Business Times – 25 Apr 2008
You can download a nearly identical version of its simulator to play on your PC, reports CHRISTOPHER LIM
AMID the hubbub surrounding SingTel’s Formula One-related announcements on Tuesday, one aspect has been consistently underplayed – high-quality racing games, for free.
As part of SingTel’s title sponsorship of the F1 night race this September, it’s making available the best racing simulators money can buy to the public for free, complete with a replica of an F1 race car that turns and jerks in response to players’ moves. That’s very cool, but still not the best bit. The real news is that you can download an almost identical version of the SingTel Ultimate Race simulator www.singtelrace.com to play on your PC, and next month, you’ll be able to play a version for mobile phones.
It’s a curious fact of economics and market psychology how often free is equated with sub-standard. But SingTel’s PC racing simulator game, dubbed Ultimate Race Online, is no casual afterthought.
Nik Ball of developer Ball Racing Developments says that it’s essentially identical to the two high-tech racing simulators SingTel will be showing off all the way till September. He should know since Ball Racing created both the full-scale simulators as well as the PC game. And while a big part of what makes the full-on simulators suitable for training professional F1 racing drivers are the motions sensors and physical feedback systems, the realistic visuals and controls of the PC game are all there.
‘If you’ve played some of the racing games out there, the designers have the luxury of making the track wider than it actually is to make the game easier to play, thereby broadening the appeal of their game,’ he says. ‘But we didn’t have that luxury because we had to make our games completely accurate so that the racers could use it to train,’ Mr Ball adds.
This attention to accuracy pays off handsomely. The controls are excellent, especially if you have a steering wheel game controller. And you’ll instantly recognise the track if you have even a passing acquaintance with Singapore’s roads. Even the Singapore Flyer is where it should be, to scale, which explains the minimum hardware requirements of a Pentium 4 CPU and a mid-range graphics card. The game is not easy to play, but it’s extremely authentic. There are also prizes up for grabs, although the rewards structure is different for SingTel subscribers compared with those of other telcos.
The Mobile Racer game for phones will also be interesting, but unfortunately will only be available to SingTel subscribers. With the new number portability schemes, this might just give you an incentive to switch since once the game is in full swing in August, you’ll be able to race against other people in a multiplayer environment. In the initial iteration of the game available from May onwards, players will be able to purchase and customise their race cars using credits accumulated from winning games, and choose between three different difficulty levels.
Show me the money, you say? Well, if you’re a top scorer, you’ll win grandstand tickets to the F1 race here. Now that’s got to be worth something. And come August, the game will be upgraded to a three-dimensional version, complete with so-called ghost technology that will represent your opponents based on their best recorded game performances.
If you still don’t think this is a big deal, bear in mind that the PC racing games based on other countries’ tracks are commercial downloads, with Singapore being the only exception. Just because you get it free doesn’t mean it isn’t worth something. These are no cheap freebie games, but are cutting-edge racing simulators.