Recent game releases have taken racing games to whole new levels of realism. They're not even called games anymore—they're driving simulators. They feature picture perfect tracks, hundreds of cars, and incredible realism. At least I thought that until I tried Live for Speed. A game made by a team of just three people, and can be downloaded for free on their website. It has fewer cars, and the tracks aren't based on real life ones, but the in-game physics will leave you in shock.
Being a veteran of both GT4 and Forza, I thought I was a master driver. My wheel time with a Formula SAE car was a little rough, but I blamed that on the car. Five minutes with LFS showed me just how heavy footed, clumsy, and ignorant I was. Twenty minutes later, I managed to take my first turn in RWD car without spinning out. To play this game, you almost need a steering wheel and pedals. You can't floor the gas or just slam on the brakes; you actually have to control and modulate both pedals to keep your car on the track. I could go into detail about the major adjustments it takes to play this game, but nothing short of going to a track actually compares to the experience. Live for Speed is, by far, the most intense and demanding game I've ever played. To get a better understanding of LFS, I went straight to the source—the developers. They graciously agreed to answer some questions about the game, and the new addition, Live for Speed S2. The team members that we talked to were Scawen Roberts, the programmer, and Victor Van Vlaardingen, music and website designer.
Bytesector: LFS is radically different from the current batch of racing games out there. Instead of having hundreds of cars, and perfect track models, your team has focused on the actual driving physics of the game. Why did you choose to do this?
Victor Van Vlaardingen: Well, paying attention to the physics is what makes a racing sim. There are many racing games out there that say 'Race Sim,' but the ones you might be thinking about, having loads of content, usually are not really race sims. But anyway, yes, we focus on the physics a lot, because that is what we consider to be great about a racing game—making it realistic and a challenge. Racing is not just about flooring it and steering left and right a bit; racing is about smart thinking in areas as car technology, racing intelligence and talent, just like in real life. Reason for not having hundreds of cars in S2 is mainly because we're a very small development team, namely just 3 people and in fact just one guy, Eric Bailey, who creates all the content himself. And even though our tracks are not real, I'd like to say that they are perfect track models.
BS: What does S2 add to Live for Speed?
VV: 10 more cars made up of several classes, 3 additional track environments, a lot more comprehensive driving simulation (physics), very detailed tyre simulation including flatspots, car-damage, more racing features such as pitstops, driver change, etc. All in all, a much more complete package for the (serious) racing enthusiast.
Scawen Roberts: The tyre temperatures and wear, fuel usage and damage mean that the car is constantly changing, either quickly or slowly, depending on your driving style. Driving to get the most out of your car without overheating the tyres, and planning your pit stops in a long race mean that thinking and strategy are very important, unlike in the old version where the car remained the same at all times and the aim would be simply to go as fast as possible at all times.
BS: The physics engine in this game is nothing short of amazing. How did you manage to model car handling like this, and how long did it take?
SR: Thanks! I started with something simple about six years ago, just for fun while I was still at my previous job, where Eric worked as well. The important thing about the simulation at that time was that, although the tyre and suspension models were very simple, it was a fully three dimensional system, a rigid body suspended on four contact patches. This instantly gave it some realism and the user could pull off any kind of stunt that they wanted to do, without needing any special programming for the different stunts and moves. So it was already fun to play with, after only a weekend of work (I already had my own three dimensional object system and a bumpy landscape, so the physics was simply added to that). Ever since then, it has been improved in small steps, with a lot of research and experimentation. The work is always done "low down" in the simulation, for example at the suspension and tyre contact patch level. The "output" from the simulation, how the car moves and the forces it generates, are compared with whatever real data we can find, to validate the changes made at the heart of the simulation. There's a lot of other work to be done in LFS , the actual game that surrounds the simulation, so physics improvements are normally done in bursts of a few weeks, several months apart. These changes take a lot more thinking than programming.