Daily Archives: July 13, 2011

World of Cars

Every so often I feel like driving really fast.

Which, if you’ve seen my car, you know is a problem for me.  Toyota re-imagines Fred Flintstone’s car for the 21st century is about right tone to take when discussing my current vehicle.

So the only real place for me to go fast on four wheels has been virtually.

I do not get the pang often enough to actually invest in a driving simulator.  I cannot bring myself to drop the cash for thedisk and I am certainly never going to be the type to invest in a steering wheel or pedals for my PC.

But the thought of a nice driving sim still persists.

And yes, we have Mario Kart around the house, both on the Wii and the DS, as well as Wipeout HD on the PC.  But those are not quite the same. (Though I do like me some Mario Kart 64 now and again on the virtual console.)

So I was interested to read about Tipa’s pass through Need for Speed: World, EA’s free, online street racing simulator.

Free sounded like the right price, and driving production cars (or modified production cars) on the street felt like my kind of thing.  So I had to give it a try myself.

Happily, the download and patch cycle, always the bane of impulsive decisions, did not take very long even on my rather limited bandwidth internet connection.  Dinner and an episode of Burn Notice later and I was ready to drive.

Once downloaded, I was able to log right in since EA shares accounts among their online games, so the fact that I remembered my Lord of Ultima account information saved me a bit of time.

And then I had to pick a car.

You get a starter car and there are a number of choices.  I chose, quickly, based totally on what I would drive, given the choice.  I chose the Nissan 240SX, in white.

My first car... in NFSW

I nearly bought a 240SX the last time I was able to by a car with only my own needs and desires in mind.  I ended up with an Integra instead.  Either choice would have still lead to my current four door family sedan.

Oh, and the 240SX doesn’t look as bad from behind as those tall hatchbacks.

Does NOT make me look fat

Within a few minutes the choice of the 240SX appeared to me to be a pretty serious mistake.  It was only after I chose that I looked at the stats.

All the cars have base stats (top speed, acceleration, and road holding) and when comparing the tier 1 starter cars, the Nissan 240SX has just about the worst stats of the bunch.  Still, it looks better than almost any of the other choices in my opinion.  It’s not how you feel it’s how you look, right?

The game itself is ultra simple.  It uses WASD or the arrow keys for basic controls.

9 buttons, and 4 are duplicates

Of course, there is what they say and what the buttons really do.  Allow me to translate:

  • W or Up Arrow – Pedal to the metal.  There is no gradual acceleration.  Like an early WWI rotary engine, you are either getting full power or none at all.
  • S or Down Arrow – Stomp on brakes… or reverse at full power once you’ve come to a stop.
  • A/D or Left/Right Arrow – Turn, left or right, suddenly.  Actually, there is an increasing level of turn based on how long you hold the key down.  If you’re used to Mario Kart, you probably have the turn-tap technique down for taking on long curing fly-overs and the like.
  • Space Bar – If you are in any sort of turn, hold to make the front of the car change positions with the back of the car.  Which is how God intended things.  Bootleg turns and power slides enabled.  Or drifting if you prefer, which I do not.

There is no shifting gears, no variation in throttle settings, no cruise control/auto run, and not much variation in steering control.  But this simplicity is part of its charm.  That and the parking brake.

You can also violate the first rule of Italian racing by using the E key to look behind you, but that is less relevant to the fun as are most of the other controls.

All the controls... details...

Anyway, my choice of the 240SX seemed bad at first.  But once I got the hang of the game, I started to win races way more often than I thought I would… which was pretty much “ever.”

1st place finish for Wilhelm

Part of this seemed to stem from my early driving experience which involved abusing my grandmother’s diesel VW Rabbit.  It handled great, but did zero to sixty in about… my lifetime so far.  So you were greatly encourage to conserve any speed you had built up.

Another part of this seemed to be my focus in races.  I focus on getting to the finish line and don’t really pay much mind to my fellow racers.  Most of them, on the other hand, seem to spend a lot of their time trying to ram one another.  Thus, once past them they tend to keep themselves occupied while I have a clear path to the finish line.

But finally, I think the key factor is that the stats are a lie.  Or at least very misleading.

I eventually saved up enough in-game currency to splurge on another vehicle, so I went for the Mazadaspeed 3.  It had seemingly unbeatable stats for a tier 1 car and in every race most of my opponents were driving this vehicle.  I bought it, added in some after market performance parts, and went racing.

And then lost consistently.  The car totally blew my win record, knocking me down to 40%.  It does handle much better than my Nissan.  There is much less drama in those 90 degree turns. (See above for space bar, power slides, and remember what Doc Hudson told us.)

But the acceleration and top speed was crap.  In straightaways where I was topping 120 MPH in the Nissan I was barely getting to 100 in the Mazada.  Meanwhile, other people in Nissans were walking away from me.

So my bad choice did not seem so bad after all.  I sold the Mazda and went to the vinyl shop to add something to my back bumper for all the Mazdas to read as I pull away in the stretch.

What was the number of that car?

But back to first principles and all that.

I called this post “World of Cars” for a reason.

There is an obvious parallel between World of Tanks and Need for Speed: World.  They are both free to play and have upgrade and cash shop systems which are similar, and competition against other players take place in individual instances.  In the case of NFSW (I keep thinking “Not For Safe Work?”), eight players compete together in a street course race.

It is the lobby that is the big difference between the two.  NFSW has your “safe house” which is the equivalent of your garage in World of Tanks.

But then there is the world, which is really the best part of the game for me.

The world is a curious mix of Southern California and Las Vegas and is surprisingly large.  It looks very good and does not repeat endlessly.  And it has a lot of amusingly destructible terrain, like traffic cones… and bus stops… and water towers.  And while there are NPC cars driving slowly (or not so slowly, I saw a mini-van doing 95 easy on the freeway) there are no pedestrians, so you don’t feel so bad about breaking 100 on the sidewalk.

I prefer the traction that concrete provides...

I actually spend most of my time in the game just zooming along the streets of the main world, seeing where the roads will take me.  Like the golf course.

The grounds keeper isn't going to be happy...

There are police in the world however.  A lot of them.

They don’t seem to mind if you drive on the sidewalk, tear up the golf course, knock down major objects, drive through the shipyard at 100 MPH, park in the middle of the road, do bootleg turns in major downtown intersections, or smash into mini-vans right in front of them.

In fact, the police will actively get out of your way if they have the choice.  I have had them scrambling out of my way as I tore down the wrong side of the freeway at high speed.

But run into one of their cars and you are in trouble.

The gloves come off and the full force of that state comes after you.  The dispatcher rallies forces.  Road blocks are set up.  Spike strips laid down. (You really want to avoid those.) Special interceptor cars show up.

And then there are those police SUVs whose sole purpose seems to be to ram you head on at high speed.  Who gets assigned that task?  How badly do you have to screw up to become a police kamikaze pilot?

All you have to do is get away, get out of sight, and stay out of site for a short time and the hunt will be called off. (Some of the best parts of a chase involve the police radio traffic you get to hear while you are running.)

If you get away, you get reputation (experience, how you level up) and some cash.  How much you get appears to be based on how long the chase lasts and how much damage you cause the state.

But if you get caught…


Well, if you get caught, you still earn some reputation, but you lose a little cash as well, which is why I always do my best to get away.

I will get away, you watch!

And I usually do get away.  But sometimes they just pile on and you get stuck.

Another similarity between NFSW and World of Tanks is that I seem to be having about the maximum amount of fun playing the game in a slightly modified tier 1 vehicle.

That is good for me I suppose, but perhaps not so good for them.  I am not sure I can see myself spending their microtransaction currency (called Boost) to buy (or rent) special exotic cars.  Well, except maybe that ’65 Pontiac GTO… or that Ford Escort RS Cosworth.  I bet that is a screamer.  But a Porsche or a Lamborghini? Not so much.

Even when I read Car & Driver, to which I have subscribed for nearly 30 years now, I tend to focus on the cars I might actually be able to afford.

And I am also not sure how sticky the game will be for me.

Driving around is fun, and they have a little daily “find the gems” game that highlights a section of the map for you to explore.  There are 15 gems out there and if you find them all you get some reputation and some cash.

The races are fun.  I can do a few of those a night.

And there is the inevitable police chase or three.

But in the end, there is only so much driving around you can do.  I am glad it is free because I couldn’t see myself subscribing if there was a monthly fee.  Not without something more going on.

But what else could they add to the game?

I wonder if there is a way to organize a game of U-Boat in NFSW?

That would be simulating a simulation of a simulation… which might be too much recursion for the game to handle.

Anyway, I have been rolling around as Wilhelm2451 in the game if you are playing and want to say hello.