Cars on My Mind

I’ve never really considered myself to be a car guy. Sure, when I was a kid there was a time when I had a few car posters in my room (I recall a Porsche 911 and a Ferrari Testarossa, and I think one more, but can’t remember what), and I do love the act of driving, but I’ve never really cared much about owning one (I briefly had a Toyota Corolla, when we moved back to Canada for a year) or lusted over any. But these days, because of a game called Forza and three British dudes, I find myself with cars on the mind quite a lot.

It’s no secret that over the past few years I’ve come to accept the fact that racing is one of my favorite gaming genres. It’s funny, because I never particularly was attached to any racing game growing up — I think my favorites though would be F-Zero and Wave Racer — but since this latest generation of consoles, I really have come to love the act of driving in a game. Truth be told, this goes even beyond racing games — I actually love the driving parts in non-racing games too. While playing L.A. Noire, I actively drove to every single area, even though I could have fast-tracked instead, because I absolutely loved moving through that city in the different vehicles I would find in the game. It’s also one of the reasons I dislike the Halo series so much — what at first sounds great, riding around in a Warthog, becomes an exercise in frustration because of the silly driving controls.

I also always disliked sim racing games. My motto used to be, “if you have to use the brakes, then it’s not for me.” What I liked were arcade racers, and I just couldn’t understand what the fun was in driving around “carefully” on boring race tracks. But the first game that “evolved” my taste in racing games was Project Gotham Racing 3. Although not fully a sim, it was a nice sim-like game to get you started, and the realism of the cities — racing around in Shinjuku — was an absolute blast. I lovedProject Gotham Racing 4 too, and became quite attached to the in-cockpit view.

Then came Forza. I remember getting Forza 2 (which I bought used), and not really liking it. I played maybe 20 minutes or so, and just felt that it was too realistic (and the track was boring). Then Forza 3 came out. I tried the demo, and the in-cockpit view (which wasn’t inForza 2) completely sucked me in. It was enough to get me excited about the Forza world, and while waiting for the release of the game (which was only coming out a few weeks later), I put in Forza 2 and ended up playing 20-30 hours. Another aspect of modern sim racing games that appealed to me was the racing line — I want to feel like a pro racer when I’m playing, and this gave me a chance to properly learn how “racing lines” work, and when I need to start braking. The Forza “rewind” feature also assured that I wouldn’t get frustrated with the game if I did a stupid move late in a race.

And that brings us to now, with Forza 4, which I’ve been obsessing over ever since I got my copy. The big revelation for me this time is the “Autovista” mode, which not only lets you explore every aspect of some of the cars included in the game, but more importantly, includes reviews by Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear. I ended up enjoying these so much that it made me check out the show for the first time — never in my life had I been interested in checking out a “car show” — and I’ve been absolutely hooked, and am going back through the series, season by season. As most fans of the show know, what makes it so great is not just that they cover exotic cars, but it’s the humor in how they do it, and the fun personalities of the three hosts.

So am I a car guy now? I don’t know, I don’t think so, but I sure love playing Forza 4, I really love watchingTop Gear, and recently I’ve been getting a kick out of spotting some of the cars I’ve been driving in-game out in the real world — like that Audi R8 pictured above, which I spotted last night as I was leaving the office in Ebisu. In a city like Tokyo, you can see a lot of luxury and sports cars on the road — even seeing a Ferrari drive by is not that strange (I even spotted one this afternoon, while walking my dog).

I’ll finish this by adding that last night I watched the Ayrton Senna documentary, Senna, which I thought was fantastic. The only time in my life that I ever followed racing was Formula 1 during the Senna era, and it was something that I stopped after his death. So watching the documentary was not only interesting because of the amazing story that was his life and accomplishments, but it also provided a nostalgic trip to my youth.

Update: Here’s an addendum to this post.

By Jean Snow

Production Services Manager at Ubisoft Shanghai. Before that, half a life spent in Tokyo.