Monday, April 14, 2014

The Best Game(s) Ever

Today is a big day for my memories as today marks the ten-year anniversary of the release of what is, in my opinion, the greatest game ever made. First, I believe that the greatest game is certainly in the eye of the beholder, is it not? For some people Super Mario Brothers will always be on top for being so revolutionary, or perhaps for some it’ll be Tetris, or for others it might be something more modern. For myself, however, I’m not basing my judgment on graphics, revolutionary gameplay, or even being the most realistic but instead these two things. The first is, of every game I’ve played, which game would I want to go back and relive? And second, and this is probably going to be exclusive to myself, what game helped me be the person I became today?

Ten years ago today a game by the name of Toca Race Driver 2 came out. It was released by a developer by the name of Codemasters which is out of England and I had been a big fan of their games going all the way back to Micro Machines on the NES. On the Playstation they released Toca Touring Cars which was a recreation of the 1997 British Touring Car Series (which I was obsessed with for several years) and the sequels to that game kept growing in scope.

Toca Race Driver 2 was Xbox Live enabled meaning it could be raced online. I had just been online for just a month or so and had been playing Project Gotham Racing 2 for pretty much the entire time (I’m sure some of you that read this will argue that PGR2 is a candidate for best game) but the thing with that game [PGR2] was that rankings were purely based on time trial and “kudos” which were earned by sliding so in terms of racing other people, well, it wasn’t a priority. That being so I never really conversed with anyone. My dad, who would often watch me race, would tell me, “Aaron, you’ve been racing with those guys for a few days now, you should say hello!” to which I would come up with something like, “But dad, that’s against the rules. I don’t know them, they don’t know me. And who knows who they could be!”

Toca had a different ranking system as it used the same system that chess players use, that being the Elo system which meant that racing now meant something. Yes, there were lap records (Rob, who I’ve mentioned many times on here, had many world records) but now racing others had a thrill that PGR2 didn’t have.

Quickly I climbed the leaderboards but I was also multi-disciplined. Unlike other games Toca had an array of racing disciplines. If you wanted rallycross you could do it, wanted the DTM series? They had it. The Aussie V8 Supercar series? Yup. Racing big rigs? They had that too. Open wheel? I could go on, but it was hard to get bored with the amount of series that they had.

As I climbed people started trying to talk with me and I still wouldn’t respond. About a week later I had finally had enough as people speculated who I might be so for the first time I unmuted my mic and started to talk and instead of it being this scary world I found a bunch of people who liked racing just as much as I did and I began running with the same people over and over and establishing what seemed to be “friends.”


A few weeks after release I stumbled upon a glitch that allowed any car to run on any track. Prior to that cars were limited to their respective actual series tracks meaning that you couldn’t run a DTM series race at the Texas Motor Speedway oval. The evening I discovered this my room I was running was full for almost 14 hours and I finally went to sleep at 9AM. That night was one of the most memorable nights I have ever had gaming.

The game’s popularity waned over the course of the year so to bring back some of the better drivers I devised an “All Series Championship” and came up with a schedule, point system, and I even wrote write-ups on the day’s racing activities which might have been my true first bit of writing without being forced (and these write ups were highly looked forward to.) From running this series, and talking to others, I slowly learned the art of the conversation. Having Asperger’s I’ve always struggled with timing and in a physical conversation the appearance of a person would also lead to an overwhelming sensation, but since I was with people that had the same interest, and there was no physical presence, I could focus just on the words and it got to the point that I was conversing without thought.

Almost two years later Toca Race Driver 3 was released. This game was far beyond Toca 2 but the timing was wrong as the Xbox 360 had been released just three months prior. Because of this a lot of racers stuck with the next gen racer of PGR3 but there were many of us that, despite owning the newer system, played the older system more. And it was worth it as now there were more official series as Indycar was represented along with lower feeder open wheel series, including go karts, and there were even riding lawn mower races! Codemasters revised the Elo system with now, instead of one master score, there was a score for each discipline. This increased participation in everything as on Toca 2 good drivers that specialized in the V8 series might not race, say, the ice racing.

The game was patched a month or so later and the most unfortunate of events happened; some of those online at the time had their score reset to -1 and there was nothing that could be done to get out of that. I was highly competitive and focused on becoming #1 in the world, but now that was impossible. We who were struck with this got compensated with a copy of Dirt for the Xbox 360 and having our name in a future Codemasters game (I was going to be Grid, but the series my name was in got cut so to this day my name hasn’t been in a title. Hey Codemasters… hint, hint) so that was nice as not many companies would do such a thing.

Again, popularity began to wane and I did an All Series Championship which took much, much longer. On Toca 2 we did four seasons of this, but because of the ambitious size of Toca 3 it took over a year! But what a year it was! Once again I conversed greatly on the weekends and would do write-ups that were rather good (other racer’s words, not mine) and that’s why, for me, these two games are the best ever made.

It’s weird to credit a game for something other than just entertainment, but these two games gave me two incredible skills. The first is presenting. Yes, I know, it wasn’t a presentation in the way I know now, but when I explained the rules of the series I ran I had to say it with confidence, and also talking so much allowed me to speak without thought which to present you’ve got to have that skill. Secondly, writing about the races ran in the championship was very much like a blog of sorts and I actually looked forward to writing the reports which I had never looked forward to writing anything in my life.
Times have changed and games have changed. The present Codemasters games have gone away from the soul of the Toca series and while critically acclaimed they just weren’t to the simulation that myself, and others who played the Toca series wanted. Also, overall on console games, there’s this disappearance of leaderboards. Gone are the boards for racing and games now have the PGR2 mentality of lap times or nothing and this is what has drawn me to iRacing so much. However, as I said, my criteria for the best game ever is what I would want to go back and play and let me tell you, I’d give anything to race the Formula Ford around Vallelunga, or the American 1000 around the Pikes Peak oval, or the V8 at Surfers Paradise and have an hour’s worth of writing race reports and updating points. Yes, I’d give anything to experience this just one more time.

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