We continue with additions in Automobilista 2
, and many fronts open in this development note from November.
It´s been almost 5 months since our last Dev Update in June and almost 3 months since our last public release – not exactly a lifetime in game development, but a first for AMS2. Never since its original Early Access release has there been such a big gap with neither new game updates nor detailed news about them.
This isn´t a sign of AMS2 development slowing down – on the contrary, behind the scenes this has been one of the most intense and productive development cycles we have had, the results from this especially long cycle soon to be shared with you all.
Those of you used to following these dev updates will have read a lot about the challenges to develop and manage a game of this size – many cars, many tracks, many simulation variables, all of which under constant development with new features and new variables being brought in all the time keeping goalposts ever moving and making it harder to make it all work cohesively. The game by design been a constant construction site and some untidiness comes with the territory – the only manner we could tackle such an ambitious project was by leaving perfectionism at the door, and just keep building it one update at a time. Deliver good first, then push to make it better – this has been the approach for every new car, track or feature. Sometimes that initial “good” wasn´t even that good, sometimes it was more than that but up to this point we never set out to make everything as good as we could make it to begin with – that would have to come later, once more building blocks were in place.
With the release of v1.5 we have reached the point at which it´s finally time to focus less on creating potential, and more on fulfilling it. After the last v184.108.40.206 that has been the primary guideline for all dev fronts – polish everything, to the best we can within the window of time we have.
As we dug into it, what was at first a development guideline became a bit obsessive – simply put, we would not have a new public release until we felt everything was as good as we could possibly make it, or at the very least heartwarmingly close to it as far as the core of the simulation is concerned – physics, FFB, AI, audio and all related functionalities.
Under that approach and with no clearly defined goals, timelines became even harder to assess as the more we polished the more room for improvement we dug into, which then required further polishing, with then brought up further room for improvement in what seemed to be a never-ending loop. And as we went through that loop days became weeks which then became months, and ultimately we decided to merge what were supposed to be two separate development cycles into one, and now we are finally about to wrap everything up for AMS V1.5.3 release.
This isn´t meant to overhype the new update much to less to pretend perfection has been reached, not least as we don’t believe that is an attainable goal in sim racing yet – everything can always still be made a little or even a lot better, that goes for the core simulation as well as the whole production surrounding it. After this release we´ll certainly still have great many new things to achieve, a few solvable niggles will have slipped by which will demand quick fixing, and bigger problems will remain to be understood and improved on – plans are already in the works for 2024 and beyond for further substantial progress, including a complete GUI overhaul (an area we didn´t do much work on for this update), some updates on the rendering engine (another area we´ve haven´t dug into beyond adjustments here and there); a content management system (for those who are interested in parts of the game but not in others, and who might want to combo that with mods for a more focused experience), a more robust Multiplayer dedicated server tool, as well as plenty more cool cars and tracks to fill up all the dots towards the endgame of an-encompassing career mode that ties the whole thing together, among other things that will certainly lead to AMS2 taking further leaps until its development finally wraps for good.
In light of the above, the next update could be seen just as another step towards the next step just as all that came before it, and in terms of introducing new content, features and improvements to the sim within a single update there certainly has been bigger ones before it; and even though we are satisfied with the results right now, that satisfaction is bound to be short-lived as further development makes the current obsolete a urge to move bar for the whole thing higher inevitably kicks in again. It´s difficult to gauge where you are in a journey when you´re not sure how far away the destination is, but this update marks the first time we have delivered everything we had in reach at the point of release, and that makes v1.5.3 a milestone update in its own right.
Enough with the rambling then and let´s have a look into the specifics of what you can expect from the new update!
Update on Time Trial Leaderboards
Firstly we´d like to acknowledge this fumble and assure all TT boards will be back live upon the release of V1.5.3. Long story short, as we had mentioned in the last dev update before v1.5, the new physics overhaul would require resetting in setups and TT leaderboards, the latter being held back until we had had another cycle to fine-tune the physics revisions. We did end up resetting the boards at the point we believed to be on the verge to wrap up for release only to pull it back due to another minor physics breakthrough, leading to the boards staying out since. We couldn´t reinstate old boards once they were cleared and there wouldn´t be much sense in having new boards up only to reset them again now, so leaving it off until the update was the only choice after the deed had been done. We´d like to apologize for that and assure users we will be more careful in how we manage future resets if they are ever necessary again.
Historical Track Pack PT2 – The AMS2 History Tour Continues
All the ongoing groundwork on the fundamentals wouldn´t hold back the content teams from doing their thing, and on this front track and vehicle teams have continued to deliver brilliantly with some exciting new content coming up with the new update in the form of two DLC packs, one of which being this second Historical Track Pack featuring four additional historical versions for modern tracks already present in the game:
Barcelona 1991 – Earlier this year we release Circuit de Catalunya as it is today, and with v1.5.3 the shorter National layout will be added to that DLC pack. The track already has some history behind it now, having inaugurated in 1991, having hosted rounds of many high-profile championships and becoming a staple in F1 the F1 calendar hosting the Spanish GP in every year since. The track back then looked distinctively modern vs the other tracks in the 1991 calendar, and while it has proved to be ahead of its time managing to remain one of the top-Grade A tracks in the world with minimal reforms in these 32 years, it looked quite different back then. In terms of layout, the amazingly fast Campsa corner was even faster back then with a shallower angle leading to another fast right / left S corner that still exists but was retired from use back in 1994.
Interlagos 1991 / 1993 – the classic Interlagos circuit in two slightly different versions, as they were in Senna´s two Brazilian GP victories, fresh out of the reform that reduced its total length from the amazing original 7,873km layout (already featuring in AMS2) to the shorter but still excellent 4,325 km layout has by and large remained the same to this day – most of the track changes were in its topography, with a big climb in between T6 / T7 (Laranjinha) where the new layout “shortcut” to the infield section getting smoothed out in the 1995, and run-offs around the track being mostly off-camber, including at the exit of T11 (Mergulho, the fast downhill left-hander) which made going off there particularly hairy back In the day.
Montreal 1991 – Another track which features in AMS2 with an older version from 1988 and the modern, which 1991 being and interim evolution between them as in that year the track was reformed to lower the very high curbs it had up to that point, and tighten the previously absurdly fast last right / left S into the last chicane that remains pretty much unchanged to this day. The track was still tighter in places than it is currently, and big sawtooth curbs and lack of run-offs anywhere meant the room for error was much smaller.
Despite the superficial layout similarities, as you get to drive each of these historical tracks it should be evident how different they actually are how far the overall standards for race tracks has shifted in the 30 years since these versions were raced on – from the bumps and the curbing to the barriers and run-offs (or lack thereof) these tracks provide a very different experience and some additional challenges relative to their modern counterparts, and are thus more suitable for the race cars from this era (of which AMS2 has plenty) to be raced on.
Given the limited rework involved in these alternative historical versions, Pt2 will be priced a bit cheaper than Pt1 – for a very reasonable $7.99 you´ll get all four layouts described above.
Formula HiTech – AMS2 Goes Active
The early nineties tracks as featured in the Historical Track Pack Pt2 were notoriously bumpy – luckily, we have just the right machinery to handle them as AMS2 V1.5.3 will introduce the Formula HiTechs, headlined by two official McLaren F1 cars from an era in which technology truly started to pervade Grand Prix racing.
Cars of this era were equipped with various gadgets such as traction control, launch control ABS and active suspension. The first three need no explanation as they have continued to be used in various motorsports classes ever since, but active suspension was so revolutionary and so distorted the nature of the competition that it got banned within two seasons never to return – and for the first time in sim racing AMS2 users will be able to experience what it was like to drive with it!
The system had already been experimented with on and off through the eighties but only in the nineties was there enough computing power to make the best of it. The system did away with the usual springs, dampers and roll bars of a typical passive suspension and replaced with electronically-controlled hydraulic actuators that actively managed the vehicle´s vertical movement in order to optimize ride and ensure the car was always at its ideal ride height irrespective of the bumps it was going over and the loads it was under. The demo video below demonstrates how that works in practice – notice the lack of movement from the chassis in the active car relative to the passive:
Beyond that obvious performance benefit, the system allowed teams to get creative in exploring other ways to gain lap time – one of which being the original “Drag Reduction System”, with which drivers could with the press of a button change the car´s attitude on straights and with it stall the rear wing in order to gain top speed – then pressing the button again to restore the car to its appropriate poise for the next corner.
Formula HiTech Gen1 features four distinct generic models along with officially licensed McLaren MP4/7A. the first year in this technological revolution, in which Williams got the jump on everyone else by introducing at once traction control, launch control and active suspension to the 1991 passive car to deliver the FW14B, and with that car it dominated the season with qualifying times that were often 2s faster than the first conventional car.
The other teams scrambled to try catch up, and as the season went on a couple of them introduced traction control to their cars, one of which being McLaren with the MP4/7A. The car was a tidy evolution to the iconic MP4/6, finally progressing to semi-auto gearboxes following the lead of both Ferrari and Williams and with the Honda V12 more powerful than ever, overall though a step-up that proved insufficient against the mighty Williams FW14B which Senna once described as being “from another planet”.
Formula HiTech Gen2 features three distinct generic models along with the officially licensed McLaren MP4/8; representing the season that proved to be at once the pinnacle and the deathbed of the “hi-tech” era in Grand Prix racing. By this time most cars on the grid featured (to a varying degree of sophistication and reliability) active suspension, traction control & fully automatic gearboxes – some of the top teams also had ABS and some primitive form of the “blown diffuser” trick that would blow hot exhaust fumes into the diffuser to increase downforce, a trick that would be in vogue again almost 20 years later (and which is represented in our Formula Reiza). Williams even dabbed into CVT transmission and Benetton into four-wheel steering, although neither ever actually raced.
Parallel to the electronic revolution, teams were making big strides in aerodynamic development thanks in parts to the stable ride provided by the active suspension. In the ever-going quest to contain the speed of the cars, new regulations for that season mandated cars to be narrowed to a maximum of two meters (including narrowing of rear tires from 18” to 15”) with new constraints applied to wing design including lowering rear wing height from 100cm to 95cm.
These changes allied with the aggressive aerodynamic development led to cars becoming faster and peakier than ever, and heavily reliant on the electronic systems for stability. By the end of the season the electronic systems were all banned in attempt to reduce the growing gulf between the haves and have-nots and to prevent the continuing electronic developments from making driver skill all but irrelevant. The shift from mechanical grip to aerodynamical downforce from the previous rule changes however persisted, the teams no longer could count on active suspension to keep the cars stable, which put the sport decisively on the path of tragedies for the following season and compromised the cars´ ability to race each other closely for decades to come.
This inflection point in the history of the sport did however produce utterly unique and fascinating machines, and thus must-have content to feature in AMS2. The HiTech classes are headlined by the McLaren MP4/8, which despite being underpowered with the switch from Honda V12 power to costumer Ford V8s and lack of championship success still proved to be one of the most advanced F1 cars ever, powering Ayrton Senna to some of his most famous wins. As with all other Senna McLarens, we have had this car under license for a few years already but if we were to actually model it we had to do it properly, and so it is with the car featuring all of its main gizmos – traction control, launch control, ABS, active suspension complete the “vintage” DRS system.
In the Dev Update preceding the release of the Brazilian Racing Legends DLC last December which features cars sharing similar engines to the upcoming HiTechs, we referred to their glorious engine sounds and how important it was for us to capture that in AMS2. While we believe we succeeded for the onboard sounds, the externals still weren´t quite delivering on the experience of actually hearing these cars live.
For V1.5.3 we were determined to go the distance there. Sounds speak louder than words in this particular topic, so here´s a preview of what the cars with these engines will sound like V1.5.3:
Concluding the big V1.5 Physics Overhaul
As elaborated on the Physics Dev Update before the release of v1.5, we had corrected a bug in tire carcass spring / damper calculations which prompted the overhaul that headlined the last update. This was critical as the way the tire carcass twists, flexes and deflects under load has major repercussions not only on the way the tire itself handles, but also on the car´s ride heights which in turn have major repercussions on its suspension and aerodynamics, which in turn have repercussions on the load the tire carcass is under – these are very intertwined dynamics so getting one right is critical for the others.
With V1.5 going a long way towards getting the carcass issues rectified, there was another component in the tire model still to maximize – the tire tread. In STM, the tread model consists primarily of a complex web of friction coefficients and a number of thermodynamic properties which basically define the tires´ optimal operating window and how the various friction coefficients are affected from temperatures under and above that optimal range – these are critical in defining not only how much grip a given tire has, but also how that grip builds up, sustains and lets go under various loads and temperatures.
A lot of work already went into the tread physics over the course of the v1.5 revisions, but unlike the carcass (which has somewhat more absolute and verifiable attributes), the tread coefficients are a much greyer area, and getting them right is even more challenging precisely because there´s no verifiable “right”– when that is the case and even a 0.01 change in any of these coefficients produce a perceptible difference in handling, getting them to a place that at least seems to be right involves constant research, and a lot of old-fashioned and time consuming trial and error.
It´s not flashy sophisticated and exact work, but it´s as critical as any other if not more – a given sim car may have millimeter accurate suspension geometries, 1:1 aero map and engine torque curve perfectly matching dynamometer figures, if the tires are not gripping and letting go as they should, the experience of driving the car just won´t be captured.
Given the sheer amount of cars in AMS2, despite all the efforts poured into the tread over the course of the V1.5 revisions we fully expected there would still be room to improve them and that the work should continue after V1.5 to give them further fine-tuning, for which we gave ourselves a few extra weeks. As it turned out the fine-tuning cycle ended up demanding a lot more than a few weeks, but we have finally made the tires as good as we could for the time being.
Similar fine-tuning has been done in other areas of the physics, not necessarily as consequential as tires but also very significant, the most notable of which on aerodynamics where efforts have gone towards adjusting the yaw sensitivity of the various aero devices in high downforce, which make a big difference in how car behaves once it starts sliding, and revising rear wing efficiency at baseline as we found several cars were still retaining an optimistic amount of the total downforce at minimal setting. Brakes have also received updates, fine-tuning brake torque figures, disc thermodynamics & optimal temperature ranges which give a perceptible better feel for them.
All these adjustments add up to a considerable leap in physics accuracy, to an extent it wouldn´t be overselling to say V1.5.3 is as big a step-up relative to V220.127.116.11 as v1.5 had been to the previous V1.4.X, – once again we very much forward to sharing these results with you.
Wet Weather Physics Development
Another huge step-up we didn´t quite cover in time for v1.5 release but that is being delivered on for v1.5.3 is on wet weather physics, where for the first time we´ve managed to give this front all the attention it deserves, after all this engine not-so arguably features the most advanced weather model and dynamic track system in all of sim racing – not exploiting that to the fullest would be a big waste, and unfortunately we were too caught up figuring out dry weather tires to make the case wet weather physics have ever been close to right or a good as they could be for all classes – that case we can make now, with improvements both to wet tires (or street / all-weather tire physics on the wet and even slicks on wet) as well as wet track dynamics.
In V1.5 we introduced a crucial LiveTrack development first in sim racing making rubber on the racing line more slippery once it gets saturated with water as it does in real life. This is a must to properly simulate wet weather driving as in real life drivers are forced to avoid the racing line as much as possible, and instead explore the outer edges of the track for more grip. The wet tires and the system itself wasn´t developed enough to make itself evident in v1.5.0,5, but it is a critical to driving fast in V1.5.3.
Another critical LiveTrack development for v1.5.3 concerns the way water puddles get defined and develop as rain falls harder, adjusting the properties that could lead to them quickly growing as deep as 16cm under heavier rain and becoming impossible to drive through them without aquaplaning as no tire can drain that much water to remain in contact with the tarmac anywhere but modern Grade A tracks which have drains everywhere (in LiveTrack water is actually drained according to where drains are mapped on the track model, and naturally these are realistically modelled as per real reference in modern and historical tracks alike).
The end result from these developments is wet weather driving like nothing ever seen before – incredibly fun, very challenging, occasionally scary but (provided you are on the right tires and with a reasonable setup) seldom frustrating.
All the physics developments are obviously critical for a racing sim and where efforts are often concentrated on, but for the sim to work as a game the other fronts need to be up to par too so you can actually race rather than just experience and hot lap cars, which although is fun on its own right will
Even with the growing number of sim racers dedicating more and more to Multiplayer, there still are certain sim racing itches that only good AI can scratch – no matter how big the online community for a sim mat be, you are unlikely to be able to gather a full field of competent racers join session with whatever car / track combo you feel like racing whenever you feel like racing It,, let alone run a full championship according to your specific preferences.
One of our main goals with AMS2 was to deliver on that to become a strong if not the strongest Single Player option in sim racing – a game you could jump into, pick a car from the wide range of motorsports disciplines available past and present with a track to suit it (or not), get on-track and have a good race with minimal tweaking of settings required for some pure unadultered single player fun, Here again the scope of the sim, the sheer number of variables and constantly moving parts have detracted from our ability to deliver on that to the standard we wanted it at, and while there remains plenty of room for improvement it still, v1.5.3 represents the biggest leap in AI development yet, thanks to developments in three critical fronts:
Performance – All through AMS2 development we have been gradually adding more performance-defining variables, along with moving others that originally were applied globally to all cars to be configurable at car level, to the point where we now have enough control over AI performance in all conditions to match that of player at all stages of any given corner.
Having achieved that level of control the next step in the process is to calibrate all those variables for each car in the game, and do so In a way that the performance would scale up and down for to accommodate most skill levels, remaining consistent to that skill level irrespective of the car-track combo in use. We´ve been chasing that elusive goal consistently update after update, but this is by the one where we have covered most ground on.
To begin with, we have greatly reduced the track variable from the equation by redoing the racing lines for all tracks that were In any way suboptimal for their performance – a whopping total of 70 line redos in between v1.5 and v1.5.3, with some more still to come in time for official release. These new lines not only improve the AI performs relative to the player, but also help them keep away from track edges and dangerous curbs, and potentially improve the AI assessment of overtaking opportunities.
The next step is the sheer grind of manually calibrating the various performance parameters AI for each car , and while we can´t yet claim the calibration is 100% for every car / track combo in every possible condition, the discrepancies have been greatly reduced relative to previous versions, where some classes could still have AI cars going 5s slower or faster with a weather swing from dry to wet or vice versa.
Still on the Performance component, AI tire wear and the degradation that comes with it have adjusted for every tire and match up better with what the player will experience.
Racing Behavior in terms how AI reacts to cars around it has also substantially improved in v1.5.3 – they challenge and overtake both player and each other more easily and with less incidents, switch lines more smoothly, hit walls and generally get themselves into trouble less often, and are more inclined to back off when crowded out before they are forced off-track.
Finally, AI Pitstop Strategy have been worked on class-by-class so that AI is set with reasonable initial tire and fuel options for the session ahead, and then proceed make sensible changes according to varying weather and race conditions or to damage it may have incurred.
There is plenty more to do for AI to be the equivalent of a very capable human driver, but if all the above is realized somewhere close to right, AI can deliver races like the one captured below on a regular basis whenever you want – and in V18.104.22.168 you will be able to:
We have more to show to demonstrate the progress in all types of racing simulated in AMS2, and over the next few days we will share a few more such gameplay videos doing just that.
Shout out to AMS2 due to Paddock Club members for their constant influx of reports & feedback during the V1.5 cycle and this one, without which so much progress both on physics and AI development would not have been attainable.
We are still grinding away hunting some persisting reliability issues in Multiplayer, and while we have managed to debug and solve a few more, Realistically speaking, unlike Single Player this will not be the update in which AMS2 Multiplayer makes a huge leap forward.
We have however introduced more in-depth Multiplayer logging in order to try gather further info from the community to debug the remaining issues, as one of the big challenges making progress on this front is that we can´t reliably reproduce some of the typical issues users commonly run into. Upon V1.5.3 there will be a new thread for Multiplayer reports so that users file their reports from troubled sessions along with the log file for the session where it occurred, from which hopefully can make more substantial headway.
Other Fixes & Improvements
The complete changelog for all the smaller improvements and fixes in this update is truly enormous as polishing efforts poured in from every dev front – some highlights worth mentioning:
Following up on the introduction of a visible Safety Car in V1.5, we have expanded on the feature by introducing a number of dedicated Safety Car models more befitting to various classes in AMS2, and added an option for users to configure a scheduled Full Course Yellow for both Single and Multiplayer races.
We have fixed a couple of legacy issues with driver head animations which meant they had very little movement, and generally in the opposite direction of the corner, and also a bug in their initialization that could lead to driver head leaning oddly to the side during replays.
Still on the topic of Replays, we discovered another oldie in the code which forced blur on medium setting during replays irrespective of the option the user graphical setting was set to. Now Replays will follow whatever the user setting is and having it off solves various graphical artifacts that could be seen during trackside replays.
Further improvements on the LiveTrack front include additional visual and audio cues when driving off the racing line and into the dirtier edges of the track, with sounds of rubbish hitting the car further hinting to the driver he´s not where he should ideally be. Further down the line a faint offline dust will be visible from behind the car so that the driver behind can know the guy ahead is on the dirt and may have a little trouble in the next braking zone.
The vehicle team has pushed hard to finish all the remaining damage and animation components for various models. We have addressed the issue causing occasionally excessive dirt buildup on the car body and have done away with the random selecting driver outfits and helmets, instead having drivers from all professional classes in the game to run appropriately matching helmet design, gloves and driver overall to their car livery.
A final last-minute win (literally just occurred shortly before wrapping this dev update) is the fixing of emissive materials on sparks – solved by a new shader expert who just joined us this week to help us pursue the visual improvements we alluded to earlier on. Further work to do there still but it already looks nicer.
And on that bombshell, we have covered all we had to share for this Dev Update! Hopefully the news and the depth of the work within this next release makes up for the relatively long gap since the last one and the silence in between. We know we have pushed everyone´s patience a bit and generally speaking with the way we have approached AMS2 development over the years and appreciate some of you might have preferred a more well-rounded, consistent experience even if it meant narrowing the ultra-wide scope of the sim but that just wasn´t the game we had set out to make. Hopefully as we go through delivering on our vision things start to make a bit more sense, and more of you find that patience duly rewarded.
With this update AMS2 should be in a great place for its 2023 grand finale at some point in December – having wrapped our historical formula projects for the year, it´s time to set the clock back to the future for a different type of racing and machinery altogether. We will cover that and all that is to come with it in our final catch-up of the year!