June 27th, 2014 by Steve Myers
Let’s just get the bad news out of the way right away. Driver swaps WILL NOT be in the Season 3 build. Take a minute to go file a protest, punch a wall, crush a six pack or whatever else you need to do to get that frustration out of your system. Then come back and finish reading.
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock . . .
Okay, feel better? So now that we have got that over with, I am going to write something that anyone that has read one of my blogs knows I never do: Makes as close to a promise as you will ever get from me about release dates. If I was allowed back in Vegas again and a casino would take my bet, I would put money down that driver swaps will be in the season 4 build. In fact, I’d bet all the money I could get my hands on as well although, in reality, that’s not so much considering I have two small children who literally never stop eating. But to reiterate, the driver swap feature really is coming, and it is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Some of you may have seen our post in the forums a month or so ago saying we needed more testers to help get driver swaps tested. If it was not obvious that this was a sign that Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster and Grant Reeve actually do exist and testing is in fact going on with driver swaps, then I don’t know what is. Quite frankly, driver swaps are really close enough that we’re not missing this build by much. I could go into a long-winded explanation of what development branches are and how they work, but only a handful of you will really appreciate it…. and the engineers will point and laugh at me after writing it.
So the short explanation is that after locking Randy Cassidy in his office for two years to work solo on driver swaps, we now have seven engineers working on this project. And with the massive amount of changes being made to the code for this feature, we have kept it isolated from the main development branch. We re-purposed a particular environment specifically to test this feature which we now need to prepare for the actual build that will be released in less than a month. Although testing has been going really well, the feature just doesn’t have the polish it needs to be moved over to the main branch, and we really need to focus testing on the goodies coming out in the next build.
The good news is that once we get this build out, we plan to close our eyes, cross our fingers and merge all of this code into the main branch, pretty much committing ourselves to releasing driver swaps in the Season 4 build.
Now that the timeline is hopefully a little clearer, let me tell you about the actual feature. I really am not lying when I say the feature is awesome. I have been sim racing for over twenty years now and worked in the industry for 15 years. iRacing has literally been integrated into my life for 10 years, day and night, 365 days a year, so I don’t always have a desire to sit down and just enjoy it when I actually get a few minutes to myself. I know some of you probably think I just kicked a puppy there, but it’s just a fact. I generally use the sim for work purposes and not as much for entertainment as I used to do.
Testing driver swaps these last few weeks has changed that for me. I legitimately have had fun and it has opened a new way for me to interact with the sim that I never would have imagined. I think when we originally sketched-out the design of this we had a pretty good idea that it would scratch a big itch for the endurance racing types out there; but with the way it has been implemented I think it will be much bigger than that. This feature has the potential to really create a multiplayer “co-op” feel, both in leagues and official racing; a feel I think people will not really understand until they try it. Interestingly enough, you really don’t need to run long races to appreciate and use it.
I will give you an example. The other day we wanted to test some changes that had been made with how the race servers communicated with the database, so we had an “all hands on deck” test session. I mistakenly decided to team up with Otto and we entered a 16 lap street stock race at Rockingham along with the rest of the company. Creating a team is easy. Click on the “teams” tab from the menu, click the “create team” button and follow the simple instructions. Once you have done this you can invite members to your team.
Once I invited Otto to my team I registered for the race and we both joined the session as “Slobbargoat Racing”. What instantly becomes important is communicating with your team mate(s), because only one of you can drive the car in warmup at a time. Otto and I immediately started bickering (as we always do about everything) but in this case it was about who got to do practice laps first. I was the first one to click “drive” so I was on track first, and I did a handful of laps before pulling into the pits and into our pit stall. I hit the “escape” key and Otto mashed the “drive” button and was instantly placed in the car in the pit box which he drove out of the pits and destroyed…..
The warmup finishes up and we decide that I will start the race, so at least we have a shot at making it halfway. FYI, there will be options in place allowing both hosted and official races to have minimum and maximum laps or time required in the car in order to score points for a driver in the race. We did not have any of those functions selected for this race, rather we just decided to make at least one driver change for each team in the race.
The field was gridded by iRating because nobody qualified for the race, but qualifying will work exactly like it currently does on the member site: The grid will be set by the qualifying time of the fastest team member who is registered when the server launches. Not surprisingly, the team consisting of Shannon Whitmore and Kevin Bobbitt was on pole due to Shannon’s cheating and/or iRating depending on how you look at it.
The race starts and I am able to hang with Shannon because he is busy abusing his admin privileges to clear his jump start black flag and to issue black flags to the team of Weidner and Cross to keep them at bay. Otto and I had decided to do our driver change on lap 8 which ended-up being a lap later than Shannon and Kevin. Shannon pits and I put down a decent lap and do everything I can to get into the pits cleanly and without speeding. I park in the box and immediately start smashing the keyboard to find the escape key while Otto hammers his mouse waiting for the drive button.
We complete our stop and Otto manages to get out of the pits without penalty and rejoin the track with a nice four second lead. I immediately switch over to be the spotter and start giving Otto updates as to how far back Kevin is and what the lapped traffic ahead looks like. With one lap to go, I sense danger when I see Richard “crashes everything” Jobling meandering around the track in front of Otto. I start screaming at Otto to just be patient and ride it out instead of trying to pass the wayward Mr. Jobling. Alas, apparently after you hit 50 your hearing really starts to go and, sure enough, Otto collides with Richard. Our street stock badly damaged, Kevin cruises by, race lost.
And you know what? It was the most fun I’ve had in a race in a very long while. I was excited to try and outperform not only the rest of the field but also my teammate. I was nervous about making a mistake on the track or in the pits and letting my teammate down. I was anxious to minimize the time I took to make a driver change to, hopefully, give us an advantage on the other teams. I was eager (if slightly delusional) to see my teammate perform well, and watching the race actually meant something now because I had an actual horse in it. I was bitterly disappointed at losing because of bad judgment by my teammate, but also because I should have told him sooner about the rolling disaster in his path.
What’s hilarious about all of this emotion was we had just done a silly testing race in an environment where statistics mean nothing! I can’t imagine how it will feel to compete in a race like this on the member site where it actually matters. Racing has for the most part always been a “me against the world” sport, but I can see this feature changing that. I can absolutely see short sprint races in both oval and road becoming a huge draw because of these emotions and the ability to experience them with a friend, even a mediocre one like Otto.
I am sure some of you will discount my words as marketing hype and that’s perfectly understandable, but here are the facts as I see them:
This really is a “first of its kind” feature in the sim racing space and I, Steve Myers, think it’s a blast.
I would definitely put all the money I stole out of Tony’s wallet on the probability of driver swaps being in the Season 4 build.
The Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot and Grant Reeve do in fact exist, and Otto is a mediocre friend with questionable judgment.
PS – I negotiated on your behalf with Greg to get two teaser screen shots from tracks in progress. You owe him a pizza.