Assetto Corsa is fast approaching its first official birthday and developer Kunos Simulazioni has the right to feel pretty pleased with itself.
Billed as Italy's answer to Gran Turismo, the highly customisable PC racer has received overwhelming praise from dedicated fans of the genre, with its realistic yet accessible handling, impressive graphics engine and wide choice of vehicles being cited as major selling points.
All in all, it's been a hectic, but rewarding, 12 months for all involved, but Kunos Simulazioni's Marco Massarutto insists he and his team are not content to rest on their laurels.
"Assetto Corsa has reached the build 1.3, and we are working on Assetto Corsa 1.4," he tells Red Bull. "All departments have been subjected to improvements: netcode, AI, graphics performance and post-processing effects, as well as the physics. Despite the fact that car handling and behaviour is one of the strong points of our simulation, we have continued to work to improve all the aspects in this department as well: as a result, the force feedback is now much more 'pure' and better, and the car behaviour is even more predictable. You don't have to 'memorise' a driving style – you can easily understand what the car is doing in any moment."
External forces are also helping the game to mature; the bundled editor has allowed a vibrant and active modding community to grow up around the game, and these same fans are giving the studio added impetus when it comes to evolving the title. "The Assetto Corsa community is incredibly active on our official forum, and this allows us to stay focused on those aspects that need more attention," Massarutto says.
The studio's workload is about to get somewhat bigger though, as it has recently been confirmed that Assetto Corsa is en-route to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, thanks to a publishing deal with 505 Games. According to Massarutto, the arrangement took place because the company simply doesn't have the resources to self-publish console ports. "Since we are experiencing the porting process for the first time, and considering our limited manpower, it simply wouldn't have been possible to create a console edition of Assetto Corsa without a publisher, or at least, the overall process would have required much more time. Of course, the interest of 505 Games for Assetto Corsa has been relevant to decide to bring it to consoles."
505 Games is no stranger to stepping in and helping get PC-based projects to a wider audience on consoles – the publisher is also bringing the space-based 'first person experience' Adrift to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One next year. The company clearly has something to offer, and for Massarutto, the decision to link up with 505 was an easy one. "We have decided to join in a partnership with 505 Games because they understand our vision of Assetto Corsa, and don't just want to do a lazy console port. They believe – as we do – that on console, there is room for a racing product that aims to bring the same depth of a PC simulation, and this is what we are doing. 505 Games is also investing in the production – in terms of strategies, content and features – as well as on the communication, because they want to present Assetto Corsa on console as what it is: a racing simulation."
The vaguarities of console publishing aside, bringing an intense and demanding racing simulation like Assetto Corsa to consoles is surely not an easy task, given that accessibility is paramount. However, Massarutto insists that the developer is not dumbing down the game for the console audience. "The improvements we have obtained on the PC version in terms of car handling, thanks to the new physics and tyre model, allowed us to improve the 'natural' behaviour of our cars even more, and this can also help rookies to find a good balance and improve their driving skill progressively."
While the complexity of the game is intact, there will understandably be some compromises when it comes to visuals. "It's very well known that PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can't compete in terms of performances with high-end PCs," admits Massarutto. "Therefore, to obtain a constant frame rate we have had to redefine the rendering engine, taking advantage of multithreading processes much more – and better – than we have in the past. But it seems that our efforts to bring to console the same experience Assetto Corsa guarantees on PC are working fine."
While there might be aesthetic discrepancies between the console and PC versions of the game, in terms of content the two should be more or less the same, as the plan is to develop and evolve them in tandem – at least within reason. "We are doing a crazy job to guarantee that all versions of Assetto Corsa will feature the same content, features and physics. The only thing different is the user interface – that on console has been totally redefined," says Massarutto. "In future, with the development, in terms of updates and patches, on PC becoming easier, we might be able to release some updates on Steam just a few weeks earlier than on console, where the approval of Sony and Microsoft is an essential requirement."
Of course, that begs another question – has Kunos Simulazioni bitten off more than it can chew by introducing consoles into the mix? "I ask the same question to myself every day," laughs Massarutto. "Because it's a challenging process, considering that the PC version of Assetto Corsa has not been frozen in order to work on the porting, and currently, we have four different threads open: Assetto Corsa PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and the PRO version, all dedicated to industrial applications. And, as you can see, the development of Assetto Corsa on PC has never stopped. But we have accepted the challenge the very first day when we conceived Assetto Corsa, and we consider the porting process to be a thrilling experience: when I see that the game runs and feels on console like it does on PC, it's impossible to have any regrets."
Another challenge that the team has to consider is that Assetto Corsa has limited visibility outside of the PC community, and on consoles it will be contesting the track with the likes of Project CARS, Forza and (eventually) Gran Turismo. Rather than be intimidated by such names, Massarutto is simply happy that Assetto Corsa is being mentioned in the same breath. "The fact itself that our game will face off against these big titles suggests to me that we have done a good job; on the other side, we understand that while gamers can and do appreciate the fact that a team of our size has been able to create a title like Assetto Corsa, in the end they are more interested in how enjoyable it is to play rather than how it has been done. The only way for us to compete with such big titles is making it different in terms of driving experience, and in the way how every single car guarantees a different feel, with 'personal' handling and behaviour for each motor, and creating a perfect match with the real tracks, massively reproduced using laserscan technology, the likes of which has never been seen before in any console game."
Bringing the game to consoles may well result in additional effort on Kunos Simulazioni's behalf, but it comes with potential rewards – a much larger audience, and hopefully, increased revenue streams. This should help the game to evolve further, and Kunos Simulazioni clearly has plenty of ideas. "We are working to include pitstop procedures and strategies for single player in Assetto Corsa 1.5, and this will happen before the release on console," says Massarutto. "We have new features and content already scheduled for 2016, therefore we'll continue to work to make Assetto Corsa bigger and better for next year, for all formats. What will happen in the future depends on the feedback and support of users that, as of today, has been just great. Of course, I hope one day to create on my desktop an 'Assetto Corsa 2' folder, but today we are still and totally focused on our firstborn."