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Multiplayer – How to improve it.

Let me begin by saying that I haven’t done a lot of multiplayer in my time whether it be sim-racing or any other genre of gaming. But of the little I have done in sim-racing, it has rarely been a pleasant or satisfying experience.

Now there are those in the community who insist that if you want to do any decent online racing you must either join a league, somehow find your way into one of the many locked and passworded servers or simply sign up to iRacing which carries it’s own expenses. 
But lets say you neither have time to commit to a league or are so much into multiplayer that you need something like iRacing to satisfy your needs.  Lets say you are, like me, someone who occasionally wants a break from the AI and jump online to play some fellow sim-racers once in a while. Pick-up races are your only choice realistically it would seem.
Pick-up races is not, as the term suggests, racing with Pick-ups (although there’s a thought).  It is the laborious method of refreshing your server list within the sim, seeing a vast amount of them locked, finding the unlocked ones, then from those, finding one that isn’t either empty or full. If you manage that then you have to see of what you’re left with are servers running with a car or track you like or don’t mind trying and in the case of rFactor 1 is using content that you already have.

Then lets say you finally find one that’s suitable and inside your ping range.
Now you have to either Quali/Race or Practice/Quali/Race or indeed just Practice to see who can get the best laptimes.
If you’re lucky you will have a decent qualifying session then when the lights go out, you will get away cleanly, survive the inevitable pile-up into turn 1 and go on to have a fun and challening race. But with pick-up races, how often does that happen?

From my own experience the most likely scenarios involve one or more of the following occurrences :-

– Someone doesn’t get away rom the start grid and you smash into their car (hello Assetto Corsa)
– people are pushing and shoving others in desperation to make places straight away usually ending up by pushing someone else off and ruining their race
– the mad dash into turn one where people try to get more cars in than there is road width.
– In qualifying you are on a hotlap and have a car in front also on a hotlap… they make a mistake and trash their laptime and when you go by they hit you ruining yours too. 
– driving in a manner that if you did it in a real car you would be banned or disqualified
– the ease with which someone quits a race.  either because they spun or decided they can’t catch the car in front any more.

There are other things I’m sure some of you will have experienced but there is so much ego and testosterone out there that it gets in the way of everybody having a good race

Lets take an example (the one which prompted me to write this article actually).
I have just come from a 9-car event at Silverstone International involving the BMW Z4 E89  (Assetto Corsa). There were 15mins of qualifying followed by a 10 lap race.
All 9 cars qualified. I was told I was 7th but on the grid I sat 6th so maybe someone left in digust. The times were tight and I didn’t get my best possible lap as I found later in the race where half my laps were quick than my quali time.
During quali, I was on one of my hotlaps and there was a car about 2-3s up tha road and going at a pace that was not going to disturb my lap so I was happy not to worry about it. Then he took a corner and the car got a massibe wobble on. It didn’t spin but it was enough to trash his laptime.
Now surely at this point you do two things… 1) Realise that your lap is trashed and move off the racing line while you recover 2) Watch your mirrors for approaching cars.
Well the car did move off the line to the right so I just stuck to my line and went for the pass as he was now slow.  But I got tapped out anyway.  Why!?!
Didn’t he see me? Did he decide that as he messed up his lap that he might as well screw up mine too?  Was I, in his mind, to blame for him going off by being in his mirrors?  I guess I’ll never know but it’s so typical of some of these so called sim-racers who consider themselves ‘hardcore’ etc. but lack the fundamental skills of what a real world driver would do in a given moment.
All these supposed virtual drivers who pile into turn 1. We all know it happens far too often.  Is it desperation to prove oneself? Does the ego or the macho come to the fore above racing etiquette and ethics? Or are many sim-racers just careless or thoughtless drivers?

I am sure that anyone reading this who has played multiplayer online has more than one tale to tell of frustrating and unsatisfying MP races. Why do sim-racers exit the race so quickly when things aren’t going their way? I have found that if you persevere in a MP race that you will very often make up places simply by passing others who make mistakes and spin off or quit themselves because they are maybe embarrassed or easily frustrated.
Well, 3 drivers including myself finished that race in Silversteone. The rest just couldn’t hack it. If only there was some kind of exam you had to take before being allowed to race with other humans. Some sort of virtual super-licence.
Well for something like that, you’d need to have a validation system that is implemented in all the respected sim-racing titles. Can’t see that happening.

So where does this leave us? Don’t we all want some way to improve our multiplay experience so whether we win, battle through to a podium or finish near the back at least we can have some satisfaction that we gave it our all and had fun in the process.

I thought of some ideas to help this situation but I have no illusions that that can or will be implemented in any of the current Alpha/Beta sims. I have not used iRacing that much so if any or my thoughts are similar to something iRacing or any other sim has, it is purely coincidental.

My thoughts

1) Clearly there needs to be a penalty system for certain actions during MP sessions. But also a points system (tied in with the penalty system) for those who not only race well but fairly. How often you race does not necessarily have to impact on your rating. Penalty points take away points from your total and bonus points put them back. But a tally is kept of all penalty and bonus points gathered and a percentage ratio is calculated. This means you don’t have to have 400 races under your belt to get onto a server that only allows people on with, say, 100 points or over.

Penalty points can be dished out for:-
– collisions that cause someone else to spin or leave the boundaries of the track
-failing to get away from the starting grid when the lights go out
-quitting a race before the flag (not counted if you pit or stop with a damaged car) ***
-ignoring a blue flag in quali or race (for sims that have flags – those that don’t need to get them)
-cutting corners

Then servers can be set up only to accept entrants with a certain amount of points or by their bonus/penalty percentage.
*** –  To avoid getting penalties because of a power cut or because you got disconnected, the MP sessions should be set up so that there is no single key on the keyboard that can allow you to quit back to the menu (not even ESC).
It can be set up so you press ‘A’ or ‘ESC’ to abort and then you have to confirm your desire to quit with a Y/N. That means your quitting is a deliberate action.
Don’t start a race you’re not prepared to finish or see through to the end.

Conversely, bonus points can be dished out for:-
– no collisions during qualifying or race
– completing a race regardless of finishing position
– not incurring any penalty points at all during the session

No points for winning or fastest laps because then the quickest drivers are advantaged. Winning, being on the podium or attaining fastest laps bring their own merits from within the sim already.
It is behaviour we are concentrating on here, not how quick you are.

I think if you are going to commit to a MP race with other people then you should commit fully. Finish the race if your car is undamaged and behave as you would if it was real life. It is only fair because otherwise your slot in that pick-up race could have gone to someone else who was looking for a race and was more serious about participating without ego getting in the way.

It would be great so see some kind of feature like this in Assetto Corsa, rFactor 2 or Project CARS.
As far as Assetto Corsa goes, it would also be nice to know the gaps between you and the car in front and behind and also who the list of laptimes (seeing who got the fastest) at the end during the results table.
While I’m on the subject of AC, can we PLEASE be allowed to finish the lap we are on in a session where we cross the line and are on a lap during which the clock runs out. During quali I crossed the start line with 14s to go. I was on my quickest lap by –0.2 in sector 1…. fade to black…. didn’t get to finish it.   AARRGGHH!!

I feel there is more to be said on this topic but please give me some feedback, ideas, criticism etc. and let us know your feelings and experience.