Grand Prix Legends
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|Grand Prix Legends|
North American boxart
|Developer(s)||Papyrus Design Group|
Brian C. Mahony
|Mode(s)||Single player, Multiplayer|
Grand Prix Legends (nicknamed GPL) is a computer racing simulator developed by Papyrus Design Group and published in 1998 by Sierra Entertainment. At the time of its release, it simulated the 1967 Formula One season and is considered to be one of the most realistic racing games ever released.
As of 2012, mods depicting the 1965, 1966 and 1969 Formula 1 seasons, 1967 World Sportscar Championship season, 1967 Formula 2 season and the 1971 Can-Am season have been created. Modders are also currently developing further carsets.
The real F1 of 1967
The 1967 season is widely viewed as a turning point in Formula One, which was probably the reason it was chosen by the developers of GPL. The cars were powerful again after the rules changes of 1966 but had no aerodynamic wings as yet. They were still using only treaded tyres, which made them very delicate to drive. It was also the last full season before commercial sponsors' liveries replaced the teams' traditional national racing colours in 1968.
The risks involved in motor racing in the early-1960s were acknowledged and understood, and the general view was that like bullfighting, danger was an inherent part of the sport that one had to accept if they wished to participate. As the decade progressed, the sport became increasingly professional and attitudes began to change. Jackie Stewart's shaping experience of being soaked in fuel while being trapped in the wreckage of his BRM at Spa 1966 led directly to him, alongside BRM team boss Louis Stanley, both becoming outspoken advocates for motor racing safety. The shocking fiery crash of Lorenzo Bandini at the Monaco chicane in 1967 and, in particular, the hugely talented Jim Clark's death at Hockenheim in an F2 race in 1968, got Formula One as a whole to start thinking on the topic of safety more seriously. As one result of that, the 1969 race at Spa and the 1970 race at the Nürburgring did not take place due to the drivers boycotting the sites as safety upgrades were not installed as demanded. A simulation based on these seasons would lack these great tracks.
1998 simulation of 1967 cars
The game, developed under the direction of David Kaemmer and Randy Cassidy, was published in 1998 by the Papyrus division of Sierra Entertainment. To this day it maintains a reputation as a very realistic race car simulator. Its strong points are fairly accurate car physics (how the car responds and feels on the track), reasonably attractive graphics, impressive engine sound effects, good online racing and solid Internet support from its user community. The weak points are the game's difficulty as the cars are quite difficult to drive well (although many fans consider this to be a virtue, as Formula One cars of that era were difficult to drive compared to modern high-downforce cars), and some minor physics flaws such as primitive aerodynamic modelling.
The cars available include the Lotus 49, the Ferrari 312, the Eagle-Weslake T1G, the Brabham BT24 and the H 16 powered BRM P115 (which though striking was not a great success; indeed, Jackie Stewart called it the worst car he drove in his entire career). There are also two fantasy cars to choose from, the Murasama and the Coventry — thinly disguised versions of the Honda RA300 and the Cooper T81B, with licensing issues precluding these particular marques from being included in the game. There are third party patches available to put the Cooper and Honda names back in the game. Some cars appeared only late in the season, especially the Lotus 49 which did not take part in Kyalami and Monaco. For all the cars, there are significant graphic updates available, most notably from the GPLEA (GPL Editors Association), which make the cars look far more realistic and detailed. Most of these were included in the GPL 2004 Demo but there have been subsequent upgrades.
The player races against the top drivers of 1967 including Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Graham Hill, Denny Hulme, Dan Gurney, John Surtees, and Lorenzo Bandini. Jackie Stewart was not included due to licensing issues.
Unlike the real 1967 season the make-up of the teams remains stable throughout the year. The driver list is not entirely accurate, since some of the computer-controlled drivers appeared only rarely in real life. For instance, the Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise is driving a BRM in the game, although in fact he drove a Formula 2 Matra (at that time it was not unknown to see an F2 machine entered in an F1 Grand Prix) on three occasions in 1967, and never drove a BRM before 1972. The presence of the Belgian Jacky Ickx who had a minor role in 1967 (driving only at the Nürburgring — also in an F2 car — Monza and Watkins Glen) is also noteworthy in this regard. There are third party patches available to change the driver list.
There are 11 vintage 1967 tracks included with the simulator. These include the high speed Monza circuit in Italy, the roller-coaster-like Mosport track in Canada, the tight streets of Monaco, and the original 14-mile (23 km) long Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany.
All but one of the races in the game are held on the tracks used for the real 1967 season. The French Grand Prix is raced at Rouen-Les-Essarts in GPL, even though the actual Grand Prix that year was held at the Le Mans Bugatti track. This change from reality met little opposition from players: while the Rouen track, site of the 1968 French GP, passes through beautiful landscapes and is pretty interesting for the driver, the Bugatti track and its surrounding landscape is generally considered somewhat lacking in interest by comparison. In fact, the Bugatti circuit proved unpopular with the drivers at that time, and 1967 F1 Champion Denny Hulme calling it a "Mickey Mouse" track. For this reason, the developers chose to include the Rouen track, which fits more into the spirit of the time, according to them. Eventually, a version of the Bugatti Circuit was released by the community. (The Alternative GPL Track Database)
David Kaemmer said that "Driving a 1967 GP car is more difficult than driving just about anything else, and the simulation is more difficult than driving a real car... many people think that it feels like driving on ice."
In some ways GPL is more a virtual sport than a game. The essence of GPL is the talent required to drive these classic cars around the challenging circuits of the 1967 era. As in learning to play a fine musical instrument, the player must have the patience and the light, smooth touch to get the most from these machines.
Much of the difficulty in driving the GPL machines is due to the accuracy of the physics model, which is limited to dry conditions. Wet races are not missed, though, as the car handling is somewhat slippery anyway. 1967 Grand Prix F1 cars made a large amount of power i.e. over 350 hp (260 kW), had very little mass i.e. about 500 kg (1100 lb), and rode on hard, skinny, 'pre-radial' tires, with no downforce of any kind. All of these factors contributed to what in reality was one of the more dangerous Formula 1 seasons the series would know. Virtual racers can still get away with pushing the reset button.
While Grand Prix Legends provided the most realistic (and hence, difficult) simulation of automotive physics in a PC game at its launch, the reputation of "difficult to drive" was exacerbated by a number of decisions made both for the demo and the launch of version 1.0.
The demo version gave users a taster of the Brabham F1 car at the Watkins Glen circuit. Unfortunately, the car was set up with approximately one degree of positive camber angle whereas an actual car of that era would have run one or more degrees of negative camber. Negative camber proportionally increases the footprint of the tire, thus lateral grip, when cornering. Positive camber proportionally reduces the footprint and the amount of grip available from the tire when cornering. This resulted in a car whose cornering grip was markedly less than it should have been and whose grip decreased more sharply than expected when the car turned a corner, greatly increasing the skill required to drive the car quickly.
When version 1.0 of the game was launched, it allowed users the option to drive "Novice Trainer", "Advanced Trainer" or fully fledged F1 cars. The Novice Trainer and Advanced Trainer cars approximated F3 and F2 regulations in that they had reduced power and in the case of the Novice Trainer, fewer gears. These trainers were more forgiving to drive, but the game only allowed the cars to be used for practice sessions. It was only possible to race against the computer using the F1 cars, which meant that a player's first experience of competition was in an F1 car at F1 speeds with F1 opponents.
A further complication affected users with lower powered PCs. Version 1.0 of Grand Prix Legends allowed users to reduce the number of computer opponents if their PCs were unable to render a full grid of cars at a reasonable frame rate. Unfortunately, reducing the field was achieved by removing cars from the back of the grid starting with the slowest, leaving a reduced grid containing only the fastest drivers.
Grand Prix cars from 1967 typically ran 5 to 6 inches (130 to 150 mm) of ground clearance, unlike the later ground effect cars that were designed to have the chassis as close to the ground as possible. Version 1.0 of Grand Prix Legends, allowed its cars to be set up with a ground clearance of only one inch.
Lowering the ride height lowers the center of gravity of the car which helps improve cornering ability by reducing the roll moment of the chassis. It also has the side effect of reducing the amount of suspension travel available.
When the suspension in a car is fully compressed, it reaches the bump stops, small blocks of rubber that catch the suspension arms at the end of their range of movement. This is often referred to as "bottoming out". Once a car's suspension reaches the bump stops, its effective spring rate increases sharply as the bump stops are effectively very hard springs. Increasing the spring rate at one wheel transfers weight onto this wheel and away from the other wheels, causing the car to understeer if it is one of the front wheels or oversteer if it is one of the rear wheels. The sudden onset of understeer or oversteer can result in loss of control if the driver does not react quickly enough to the change in handling.
The default setups in Grand Prix Legends combined uncharacteristically low ride heights with short bump stops which resulted in cars whose suspension frequently "bottomed out" and oscillated abruptly between the expected spring rates and much higher bump stop spring rates. This caused the cars to behave erratically over kerbs, bumps and any significant application of acceleration or braking, with only the highly skilled able to fully exploit these "low rider" or "go-kart" setups.
The problem was further complicated by the lack of audible feedback when the cars hit the bump stops, leaving many drivers scratching their heads at the erratic handling of the early setups.
Papyrus were aware that there would be difficulties for the novice even before the simulator was released. On the very first page of the manual, it cautions, "You will spin and crash because everyone who tries the simulation spins and crashes the first time out. And the second time out. And the third. People who have raced real cars spin and crash in the simulator - mainly because they aren't feeling the forces they are used to feeling while driving." Rumor among simulator racing enthusiasts was that when Jackie Stewart had an opportunity to drive the simulator in the late stages of development, he claimed that it was harder to drive than the actual 1967 Formula One cars.
Papyrus recognised the ride-height problem and the first patch (version 1.1) prevented setups from being lower than 2.5 inches (64 mm). However, both the default setups and the majority of third-party setups were still designed with the theory used on modern, high-downforce race cars, with the car as low as possible with an extremely stiff suspension to prevent the car from bottoming out at speed (due to increased aerodynamic downforce not present on 1967 era cars).
Increasing the ride height back up to 1967 levels transformed the handling of the cars and demonstrated the power and sophistication of Grand Prix Legends, but the reputation of "overly difficult handling" and "no grip" was already established. However, for those who were willing to try the more realistic setups, it became obvious that, while total grip levels were still realistically low, the cars were now extremely driveable.
When it was launched, GPL required quite high-end hardware. While a software renderer was available, for smooth gameplay a 3D card was all but essential, and GPL supported only two types: 3dfx and Rendition Verité. GPL's box stated that the minimum CPU required with hardware acceleration was a Pentium 90, and without it a Pentium 166, but in reality both these figures were well short of what is needed for a satisfactory frame rate.
As recently as the end of 2010, GPL will run flawlessly at 36 frame/s (its native frame rate) on the most common hardware such as Pentium 4, Dual core series. The GPL game architecture gives priority to the CPU calculations rather than the GPU. More recently, gamers will install it on modern versions of 32-bit and 64-bit Windows. The latest car skin creators have greatly increased in-game cars' textures sizes. Now, megabit-resolution textures are sometimes seen on third-party car texture modifications.
To testimony how strong the Grand Prix Legends community remains, 2009 has seen a free dld 60 frame/s (frames per second) patch. Gamers can now swap at will between the native 36 frame/s patch and the 60 frame/s, which has been welcomed mainly by off line players willing to get a complete fluent immersion with TFT / LCD monitors, running at a fixed native 60 Hz.
While acclaimed by the press in 1998 as the most realistic racing simulator ever, GPL did not sell very well, especially in the US where a Formula One-based racing game holds less appeal than it does in the rest of the world. Also, the cars were difficult to drive, while the game's hardware requirements meant that it did not run well on many computers at the time of its release.
GPL's lack of inbuilt support for 3D accelerator cards other than those produced by 3dfx and Rendition contributed to a decrease in sales when those cards became obsolete, since at the time there was no Direct3D support.
As of 2004 total sales were around 200,000 units. Many of these sales came quite late in the game's life, when increase in CPU power made the game run more smoothly, and after Papyrus had released patches to allow GPL to work with modern graphics accelerators. The addition of Force Feedback support also helped. The release of the game on budget ranges, the inclusion of a demo CD with the Nürburgring in the track's official 1999 season magazine as well as its giveaway in Germany in a 2001 issue of the magazine PC Action, also encouraged newcomers to GPL.
An out-of-the-box copy of GPL lacks several features that one might expect from a modern driving simulation, and so most people add as a matter of course several patches: the official version 1.2 patch that adds force feedback; a second patch to add Direct3D and/or OpenGL support; and a third patch that gets around a problem that prevents the original game from working on computers with CPUs faster than 1.4 GHz. It was considered best to get the most recent "all-in-one v2" patch from SimRacing Mirror Zone to get this sim working at its best but the newly formed Grand Prix Legends Preservation Society has come out with a new installer which not only installs GPL for the user, upgrading all the tracks and cars that come with GPL to the latest specification, but also helps with custom programs that are invaluable to the user. There is an original demo that was succeeded by the newer Grand Prix Legends 2004 Demo which has all the required patches included plus upgrades to the cars and track (as of 2004) that are included within the original one.
In later years, it became possible to have regularly patched GPL running not only on Windows, but also on competing operating systems such as Linux and Mac OS X due to improvements in API-emulating programs such as Wine and Cider. Some configuration modifications have to be made before the program, despite its apparent lack of 'dirty programming', will run, however.
In 2001, a revised version of the GPL engine was used for NASCAR Racing 4. This game was a big hit in the United States, although as usual with NASCAR games, much less so in Europe. The final incarnation of the GPL engine can be found in NASCAR Racing 2003 Season which was considered at the time to be the benchmark of motorsport simulation excellence, particularly with respect to the tire model. More recently, the online subscription-based simulation iRacing, also designed by Kaemmer and built on the NASCAR Racing 2003 Season code base.
- Uricchio, William (2005). Raessens, Joost; Goldstein, Jeffrey, eds. Handbook of Computer Game Studies. MIT Press. p. 327.
- Poole, Stephen. "Grand Prix Legends Review". Gamespot. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
- Poole, Stephen. "Grand Prix Legends Review". Gamespot. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
- Miller, Craig. "Grand Prix Legends PC review". Retrieved 3 January 2013.