Why in hell NASCAR Heat ?

Why the hell do these folks run NASCAR Heat ?

The world has turned on and software industry has provided us with more recent, modern racing sims. Some that claim to be modder's paradise, like rFactor, some others claim about having the best physics like LFS while some others boast have the best of everything, like iRacing, just to name some of the most popular ones.

So let's check on some details.

First order we had in mind to make mods for online racing. !
Which made for quite a difference in weighting facts.

Online Racing means you need to have

  • competitive cars
  • scalable graphics that will make the cars run smooth even on not-that-high-powered-PCs
  • netcode that provides smooth online racing even with 20+ cars on the track.
  • Additionally it would be nice if the sim of choice supports a wide variety of input devices and driver perspectives.
  • You need to have an easily available game engine
Other aspects that are always pointed out as being most important are
  • close-to-real physics
  • realism

Competitive cars

In most sims, you only get competitive cars in an online race if everybody is using the same car physics. Most often it has to be even the same car, sometimes the car shapes varies. But in most sims there's almost no way to have multiple cars with individual physics and still be competitive. Why that ?

One reason is that most offline sim racers, modders and game publishers rank accuracy much higher than race competition. And as in real life racing there is no such thing as equally competitive cars, there isn't in most sims or mods. In real life racing each team uses any advantage they could lay hands on immediatly. Motorsports isn't just a drivers' competition, but a manufactorers' or team competition as well. Opposite to sim racing, you might add.

Working out even only a single car for rFactor for example takes a lot of time, so there's only very few multicar mods at all for that sim. And those there are don't offer equally competitive cars, as the modders could either target for that part of sim racing community that wants to have historical accuracy or for online sim racers. Guess which part of sim racing community is the bigger one ? And since making cars equally competitive would even add to cost and/or worktime to the mod (and not just a small amount), there's an easy decision

More recent mods in NHeat have almost all been made with online racing as primary goal. That's the benefit if you're only targeting for a tiny niche in simracing anyway :)

You can for example race 9 different cars in GroupC mod or 4 in SCGTS mod, all being equally competitive while all having fully individual physics. Which are less accurate than they might have been in any rF mod, but that never was the aim. This is about online racing in first order, not about 100% historical accuracy !

Graphics
  • NHeat supports screen resolutions up to 1600 px.
  • Car skins usually come 1024x1024, which is less than in rFactor for example, but makes for WAY less graphics load.
In the races, you'd have a hard time to notice any difference to higher res textures anyway, so though higher res textures are very nice for screenshots, increasing textures res doesn't make much sense for online racing. It just doesn't add much benefit to online racing. And this here still is about online racing, not about making nice screenshots

More recent NHeat mods have about as much poligons as rFactor mods and some NHeat car models (COT or SCGTS mods for example) are even more smooth that most GTR2 convertion mods. So though NHeat may be old, it's most recent mods are graphically up to date, at least concerning the depth of details you will be able to see in a race.

Input devices

Input devices
NHeat supports more than 4 input devices at the same time. Actually I have installed and use in Nheat at the same time
  • USB FF Wheel
  • USB pedals (standalone)
  • USB H-Shifter (standalone)
  • USB selfbuild standalone keypad
  • Keyboard
  • USB Mouse
So no lack of options here

Netcode

Ever noticed that random hopping of cars to left and right in most sims in online races ? That's when the server tries to locate the car's current position but doesn't get response from the client fast enough. You might think it has to be that way since ALL those modern sims do it that way ? Well, you're wrong.

NHeat has 2 online options: thin and fat mode.
Thin mode is for servers that only have little bandwidth. To reduce bandwidth used, NHeat doesn't show flashing brakelights in thin mode. Frequency of locating opponent car positions is less high than with fat mode, which makes for some "guessing" positions. That "guessing" is done surprisingly well, though at highspeed braking there's some negative sideeffects. However, thin mode isn't used that much often anymore.

Fat mode is what you'd expect perfect online racing to be like. Cars don't hop randomly left or right like they do in all "modern" sims even with good connections. In NHeat, the connection has to be really bad before some weird behavior of any opponent car will show. And even then NHeat tries to smoothen the poor connection's effects at best, by guessing the car's position in relation to where it could be to make sense. Cars don't hop randomly in real life, so THIS doesn't make sense. Any movement would be more smooth and this is what NHeat's netcode is about and the reason why NHeat netcode still is superior to most other sims out there.

Physics

Physics is a controversal topic

Some (a lot of) people will claim only to run the most realistic physics there is available. While actually the number of drivers that are able to compete and that will showup in races decrease with increasing realism of car physics. Which isn't even much of a surprise... just imagine how able John Doe is supposed to be running a 500hp car that has no ABS or traction control. In real life, you could expect him to end up in the pit lane wall no 200m after he had launched the car. But that same John Doe will nonetheless claim that in sim racing he's able even to RACE that very same car - which means running the car at it's physical limits all the time.

Imagine how much fun and competition John Doe actually will have when he'd have to run that 500hp beast against folks who do this 7 days a week in semiprofessional way. He'll be a backmarker and unless he'll increase practicing time A LOT, he'll stay being backmarker. And have rather little fun in the long run.

In real life racing, it's quite a struggle to setup the car to make it be competitive. And usually you'd have the support of an engineer who knows what this is about. And usually the driver as well would have more than just basic understanding of how to setup the car. If you'd want to run simracing in a most realistic way, each raceday would be a fulltime job. And not only racedays. Which would mean that those maniacs who indeed do simracing almost fulltime would be THAT far ahead of the rest that this would kill any fun for most drivers immediatly. Best check out iRacing if you are up to that kind of "fun".

NASCAR Heat provides some decent physics engine, that for example has 20 parameters to be set in car physics for each tire, each having impact on the other 19. NHeat offers a great approach on "real life" driving physics in hardcore mode, but it lacks features like for example "flat spot" braking. But almost all of those "missing" features don't much add to online sim racing. Actually most of them rather add some annoyance to online racing... so in NHeat you won't suffer from fading brakes, but you will from fading tires. You will be able to overheat and blow your engine - but you'll be able to get it repaired. You won't kill your engine by shifting down too fast (like in LFS) - but it may make you spin out from torque instantly.

There's more detailed physics engines out there - but few are more balanced in support of online racing.

Realism

Another controversal topic

If you're used to driving cars in chase view, you can stop reading, as obviously you're not in for using only the sim that provides most realism. Chase view is NOT realistic or have you ever noticed a driver hovering behind his car in real life ? The ONLY realistic view mode in a race sim is driver view, even if in some cars you can hardly see any part of the track that way. Some disadvantage of realism :) However, NHeat provides no less than 6 different views for racing, including 3 chase views. And another 2 views for spectating

In real life racing, engines may blow up, crashes usually end up with the car been taken out of the race - sometimes drivers suffer injuries from crashes or may even die. What sense does it make to have this kind of realism - and to what degree - in a race sim ? Ok, let's drop that injury part, but even just sticking a car into an offtrack sand pit only generates frustration. Not to mention engines that randomly blow up. Now these "features" are well supported by recent sim engines like rFactor or iRacing, though not that injury part. That's only supported by netkar , though even then it only hurts the virtual pilot ;). This may be nice features for offline racing, if you'd like to get the full spectrum of optional frustating situations of real life racing, but it doesn't make any sense at all in support for competitive online simracing.

With NASCAR Heat, if you crash your car, you suffer notable disadvantages that will slow you down. You can blow or overheat your engine, though that will never happen at random. But you'll ALWAYS be able to make it back to the pits, get repairs. and race on. Which makes perfect sense for online racing.

If you shortcut on the track, NHeat will reward you with a 2sec penalty in a lot of cases. Or may slow your car down.Or you may immediatly lose traction. It just depends on what the track modder has put in at this place. But you'll never end up helplessly with your car sticking anywhere on the track with no option out. Track penalty traps are for sure nothing like realism, but a great support for online simracing.