A long long time ago… well, about 8 years ago, I had a keen interest for racing games. I played the Need for Speed series a lot and bought a PS2 for the sole purpose of playing Gran Turismo 4. After a while I drifted more and more towards the simulation area of the genre. I’ve played Live for Speed even before S1 was released, and I bought netKar pro immediately after it was released. It’s netKar pro’s predecessor that I felt like talking about tonight.
Back in the day when the only racing game to offer (somewhat) realistic damage to cars was Need for Speed: Porsche, netKar appeared. The damage effects it offered wasn’t great: damage wasn’t visible and the technical damage you could do to your car was pretty much all-or-nothing. One tiny bump against a wall and your car would be undriveable because the game decided your suspension collapsed. This is exactly the reason why this game is so much fun.
As a newbie to racing in general I found out that there was a large community of fans around netKar, and these fans designed their own tracks (or ported them from other games) which were downloadable so you could play them yourself. As such I learned about the track that would become my favorite: the Nurburgring Nordschleife. NetKar’s version of this track was a very poor conversion from the old Grand Prix Legends game and lacked a lot of things. Only the track was converted, background, scenery and everything simply did not exist. It was like driving in the air with nothing else around you. When I first started playing the track it took a lot of suspension of disbelief to enjoy it properly.
Not that the track was very enjoyable. For the first time ever I had a racing course that took over 9 minutes to complete in my white F360 Modena. Except, I couldn’t. My skill level multiplied by the length of the track meant that I would certainly crash somewhere before completing one lap. I had to alter my playing style. Practically every racing game that was ever released is completely forgiving of mistakes. Scratch the wall once, just press a key and the damage is repaired, or perhaps the damage is so light you can still continue driving and beat the AI easily. Not so in netKar. In netKar on the Nordschleife, corners are scary. Make a single mistake and you ruin 9 minutes of hard work in trying to get a good time. No more ramming the car into corners, I had to start very carefully and build up my speed from there. The fatal consequences of hitting the wall made the game so real to me that I was completely immersed into it. Every time I crashed against the wall in the second-to-last corner of the track I felt it, physically. But my practice paid off. I was able to complete entire laps, and soon it became my favorite circuit. In fact, I dare say I became so good at it that I’m probably the world’s fastest in netKar for the F360 Modena @ Nurburgring, with a time of 8:44:457. Feel free to challenge me. Well, if you can still find the game somewhere, that is. It’s no longer under development and has been succeeded by the equally excellent netKar pro.
Today I grabbed my G25 steering wheel from its box and gave netKar another go. It’s been at least a year since I last played any racing game with a steering wheel (and netKar doesn’t allow playing with a keyboard). Coming back to the game after such a long time felt.. interesting. I can imagine it’s a bit like playing piano again after not having played for years. There was a certain affinity between me and the car but I pretty much felt out of it for the first 2-3 laps. Then my muscle memory started to kick in and soon I was doing reasonably fast laps again. But the thrill was gone. The excitement of keeping your car on the track without hitting anything was just completely gone. I steered onto the last corner of the track, underestimated my speed, hit a wall and felt nothing. I just pressed escape and restarted, erasing the previous 8 minutes and 40 seconds from history. The lifelike simulation I used to spend so much time in had become a mere computer game that I was playing just to pass the time.
I guess it’s not that strange, losing a little excitement after 8 years of playing the same game over and over again. I think I’m even one of those strange people that spends a lot of time replaying the same games over and over again (Transport Tycoon, Deus Ex… >_<;), whereas most of my friends skip from game to game and never look back. I’m still not quite fed up with netKar. I’ll probably continue playing it once very month or so. Since those moments 8 years ago, playing netKar, I have never again found a racing game that can excite me in quite the same way. I’m hoping that Gran Turismo 5, which is due to come out soon, will be a great game, but I already know it cannot replace netKar. Maybe if it induced electric shocks every time you hit a wall with you car…
Incidentally, the piano analogy was not an accident. I’m considering to start practicing piano in the near future. I hope I can enjoy playing piano at least as long as I enjoyed playing netKar. I really do think that the two are alike in many ways.