Let’s Talk About Hot Rubber
Time. You never seem to have enough of it and it moves much faster than you can imagine. I can give you some funny lines about why it has been so long since I have last written one of these blogs, but the straight truth is that I just haven’t had the time! We are so busy here at iRacing trying to bring cool new stuff to our loyal members, that it’s hard to just sit down and collect your thoughts in the way one of these blogs forces you to do. That and I finally got a PlayStation 4…
Seriously though, we’re hard at work here at iRacing trying to make sure that iRacing outperforms the best online racing games and continues to maintain its position as high on the list of the top 10 simulation games in the world. Read onto learn all about the new ways iRacing is working to make ours the best PC racing sim, from high-tech dynamic track surface models to lifelike trees and dynamic weather.
iRacing’s New Dynamic Track Surface Model
My preoccupation with the PlayStation changed this afternoon. I got bored playing Madden 16 and got the itch to write about what I think is really the biggest thing to happen to sim racing in years: our new dynamic track surface model. I will be honest: This is a feature I have been wanting to see us build since all the way back at our days at Papyrus. The problem has always been that we needed to do so much behind the scenes to do this right that it never rose to the top of the priority list. We are entering an exciting time here at iRacing because we now are able to look at projects like this and say we do have all the systems in place now to tackle a project like this the right way. It’s just one of the ways iRacing is pushing to become the best racing game of all time!
So early this year we tasked our brilliant gentle giant Dan Garrison with this project and he has created a masterpiece! This is how it went down:
Steve: Dan, so I have a dream project that I have wanted done for 15 years and I think you’re the man for the job.
Dan: Um, Okay, no pressure or anything. What is it?
Steve: Dynamic track surface. You won’t see your wife or kid until it’s done, but I will take you to the race track so you can see cars put rubber on the track. Sound good?
Dan was up for the task and really has done an exceptional job in creating a system that that not only gives us an incredible feature now but sets up to do exciting things in the future as well. If you have not already done so, I would recommend watching the video we did on this project. You can find it here.
An Overview of iRacing Dynamic Tracks
If you don’t have five minutes to spare to watch the video, here’s a brief overview of the feature. We’re so excited to see how our dynamic tracks change the world of sim racing games for PC, and we’re proud to be at the forefront of the metaphorical race.
Since the start of Papyrus all the way through present day iRacing, our racetracks have been perfectly clean static surfaces. The entire racing surface had the exact same grip on all parts of the track and the racing groove was really just artwork that showed you the racing line of the track. Although iRacing has had groundbreaking accurate laser scanned tracks, they really have not been living, breathing objects like real world tracks. Those days are now gone.
Now when a session loads, the racing groove you see on the track is actually virtual rubber that is on the racing surface. Depending on how the session was setup, you can have a “green” track or one that is fully rubbered-in (or something in-between) and it WILL affect the grip on the track.
As a session progresses the location of every car on the track is tracked and communicated back to the race server which then aggregates all of that data into cells laid-out on the racing surface and sends it back to each driver in the session. Not only is the rubber from the tires being put into the track, the rubber is being torn or rolled into marbles that are strewn onto the track based on actual “big boy math” (that’s a highly technical term I picked up from spending time with Dave Kaemmer). It’s the science that makes the best PC racing game the best PC racing game, after all.
The Dynamic Track Building Process: How it’s Made
There is nothing “canned” about this process. It is all being dynamically generated by the actual actions of the drivers, cars and tires in the session. The marbles on the track will also affect the grip your tires have with the road surface. If you want to try running a different line on the track, it will take a little bit of work to clean the marbles from that line; and you are going to notice your car is losing traction when you do.
The rubber on the track surface is just one component of this new model. What is equally and potentially more important is the effect of heat in the racing surface, which is now modeled in the same way as we do the rubber. 43 NASCAR Sprint Cup cars running the same line on a hot day for 100 green flag laps is going to pretty dramatically increase the surface temperature of the track. Hot rubber is slippery, and the driver who ventures to find a cooler driving line just might gain the extra advantage late in the race to steal a win. This will help us make your NASCAR race online even more realistic than it was before.
We have even gone as far as modeling the albedo effect (not to be confused with the libido effect) which influences how much heat will go into the track surface by the position of the sun and the actual “darkness” of the pavement. A light colored concrete, for example, will reflect more energy than a very dark pavement, and the shadowed areas of the track will now be cooler than those sections in the direct sunlight. Ever wonder what it meant when you heard a driver say they “caught a cloud” during qualifying? Now you know.
Given my brain’s limited capacity, I do not think that I can properly convey how insane this client/server communication technology is. This was a massive part of this project and is what really took the bulk of the development time to create (with help from other engineers). Again, we do not use any type of artificial intelligence to generate these tracks conditions: This is all done by the participants in the session. This data is instantaneously collected and redistributed to all drivers so everyone has the exact same track conditions at all time. There are really so many possibilities on how we can use this system going forward.
Now is the time in this blog when all of you are probably thinking ‘How awesome it will be when we have dynamic time of day and rain!’ So let’s move on to the big picture for all of this.
When we added dynamic weather and started attaching qualifying to race sessions it was the first step in trying to change the racing culture here at iRacing. This dynamic track project is the second step in this process, and hopefully it begins to change the way you approach your sim racing sessions. We hope the days are gone when iRacers would spend hours on end tweaking a setup in search of hundredths of a second because it is always 78 degrees and sunny on a perfectly clean and even grip track. You’re going to be faced with the exact same reality that exists in the real world where you’ll do the best you can to get “in the box” before arriving at the track. Even offline testing will not be able to simulate race conditions because one car turning laps by itself is not going to change the track like a full race field will. We believe that providing a completely authentic, real-world racing experience is what makes iRacing one of the top simulation games available.
I have to say that I am really excited to see the first NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series race on September 15,when we’ll get to watch the pros try and tackle Darlington with a dynamic track. This really is a one-groove track and should concentrate the rubber and heat quite a bit which should change the handling of the cars during the race. Maybe someone will plan for this and develop a strategy for later in the race counting on a change in the track that finds a non-traditional line being faster. In any case, particularly on the oval side, there will never be two races exactly the same again. You as a participant in a race can now directly influence the conditions of the track and lines driven around it.
That is very exciting stuff and the good news is that you get to try it for yourself next week! I am really looking forward to seeing what we do with this technology going forward as well. All it takes is time and money to make driving video games almost identical to the real thing. Again, we’re all on board to keep iRacing one of the best driving games anywhere.
Now if you need me I will be in the conference room doing a “competitive evaluation” of the new Mad Max video games damage model…
… Oh damnit, Tony caught me and dragged me by my ear back into my office and made me keep writing! I guess it’s only fair if you have stayed with me to this point I that I reward you with some quick teasers about some other goodies we are working on.
What Else is New at iRacing?
I am very excited for a project Jeff Rubin, Kevin Combs and Brian Simpson are working on, which is a new particle effect system. Every few days Jeff excitedly brings me over to his desk to show me new sparks, backfires, smoke, and even sounds that are being incorporated into the sim. And they keep getting better and better. We really did not miss the build by much with this new system and should definitely have it in the December build, since I handcuffed Jeff to his desk.
For those of you planning to come to the iRacing.com Nürburgring GT500 race in two weeks, you are going to get a sneak-peak of the Nürburgring GP track in our booth at the SimRacing Expo. For those of you lucky enough to score a ticket to our suite at the race, you hopefully will get to sample the Green Hell — that is if Otto Szebeni gets his s*it together and gets us a racing pod up there. I smell eBay auctions for suite tickets in the future.
Although it won’t be done in time for the SimRacing Expo, one thing you will notice when we launch the track in our racing sim is how awesome the new trees look. Thomas Leyva and Dave Gosselin have done some awesome work with a new tool and shaders to dramatically improve our trees, of which the Nürburgring has a few. You may even be able to find Tony Gardner in a tree stand in one of them.
The DX11 project is making good progress. Nothing I write past that statement will really satisfy anyone so I am going to stop there.
Another really cool project Dave Tucker is working on is trying to incorporate a video codec that will allow you to directly export video files from the sim. It will now be much easier for you to flood Nim’s inbox with protest videos of the dynamic birds.
Of course we have plenty of other things we are working on (and actually more development staff than we have ever had here at iRacing), but what fun would it be to tell you about all of them. Plus, if I can carve out the time I do hope to do another one of these before another year goes by… as long as I am not hopelessly addicted to playing Star Wars Battlefront.