In this current age of video games, motorsport enthusiasts have had plenty of options when it comes to living out their racing dreams virtually—everything from Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport to Project: CARS and Codemaster's annual F1 title. What all these games share is a desire to put the player in the driver seat and experience a taste of what it must be like to flog 700-plus horsepower chariots around legendary circuits like Monaco, Spa or Laguna Seca. What none of these games have done (except GT to an extent) is put the player on the other side of the pit wall—as a motorsport manager.
Enter the latest game to join the fray, the aptly titled Motorsport Manager. Originally developed by a team of motorsport enthusiasts at Playsport Games as a sports strategy game on cell phones, Motorsport Manager tackled the side that other racing games have mostly avoided all together. The success of the mobile game generated enough interest to attract the backing of Japanese gaming giant SEGA and allowed the developers to expand the game and create a version for PC and Mac computers.
The goal of the game is to put your Toto Wolff hat on and efficiently manage not only the settings of the car, but the driver's style of driving, the car's engine mode, when to pit and what to change, team orders, and every other facet that exists in motorsport, no matter how small.
"We've talked to people who have been involved in motorsport to develop these fine details," says Playsport Games co-founder and art director Sam White. "One of us had a flatmate who used to manage a driver, so he was able to provide advice about how driver contract negotiations were handled."
A current professional driver was also brought on board. Ex-F1 driver and current Red Bull Global Rally Cross defending champion Scott Speed was involved with finishing touches, but was impressed by what was presented to him.
"I fell in love with it," says Speed. "I felt like they knocked it out of the park. I think (Motorsport Manager) is going to change the industry. In my opinion, no one knows what goes on behind the scenes in racing. When people watch racing, they usually know this driver finished first, this driver finished second—so how do you explain to someone what goes on behind the scenes? So for me, this is going to really open everybody's eyes to the importance of what goes on behind the scenes. I think when people start playing this game they're going really see a lot more why when us drivers get out of the car, the first thing we say is, 'Thank you, team.' They'll get it. The game captures everything it needs to."
You do not spend any time in the cockpit itself, but rather watch the race weekend unfold via a 360-degree aerial camera that gives you a helicopter view of the on track action. From this view you have many head's up displays that show you real-time tire wear, fuel use, driver radio feedback, position on track, tire choice, the list goes on.
Having been a fan of racing simulations for most of my life since Papyrus' 1993 sim classic Indycar Racing, I was used to the cockpit view and worrying about how I was going to make a pass on the car in front, rather than wondering about my teammate's race or what engine mode to be in. So I was unprepared for the experience that this game was supposed to deliver.
In the playable demo provided, I was put in an F1-style series (official racing licenses have not been obtained for the game—as of yet) and joined a team based in Italy (take a shot at who that was supposed to be). A mechanic or driver gives you some initial feedback as to your set up for the race and it's up to you to tweak the settings to create the desirable understeer/oversteer or top speed/corner speed for that particular course.
The course, like the series or team, is based on real-world courses like Monza and Suzuka. Despite them given names like Milan and Yokohama, the track characteristics do not hide their influences.
After setting up your car's suspension, aero, etc. you choose what type of tire to start the race from, how large a fuel load you wish to start with, and how hard you want that driver and engine to perform. Once your settings are all locked in, the race begins.
I was surprised how quickly the game got my heart beating. My team started from the 5th and 14th positions, and it was up to me to convert that to a podium-place finish. If my fuel was burning too quick, I had to lower the engine map to a more conservative pace. If my driver was tearing through his tires, I had to tell he/she to conserve. Team orders were also in place, where you too could be the bad guy and tell a driver to let their fastest teammate through. Drivers also talk to you via radio with oddly-funny messages popping up like, "My tires are wearing faster than a fat guy goes through hot dogs." Realistic ingredients to the radio communication, like obscenities, were not to be found in this age-friendly game.
Managing one driver was hard enough—two was even trickier, and I found myself following behind quickly in this game of fast-paced micromanagement. Instead, I wanted to pay attention more to my leading driver, while I neglected the pleas from their teammate to push harder or turn up the engine.
In the end, one of my driver's was leading by a good margin until his engine blew with two laps to go. My second driver finished 9th in a more conservative run.
Other journalists in attendance could be heard letting out anguished cries from lack of proper management, while others seemed to handle the multi-tasking like an art form, pausing at crucial moments to make the right call to their driver.
After playing, I realized I was not someone who could be a real-life motorsport manager, and thankfully, Speed was in the same camp.
"I think this game has made it very clear that I could never do it," Speed says. "It's so hard for me to multi-task and keep my eye on 70 things. I'm the kind of guy who can keep his focus so zoomed in and pinpointed and for so long. I'm the driver, so (management) is not for me."
In the full version of the game, players will have the chance to build their car from the ground up and develop parts throughout the season. You can even decide what series to race in, from a top-tier Formula to a smaller budget feeder series. Lessons learned from one season gives you the opportunity to make all the right calls on car development heading into the next season - giving you the possibility to recreate what it felt to be Brawn GP in 2009.
In the future, additional downloadable content (DLC) is on the cards, where one may see potential licensed material added to the game in addition to multiplayer support.
While my experience was far from the full version that players will have when it releases this fall, it was exciting enough for me to enjoy. While ultimately I'd prefer the cockpit, where I tend to do much better, I can see how this game can quickly become an addiction as you learn more of what you did wrong or right after every race.