reloaded part2

Oktober 29th, 2008

as promised, i’ve spent some more time with the latest release of the GTR series. my main focus was getting an impression about the realism, the overall performance and to have a look at the different features of the game. i won’t say it was a disappointing evening but to say the game is great would be too biased as well.

steering wheel:
no racing sim without steering wheel. since i wasn’t able to upgrade my current wheel i’ve had do go for the old logitech momo force racing wheel. this one is known as a little bit itchy to set up but compared to the G25 i really like the fat grip feeling which is much closer to my Raid i’m using for my real life roadster. anyway, the new option to create different control profiles is a real addition to the game. even if you’re not going to change your control device very frequent, the option to keep all your settings when you start the game without the wheel attached is really comfortable and depending on car, event or track, you can create different mappings as well, e.g for some cars, there is no multi screen motec display, so no need to waste a button for this option, so this button can be used for headlights if you’re going to race at night.
the momo started to rattle as usual, so the option to reduce engine vibration without editing a config file is very nice and balances the lack of preset for different wheels like in former titles. the feedback is not really different to older GTR games but this is quite hard to judge since it’s not the same car. the overall feeling is as usual, the feedback is strong and detailed and can be adjusted to personal needs very easy. maybe it’s based on my experience or the physics is a little bit less demanding compared to former titles, i found driving on the limit or with a more rough attempt is easier but i won’t bet something on this feeling until i’ve got a car which i’m used to drive. unfortunately, Barcelona is not included anymore and the Nordschleife layout is different to other versions, so i’m not able to compare lap times right now.

i went for some tests of this so called performance manager function. due to the quite simple graphics of GTR i thought it should possible to run at high or max settings. the performance manager works only for the preset settings like low, med, high, max so there is no chance to leave the balancing to the game while prefering some certain settings. for this, you have to finetune your settings like in the older versions. my main focus is the nordschleife with a field of cars which should be as big as possible. setting the preset to high, starting a race of 25 cars (which seems to be the maximum?!?!) and jumping to the practise session was done in a few minutes. i’ve had the windows task manager in background and i’ve started the nvidia system monitor to track the temperatures of the two cpu cores and the graphics card. the major surprise happens as i’ve hit the pitlane. the game was stuttering with lots of sound glitches and drops. i thought this may disappear after spending some minutes on the track but that’s not the case. on my 3.6 ghz E8500 with nvidia 8800gt card these setup is completly undriveable. the frame rate is very low and the prefered frame rate of 55-65 is not achievable. i have no idea what the performance manager tries to do but the difference between just selecting a preset with or without performance manager is minor. the only visible effect was the quality of the rear view mirrors and the impact is that ugly that no one really wants to go for that. to figure out if this is related to graphics, i’ve started a test session without any ai drivers and the performance was kind of fluid if not close to perfect. jumping back to the task manager and the nvidia system monitor was showing that just one core is utilized and the graphics card is not really pushed to it’s max performance. to proof this, i’ve started a race on a different track, Brno, and as expected, the performance is quite similar to Nordschleife. The more cars you add the worse the performance. even if i understand that the complexity of simulation can’t be compared to titles like GRID but taking into account that the visual appearance is much better in most of the current titles it is really hard to understand that this game is showing such a huge weakness on a system like mine. it seems like i have to spend more time on this issue.

my first comment about the bumbness of the track must be corrected. the track is really very detailed in terms of road conditions and curbs. especially with a stiff setup, the car tends to bounce and swing a lot which is especially at high speed a very demanding thing. leaving alone the graphics, in terms of layout, tarmac, curbs and bumps, i would tend to say that’s the best Nordschleife for GTR so far. from a visual perspective, there are better versions (3rd party) but taking into account the life track feature, i thing this track is worth buying the game. the different sound environments depending on which section you’re driving are nice but they require some sound tweaking because the car is too loud to get any notice of audience or pit sounds.

the huge amount of cars are interesting if you are keen on driving different classes or cups. the mini challenge is nice but is lacking the Salzburgring which may was not on the list for 2007. the feeling of the front wheel driven cars is really different to the rwd cars and this is offering a broad spectrum of challenges. the biggest disadvance is the lack of 24 hour races or endurance races. this eliminates the races at night as well. from a pure gt racing perspective, GTR2 offers the best package so far, especially if you keep in mind the huge amount of 3rd party tracks, cups and cars. the graphics are not really different and in terms of performance, there is no difference neither. if you are keen on driving a wide range of different cars on an uptodate Nordschleife or if you are a hardcore mini fan, then this package is indeed interesting and worth the money. but please keep in mind, this review is heavily biased because i’m just looking for gt class endurance races or custom elise cups, so the mix of tracks and the lack of races longer than 4 hours and the limited field size is disappointing but no one can expect that Simbin is going to produce gt sims only. i just wish for one which will address most of the issues GTR2 is showing 😉

review – GTR reloaded

Oktober 27th, 2008

long time without any updates here. i’m sorry for the absence but i wasn’t able to spend that much time over the summer.

but, i haven’t missed the release of GTR reloaded (or GTR evolution) and after getting my copy at the local game shop i was really keen on putting this piece on my pc. the most interesting thing is the official nordschleife and how the game perform compared to the former 3rd party nordschleife versions for GTR2. so here is a 2-hour review, a kind of first impression.

well, nothing really exciding here. after starting the setup you’ll get the choice of installing an offline or online version. since i have never spent that much time online i went for the offline version, just to avoid to get ’steam‘-ed. i do not understand the concept of having two versions. after waiting for the copy process of about 3.2 gig onto the harddisc without any spectacular screens or whatsoever, the installation ends with the common questions about opening related information and the placement of icons all over if not deselected. the well known configurator tool let’s you choose a few settings with the ’since GTR1′ non telling antialiasing settings level1 to levelx.

the start of the game takes unusually long and i assume this time is needed to load those fancy looking intro videos. as a frequent player i’m always anoyed by this but i have seen some nointro mods around the net. the intro videos are not bad at all but they don’t reach the race feeling of the GTR2 intro. overall, a lot of work for something which will be skipped by most of the people out there.
the look and feel of the main screen is quite clean and well structured but different to GTR or GTR2. it requires some minutes to check where is what and the approach is not really straight forward in my oppinion.

the setup of the game is similar to former titels but with a new structure. the often communicated as confusing menues are kind of shuffled and still not telling. with former experience, it is not that hard to set up the game but for newbies it will take some tests to find the right setup. the first major disappointment is the lack of surround sound. this is something i can’t understand since the release of GTR. a new feature is the so called ‚performance manager‘. this function tries to balance the settings so that the system is able to provide a certain, user selected, frame rate. unfortunately, the old control f function to show the frame rate in-game is no longer working and fraps isn’t able to show the frame rate neither. not sure if this is related to MS Vista but i will try to get whatever kind of framerate display to check the options any further.

first race:
just to get an impression of the performance and the quality of the nordschleife, i went for a quick race. that was at least the idea. to start a race is far away from quick. a huge amount of screens is the first challenge you have to take. selections of different tracks, cups, cars, drivers, difficulty and so on. after passing the ‚as-usual‘ long loading screen, which has been cleared from any progress bar, the next menu with options appears. just a comment about the loading screen, a good feature is the display of what is being loaded at present time, this could be a helpfull feature to figure out what is causing problems, especially with 3rd party-ware.
i went for a practise session and by using the camera features i was just watching the cars going around the track.

well, to make it short, nothing has changed compared to GTR2 or the changes are so minor that you will hardly take any notice. i do not expect graphics like Farcry2, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. clear sky nor Sega Rally but a little bit more uptodate would be nice. Having GRID: race driver in the back of my mind, which i won’t call a reference but this is something i expect today, i’ve got the impression that GTR reloaded looks a little bit dead and flat. the nordschleife itself is not bad and maybe it is optimized for performance but overall the track looks kind of unnatural. i wasn’t really a fan of the fancy version for GTR2 due to performance issues but the current version does not look very real. i like the new trees and especially the mix of trees for nordschleife but compared to the real nordschleife, the gras, the gravel and the crash barriers are too sterile. the cars are nice, not too detailled but not blocky, good enough for a game with a focus on the technica simulation. new feature, the wipers. even if they as sharp as the world around, which is a little bit distracting, it is a nice feature. this leads direct to the lack of any depth of field effect. the graphics are sharp until the horizont and depending on the frame rate, all those vibrations are just simulated by jumping pictures. i know, it is hard to guess the area on which the player is looking actually, so blurring the cockpit and the horizont isn’t a solution but having in mind what shaders are able to produce today (think about COD: modern warfare) i think a vibration blur, motion blurred wipers and a slightly unsharpen horizont couldn’t be that hard. regarding level of detail, especially on the nordschleife, gtr reloaded tends to fade in objects after approaching a certain distance. this looks very outdated and a technique more similar to different details depending on distance instead of just pop in trees and stuff as you come closer to them wouldn’t impact performance that much, proofed by other games.
i wasn’t able to check rain and night but will do so soon.

hm, no surround support, just one track as soundtrack are the downside. the sound of the cars is ok, as usual or common. nothing really new except built in brake noise and some ’section of track‘ related sounds like audience.

as mentioned above, i was not able to get any display of fps running. my first test is always, set everything on max and check how it runs.  there is less stuttering compared to GTR2 but a few ‚hangs‘ are still noticable. my personal feeling is that the framerate is around 30 fps with everthing on max and antialiasing on level 4. there is a heavy anisotropic effect on the road, like in former titles with the same engine, so the tarmac appears very blurry just a few meters ahead of the car. this can be tweaked by the settings of the graphic card but will cost a few frames per second. by stepping back on some effects or detail levels, the game appears smooth but my expectation was higher. compared to what is presented the performance is not really exciting.

the included layouts are tourist, endurance and gp. this is ok and should fit most peoples demands. the layout is very close to the original but i miss some bumps here and there. the karussel is too smoth and the area around between adenau and breitscheid is a little bit too perfect, in real, the track is more twisted within the corners. the performance is quite equal around the track, which is good for the gp part and this provides a smooth feeling for the whole track without major framerate drops. the ai performs sometimes a little bit strange on the track but for a final conclusion i will have a race to check how they perform. the endurance layout is perfect, the entry to the pits and the shortcut to start a lap after leaving the pits fits very well and the ai is using this too.

this is really hard to decide. for those who are looking for a GTR3, the expectations are not met. if you are happy with a refurnished GTR2 with track updates and different/new classes of cars, the package offers a lot. the caterham series, the mini challenge and the wtcc series are a nice addition if you want to put your hands on something different. if you are just using your favourite car the amount of cars is not really interesting, especially, the lotus elise is missing. for the hardcore sim freak, a lot of options are not interesting, i would tend to call them useless overhead. motec is supported by adding a few lines to the player.plr, the car setup screen is splitted in front, rear, overall, which is confusing and different to former titles. strange thing, the car setup screen is much smaller than before, this could be nice on high definition displays above 30″ but overall not really an improvement if you are using a hd ready below 30″ screen.
conclusion: if you are happy with GTR2 and everything runs fine, there is no real need to go for GTR reloaded (or GTR evolution). even if there are some small improvements in terms of performance, the difference is not that huge. the usability of all those menues and options is eating up a lot of your time, as a solution could work to set up different scenarios and save them for quick access. i’ve got the feeling that the handling is close to console titles and not optimized for PC. more to come as soon as i will find some time to race.

variation is evil

Juli 15th, 2008

i’ve spent last week preparing the new elise cup so that i can start a new season. i have limited the amount of fuel by resizing the tank so that the pack must pit, even for this short distance (22-25 laps) this will give the cup a more sprint series like feeling and i hope this will mix the field a little bit more, and well – it’s great entertainment for the visitors 😉

then i’ve started a practise session and even i’ve got a very comfortable feeling, i’m still more than 1.5 seconds behind the leader. i know, the ai in gtr2 is very strong in practise and qualify sessions but that the difference is that big is a little bit surprising on this 1:41 track. so i’ve started to analyze my lap and sector times to see if it is related to the setup or the line. by applying some of my 6S tools i’ve found that i’ve got some problems with consistency at 4 different positions of the track. the best consecutive sector times are about 1 second faster than my best lap and the theoretical best lap would be a 1:39xxx. so my goal was to get somewhere close to a low 1:40. by focusing myself to the 4 spotted areas (three corners and one straight). i’ve payed more attention to brake point and turn-in point and to the acceleration point. for the straight, i was looking if the variation comes from the last corner exit or from a wrong brake point with some idle phase until turn-in (funny, it is the start-finish line). since the turn before the straight was kind of constant i found that i’m exiting the turn at different positions and that the brake point varies for the first corner. by forcing myself to a better line for the last corner and by setting the brake point more towards trail-braking without using the throttle before the apex i’ve got kind of stable sector times. and viola, a few laps later, i was able to stay within the 1:40xxx range without many hazzles. by softening the front swaybar once more and decreasing the air inlet the car started to be very fast in bends as well as on the straights. so i went for the qualifying, keen on getting a start place somewhere between 10 and 20. fuel for 3 laps and heading to the track wasn’t a big deal. i forced the car thru the first lap to get the tires as hot as possible and by steering the car as sensitive as possible thru the last corner i flew on the start-finish line towards the first corner. brake point – perfect, turn-in – perfect, right-left-right and apex – a little bit disturbed by an other car but i tried to use the slipstream to get the car out of the bend as fast as possible. unfortunately, another car, same story, slipstream until corner 6 (the one after seat), outbraking, snip back onto the racing line just a meter in front of the opponent, hitting the apex synchron with the throttle and out for my weakest point, the last left-long right until it comes down to the last right corner. everything went fine, the outer tires were touching the curbs as best as possible and event the last right went close to perfect. shifting to 6th gear, flying to the finish line took endless seconds but then – new best lap – 1:39.534 – i was blown away. within 1 day an improvement by about 2 seconds, that’s what i call amazing. at the end of the quali session, i’ve got place 4 to start from and this was far more than expected. the race itself was really entertaining. since 22 of the 26 cars were able to stay within 1 second during the quali session, it was always tight, no chance for mistakes nor relaxing around the track. battle for a top 3 position forced me to drive a very aggressive line and so a visit to the gravel was unavoidable. unfortunately, the limited fuel wasn’t able to force the cars into the pits, since the race length is calculated by time, not by laps and the new elises are way faster than the original cup which decreases the lap count and so no need for pitstop. i have to change this for the next race. back to position 9, i’ve started to fight myself back to the top 3 but attacking the leader forced me again to leave the racing line but i wasn’t successfull and lost the 2nd place, to finish 3rd. whatsoever, i’m lucky with the 3rd place as well, it’s a cup and so more than one race.

review – race driver:grid

Juli 8th, 2008

due to the high temps in germany, i was not really in the mood to spend time seriously with gaming. but i found the demo of ‚race driver: grid‘ from codemasters on a magazine dvd and thought, let’s give it a try. i have read that this game is quite demanding in terms of hardware requirements and so i was kind of interested to see how my system is able to handle the game. the installation of the demo took some time but was showing some nice screenshots of the game. after the installation, the game is placed in the games section of vista, so no seperate menu item. there is no external setup, everything is done inside the game. usually, this is quite nice because you do not have to leave the game for changing the settings for graphics or sound but the game requested restarts (of the game, not the system) for most of the changes which takes some time and makes no difference to an external setup. anyway, the settings for graphics are very high level, as well as for sound and controller. there is no chance to switch to a specific soundcard nor controller and most of the settings are more like on/off, low/med/high. the demo provides 3 races – race track with a bmw 320, drift with a nissan sylvia and street race with a ford mustang. the overall game navigation is quite nice but very console-ish.

without any doubts, the game looks nice. the scenery is quite detailled and the objects placed everywhere are giving the tracks a ‚life‘ touch. the objects are detailled, breakable (if you can reach them) or animated (eg: people). the lighting is related to the time of the day or the location and adds a nice touch to the scenery. an eyecatcher is the package of effects. the game is using hdr effects a lot and so there is a lot of shiny reflections, blooming, pupil adaption simulation, sparks, smoge, back fire, broken mirrors/windows, scratched or broken body parts and so on. the cars are detailled as long as you watch them not in the rear view mirror. here they become very boxy and all those mentioned effects are gone as well. this is very pitty, especially for the drift events where no smoke is visible in the mirrors at all and to look at the mirror during a race is so disappointing, you feel yourself set back to the late 90s.
the overall mood of the graphics is kind of flat, not as colorfull as sega rally. if i compare the game graphics to photos i’ve shoot at races or other car related events, it could use some more saturation.
the interior of the cars is very well done. lot’s of details, different gauges, steering wheel, legs, pedals and so on, this is very impressive and for me, it set’s a new standard for car interiors. this comes in very nice, especially during the replays because you’ve got different camera positions inside the car as well.

hm, this is a little bit difficult. the setup is strange, you’ve got the choice to use hardware acceleration or not, whatever this means. on my xfi card, this means, 5.1 or not, on different other soundcards, i don’t know. there is no option to select your sounddevice as well. this is really not very user friendly.
the sound coulisse is not bad, a lot of environmental sounds, bounces, gearbox noise and tire squeaks. but, especially the sylvia or the muscle car comes quite flat in terms of engine sounds. i expect more presents for the engine for a game which offers this amount of effects overall and the balance of the volume for the different sound effects needs more attention as well.

same here, no choice to select a specific controller. you’ve got 2 profiles, standard and custom and as the name is telling this, the custom controler setup can be used to create an input scheme which fits to your needs. by whatever reason, i was not able to get a usefull forcefeedback on my momo race. the wheel is without any resistance or rumble effect. sometimes, during heavy bounces or very fast steering actions, there was something like an effect but this is far away from the very first forcefeedback titles back in the windows 95 aera. not sure if this related to the demo, vista or the wheel. overall, there are some deadzone and linearity settings, which is nice and stands out of the other settings for the game. the response to throttle, brake and steering is good and direct and provides control over the car. overall, this game is best driveable with a controller, especially the drift race requires very fast steering actions and this is going to be kind of demanding with a wheel. but this is typicall for arcade titles and with some tweaking and a more ‚lookahead‘ steering style it is fun as well. fortunately, the throttle and brake is very sensitive, so it is not this pure ‚button-like‘ throttle/brake driving style.

this may be a little bit disappointing for the ones looking for a more sim-like racing game but this is codemasters. race driver:grid is arcade pur. for me, it is in line with nfsu2, nfsc or sega rally. basic load balancing, understeer/oversteer but very drift-ish and forgiveable. the opponents moving around like they haven’t got any physics at all and even a heavy crash isn’t really able to push them or you out of the track. sometimes, the opponents spin, as you do as well if you steer in too fast, but this is really just something that happens because it is the intention and not a result of a physics engine. other parts on the track breaking, fallling down or flying some meters after a hit but this is already seen in titles like burnout2 as well. overall, the feeling of the car is kind of ‚weightless‘ and it reminds me a lot of other codemasters titles like TOCA or DTM Race Driver. acceleration and decelleration is done within a blink of an eye and there is no major slow down in bends. the opponents are often really bullish, they turn in into a bend without paying any attention to you and so you find yourself often in a situation where you get rammed with full force. it is not really possible to drive without any demolition and if you want to win at higher difficulty, you have to add some brutality to your style, like in former codemasters race titles before. it seems like this is a mandatory part to present the damage model 😉 overall, the pack is suffering from rubberbanding, it is no problem to catch up if you are a couple of seconds behind and it is not really possible to get rid of the pack, the biggest advantage i’ve had was a 18 sec gap in frisco and 15 seconds for the other race (serious difficulty, no driving aids).

it is a nice, fast paced arcade title. the presentation is nice, the advertised volume of the game sounds interesting, the handling is easy (even if the drift race needs some training). the demo isn’t really presenting the options you will get in the full version so you have to read around a little bit. i’m not sure if this title is worth the full price. compared to forza (xbox) or forza2 (360), it comes in a little bit low, because there is no real tuning nor parts shop. the graphics are nice but tend to be unsharp or boxy. this is a strange effect because sometimes it looks like i’m playing the game with 800×600 stretched to 1280×768. on sloped tracks, this leads to a loss of orientation and turn-in’s becomes a little bit tricky. the performance is quite well, i get constant frame rates above 50 fps, with 1280×768/4xaa and everyhing on max on my 3.6ghz dual core with 8800gt (overclocked as well). for 20-30 euro, this is something to consider if you need something to relaxe after a hard day at work but for full price, well, you have to be focused on arcade racing.

back for some action

Juni 25th, 2008

after finishing s.t.a.l.k.e.r. i found it is time for more racing action. i won’t cancel playing s.t.a.l.k.e.r. but i think i should spend some more time to gtr again. after learning that most of the tracks runs very fine and after testing an 18 elise custom championship i have decided to pay some attention to common race tracks instead of fiddeling with this kinda annoying nordschleife. i mean, i really appreciate the effort and the time people spend to projects like the nordschleife but i really can’t understand why this track is still suffering from the same issues like the first release for gtr2 (not the old gpl version). very variing performance, wierd shadows, reflection layer about half a meter above ground on some parts of the track, sun is shining thru the track or ground, the track appears as a white ‚rollercoaster‘ at the horizont, sudden ctd, ai drivers failing to find the box or play demolition derby at certain corners. beside the ‚beautiness‘ and the realism of the track, at the end, it is a race track and what i want to do is race. i don’t care if the number of seats at the tribune beside the ford corner is correct or if there is enough space for the vips above the pits. to turn shadow details down helps a lot but then i drive on a flat lighted shadow free track and this is indeed far away from what i expect from driving on the nordschleife. to say it like elvis – a little less detail a little more action please! i know, it is possible to contribute and at the end there is no real excuse. just to complain won’t change something but the direction this projects has taken, i can not see a real benefit of spending a tiny and very unreliable amount of time. anyway, i was a little bit unhappy with the 18 elise custom championship since i’m always struggle with the performance and the 5 gear fixed gearbox of the original elise. i still have my own version of the elise around and thought it would be nice to use the engine mapping and the gearbox of my version for the championship as well. unfortunately, i wasn’t able to get this ‚hack‘ running and by whatever reason, i don’t have the original archive available. a quick search on one of my prefered pages ’nogripracing‘ (big thanks to you guys) offered a 25 cars lotus exige pack which has catched my attention like a sundew a fly. even if this pack comes with 500 ps exiges, overall, this is what i’m looking for. different tires, nice paintings, 6 adjustable gears, great sound – perfect. a quick run on barcelona in rain was proofing my assumption, this power is far too much for this tiny car. but i found on nogripracing some 380 ps exiges/elises as well and it wasn’t really tricky to use the different engine for the 500 ps versions. by whatever reason, the sound of the engine was heavily shifted to the left but to edit this within the engine file isn’t really rocket science. without spending much time for the setup, i’ve started a quick race at barcelona and i’ve had some very serious action. the ai is performing quite perfect and the variation between the cars/drivers is very well designed. the tires are really sticky, i have tested the soft slicks, so for longer races it won’t be a problem to go for med slicks. the 380 ps are really handy and still enough to speed the car up to 250 km/h. the lap times on barcelona are reduced by 12-15 seconds, down to below 1:40, which provides enough adrenaline, especially when you surrounded by about 10 other exiges and the rear starts to get loose under braking 😉 i will now go and try to implement the 18 elises from the other pack, so that i will get a field of 40 cars and then i will create a custom championship with ’suitable‘ tracks for a 6-8 races season.

at day, there are no performance issues, just a few stutters, at night the performance is dropped a little due to the headlights but even under rain condition with headlights, the frame rate still tries to stay above 40-50, when just a few cars visible the frame rate climbs the 60 fps like under daylight condition. this may vary for certain tracks, especially spa is very demanding, but overall, this is much more ‚driveable‘ than the current nordschleife, even with higher graphic settings.

in general, i’m really happy to be back to gtr2, it is still a very good simulation and the more or less outdated graphics is something i can life with, while racing i don’t spend any attention to the surrounding except for brake points or other vehicles. the feeling, even with my old momo racing wheel, is nice and kind of close to real world driving, especially the scrubbing when pushing the car too hard or the feedback when the rear starts to loose grip. this is exactly what i found while driving with my roadster on real world race tracks. the sweeping and rattling is still strange but maybe i will go for the g25 sometimes. surprisly, i was able to go with the pack quite quick. i was expecting that it will take some time to get close to my old performance since i haven’t touched gtr2 for more than a year and especially on unknown tracks (i haven’t spent so much time on barcelona before) i really struggle to find the right pace. more to come so stay tuned.

review – sega rally revolution

Juni 23rd, 2008

i’ve remembered playing the sega rally revolution demo some time ago but it wasn’t really made for my notebook. so this came to my mind as a game which i should test on my new game rig. getting the demo from the internet and later ordering the full game for just 10€ from amazon wasn’t a tough taks. since i really loved the screamer series several years back, i found myself in a similar mood while playing this rally game.


there wasn’t something really different, a huge amount of data is copied to the harddisc and a patch from the web and the game is ready to run. setting up my momo race wheel is painfull and fails often, so i gave up and went for my gamepad. graphic settings were adjusted to max, nothing else would be interesting for this game ;), for a lc-display i recommend a fixed frame rate and v-synch, but nothing more has to be adjusted

first impression:

there is no doubt that this game is available on a console as well. the main concept aims at controller usage instead of mouse and keyboard. this is not bad at all, the navigation thru the game via keyboard or controller works kind of fine, just going thru whatever level of menues is sometimes a little bit confusing and slow. the navigation is based on pictures, like an album of photos, which may not everybody makes smile. jumping into quick race or just starting a cup isn’t a very sophisticated task, there is hardly something to set-up, pick a location and a car and start the race.


from my perspective, the graphics are nice. not sure if the developer was aiming at a photorealistic look or not, the sceneries are nice and detailed and the overall style is a nice mixture between reality and the former screamer titles. it is not comic but it isn’t as real as RBR or the latest McRae titles. the cars coming with a solid touch, they doesn’t look like toycars but like real cars neither, even if every car reflects an existing model. but maybe that’s due to the missing damage system. depending on the track, the cars get dirty, by mud, sand or snow and even if you change from a very wet and mud area on the track to a part where dry sand is dominating the scene, the car finish changes from wet to dry, which adds a nice effect to the game. the particles, emitted by the cars, like mud, water, sand or snow are a little bit clumpy to my taste, especially in mud you’ve got the impression that someone is throwing fist-sized rocks at you. what i really like is the water which started to appear in the tire-tracks or the ice which is covered by snow at the start of the race. which leads to one of the impressive features of the game, the tire tracks. on surfaces like sand, mud or snow, the tires of the cars are leaving deep treads at the surface which affecting the handling of the car as well. the scenery is lovely and detailed, the gras is shaking when the cars passing it and the tracks are detailed as well, there is a lot of variation and even details like broken tarmac at the border of the road or floated areas giving the game some nice touch. everything is really colorfull, this is absolutly not comparable to nfsc nor motorcity.


well, to talk about physics is maybe not the right approach. sega rally is as close to real world physics as a street car to a race car. there is something which could described as physics but sega rally is a trully arcade game. the different cars behave a little bit different, so there is a difference between front wheel drive, rear wheel drive or all wheel drive and i’ve got the feeling that some lighter cars jump more over the treads than the bigger cars but i won’t bet on this. there are some effects which forces you to drive on some kind of best line, since water, gravel, walls and deep mud slows down the car and if you cross the tire treads the car starts to jump and losses steering ability. there is some small amount of load balancing, so the car reacts to the steering wheel better if you are off throttle, refuses to steer if you are on the brakes and tends to understeer when you are on the throttle. the two main setups, gravel or tarmac, are kind of subtle on mixed tracks, on tarmac-less tracks you won’t go for the tarmac setup and twice versa.


hm, i’m not sure if it is related to my xfi card but i wasn’t able to get out 3d sound, neither from my onboard nor my xfi card. the sound of the engine isn’t bad, the gravel sound is kind of synthetic and too loud and the environmental sounds requires some attention to details. the sound is not bad but compared to burnout or rbr, it is not outstanding.


it is a funny game, it looks nice, it is easy to drive but not too easy to win on certain tracks, it sounds like a classic game and the tracks varies enough to keep driving for a while. the long term motivation is muted a little bit by the lack of settings on the car, just 3 laps per race and kind of short tracks. if you got the pc to handle the game (or the 360) and the game for a few bucks, go for it if you are a fan of arcade racers. if you are looking for colinmcrae, rbr or gtr2 like games, never mind, this is something completly different. nfsu1-2, nfsc, nfsmc people will desperately looking for tuning and pimping.

GTR2, Vista and the green hell

Juni 17th, 2008

motivated by the great performance of my (in the mean time overclocked to 3.5 ghz) system, i went for a set-up session of GTR2.

the first goal was to get a fluid performance. since GTR2 is suffering from stuttering since it’s initial release, i was wondering if there is a chance to minimize this effect. after the test of some settings (graphics) on the nordschleife (latest conversion from the r-factor version) with max cars (68, i think) i found that there is too much variation in terms of frames per second, related to time of day, weather and behavior of the field. to tweak the settings is not really possible, even if i was using a demo to get the same ‚input‘ all the time. i’ve managed to change priority and affinity (click on ’show processes for all users‘ at task manager to change those settings) which shows some impact. the frame rate (just an example) went up from 44 to 48 average after changing priority from normal to very high. by setting priority to realtime, the stuttering was completly gone but the sound stopped to work on my sb xfi card. setting affinity to 1 or 2 cores makes no difference at all.

to get an impression of the impact of different in-game settings, i went for a normal track like Barcelona. here i was testing day-time, night-time and rain. a track like Barcelona isn’t suffering from high quality shadows that much like nordschleife, so this isn’t an issue here. but going into the night, especially in rain, changes the situation drastically. even with just about 30 cars on the track, the frame rate dropped to 20-30 (at 1280×768, 2x aa, 8x anisotropic). neither a reduction of aa nor anisotropic was impacting this, so the limit is the cpu. reducing head light quality rendered the feeling into driveable and because of the stupid flashing interior at headlight max quality, stepping back with the head light quality isn’t such a big visual impact. the lightening of the cars when followed by others is quite minor, a stable framerate not. rain is affecting the performance, i would say, regardless to the graphic settings. i haven’t reduced none of the parameter so that there was a major increase in frame rate. i assume that setting back the special effects may give some benefit but i’ve got a stable frame rate after a few corners.

motivated by this, i’ve started the custom elise cup, which starts at Barcelona and after some practice, i’ve had a very nice race with 18 elises, lot’s of passes and overheated tires 😉 – welcome back GTR2

stay tuned for some more tests soon

review – Alienware 51-7500

Juni 17th, 2008

review Alienware Area 51-7500:

i’ve spent about half an year thinking if i should go for a new pc rig or if i focus myself on consoles. but still fascinated by S.T.A.L.K.E.R, GTR2, Quake 3/4 and ETQW i gave myself a bump and went for a new pc. i mean, the performance of my VAIO notebook (2 GHz, Intel single core, ATI x800 card, 2GB) isn’t that bad but compared to screenshots of above mentioned games, found on different forums, i was always a little bit disappointed. so i started to look around for complete rigs, components and tests. it took less than a week and i was completly lost. i haven’t spent any time into pc stuff for about 5 years now and so i was (and still be) far away from being up-to-date. in the past, i always tend to go for some known brand and i don’t mind to spend a few euros/dollars more to get something which works out of the box. i know, a well known brand is not a guarantee for a running system but my experience isn’t that bad either and spending endless hours to find something which is maybe a handfull of money cheaper does not provide a reasonable pay-off for me because my spare time is limited as well. this doesn’t mean that going for a self-build system is the wrong way, this is up to you.
my goal was to get a system which is a mixture of top-notch and affordable. so i was forced to spent some time to ‚compile‘ the system to my needs. after some searches on the internet i found that Alienware offers what i was looking for. Good base system with a great variety of options. i know that Alienware is a more than well known brand in the gaming scene and the majority of usage for my system is gaming. my budget was not really limited but my personal goal was to stay around the 1200-1400 euro range. finally, i went for this configuration:

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 – 3,16 GHz 1333 MHz FSB, 6 MB Cache
Motherboard: NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI
Graficprocessor: 512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT
Memory: DDR2 SDRAM, 800 MHz – 2 GB – 2 x 1024 MB
Harddisc: 250 GB Serial ATA 3 Gbit/s, 7.200 rpm, 16 MB Cache
Optical: 20x Dual Layer DVD+/-RW / 20x CD-RW
Sound: on-board Intel High Definition Audio, 7.1 Surround Sound, S/PDIF-Koaxial digital output
Power: 750 W power supply for multi GPU
OS: Windows Vista Home Premium
Case: Alienware P2-case – Cyborg Green

the quad core cpu and the dual gpu setup was too expensive for my usage (most of the games i’m playing support neither more than one core nor sli graphics) so i went for the 512 mb graphic card instead of the 2×256 sli version and i took the fastest dual core cpu available. the memory is upgradeable to 4 gb (2 banks left) and the gpu can be upgraded by a second one as well if necessary. hard disc isn’t important, i’ve got an external harddisc which stores my stuff.
additional, attracted by the nice demo on the page, i went for the ‚Alienware AlienIce 3.0 Video Cooling + AlienFX system lighting for Windows Vista‘ this provides the option to change and to animate the lighting of the case (the alien skulls, front bay lights and inner lighting) basically, this is a nice feature and i really like such stuff, so i thought, ok, that’s maybe worth the additional money. the possibilities to use the lights start with color, brightness, animation and goes up to change those settings depending on events or applications. unfortunately, the lights are quite flat, means, not very bright and the color fade is not as smooth as you may expect this from a true rgb light. i haven’t spent too much time on this, so maybe i will find the beauty later but at the moment, this feature is not worth the 80€ they charge you for it, even if you count in this additional fan in the side panel to aspirate you graphic card(s). in terms of performance, this money can spend to more usefull things maybe.

nethertheless, back to the main system.
the box in which the system is shipped as to be called huge by no doubt. and with huge, i mean huge. it’s shaped like a half dishwasher and it is about half as heavy as the mentioned kitchen tool. so i lifted up this monster box into my van and started to think about how to unbox this space killer in my 28 square meter flat in which i stay over the week for the job. the best solution was to take out the things i need and to transport the stuff unboxed into the room. after documenting the damage to the package (the postal service didn’t care about that very much) i opened the box, took of the small pieces out of a smaller box and then i removed this smaller box. i was quite shocked. the overall weight of the box was foreshadowing what i should expect but what i found exceeded my imagination by worlds. the rig is soo huge that i was really doubting that this is what i have ordered. i mean, carrying a 17 inch laptop has already shifted my point of view regarding size of computers and within my collection of classical systems, there are some rockies as well but that a modern system is consuming so much space was really beyond my horizon. the next step was to  haul this chunk of metal and semiconductors up to the 4th story (3rd in Germany). i’m really not a couch potato and i’m comfortable to climb up stairs or mountains but to trug this system up wasn’t a pleasure. covered with sweat, avoiding the two dogs between my feed, stumbeling into my flat, i was searching for a place to store this furniture temporally. the place i’ve planned was laughing at me, no way to fit this creature in. fortunately, my wife got stressed by the tightness of the flat as well and started to move things around. so i was able to place the pc close to my desk and i started to connect this million of cables to it. power, network, keyboard, mouse, monitor and sound system, what a pleasure to throw in a laptop into its docking station 😉 since the package was quite damaged, i found myself opening the housing to have a look inside if everything is where it should be. this test offered a nice overview of the construction of the system. very sorted, well designed and very well cooled by some huge fans and cooling ‚towers‘.
turning on the tv (which i use as a monitor) and then pressing the front alien to switch the system on was the following step. a short and impressive gasp of the fans, a flash of the aliens and the system has became alive. the next hour was a huge disappointment. it was kind of a never ending set-up, update, reboot session. the AlienFX system lighting wasn’t working, the settings communicated while ordering weren’t set and to make things worse, there was a microsoft patch day one day before. but that’s the dark side of using a pc. finally, i came to a state where i was
able to ‚use‘ the system the very first time. i was really keen to see something and without hassling with installation of my games including updates i thought it would be nice to have a look on the crysis demo.

the installation of this 1.7 gig file was pretty fast and after a few minutes i started up the game. due to my inpatience, i skipped the intro videos and went straight to the settings menu. hidding the ‚optimal settings‘ button and waiting for the messages to be appear was an action of a second. a red message box appeared and i thought, ups, what’s that? but then i realized the content of the message – games settings has been set to high spec. crysis on max settings? i wasn’t really sure if this is believable and so i started the single player game. the intro wasn’t really fluid, even if it was a little bit hard to spot what was causing this hardware demand. after reaching the beach, the game became much more responsive but kept minor stuttering more or less frequent. i started to roam around a little bit and overall, it was an impressive experience, i have never seen such graphics on one of my systems. after tweaking the graphic settings a little bit (i’ve reduced settings for texture quality and tested the volumetric quality) the game became much more smooth without loosing too much of it’s quality at 1280×768. i was kind of satisfied and went on to the next game because neither far-cry nor crysis can catch my attention for hours, i’m really kind of bored by the concept and the story.

the game i’ve had bought this system for – S.T.A.L.K.E.R. the installation was quite quick as well, the dvd drive and the harddisc are really fast so including the actual update plus the weather overhaul mod it took less than 10 minutes in sum. with some excitement i started the game. what is going to happen now? i went to the settings menu, chose maximum settings, checked the advanced menu if every slider is really on the right and then i started a new game. it takes really a while to start or to load a game without the -noprefetch switch but then the intro video came up. skipping this video, the screen went dark and then the game graphics appeared. i mean, the very first room isn’t really a beauty in terms of graphics but i was amazed tho. but as i have left the underground and stepped into the day i was blown away. i’ve seen a lot of screenshots on the internet before but seeing those graphics in realtime is an absolute different experience. i walked around with an open mouth, it was very fluid and smooth, very few stutterings (typical for stalker) and especially the weather overhaul effects blooming and depth of field are so awesome. while visiting a few places by loading up some savegames i started to relax. this system is what i was looking for.
a day later i was playing with the graphics settings again, and i’m using the global illumination option as well. this has just a minor impact on the graphic quality but no noticable impact on the performance. i will try to record a timedemo within the next days so that i will be able to get some detailed performance data.

confident that i haven’t bought something useless for me and strongened by the former experience, i started to test quake 5 (etqw) and gtr2. q5 was asking for an update, so i started the download of the patch and went for the installation of gtr2.

i’ve downloaded the actual nordschleife already, including all updates, so throwing in the track and starting gtr was a matter of seconds. fortunately, the securom protection accepted my drive and the disc, and the game appeared on the screen. moving every setting to the max and starting a test session on the nordschleife was the next step. i’ve jumped into an opponent car virtually, just to follow the ride on the track. the new nordschleife is really a beauty, the crew has spent so many attention to details, even the bonfires at the camps are burning and the tarmac textures are really nice. the trees are quite variant and well placed and the overall feeling of the landscape and the shape of the track is amazing. the frame rate was varying between 80-60 fps which is acceptable for this graphic monster of track. so i became a little bit more brave and went back to the race menu. same track, same graphic settings but 68 opponents. loading took a little bit longer and the time until the garage became responsive was a little bit longer as well. jumping into the car and checking the fps was the following action. the display was showing 25-30 fps, a small downstep in exitement. but i know, the nordschleife is very demanding at max shadow settings, especially when you surrounded by 40 visible cars. skipping the intro lap and switching to the ai driver gave me a chance to watch. after the common ‚wreck at least 10 cars within the first corners‘ gtr bullshit, the field started to become wider and the framerate went up to 30-40 fps. that is really ok for me and by tweaking the shadow settings, the performance is even better. unfortunately, simbin was never able to remove the stuttering from the game, which is really noticable during ai driver or replay but not so distracting while driving, so this problem still exists, and the track cam performance is still lower than in-car performance which also is still lower than on-the-hood cam. really a strange graphic enginge. another teardrop is the sudden crash after half of the track. this does not happen with less cars, so i have to check if this is related to the cars in the field or what’s the reason for this behavior. the lag of multi core/thread support is really a major minus because the cpu load is really heavy, so the dual core cpu does not have any effect for this game.

Enemy Territory – Quake Wars
this game concept isn’t really what i prefer but the fast paced action in combination of being a strogg makes this game attractive for me as well. same procedure, all graphic settings to max and jumping into the action. i’ve started the america level, same as the demo, because i’ve spent a lot of time to tweak the settings on my vaio notebook until this level became ‚playable‘. the first wow in-game is the graphic of the arm and the weapon, this is really amazing. the stroggs are so well designed and the graphic is so ‚realistic‘, i kept minutes just to watch the bots and myself. then i went out of the tunnel and everything was just so cool. etqw isn’t a game where you pay too much attention to the landscape, so i will not compare the graphics to stalker or crysis, it’s too different. but all the buildings, vehilces and player characters are really nice and very detailed. the game wasn’t showing any weakness in performance, only in spectator mode with the cam high above the ground, the motion becomes less fluid. but especially for this type of game, i’m not looking for extreme antialiasing nor anisotropic settings, so by stepping back a little bit, the game is more than fluid, smooth and responsive. and as usual for id-games games, it supports the dual core cpu very well.

Quake 3 Arena
for some of you may this appears a little bit odd but i’m a very passioned q3a player and at max settings for antialiasing and anisotropic, this game was still causing problems on my laptop. so i was looking forward to the performance on my new system. this test session became a little bit wierd because nothing of the graphic settings, neither in-game nor gpu configuration was showing any impact on the game performance. i have looked the frame rate to 60 hz, like my display and the showed framerate of 60 fps was like a static texture. so i’ve set the max frame rate to 100, nothing, same behavior, constant 100 fps. i went for 500, a few levels started to show an impact, the frame rate was between 300-500. by reducing antialiasing and anisotropic filtering, i was able to get 1000 fps without loosing too much graphic quality. this is really insane. by whatever reason, q3 refused to run in smp mode (multiprocessor mode) but i would say, i can life with this 😉

Plasma Pong
maybe not everybody is aware of this game. this game won a party competition 2007 and it is really funny to play and especially to watch. the game is a simple pong version but in a kind of fluid environment with different forces influending the fluid and the particel system. it is a nice performance check as well, because you can adjust the quality of the fluid, colors and particles in a broad range, so this game can be fitted to almost every system. and surprising, i was able to force the system to 40-45 fps by using 40000 particles. stepping back to 20000, which is not really noticable because still too much for my 1280×768 resolution, the game was running stable at 60 fps.

final comments:
for the mentioned games, this system is more than usable. except GTR2, none of the games were showing major problems in terms of performance. even for higher demands in fps, adjusting some of the graphic settings in-game (texture size for example is hardly noticable at 1280×768) or by tweaking some of the gpu settings it is really easy to adjust the performance to personal needs without loosing too much quality.
the overall design of the system is nice if not outstanding. in my personal opinion, the case is too huge compared to the stuff which can be found inside and without any doubts, the whole rig is too heavy to care it to somewhere frequently. if you are looking for a game party rig, i would recommend to go for a laptop. at this price tag, you will not get a system comparable to this pc system but enough performance to play current games at parties where superior graphics isn’t that important. the quality of the case is great, the look is not cheap and the front bay door is very solid. unfortunately, the dvd drive can’t push the bay door to open, you have to do this before ejecting your media.
the noiselevel even under heavy load is acceptable, i was expecting much more noise. the case provides front sockets for 2x usb, mic in, earphone and firewire(?) and on the rear all the necessary network connections, usb again, sound (analog, digital)
what i dislike is the on-board sound. i haven’t found a possibility to use the s/pdif in surround mode. even my old xbox doesn’t struggle with this but to get 6 channel (or max 8 channel) sound you have to wire your digital sound rig by 6-8 wires (3-4 if using stereo cables, which is required due to the stereo jacks) if you are using a sound set with single channels inputs you have to use special cables or if your sound set is using a different input design than fr/fl, rr/rl, center/sub, r/l.
the AlienFX lighting is a nice add-on, especially when you use this for alerts or different light setups depending on applications/games. but overall, the light experience is too weak, the alien skulls are ok but not outrageous, the case light is by far too weak and the bay light suffers from a strong rgb separation at the top and illuminating a green housing with something different than white or green doesn’t make much sense anyway. the illumination of the frontside sockets lights back into the case, which distorts the inner case lighting once more.
software: i went for the vista home premium because alienware wants to charge you additional 80 euros if you want xp on the system. beside this, directx10 may become more and more used for games in the future and especially for gaming, i don’t care that much about the system as long as it is not too different in terms of performance. so the rig comes with everything related to vista plus some additional software like powerdvd (with multichannel support), nero plus lightscripe application. additional, the AlienFX lighting application which refuses to work suddenly which requires a turn-off reboot or it doesn’t start up at all, causing vista to show usb mal-function messages, which requires a turn-off reboot as well.
i bought an Alienware usb stick as well, 4gb for 40 euros. the stick is fast, about 5-6 mb/s for writing and up to 20 mb/s for reading. even the rally stick (not rally2)isn’t that much faster.
additional, the package included a mouse pad, rigid style but very nice surface, a alienware basecap, which i would call cheap in quality and a small ‚filofax‘-style handbook and a few cd’s/dvd with drivers and system restore.
if the system is worth the money is quite hard to judge and it’s up to you if you want to spend about 1300 euros for this configuration. my impression is that you will get a similar system for maybe 200-300 euro less if you go to build it yourself but i’m not an expert, i see myself as an user. 4 weeks of delivery time is definitely too much, especially when the delivery date was promised 2 weeks earlier during the ordering process. the flaws with the initation of the system are not nice as well as the heavy and oversized case. would i buy it again? i’m not sure but in terms of being not really satisfied with the overall alienware service i think the next system will be a homebuild system again. but i think i can use the current rig for the next years when i want to keep track with graphic cards or by placing in some additional memory. not sure if i can exchange the cpu but someone with more knowledge will tell me this when the time is right.


Juni 17th, 2008

very long time no update to this blog, i was fully allocated with very different things. the last summer was asking for some more real life action with my smart roadster. so we have visited 3 different race tracks and i have spent some time to optimize the suspension. the winter placed me into the snow, i have really enjoyed my new passion – snowboarding.

but finally, i’ve bought myself a complete new system for gaming. it took some weeks to come to the decision if i go for a new console or a new pc rig. beside the nintendo wii, which has stepped in recently, i went for an Alienware pc. see the review section for a description of the system. this pc brought back GTR2 into the spot and so i have started to spend some time with this sim. the game runs quite well on the 3.5 ghz (oc) system but still suffers from stuttering. but it is more enjoyable than playing the game on my vaio tho. more news to come.