Recreating fantasy – just how realistic are the cars and locations in computer games?

2 Series | June 20th, 2018 by 2
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Full disclosure dear reader. Much of my rapidly distancing youth was spent racing cars, often recklessly, from the comfort of my couch. From Test Drive to …

Full disclosure dear reader. Much of my rapidly distancing youth was spent racing cars, often recklessly, from the comfort of my couch. From Test Drive to Outrun, Need for Speed to Gran Turismo, I’m of the feeling that it is never too late (and you’re never too old) to whip out the old joystick and indulge in a bit of automotive simulation.

And while there is a certain thrill in pushing some unobtainable classic through the legendary Eau Rouge at Spa, or blasting a highly tuned hyper-exotic around city streets in a computerised pink-slip throwdown, there’s nothing quite like sitting in your favourite chair and piloting the pixels that most closely resemble what is actually in your driveway.

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Licencing real cars in computer games is part of a multi-billion-dollar advertising industry. An industry that now spawns online car launches, driver transitions from console to racetrack, and even a hint of a paradigm shift where virtual car designs lead their real-world counterparts.

We’ve come a long way too from the five-car selection of 1987’s Test Drive, as these days it is not uncommon for a game to feature hundreds of real-world models, pixel perfect in their on-screen execution.

Which makes it likely that at some point, your own car has been available to drive in a digital environment.

For me, the first was a red EG Honda Civic VTi hatch in the original Gran Turismo. Plenty have followed, I even ‘designed’ my Skyline and Evo using the in-game paint and wheel customizer in Gran Turismo 3 (FWIW: Volk TE37s on the GTR and Advan RS on the Evo).

But have you ever taken it a step further?

Real cars are fun enough, but the demand for cyber parity with the real world has given rise to games which feature actual locations, or at least a Matrix-like representation of them.

From race tracks to landmarks, the game has moved on (so to speak) to not only digitally replicate your car, but the environment in which it lives.

So how accurate is it?

To find out, I set about recreating a scene from the fantasy Australian landscape of Microsoft’s Forza Horizon 3, with the Estoril Blue BMW M240i I had in the driveway.

When it was launched in 2016, Forza Horizon 3 caused quite a stir ‘down under’ by including a range of Australian cars to match with the Aussie themed setting of the game’s location. We’re used to the rest of the world getting all the attention, so to think there was now a global audience who could understand the cultural significance of ripping LSA powered donuts in an HSV Maloo, certainly stirred the very cockles of our wombats.

Now, while the world of Forza Horizon 3 does indeed LOOK like Australia, the map has no real geographic basis in reality. That said, the Yarra Valley location is real and about an hour’s drive from where I live.

The Yarra Valley is one of Australia’s preeminent wine growing regions and is the doorway to the Victorian high country and Yarra Ranges rainforest. There are some fantastic roads throughout, so it bodes well as a blueprint for our mission.

Before heading out I put in a bit of couch time in the virtual BMW (which in the game is a pre-LCI M235i) and colour matched the Estoril duco, Ferric Grey style 436 wheels, and even added the silver mirror caps and correct licence plate.

The in-game photography mode allows you to play with camera positioning and basic shutter and aperture settings to take what looks like a real-life photo. You can then save the shots and upload them to a cloud drive for easy access in the field.

To better plan the shoot, I noted some similar landscape and road types through the help of Google Maps, prayed for fine weather, grabbed the camera and it was game on! So to speak.

And well, the results speak for themselves!

I have to say it was one of the most fun ‘themed’ shoots I’ve done in ages. Looking to match the fantasy with the real world was an enjoyable goal and made me appreciate the work put in by the game designers. I even found a shed that matched its gamely counterpart.

The question is then, have you ever done this – taken the step beyond creating your own virtual car, to re-living your own virtual drive?

There’s barely a race circuit in the world that hasn’t been digitally replicated in a game, and with the popularity of ‘sandbox’ style explorable environments all the rage, the chance that your local burg appears in a game is becoming all the more likely too.

As we go to press, the next iteration of the Forza Horizon universe has been announced with a lovely English setting. Good news then for those on the tea-drinking side of the pond.

And for me? Next time I have something in the driveway that can be raced in a game, I might take a road trip to the holy grail of Australian Motorsport, the Mount Panorama circuit in Bathurst, to attempt, in real life, to look half as proficient around the winding raceway as I do on the TV.

Have you let art imitate life and created a virtual version of your driving experience? Share the photos with us on social media.

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