Posts Tagged ‘Lister Storm’

I’ve known Jon Denton for over ten years now and though our relationship has been strictly online and on-track, in all of that time he has proven to be one of the most thoughtful and intelligent humans I have met. From our early days perusing the West Brothers Racing Legend forums and driving Sauber C9’s on virtual race tracks to more recent times where we worked together on various writing assignments, he has shown an insight on all matters that more often than not paved the way for a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.

Recently he presented a topic of discussion that I found to be of great interest, that being the question of what sim vehicle (racing sim, flight sim, sub sim, trucker sim, goat sim, etc.) has the most soul. An abstract comparison to be sure and not one with an obvious answer. In fact, the more I thought of it the more complex it became for me and before I could begin to tackle the task at hand I needed a real world example.
Fortunately, I had one ready at hand.

In the summer of 1985, I purchased my first road going motorcycle, the venerable Honda VF500F Interceptor. World famous and often regarded as one of the best motorcycles to ever leave the Honda assembly line, my relationship with that motorcycle was one of extreme satisfaction and the enjoyment it gave me for the twenty-eight years it was in my possession was difficult to put into words. Complete, let’s say. An inanimate object of metal and plastic with a blatant disregard for my life or death, I shall forever remember it fondly.

Around 2005 or so, I didn’t ride that much and by 2007 I had pretty much retired the bike to the shed and the various rodents that would eventually cause large amounts of damage to the bike, rendering it, for all intents and purposes, unrideable. Well, unstartable is perhaps a better word. By 2011 I had the urge to ride again but a few days into my expression of Herculean efforts to get it back on the road proved to be in vain, I made up my mind that my motorcycle days were behind me. Back into the shed it went and off I went to do whatever it was I was doing at that time.

With time flying the way it does, it seemed mere moments had gone by, the year was 2013, and I was standing in the parking lot of my employer smoking a cigarette when one of those fancy new sport bikes went blasting by. Twenty plus years of memories came flooding back all at once and I knew it was time to get back on the road again.
Of course Honda was about as far as I looked when it came to motorcycles having had nothing but good experience with them and before the day was over I had my sights set on the newest CBR 600RR. Not the fastest, not the most powerful, and completely devoid of the electronic gadgets and trickery adorning many of the new bikes these days it was exactly what I wanted. Or so I thought.

Within a week I was making arrangements to pick up the new motorcycle and while I was sitting on it before taking official delivery at the dealer a few things jumped out at me. For instance, it was nearly forty pounds lighter than my Interceptor and pumped about twice the horsepower to the rear wheel, so, I imagined, it might be a smidge quicker than what I had grown accustomed to. The riding position was more aggressive which translates to not as comfortable. The seat was made of Italian granite, I was sure of it. Easier for sliding off into Marco Marquez-like knee and elbow sliding corner maneuvers.

When I asked the dealer prep guys where the reserve fuel tank valve was they looked at me as if my medication may have run out a few weeks earlier. “It’s fuel injected, you don’t need to worry about turning any fuel tank valves”. Of course. Fuel injected. That will come in handy. They left me to it. My friend got into my car and I got onto the bike for the hour long ride home.

 

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And so it went. I have nothing but praises for that motorcycle. It had all the speed, acceleration, and handling prowess you could ask for, basically a race bike with turn blinkers, headlights and a place to hang a license plate. Sort of like a high performance car but with two wheels instead of four. Lightweight, forty plus miles per gallon, a more worthy successor to the venerable Interceptor I could not have dreamed of but after a year of ownership I cold no longer deny the nagging feeling within me—something wasn’t right.

I couldn’t put my finger directly upon it but I could use it to point in the right direction, I was simply not connected to the bike. Vague and abstract, perhaps, but with the Interceptor the connection had been immediate and nearly unbreakable, as if I couldn’t imagine life without that motorcycle, that sort of thing. With the new Honda I was consciously choosing not to ride on perfect days in an area that has a riding season of about three hours per year. If it’s nice out, you ride.

Finally, that nagging feeling crystallized into an obvious realization and it didn’t take much longer after that before I once again picked up the phone and checked stock on the Honda I had considered a year earlier but had passed over.

Within an hour of trading in the CBR 600RR and taking ownership of the CBR 1000RR I knew that the Interceptor had been completely and permanently replaced. A new connection had been made. Does it make any sense? Honestly, I can’t say that it does, but I know how it feels and while the two bikes are strikingly similar in terms of size, weight, and feel, the 1000RR is the one I’ll be keeping for the next twenty years. Soul. Does it have it or does it move it? For me, in the case of the motorcycles, it was both.

Now that I had some context in the real world it was easier to tackle Jon’s question as it pertained to the virtual world.

 

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Simulated Racing Car

This one was easier than I thought. So easy in fact that Jon knew the answer probably before I did—the Lister Storm that, for me anyway, made its first appearance in SimBin Development Team’s (SBDT) GTR1 racing simulator. Accompanied by gobs of hype and promises of awesomeness, SBDT’s first foray into the bright lights of the commercial marketplace held the prospect of what many of us believed to be a sim racing nirvana the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the release of Grand Prix Legends or NASCAR Racing 2003.

Sometime before the official release, the world was treated to a demo of the game featuring a Lister Storm, Morgan Aero (8), and an excellent realization of Spa Francorchamps, a demo which created quite a buzz in the sim racing community—“…the next GPL…the next NASCAR 2003…” were a small example of the murmurings from the punters as they eagerly awaited the final product.

Unfortunately, the US release of this new simulator was to occur after the European release and as a result of this I contacted my friend and Grand Prix Legends legend Frank Steinbach and before long I had in my possession a copy of the German language GTR 1. It wasn’t long and a way to convert that version to turn the German words into English words was discovered and my time with the simulator became much easier. Thanks Frank, I owe you big time.

 

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Oh dear, what a time it was.

Back to those promises and hype; GTR1 was to feature full licensing of the GTR season, all the cars, drivers, tracks, and liveries, all of it. Dynamically changing weather, the new Live Track Technology invented by SBDT to simulate the buildup of a groove on the track as time passed, and an integration with MoTeC data acquisition software so that the user could really get a handle on what the car was doing and true to life sounds for each car that raced in the FIA GT 2003 series. An impressive feature list, to say the least, but all too often screenshots and pre-release hype are the best a new game or simulator has to offer. How would the final product be received?

In my opinion, they pulled it off. Of course, the pundits were quick to arrive and proceeded to tear apart the physics and tire modeling but this was not unexpected and, to be perfectly blunt about it, it is something that happens with every sim well before something newer and more amazing comes out, a never ending loop, the raging snake that eats its tail, a snake oblivious to the fact that any sim to date has yet to model individual air molecules inside of each tire in real time not on a global scale but on an individual scale. All sixty trillion trillion trillion of them. Or however many there are. Or the individual titanium atoms in the white livery paint, or maybe it’s best to move on right about now…

Ferraris, Porsches, Vipers, Corvettes, Lotus…and that Lister Storm. I’ll give it a go in the release version and see what happens. Of course, I loved it in the release as much as I had in the demo and what began as a racing game purchase soon turned into a full blown obsession that would see the world’s worst website come in to existence as I required a place to proudly display my written exploits of my adventures in the Lister Storm.

Madness.

 

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It wasn’t long and I was preparing to tackle the 24 Hours at Spa endurance race in the Lister Storm, confident in my ability to bring victory home. I did pretty good until an errant radiator setting before the race brought it all crashing down a few real-time hours into the event but what was important was the fun I was having, GTR1 and that Lister filled sim racing gaps I didn’t realize existed for me.

A very interesting car in reality, the Lister Storm has its roots in a company founded in 1954 by Brian Lister. From those glory days of hand built cars and questionable safety, the Lister idea and design was cultivated, nurtured, refined, and, eventually, found its way to the modern day street going consumer. Granted, not a lot of Lister Storms were built for the mass market but the number was high enough to allow them to field cars in several racing series. Early efforts suffered mechanical breakdowns and learning curves more like vertical lines than actual curves but by the time the 2004 FIA GTR Championship series rolled around, the Lister Storm was a proven winner.

Much like the case with the motorcycles I spoke of earlier, there was nothing I could put my finger on. Was it the livery? The fact it had the heart of a Jaguar? The wheel being on the wrong side? The sounds of the engine and gearbox that were so accurately recreated by SBDT? Beats me, but the total package of that car in that sim, warts and all, provided for me a complete and satisfying experience and to this day when I fire up the follow up to GTR1, GTR2, I reach for the Lister Storm as my weapon of choice. I doubt I’ll get within a thousand miles of a real one in my lifetime, but the virtual model will fill in nicely.

 

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Simulated Fighter Jet

When it comes to obsession, my obsession with the Lister Storm and the GTR\GTR2 simulations was in every way a thorough one but truth be told it pales in comparison to another favorite simulated vehicle—the Lockheed Martin (formerly General Dynamics) F-16 Fighting Falcon found in what many consider to be the best military combat simulator ever created, Falcon 4.0. The culmination of over a decade of flight simulator creation experience, it was the brainchild of Gilman Louie who produced and designed the original title, F16 Fighting Falcon, with programming handled by Les Watts. Initially released in 1984 for the venerable MSX computer system and then in 1987 for the Macintosh under the title Falcon, further releases on various computing systems followed as the game gained in popularity and a loyal and dedicated fan base began to blossom.

Highly regarded by the gaming community, it also caught the attention of real pilots who flew the real jet and one such pilot, Pete Bonanni, lent his vast expertise of the multi-role military combat jet to the Falcon development team, providing crucial input on Falcon 3.0 and its successor, Falcon 4.0.

I believe it was the summer of 1992 and I was stalking around the local computer shop looking for the next computer game that I couldn’t live without when I decided to ask the owner of the shop for a recommendation. At that time I enjoyed playing space games and flight simulators but had yet to experience the Falcon series. “Give that Falcon 3.0 a try, you’ll love it.” And so I did.  He was right, I loved it.

 

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Or, rather, I loved and hated it. Back in those days, you had to perform small miracles and say the right amount of curse words in just the right order before you could free up the 604 kilobytes of (IBM PC Clone) memory that would allow the game to actually start. It was infuriating but at the time I was fairly computer savvy and if I couldn’t figure something out I knew the phone number of someone who could. I made a lot of phone calls. And I must have had fifty copies of that boot disk, just in case something happened to one. I was nearing the end of my college education at the time and it wasn’t uncommon for various drinks and assorted intoxicants to be liberally applied in the general direction of my shoe box size apartment. In fact, if memory serves, I had a copy of that disk in every room of the house and a couple buried in the yard. You can never be too careful with an MS-DOS boot disk, especially where Falcon 3.0 was concerned.

Glorious. That’s the word that comes immediately to mind. You needed a CPU with a math co-processor to unlock the ultra-super awesome flight model, how cool is that? My best friends and I played that game until the ones and zeros no longer functioned properly. Buggy, far from optimized and a real pain in the ass to get running on a good day, once running it took you into another world and in that other world you were the pilot of an F-16 Fighting Falcon, one of the most capable multi-role multi-weather military combat fighters ever conceived of and built.

 

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We would, literally, play for days on end. Some of us preferred the Instant Action portion of the game where you got into the jet and blasted enemy aircraft until you were blown out of the sky and given a score and others preferred the near-magic that was the campaign. A dynamic campaign where you, the virtual sim pilot, could actually make a difference to the outcome of the virtual war. And if you were shot down on your mission you weren’t tasked with flying it over and over, no, the campaign engine kept chugging away with or without you. It was incredible and led to a dedication and enjoyment that has lasted to this very day.

Around the end of 1998, Falcon 4.0 made its way to the masses. I recount approximately six panic attacks on the way to the software store to pick it up even though I had called them in advance to verify the existence of this Holy Grail of flight simulations, I wasn’t taking any chances. I sped, I drove like a maniac, my glory awaits! Ok, that’s a bit dramatic, even for me, medicated or not, but you know the feeling—you’ve waited for what seems like an eternity and then, before you know it, the thing is in your hands. Sort of like the last of the snow after a Michigan winter I suppose.

True to the Falcon heritage, my computer was about six generations too slow to handle the simulator at the highest graphics settings and the game was just a smidge buggy. The Bugs!! It isn’t Falcon without the bugs! I don’t know how true the rumors were, but, allegedly, Falcon 4.0 left the door with hundreds of known issues but back in those days we didn’t have the perpetual beta game model we have today. When it was time, the game was released and patched later. Provided, that is, the buggy mess didn’t alienate the clients to a large extent. Money had changed hands and it didn’t change back. If you could handle bad press, you could be a game publisher.

Of course, I kid.

 

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But this was Falcon and we would not be daunted. Pissed off, enraged, furious, sure, we would be all that, but at the end of the day that game stayed on the drive and, slowly but surely, the bugs were squashed. Not all of them, not by a stretch, but the real game killers soon became a thing of the past and we had a worthy successor to Falcon 3.0 in all ways imaginable. My life became three things at that point—work, Falcon 4.0 until my eyes shut, a pittance of sleep, work, Falcon 4.0, you get the picture. For months. It was a game experience of such depth and magnitude that I can easily state has never been repeated with any other game or simulator. I simply couldn’t stop.

And then, the unthinkable happened. Microprose, the publisher of the game, closed down the Falcon 4.0 offices and that was it, there would be no further development, and, even harder to take, no Falcon 5.0.

I know it’s just a game but devastated doesn’t do the feelings we felt any justice. How could a simulator of this magnitude and heritage no longer have a development path? No matter, though incomplete in many ways it was still the best thing going by miles and though dreams of the future were dampened the enjoyment of the present continued.

 

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I don’t remember the exact year, maybe 1999 or 2000, but I was on some obscure Falcon forum based in a country that shall remain nameless and saw something that to this day I find hard to believe. A single post with a file attached. A forum poster asking the question “Is this for real?” It was late, I had been up for days, my eyes and brain must be playing tricks on me, surely the actual source code to Falcon 4.0 had not just been let loose on an obscure forum in the strange hours after midnight, had it? As it turned out, yes, it had.

It wasn’t long after that and the development of Falcon 4.0 resumed, taken in hand by members of the community who had the talent and knowledge to dig deep into that code and fix the unfixable and, as the years went by, give us things we couldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams including the amazing ability to control and program various avionics systems on the jet. The work done after that anonymous source code leak is the stuff of legend and to fully do it justice would take a multi-volume treatment.

It wasn’t long and multiple complete versions of Falcon 4.0 began to become available and there was even a commercial release, Falcon 4.0 Allied Force published by Graphsim Entertainment, that found its way to store shelves. As you might imagine there was a bit of drama here and there as Falcon teams formed and disbanded and before long it turned into something resembling cat herding in a dog house. Eventually the dust settled and, in my opinion, the offerings of Benchmark Sims (BMS) provided the most complete and stable Falcon experience. Keeping things in line, the installation of BMS 4.32 requires a legitimate copy of Falcon 4.0 to either be installed or available for interrogation during the BMS installation procedure.

Much like the Honda CBR 1000RR and the Lister Storm, the exact reason why I find the F-16 my deserted island choice of simulated aircraft eludes me, similar to the feelings one has shortly after waking and the dream they were having slips away from them, it’s not something I can put my finger on. Perhaps it is not realistic to proffer upon the inanimate the task of a soul, but given how we can be moved by such things as these, the soulless creations from the mind of humankind, maybe the creation is, in fact, more than the sum of its parts.

 

Bob Siimmerman

February 2015

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