by Chunx Hardcore Sims For The Console: The Right Stuff? Recently a SimHQ member asked this question after reading our technology report from E3:
“While I was reading about the PPU I started wondering if this new hardware will bring new life to flight sims especially air combat sims. I think it’ll bring our hobby back to life. What do you guys think?”
To answer that question, I’d like to use a quote from the movie “The Right Stuff”:
“You boys know what makes these birds go up? FUNDING does. No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”
Don’t confuse technology with marketability. It’s not the technology of a Physics Processing Unit that will bring hard-core flight sims back to life. Heck, flight sims were the dominant PC titles in the days of the Mac Plus and Pentium I chip, when 8MB of RAM was really a lot. In other words, it’s not slow frame rates that are causing folks to steer away from flight sims, it’s consumer preference. What’s causing flight sims to go away is the lack of profit margin in the marketplace. They cost a lot to develop and sell relatively few units. A lot of the current consumers of electronic entertainment are into a quick entertainment thrill and ‘sexy’ graphics, uncomplicated controls and little to no learning curve (or challenge to master, really). I met some of these folks at E3 and hearing what they like in a game saddened me. Likewise, the “suits” in the boardroom want mass consumption, low costs and fast turnaround in order to maximize profits. Flight sims provide none of these. I think high-end racing sims only do better because there’s no complex avionics to learn and the learning curve is relatively lower, in that most people have a driver’s license and understand basic car control, but few understand Hi AoA handling characteristics, BFM or landing techniques. So if you want hard core sims to stay alive, the answer is by voting with your wallet. During the last day of E3 I was waiting in line for my turn in the Adrenaline PC “hot lap” competition. Two young adult males were standing near the line, watching folks drive the VRX cockpit simulator with GTR, struggling to put in a fast lap time in the competition. The two had already driven, using the “always full throttle, never lift, then stab the brakes and turn” driving technique that works so well in most console racing games. Of course, it didn’t work so well for them in GTR’s Simulation Mode. As they watched other drivers negotiate the course, one said to the other, “I don’t know what folks think is so great about this game. I mean, the cars don’t even drive like real cars. Come on, lets go back (to a console racing game at another display).” I think they were right. GTR doesn’t drive like a real car. But it does drive pretty close to a real race car. And if their only real driving experience is just piloting their little Toyota Corolla around town at 40% of it’s capability, then I suppose they wouldn’t know what a real street car feels like at the limit, either. You might be tempted to say, “humph! What do they know!” But for the game software marketplace the hard answer is, “they know what they want in a game.” So keep in mind these guys aren’t ‘wrong.’ They represent a large segment of “the marketplace” and right now they’re speaking louder than we do. That might lead you to conclude that we’re doomed as a genre. Since we’ve always been a small niche, and our tastes in software are expensive to produce and support, our collective wallets will never be able to out-shout the console zombies, right? Absolutely. BUT, then again we don’t have to. We have to speak loud enough to make it worthwhile and “safe” for companies to produce products like this. Once the market is saturated with brainless titles, there’ll still be room “in the margins” a company to make a profit. That’s where we come in, assuming we haven’t slit our own hobby throats. Right now, today, our savior comes in the form of independent, low-overhead studios filled with folks who count themselves in our ranks — the ranks of the hard-core realism sim community. Their operating costs are lower than the big corporations, and as a result they’ll see a larger return on investment with a niche title like a sim than a big company would. And besides, they’re not in it for big money, because for these dedicated folk the profit is also measured in terms of artistic expression and community reputation. It’s a labor of love, so to speak.