Dan Greenawalt had an itch he needed to scratch.
Despite having never attended a NASCAR race in his life, the Creative Director of Turn 10 Studios wanted to drive a NASCAR stock car around Watkins Glen International.
“It’s one of the NASCAR races I love watching because you mix it up so much,” Greenawalt told NBC Sports in a phone interview. “It’s just fun, it’s a great track. It’s got so much heritage, it’s one of those tracks that I love to drive classic cars on, in general. It flows really well, it’s got the heritage, it’s got a lot of different type of surfaces on it and really interesting camber from one corner to the next.”
Greenawalt doesn’t know WGI from first-hand experience. He’s describing it based on his experience from driving on the road course while developing NASCAR World Tour, the latest expansion pack for Forza Motorsports 6, which is available today on the XBox One.
“I feel like any car I jump into, the physics of the game really speak to me, because I know the track well and the track is an incredible trial,” Greenawalt said.
Greenawalt is one of the minds behind Microsoft’s Forza Motorsports 6 video game, the latest entry in the series that began in 2005 on XBox. While the above scene at WGI seems like one you could experience in any of the NASCAR simulator games that has been released over the last two decades, it’s just the surface of the many “What If?” itches one can scratch.
The expansion, which features 10 hours of additional content to the original, adds 24 Sprint Cup cars among 16 drivers and Homestead-Miami Speedway to the already existing NASCAR-sanctioned tracks on the game. The 24 cars represent Joe Gibbs Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, and Team Penske.
With those 24 cars you could run at Watkins Glen. But you could also do it in the rain, something that’s never been done in real life in the series.
Have you ever wondered how a stock car would handle “The Corkscrew” at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca? Of course you have.
Does the thought of a stock car navigating the street course of the Grand Prix of Long Beach keep you up at night? Do your eyes glaze over when you think about Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Kevin Harvick jockeying for position at the Silverstone Circuit in the United Kingdom against V8 Supercars or an IndyCar?
Forza Motorsports 6 gives you that possibility now.
“I was racing in the rain on Silverstone and it’s such a fish out of water (experience) in a sense, but as a driver you feel like you’re incredibly challenged to take these cars, they’re so powerful, they’re so raw,” Greenawalt said. “Silverstone has such tradition with proper racing etiquette and you think of a lot of the open-wheel stuff with F1 and to go in there … and really mixing it up in the rain, when I first did that it was with a whole field of NASCAR (cars) and it just felt like a muddy, ballroom brawl.”
That brawl and your other NASCAR-related fantasies are made possible only through the cooperation of NASCAR itself its licensing division, where Blake Davidson works as a vice president.
Davidson has been with NASCAR for going on 21 years and has been working on licensed games since “NASCAR Racing” in 1994, a PC game produced by Papyrus.
“One of the challenges that we’ve always had is that it’s really difficult to experience NASCAR yourself,” Davidson told NBC Sports in phone interview. “It’s not like stick-and-ball sports where you can go out and play those sports. It’s completely different.
“Outside of a driving school, it’s the best way we can allow fans to race and experience the sport.”
The sport has to be turned into a video game someway. Greenawalt breaks it down into three components – Physics, graphics and audio.
Audio – “We tend to use Dynos, which means we put the cars on a rolling road or a dynamometer (a device for measuring force, torque, or power). We put different microphones all around the car – the intake, the exhaust, near the engine. We try to isolate the sounds so we can remix them in real-time and on the fly while the cars are driving.”
Graphics – “We’ve used a lot of different techniques. With an older car, we might laser scan it. But with a NASCAR in particular, we get CAD data, so it’s polygonal design data that’s given to us. From that data, we’re able to then photograph the cars, videotape the cars, manipulate that date to get a very accurate representation … we have to go on-site, put our hands on the car to make the CAD data really come to life in our engine.”
Says Davidson, “Microsoft and their designers, they want to be authentic in everything that they’re doing. Sometimes that makes the teams a little bit nervous. They love to take pictures of everything and scan the cars and have everything captured perfectly in the game and they get pretty darn close, but there are certainly things teams are sensitive about.”
Physics – “We’ve got thousands of data points, for every single car. We recreate them in real-time. So we measure things like the weight of the driveline, inertia. Different components like the flywheel, the engine. The unsprung mass of the suspension architecture, the brakes the wheels and tires. We measure all those components and put them into the game. What’s really unique about NASCAR in particular was the aerodynamics. We had a separate team go and start really looking into how aerodynamics is done at that level. Those cars, they’re not symmetrical, so one side is different from the other on an oval setup. That’s very atypical of the cars in our game.”
When all of that comes together, after a few years of work, you can scratch your own NASCAR itch.