Since the beginning of digital entertainment, we have been upping the bar in graphical quality and have never stopped developing new ways to make graphics better, with the goal of creating a more believable and immersive virtual experience.
Sim racing titles are often the benchmark and a technical showcase of what kind of graphical achievements we have developed over the years. Forza and Gran Turismo have been at the forefront of tech demos for the consoles. But do you really need such impressive graphics in sim racing? Let’s find out what is really important from a sim racer perspective in terms of graphics and reasons behind why sims don’t always have to look great.
Whether or not graphical quality matters for a sim racer really depends on the objective of the person. In competition play or data acquisition simulations, graphics are rarely a priority as performance and accuracy of the sim is far more important. E-sport titles are generally running on the previous tech and very rarely offer cutting edge graphics. For competitiveness, players would rather have high consistent frame rates, low input lag, and high accuracy. Lower graphical fidelity is also less demanding on computer hardware, the ability to run on more and less high-end PC has been important for e-sport titles, as e-sport titles require a large amount of player base to succeed.
Top online sim racing platforms, iRacing and rFactor 2 do not offer state of the art graphics like Assetto Corsa Competitizone or Gran Turismo Sport. But fans have never really complained about their graphics as both titles have been in existence for many years.
In professional simulations, graphics were never great, in most cases, they are very basic, you are able to learn the track layout and a few different reference markers. Track surroundings are generally empty with a few low polygon trees. However, the track surface is highly accurate laser-scanned as that is what’s most important to professional simulators.
You might have asked, why would professional simulators not just used commercially available game engines to recreate the virtual environments? The answer is yes, they could, but there is a much bigger reason behind why professional sims often have really bad graphics. Professional sims run far more simulations in the background than a commercial sim title, not only are there more simulations to calculate, they are calculated at a much higher frequency which requires massive computational power. Running these simulators often requires pro workstations that are in tens of thousands of dollars, and when these sims were already functional, the computer hardware at its time was simply not fast enough to render everything in high detail.
In recent years, with the emergence of self-driving cars. Professional simulations now demand far better graphic environments to train self-driving cars virtually for real-world scenarios. Photo-realistic graphics and highly accurate placement of objects now play a much larger role in professional simulators as self-driving cars rely heavily on the data it captures inside the simulation.
In the end, graphics quality has never been really an issue in sim racing, we have been playing sims with mediocre graphics for years and will continue to do so because the racing part is far more important than the eye candy. While it has never been a priority for sim racers, today’s graphical quality has increased dramatically and we will continue to see improvements in both professional simulators and consumer titles. Having great graphics is always a plus, and we look forward to an even more immersive driving experience. However, having super detailed and realistic trees has not ruined sim racing for anybody.