“Slow down, you’re gonna crash,
Baby you were screamin’,
It’s a blast, blast, blast,
Look out babe you got your blinders on,
Everybody’s lookin’ for a way,
To get real gone, real gone,
– Sheryl Crow and John Shanks, “Real Gone”
“The following is a contributor post by the Purple Prose Mage.”
It is 25th August 2000. “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)” by Spiller featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor is the UK no. 1 single. Bring it On, produced by Marc Abraham and Thomas Bliss, opens at the top of the Northern American box office. BBC News reports on the popularity of the Pikachu virus, which spread by incorporating a Pokemon theme in order to target child Internet users. Codemasters publishes TOCA World Touring Cars to the PlayStation in Europe. It is the third entry in the TOCA Touring Cars trilogy, which in turn led to the TOCA Race Driver/Grid series. A Microsoft Windows version was planned but later cancelled. In North America, it’s known as Jarrett & Labonte Stock Car Racing.
TOCA World Touring Cars was developed and published by Codemasters, who’d had previous success with the Colin McRae Rally games. They were notable for their realistic physics, accurate replication of the world rally championship structure and the inclusion of setup screens for the players who really knew their stuff to modify parts based on the upcoming track – an innovative genre since mimicked by numerous titles since. In this way, the same attention to detail and realism is applied in the TOCA Touring Car games. Having been developed with the same engine as colin | mcrae | rally | 2.0, the same sound effects can be heard coming from the cars and tyres. It’s the kind of small details like that people like me tend to notice and appreciate.
Racing games based on autosport are almost a genre within themselves, because they’re essentially adaptations, and therefore are confined to certain conditions in terms of what they can be and how everything works. But this is what makes them so interesting – their progression structures can often by illogical for a video game, yet are based on the real competitions as used by the sports that inspired them.
For example, in TOCA World Touring Cars, the championship uses a heat structure, which the player moves through using a points system. That means you can’t just advance straight up the ladder directly. In total, there are seven national championships (N American, S&C American, British, German, Mediterranean, Japanese and Australian), three international championships (Pan American, European and Asia-Pacific) and a single world championship, the WTC. At first, it would seem that the way to win at the game is by winning a national championship (such as the British one), then advancing to its associated international championship (i.e., European) before eventually advancing yet further still to the world championship. But in reality, it doesn’t work like that. You can only advance toward the larger-sized championships when you’ve accumulated enough career points. That means you’re going to have to take part in numerous national championships before you can go international. That’s how the real championship works, they don’t allow just anyone to take part in these things.
But before any of that, in order to even enter a national championship at all, you need to win a place on one of its teams. Each nation has at least one team, each exclusively connected to one manufacturer. When you apply to the team, you’ll be given control of their car with a specific criteria, which is often completing a lap of a specific circuit from the championship within a certain time limit with so many attempts. If this criteria is met, the team will officially make you an offer. Accepting the offer recruits you to the team, and they’ll enter you into a national championship. The point system assigns a standardised number of points to each driver after each race based on their final position, the higher the position the higher the number of points. At the end of the championship, your total championship points are added to your overall career points. If you haven’t reached the minimum number of career points to qualify for the international championships, then you’ll need to compete in more national championships, which will also require qualification for another team. It seems tedious, but this is how it works in reality. Graduating from the international championships to the WTC works using the same points-assignment system also.
Each race is introduced by a commentator, who’ll also comment on the results, referring to drivers by their names. Of course, the player will never be referred to by the name they’ve entered, and will instead by referred to by some other description. However, the name the player enters will be displayed as a decal on the rear window of every car they drive. It’s a pretty neat detail to include.
During some races, pit stops are mandatory – and yet they’re never boring. When in the pits, the player isn’t in control of the car. It slows and drives itself along the pit crews to the one at the very end. It will then pull into the team and be raised up. The tyres will be replaced (the player having been given the option to choose which tread to apply). After this, the car is lowered down and drives back onto the track and gives the player a countdown for when they’ll be returned control. It’s surprising just how interesting the pit sequences manage to be, given that it slows down the action and doesn’t allow the player to do anything. I think that speaks to the overall approach to the game as a whole.
Even when on the track, the crew chief will comment to the player on their driving; if they’re going too slow, causing too much damage to the car or even just driving well. The whole game is about verisimilitude. The physics is realistic, in that the stock cars behave like stock cars – that is, easily flipping-out and not handling turns all that great. The visuals deserve credit, too; stock cars don’t have doors or rear lights (most of the time), and the lighting and contours reflect this. You can tell they’re supposed to be stock cars. Bumpers will detach and remain on the track, even from other cars. If a part of your car is damaged, a diagram will appear to show it highlighted in either yellow, orange or red depending on the severity. The same will happen for tyres, which can be worn out – if that happens, you should probably pit, even if it isn’t mandatory, to get them replaced.
It’s all about creating as accurate a recreation of the sport as possible. The events are dated, so if you’re a hardcore role-player when it comes to your sports simulators, you can follow your own virtual career in real time and see just how long it takes you to win the WTC.
The Purple Prose Mage is the author of the Racing Game of the Week column and also likes reviewing the latest book he’s read on his own blog at alexsigsworth.wordpress.com. This is a side-project he’s working on while he finishes his novel.
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Categories: Racing Column