The struggle was real — virtually — for Joey Logano in new video game

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The struggle was real in a virtual way for Joey Logano, which was exactly what the Sprint Cup veteran was seeking.

In a recent night of playing NASCAR Heat Evolution, the video game released today, Logano couldn’t win as much as he tried at Martinsville Speedway in the game’s career mode.

Logano had a limited budget to optimize the parts on his car to go faster, and the game adapted to his ability, limiting him to a best of 10th at the 0.526-mile oval.

“I had a hell of a time,” Logano said with a laugh. “You had to make money to buy stuff to make the car better, and I didn’t have any money, so my car wasn’t very good. It was hard, and things like that are kind of fun to play.”

It was much different from the racing games Logano played (then in the guise of Jeff Gordon’s No. 24) as a whiz kid many years ago.

“I would stop for a lap and try to get them all ahead,” he said. “You don’t have to do that to make it a challenge.”

The key to making NASCAR Heat Evolution challenging without completely curtailing success is its adaptive AI feature, which allows the game to react to a player’s performance and customize the experience.

“As you get better at the game, it realizes that, and it adjusts automatically the strength of the competition, so that’s pretty cool,” Logano said. “Because you don’t want to finish 40th every time, but you also don’t want to win every time, too.”

Players also will have the option to customize setups and modify their cars with upgrades.

Logano is an investor in the game along with teammate Brad Keselowski, and they provided input on the development with a goal of balancing realism with rewarding entertainment value.

“It’s a fine line because you want the game to be fun, but you also want it to be challenging,” Logano said. “If you make it drive too much like a race car, not many people are going to be able to do it. You want it to be enjoyable but not so complicated that you have to be setting up your car and play it all the time to win. You want it to be challenging enough that people come back and get better, but you don’t want people to have to live it to be decent at it.”

The game, which is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, also will have an online playing feature that will permit a full field of 40 players remotely racing each other. Players can host private races or join existing events and control various factors such as laps, fuel, tire wear and number of entrants.

“I look at a video game like it’s the only way our fans are able to understand a little of what we feel because you can’t just go to your local sporting goods store and buy a race car like a baseball bat,” he said. “So the only way you can kind of get a feel for it is through video games. That’s still very different from what we do, but it’s kind of the closest thing to it.

“You can’t go drive your car down the highway at 150, or at least you’re not supposed to, so this is the best way to let fans try to experience what we feel.”