Obsessive Compulsive Time Trial Disorder
Posted on 12th Oct 2012 at 09:23 by Harry Butler with 37 comments
It’s all in search of that perfect lap. That clean lap where you hit every corner just right, push the car to its limit at every point, find the perfect braking zone and turn in point, and all for the reward of a few extra tenths from your time (and hopefully a pole position). It’s how I imagine professional drivers must play, always striving for that extra slice of time and constantly reaching for the reset button. Back when bit-tech used to benchmark graphics cards using Race Driver: GRID we manually played through a lap of the race, where any crash ruined the benchmark and forced a restart. By the time we retired that test, I must have raced that lap close to a thousand times. I once entered a Dirt 2 competition at a LAN party and spent the entire weekend obsessing over just one rally stage, squeezing every hundredth of a second off of my time.
But with that instant restart button, I’m not really playing the game, I’m cheating it so I win every time. If I spin out at the first corner, or even the fifth corner on lap five, I’ll always hit restart and play the whole race through, rather than try and fight my way through the field. A perfect race in Formula One 2012 for me is a Vettel Special; pole position and then a pole to flag win with none of that tiresome overtaking to get in the way. This isn’t the racing I enjoy watching on TV; the wheel to wheel overtakes and collisions at the final corner. This is the sort of race I’d switch off and go do some DIY instead because it’s result is clear from the end of the first corner. Yet when I play a racing game, it’s the only way I can play where I extract any kind of fulfilment.
I’m currently part-way through my first full season in F1 2012, with Bahrain the latest jaunt on my digital fast-car world tour. But having cocked up my car’s setup I found it near impossible to go fastest in qualifying. Try as I might I simply could not achieve a pole worthy lap, and even my best was two seconds behind the quickest. I slumped to a 10th position on the grid, and then plodded home to a finish in the same position. Rather than my usual race of pole-to flag, I was bumping wheels, defending positions and jostling to hold onto my single point. And having finished, I felt only disappointment. Was my setup really that wrong? Could I have gone faster? Cue a further 2 hours in time trial tweaking my setup, adjusting gear ratios and down force and seemingly endless restarts to find a better racing line. I would beat that time, I could beat that time and eventually I did beat that time. I got more satisfaction from beating the clock than overtaking any AI controlled chump.
I wouldn’t play any other game this way. I’m not going to play through Xcom restarting every mission if a character dies, or restart a level in Dishonoured because I’ve been spotted. The random and unpredictable events in those games are what make them fun; if you restarted after every unexpected twist, there’d be no mystery or consequences. But in racing games, reaching for that restart button feels that much more acceptable, even if it means a 30 minute race often takes me all afternoon to complete. After all, I wouldn’t want to finish second.
Is this process of constant restarting in search of perfection something you share? Or do you think I'm cheating myself out of the best part of racing games? Let me know in the comments.