Assetto Corsa Developer Interview:
Automotive enthusiasts are unquestionably a passionate bunch. For some the craving for speed must be itched whether on the road, race course, or even within the comfort of their own home burning pixelated rubber. In the past, it was slightly more difficult to find racing games that were immersive enough to satisfy such a craving. Today, however, technology has improved to the point where certain games are realistic enough to receive a seal of approval from various professional racers and amateurs alike.
One such title is Assetto Corsa, which is a racing simulation currently under development by the Italian based Kunos Simulazioni. Kunos has quickly developed a rich history of delivering some of the most authentic racing games that are available, and Assetto Corsa is shaping up to continue that success.
AutoDebut was fortunate enough to be granted the opportunity of asking Kunos Simulazioni a few questions regarding their upcoming work, to find out what Assetto Corsa is all about.
Interview with Marco Massarutto, co-founder and Production Manager at Kunos Simulazioni. Massarutto coordinates the development team and is responsible for the licensing department of the Assetto Corsa project.
AutoDebut: Kunos Simulazioni really has an amazing portfolio, so before we get into your upcoming title, Assetto Corsa, can you discuss some of your previous work?
Marco Massarutto – Sure, what do you want to know exactly?
How did the deal with Ferrari come about? It must have been amazing to get a call from Ferrari and have them express interest in your engine.
Marco Massarutto – In late 2007, we have been involved in a GT project from a hi-level motorsport federation that had seen and appreciated the Trento-Bondone hillclimb course made as DLC for netKar PRO: the GT project was very ambitious and officially-license based. Unfortunately, the promoter had underestimated the challenges related to managing the licensing for such a product, and in less than one year, the project had been deleted. However, meanwhile we worked with the main Italian GT racing teams in order to acquire data, photos and all that’s needed to reproduce cars and tracks. So, we were put in touch with Ferrari and we had the chance to show them our technology. It seemed that we were the people Ferrari was looking for their FVA project, and “here we are”. I could write a story about all the facts involving us and Ferrari since 2008 to 2011. I will just say that the project has required so much attention, work and resources that we haven’t realized that “the guys of nKPro” have worked with Ferrari until the project has been completed. My most special remembrance of all the Ferrari project is when, after the deal has been reached, we left Ferrari HQ at Maranello, passing through its main gate. Me and Stefano (Head Programmer and founder of Kunos Simulazioni) looked back and smiled. The Mona Lisa smile, you know what I mean? There I’ve seen that “a circle was closed”. In that moment, we had reached a milestone, and a new beginning, at the same time. That moment has been very special, and I will preserve it for my entire career, whatever we’ll do in the future. Starting to play with Grand Prix 2 in 1996, I never dreamed that racing games would bring me there.
How has that relationship effected the development of your current engine that’s being worked on? What sort of valuable feedback was gained?
Marco Massarutto – Before FVA, we already worked on laser-scanned tracks for some external professional projects; therefore, it was not new technology for us. However, working on FVA we started to manage this technology directly, and we improved our 3D modeling techniques, and choosing ourselves our technical partners. Therefore today, working on LS data is very ‘natural’ for us, and we have optimized tasks and costs.
For what is related to dynamic modeling, Ferrari isn’t the first car manufacturer we have worked with/for: each single experience brings new information, know-how, and feedback. However, if compared with our previous products before the FVA experience, our new project will show new and better implementations for suspension, tyre and aerodynamic models.
The aforementioned netKar Pro was a hit within the sim community. Discuss how things have evolved with your upcoming release in Assetto Corsa. What’s new and improved?
Marco Massarutto – Everything in Assetto Corsa is new. The only thing that netKar PRO and Assetto Corsa directly share is our passion for sim-racing. NetKar PRO was conceived in 2001 as a “monolith”, it wasn’t designed to manage many of the features it currently has. Each single feature works with each other, therefore in netKar PRO it was very difficult to add or modify features and it was very easy to break working code. Also, netKar PRO has been the first commercial experience in this field for all of us. Since then, we’ve gained a lot of experience, we have better resources and we changed our approach at work. Since 2009, our R&D office is hosted inside the Vallelunga Racing Circuit: therefore we are constantly in touch with racing teams, car manufacturers, and this also gave us the chance to improve our development tools. In Assetto Corsa, graphics, sound and physics engine have been completely redesigned, also taking advantage of the experience made in this special location. We work closely with some racing schools, and their teachers constantly test our software updates, helping us to find those aspects and features that need to be improved.
What I can say is that our aim to produce a realistic simulation hasn’t changed, therefore handling, car behavior and force feedback effects will not only be preserved, but hopefully improved. Also, with Assetto Corsa we work in direct partnership with car manufacturers; therefore, not only do they provide us all the technical specifications we need and we wouldn’t get on the internet making fictional contents, but the combination between laser-scanned tracks and physics based on real car-data will allow players to have something more than a racing game. They will get a training tool that they will use to improve their driving style when they want to prepare themselves for a race weekend or a track day with their private cars. And, thanks to modding, people will have the chance to model their own or favorite cars taking advantage of AC physics model; therefore, there is no limit to the change to customize the simulation as close as possible with their needs and tastes.
The force feedback in NetKar is already superb – will there be any noticeable difference or improvement to that in Assetto Corsa?
Marco Massarutto – For sure, it isn’t our intention to make one of our most appreciated features worse: it will be improved because the entire physics engine beneath it has improved, from tyre modeling to suspension geometry modeling. Our Force Feedback code has always been a very thin layer of translation between steering wheel column torques as calculated by the physics engine and the physical steering wheel in your hands. Nothing magic happens in there, it’s all coming from the simulation itself.
The addition of laser-scanned tracks is huge. For those who might be unfamiliar with what that entails, can you describe the impact that has on the accuracy and realism of the sim?
Marco Massarutto – In real racing, car behavior is constantly affected by the track surface, especially when you approach a bend or when you exit from it. If you drive a simulation with the best physics model available, but the track is flat and/or doesn’t reproduce that bump, the physics model will never give you back the realistic behavior of that car on that track. Laserscan technology tells the modeler where and how every single bump is on the track surface, the curb’s shape, how high it is, and so on. It tells the modeler how wide the surface is, bumped or inclined, within an approximation of a few centimeters.
Then, a Laserscan-based data acquisition is much more expensive than a classic one based on thousands of photo and CAD database (that are rarely updated or precise), but in 1/20 of time you can get 1000 times the amount of data you need to model the track as real as possible. All the production process becomes faster, the result is dramatically better. Thus, you can imagine how interesting and cool driving on a virtual track can be, knowing that it’s the exact virtual copy of the real -and sometimes legendary – counterpart.
Last but not least, I think that thanks to laserscan technology, Assetto Corsa will allow its users to experience a technology that is usually used for high end professional applications.
What licensed content has been announced thus far, and what else is on the table for the future?
Marco Massarutto – We will reveal our licensed contents ‘on the run’: considering how much work and resources are needed to provide licensed contents, we wish that people can appreciate and deserve attention to each one of them. By the way, some people think that our AC teaser video released last December shows generic or hypothetical contents. If you watch it, you will find several car models and brands. Each single car showed in that teaser will be included in Assetto Corsa. You can recognize some of them easily.
What type of support will Assetto Corsa receive post-release?
Marco Massarutto – We supported netKar PRO for more than 5 years. If you bought a license in 2006, still today you can download and use the latest version of the game without paying anything. And I think that we can say that nKPro 1.3 could be named “netKar PRO 2.0”, because it has been dramatically improved, in some cases completely modified from the 1.0 version. Our aim was to give to people who trusted us in 2006 what they expected then. After 5 years, netKar PRO is still on the market, and it is still considered -in some aspects- a milestone in its genre.
It should be reasonable to expect a similar timescale and approach to Assetto Corsa. But the gaming software market is always changing so quickly it doesn’t make sense to think too much about the distant future. The crucial milestone is to get Assetto Corsa to the market and, possibly, do it without too many technical problems.
The big news with respect to netKar PRO is the modding support: we’ll release an editor that will allow modders to import their ‘home-made’ cars and tracks easily, taking the maximum advantage of our DirectX11 engine. Several modding teams are writing to us because they want a modding-board that can allow them to push their skill on the edge. This alone should guarantee the project quite a long life.
What sort of multiplayer functionality can we expect to see?
Marco Massarutto – It’s a bit early to go deeply into this argument: I can tell that structure and gameplay of Assetto Corsa will be much more complete than our previous productions; therefore, the multiplayer will make optimum use of all these features. Also, Assetto Corsa will generate a complete output racing data; therefore, it will be much easier to develop tools, plugins, rankings and a game structure that will allow race championships, tournaments, and so on.
Are there any plans for dynamic weather and track environments?
Marco Massarutto – We have a huge list of things we’d like to put into the simulator. Weather and dynamic track are, of course on that list. But the idea is to announce these features only, if and, when they are up and working.
Kunos Simulazioni has a large fan base of racers who are very adamant about your physics engine being the best that there is. So, in terms of physics, what is it that you do differently (or better) that sets you apart from your competition?
Marco Massarutto – Each company has his own philosophy, some could have the skill to make their physics model better, but they have to meet the requests of their investors/publishers. This is the reason why we have never looked for an external investor. Realistic simulations will never sell like an arcade game. Having said that, since the beginning we have always been focused on the physics model; but, we didn’t invent the “physics”. Everything responds to physics laws; you just need to know these laws to reproduce it, if you really want.
It’s hard to say why or where we might or might not be “better” than our competitors. We do things in a way that makes sense to us and feedback from the community is that what we do seems to make sense for them as well. Racing simulators are not all about science and data. There is a huge amount of trial and error to get right all those things that can’t be measured in real life. Probably what makes us different is the amount of man hours that go into the basic driving feel and validation compared to the other elements that have to be pursued in a driving simulator.
The tire model is probably the most crucial aspect to any racing simulation, but also the most difficult to replicate. Can you give us a brief overview of the process that you guys go through in creating your tire model?
Marco Massarutto – Again it is science and study applied to observation and iterative development. Stefano spends an insane amount of time with all the tyre books and tyre data he can get his hands on. The aim is to find patterns, turn it into a formula and then turn it into code. But the process doesn’t end up there; driving “feel” is an essential part of the development, if it doesn’t feel right, it all starts up again.
Is there any idea as to what the minimum specs for Assetto Corsa will be?
Marco Massarutto – Not yet, I can tell that the graphics will be scalable. It will not support Windows XP, but you will not necessarily need a DirectX 11 graphics card to run it. At the moment, we have code path for DirectX10 and DirectX10.1.
Has a release date been pinned down?
Marco Massarutto – Not yet, I can only say that it isn’t scheduled for the first half of 2012.
AutoDebut: We thank you for taking the time to discuss Assetto Corsa with us and we wish you the best on the project. For viewers interested in learning more, we encourage you to visit their official site at http://www.assettocorsa.net/?lang=en