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One tricky racing sim: Assetto Corsa Competizione is now on consoles

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On Tuesday, sim-racing options for the Xbox One and Playstation 4 just got a little more diverse with the release of Assetto Corsa Competizione. The game is a companion of sorts to the well-established PC racing sim Assetto Corsa, developed by Italian studio Kunos Simulazioni. First released on the PC in 2019, ACC is a much more narrowly targeted game than its older sibling—this game is focused on a single category of racing, called GT3, which uses modified versions of exotica you might see on the road (or reviewed here at Ars) like Lamborghini Huracáns and Acura NSXs.

ACC is also the official game of GT World Challenge, a collection of race series held around the world by an organization called SRO. That kind of hyperspecific demographic makes sense in the PC world, where most hardcore sim racers live, but the people at Kunos have ported their game to both the PS4 (which we tested) and Xbox One—consoles that have traditionally been better served by more accessible driving games.

I’ve heard good things about the fidelity of Assetto Corsa over the years, and so I was eager to try out the franchise’s console debut to see how it stacks up.

Tricky tires

In a briefing last week, Kunos said that it’s done a lot of work with both the aerodynamic and tire modeling of ACC, which (unlike its earlier game) is built using the Unreal Engine. For the tire model—arguably the most important part of any racing sim—the studio worked closely with Italian tire company Pirelli, which is the official tire supplier for SRO’s various GT3 championships. (Turn 10 did something similar with Pirelli for Forza Motorsport 4 back in the day but then abandoned that in favor of doing its own tire testing for subsequent games.)

I haven’t had a chance to drive a car on Pirelli’s GT3 racing tires, but if you catch an actual race car driver in an unguarded moment, they’ll often have plenty of complaints about the Italian rubber brand. That may well be why the cars in ACC feel so sensitive to drive: once you start to slide, you have to be extremely fast to correct it without losing control completely. That means this is a game where you need to be precise all the time. If your approach to driving games is to mash controller buttons, you will not enjoy ACC much.

In fact, if your preferred (or only) way of playing driving games on consoles is with a controller, ACC isn’t the game for you either. Kunos said it spent a lot of time making sure the game works with a gamepad, and the game technically works in this mode. But unless your name is Jacques Villeneueve and you won the 1997 Formula 1 World Championship, you really, really shouldn’t play this without a steering wheel. (Also, if you switch between a gamepad and then back to a wheel, you may need to reset your wheel settings in the game to avoid some weird handling problems.)

The cars and tracks are pretty accurate

There’s a good deal of attention to detail in the simulation of the racing cars and tracks in ACC. Each of the real-world tracks (there are 11, plus another four available in a DLC pack today for Xbox players and in a couple of weeks for PS4 players) has been built up from accurate lidar scans, along with dynamic lighting and different weather conditions. The 24 different race cars are also accurately rendered, inside and out, including multiple real-world liveries for each of the teams that have contested the SRO’s GT3 series in 2018 and 2019. Even the multifunction display on each car’s steering wheel accurately reflects the data that a real racing driver would be presented with (complete with multiple pages of data to scroll through).

On a PS4 or PS4 Pro the game runs at 1080p, but the Pro version has improved draw distances, anti-aliasing, and better particle effects, as well as an option to run it at 3200×1800. For the Xbox One, ACC runs at 900p, with the Xbox One X running at 4k along with the other features just listed for the PS4 Pro. However, the game’s frame rate has been capped at 30 fps on all variants of both consoles. Kunos said this was done so as to maximize processing power for the game’s audio and physics simulation, but when the PC version can reach higher frame rates with more powerful graphics cards, that may well leave console players feeling like they’re missing out.

Driver rankings

If you spend any time listening to professional drivers who race GT3 cars, you will quickly hear complaint after complaint about driver ratings. Because ACC is heavily focused on online multiplayer racing, it too judges your driving (both in online multiplayer and single-player races) in order to rank you into competitive online matchups. The game does this by tracking six different attributes, which it begins calculating during your first hour or two of gameplay. (Either as you start in career mode, or in my case, if you spend a couple of hours lapping a track you know in order to get a handle on how the tire model behaves.)

These are as follows:

  • Track Competence, or how well you know your way around each circuit. Set more clean laps and this number increases.
  • Car control—pretty self-explanatory: it goes up if you drive clean and don’t spin out.
  • Consistency, which again is self-explanatory.
  • Pace, which measures how close you are to the fastest lap times for each circuit’s leaderboards, as well as how you rank in the special events.
  • Safety is determined by how well (or poorly) you avoid colliding with other cars. You won’t be able to participate in some of the game’s multiplayer sessions unless your safety ranking is high enough.
  • Racecraft, which is determined by how well you can overtake or defend against other cars on track.
Enlarge / This is what your driver-rating screen looks like.

505 Games

Some of these scores will take a long time to build up. For example, after a few hours of play for this review, my track competence, car control, and consistency scores are all in the 60-70 range (on a 100-point scale). But pace and safety are only in single digits, and race craft has yet to get a numerical score.

Race on your own or with other humans

As usual, Ars got access to the game a few days before its launch. That means most of my gameplay has been single player because the servers aren’t heavily populated. Single player has a few different options. There’s the championship mode, which lets you cycle through either the 2018 or 2019 seasons, presented in the same order of tracks as they were in the real world. There’s career mode, where you start off with a series of 10-minute test sessions (during the day, then in the rain, then at night) before running through a championship interspersed with other test sessions. And there are some special events which change every so often—these are challenges like hot lapping a particular circuit or completing part of a race.

ACC also provides some online multiplayer options. You can weight preferences for servers to Quickjoin based on tracks you like, weather conditions you do or don’t want to experience, and so on. You can scroll through a list of active servers and pick a particular one. And if your driver ranking is high enough you can also enter some of the competition servers. (Private lobbies are on the list of things to be implemented in time.)

An example of the Special Events menu.
Enlarge / An example of the Special Events menu.

505 Games

Gameplay

As a hardcore sim, ACC replicates many of the things you’d experience as an actual GT3 racing driver. Each race begins with a rolling start, so you have to drive in double-file order before the lights go green and you can begin overtaking (or getting passed). You’ll want to take part in practice and qualifying sessions before each race to determine which position you start from. And races feature pit stops, which have to be performed within a specific window during each race.

To help you out, you have a race engineer who gives you information and who also acts as a spotter, telling you if there are cars in close proximity that you can’t see. There’s also a useful radar-like display that appears on the screen when you’re in close proximity to other cars. And the game has a bunch of different driver assists like automatic windshield wipers, headlights, and pit-lane speed limiters to help manage what can be a hectic workload while also trying to race at over 100mph. In my experience, some of these are buggy—the automatic pit-lane speed limiter didn’t engage in at least half my races, which means I could either accept a 30-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane, or I could restart the race from the beginning. Also, either the UI is broken or I’m too dumb to work out how to give my pit crew instructions using a on-screen menu that appears frozen during those pitstops.

Don’t be afraid to use driver aids like traction control and ABS—these are present on real GT3 race cars, which are designed to be accessible to amateurs. Like other racing sims—and even more “simcade” games like Gran Turismo Sport—you can and may have to tweak these on the fly, so memorizing which buttons or dials on your steering wheel do what is probably a good idea. Kunos could also have done a better job informing players about some of these—for example, each car has different engine settings or maps, which you’ll switch between if you need to save fuel or it rains. Thankfully, because ACC came out on the PC, other people have done the hard work to figure out some of that stuff.

It’s not perfect

Although ACC is now available on three different platforms (PC, PS4, Xbox), there is no cross-platform gameplay. Console players hoping to join friends who are already playing the game on PC are out of luck. There are bound to be technical reasons for that, but it means your pool of competition is going to be restricted. And for a game as narrowly focused as this one, with as much emphasis on esports and online multiplayer, that seems like a problem.

In fact, I’m at a loss to understand why Kunos spent the time and effort to port Assetto Corsa Competizione to consoles rather than the broader Assetto Corsa. That series at least offers a wider range of cars to drive, which would appeal to a wider audience. As a console racing sim, ACC is satisfying to master but less so than Project Cars 2, which in my opinion has a better tire model and definitely has a much bigger array of tracks and cars to choose from, as well as robust online communities for each platform. And most players looking for a hardcore sim will go straight to the PC anyway, where you have your pick of Project Cars 2, Assetto Corsa, ACC, iRacing, and more.

The Good

  • Highly accurate real-world race tracks and GT3 race cars
  • Faithful simulation of the 2018 and 2019 GT3 racing season
  • Some helpful driver assists and aids

The Bad

  • Only 30 fps
  • No cross-platform multiplayer
  • Very limited appeal to casual gamers
  • Don’t bother without a steering wheel
  • Once the tires start to slide, you’re probably not going to catch them

The Ugly

  • Trying to play this game with a controller
  • Bugs that need fixing
  • No private lobbies yet

Verdict: Try it if you want a hardcore console race sim and really love GT3 racing. Most other players should probably give it a miss.

Listing image by 505 Games

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How Zelda fans changed the ending to Ocarina of Time on a vanilla N64

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Enlarge / This… isn’t supposed to happen in Ocarina of Time. Here’s the story of how some fans made it happen anyway—all on a stock N64 with an unmodified Ocarina cartridge.

Summer Games Done Quick

Shortly after our guide to Summer Games Done Quick 2022 went live, the event hosted an astounding demonstration of a classic video game—one that has since crowded that Ars article’s replies. If we want to split hairs, this run through the 1998 N64 classic Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is not a “speedrun,” but it’s another example of the “TASBot” concept transforming games in ways we would never have dreamed of 24 years ago.

The team of fans and programmers responsible for this week’s “Triforce-percent” demonstration have since revealed how they achieved the feat with nothing more than a stock N64 and an original Ocarina retail cartridge—though the secret involves controller inputs so fast and precise that they cannot be performed by anything less than a computer.

Nothing stale about this run

An early 2020 video that explains how stale reference manipulation works. You may want to watch this before watching the SGDQ 2022 video, embedded further below.

The 53-minute demonstration (embedded at the end of this article) opens with an exploit previously unearthed in late 2019, which the community dubbed “Stale Reference Manipulation.” This exploit takes advantage of a vulnerability in the game’s original 1.0 version, which allowed players to manipulate numerical values assigned to specific objects in the game’s memory. The breeziest explanation for this complicated technique can be found in a YouTube video from early 2020 (embedded above), as it spells out the various numerical values assigned to each object in the game, such as their X-, Y-, and Z-axes and their rotation.

Savvy players can make values overlap or overwhelm the game’s original code so they can be manipulated as players see fit. The technique we see in this week’s run requires Link to pick up a rock while going through a “loading zone,” a hallway used to disguise loading pauses on N64 hardware, and to do so in a way that the game was not designed to handle.

Initially, this exploit was a speedrunning tool, as it could trick the game into loading the final credits sequence and technically count as a “completion” within only a few minutes. But the Triforce-percent run goes much further.

RAMming new content into a classic game

Hey, wait, that doesn't belong here... but as the TASBot demonstration team points out, an Arwing from <em>Star Fox 64</em> was left in the original <em>Ocarina</em> cartridge, as a reminder that this object was used to test certain animation routines in the early development period.
Enlarge / Hey, wait, that doesn’t belong here… but as the TASBot demonstration team points out, an Arwing from Star Fox 64 was left in the original Ocarina cartridge, as a reminder that this object was used to test certain animation routines in the early development period.

Summer Games Done Quick

By picking up and dropping specific items, then making the game’s hero Link move and perform maneuvers in a specific sequence, the TASBot team opens up a Pandora’s box of what’s known as arbitrary code execution—the type of vulnerability used by hackers the world over to make a closed computer system run whatever code they want. What’s more, the TASBot chain of moves and commands begins to tell the N64 to accept button input from all four N64 controllers as if it’s code.

This item-manipulation menu was left in the game as a beta element, easily unearthed for use in the SGDQ 2022 run.
Enlarge / This item-manipulation menu was left in the game as a beta element, easily unearthed for use in the SGDQ 2022 run.

Summer Games Done Quick

At this point, a computer takes over all four N64 controller ports and sends a rapid-fire series of button taps, as if it were a zillion-finger superhero equivalent to The Flash. The glitched-out Ocarina cartridge has instructed the N64 to accept each button tap in a way that corresponds to specific code strings. Once enough of this payload has been sent, the team can return normal control to the “player one” port, so that a real person can play through an entirely new sequence of content—all being dumped into the N64’s random-access memory (RAM) by the other three controllers’ incredibly fast input.

These on-the-fly patches can do many incredible things that, combined, resemble a fully blown patch of a cartridge’s read-only memory (ROM), though the TASBot team restricts itself to changes that specifically apply to the console’s RAM: tiny changes to existing code, total file replacements, or commands to tell the game to ignore content that it would normally load from the ROM. As a result, this exploit can glitch or crash if players go outside the expected path that this exploit is optimized for.

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Diablo Immortal is bringing in over $1 million a day in microtransactions

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Use cash to buy orbs.

Despite backlash from some players, Diablo Immortal‘s free-to-play, microtransaction-laden game design seems to be working out just fine for Blizzard’s bottom line. Using data from mobile analysis firm Appmagic, MobileGamer.biz estimates that the iOS and Android versions of the game brought in $49 million in earnings from just over 10 million mobile downloads in the versions’ first 30 days of availability.

Those estimates, which are based on public charts provided by the mobile platforms, don’t include the PC version of the game and, thus, may actually be underselling the scale of its financial success. With PC players included, Blizzard announced that Diablo Immortal hit 10 million installs after just over a week, well ahead of the mobile download pace estimated by Appmagic.

By way of comparison, Diablo III took nearly six months to sell 10 million copies after its troubled launch back in 2012. But that game sold for a $60 MSRP, making it hard to compare directly to a free-to-play game that has so far brought in an estimated average of less than $5 in earnings per download, according to Appmagic.

The long tail

While Diablo III‘s earnings were front-loaded on initial sales, though, Diablo Immortal seems well-positioned to bring in additional revenue from its existing player base for a long while. As of Monday, for instance, the game was still the 34th highest-grossing app on the entire iOS App Store, despite having fallen to 134th in terms of new downloads.

Many of those initial Immortal players (and payers) will eventually fall away from the game, of course. But that process might happen slower than you might think. Estimates of Android app retention from analysis firm Quettra suggest an app that launches in the “top 10” on the Google Play Store (as Diablo Immortal did) can expect to keep close to 60 percent of its initial users after three months. And public data from mobile hits like Pokemon Go, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush Saga suggests that roughly 10 to 20 percent of all players who had downloaded those games were still regular players a full year or two after launch.

That all suggests that Diablo Immortal will have millions of active players well into next year and beyond. And while the vast majority of those players will never spend a single cent on the game, the top-end whales could easily spend enough on the game’s confusing sets of currencies to keep the revenue rolling in for Blizzard for a long time.

Blizzard has already promised that the upcoming Diablo IV will limit microtransactions to optional cosmetics. But the early performance for Diablo Immortal helps show why the free-to-play business model can be so appealing for a publisher like Blizzard, even if it can be annoying for many players.

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The best game-exploiting speedruns of Summer Games Done Quick 2022

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Enlarge / All four of the mascots seen in this SGDQ promo image appear in various speedruns hosted over the past week.

Summer Games Done Quick

The Games Done Quick series of charity events has long been a favorite among the gaming fans and critics at Ars Technica since it combines classic, beloved video games and carefully studied methods to break them apart in search of high-speed exploits.

This year’s summertime installment is particularly special, as it’s the first in 2.5 years to take place at a physical venue—albeit with some of the most stringent masking and distancing requirements we’ve seen in a livestreamed public show in 2022. (GDQ’s organizers appear to read the news, which makes sense for a series that benefits the likes of Doctors Without Borders.) Even with precautions taken, its combination of players, commentators, and crowds in the same room has brought excitement back to its broadcasts, which is why we’re pulling together some of the best runs from the past week, as archived at GDQ’s official YouTube channel.

The event is still ongoing as of this article’s publication, which means you can watch it right now via its Twitch channel. The event’s final runs, dedicated to Elden Ring, will conclude in the late hours on Saturday, July 2.

Tunic speedrun, Summer Games Done Quick 2022

Tunic, 2022, “true ending” run

If you haven’t yet played Tunic, we recommend you pause before watching this game-breaking, spoiler-filled romp through many of its biggest secrets. (My March review of the game has far fewer spoilers.) But if you’ve already collected the game’s slew of hidden “instruction booklet” pages, consider this a must-watch, because it includes a compelling guest on real-time commentary: Andrew Shouldice, the game’s lead designer, programmer, and artist.

He’s joined by a member of the Power-Up Audio team, which worked on the game’s soundtrack, and they divulge tons of information about how the game was made—including confirmation about how many of the biggest exploits were intentionally left by the devs in the game. At one point, Shouldice watches a trick begin to play out, telling the crowd that he programmed it to be a possibility but could never personally trigger it. Moments later, the speedrunner demonstrated the trick, allowing him to warp through a wall and bypass a ton of tricky content.

Halo Infinite speedrun, Summer Games Done Quick 2022

Halo Infinite, 2021, “no tank gun” run

Many classic games’ speedruns include multiple categories, and the most broken ones are known as “any-percent” runs, since they allow players to use any tricks and skip any quests that they want. In certain games’ cases, these kinds of runs can be boring to watch, and the infamously glitchy Halo Infinite is no exception.

This speedrun begins with a demonstration of the “tank gun,” which bolts an unlimited-ammo gun to Master Chief’s feet. That’s too much assistance for speedrunners’ tastes, but this SGDQ demonstration still includes a ton of wacky tricks that combine geometry clipping and otherworldly physics exploits—all boosted by Chief’s immediate access to a new grappling hook item. Sure, the hook makes players move much faster through the world, but it also figures into a wild glitch that makes players bounce off explosive barrels in ways that defy gravity.

Thunder in Paradise speedrun, Summer Games Done Quick 2022

Thunder in Paradise, 1995, all-cutscenes run

We’re not sure whether this is GDQ’s first speedrun dedicated to a full-motion video (FMV) game, but it’s certainly one of the dumber examples of the mid-’90s CD-ROM genre. Thunder in Paradise is based on the short-lived TV series of the same name, which starred Terry “Hulk” Hogan alongside Jack Lemmon’s son as a crime-solving action duo on the beach, and it was as bad as that sounds. The video game version, relegated to the CD-I console, forces players to watch excruciatingly bad live-action footage between light gun shootout sections.

In most video game speedruns, players skip as many cinema scenes as possible, but GDQ elected to show this game’s filmed footage in its entirety while cheesing the gun gameplay parts as quickly as possible. Strap in, brother.

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