FORZA 4 : Hellisan’s Part 2 of his Forza Tips and Thoughts
Part 2 – Tips on Controlling the Vehicle
“Only a fool learns exclusively from his own experience” – Bismark – At the head of Chapter 7, entitled “Training Aids” (Drive to Win, by Carroll Smith)
Forza essentially diminishes us to the level of a fool when we first start out. No matter what somebody else tells us, we will have to play the game to actually get good at it and learn its real lessons. Many have therefore fallen by the wayside as faster, more experienced drivers zoomed by and they thought, “well this sucks.” Others see the potential regardless – they perceive the small gains and improvements they are making and become committed to getting even better. They enjoy racing another driver for 10th place if necessary. It isn’t for everybody – nothing is.
Learning how to drive well in the game is a process that not only takes time and practice but evolves over the course of your time with the game. People have different driving styles and setup preferences for the car and some may never prefer a certain type of setup, but one small example of how my driving style has evolved would be as follows:
In Gran Turismo and then in Forza 2 I was pretty fast, but I liked a car with under steer being prevalent. I liked the feeling of the rear end being very solid in the corner. I liked it to feel difficult to spin out. In Forza 3 and now in Forza 4, I have developed a little to where I don’t mind a car that likes to just keep on turning… As long as the front end doesn’t give way. The back end still matters to some extent but as long as the car is well balanced for the demands of that particular track, I can usually handle a good deal of “over steer” or a car that likes to turn, due to the improvements I have made at controlling the car. I used to try tunes that the expert drivers would put out and think “well how in the hell does he get those kind of times with this?” Well now I am starting to see how. It’s a process – an evolution. It’s those precise movements that bring the car back in line time and time again – maybe hundreds of times per lap -that I can do now and couldn’t do before. In this article I want to discuss a few ideas about how to best achieve control in this game.
“The ability of the racing driver to go fast in any given racing car is directly proportional to his confidence in how the car will react to his control inputs. This confidence is directly related to his perception of the width of the slip angle threshold between “I’ve got it” and “It’s got me.” – Reading into this real-world quote from Carroll Smith and applying it to Forza and what I said above, we want to find a setup that we can keep on the track and then maximize our effectiveness with that setup at keeping the car going quickly the entire race. That requires an accurate level of control.
Tips for developing improved control
Let me first discuss wheel versus controller. I know a lot of people feel like using a racing wheel brings them much closer to the feeling of driving a real car. Yet in the pantheon of “reality,” sitting in an absolutely stationary chair, without a 3D view of the track around you or the “feel” of actually being in the car at 100+ mph, I’d say it’s not THAT much more similar to reality than using a controller. Neither experience is that close to real, the biggest difference by FAR is the space it takes up in your house, and the fact that many people using the wheel aren’t actually THAT familiar with how to use it because they rarely or never need to use it for other games. Most also haven’t really familiarized themselves with the intricate settings offered by their wheel that would bring them the best control scenario.
If the majority of video-game wheel users were honest with themselves, the question “what feels more natural in your hands – a controller or a video game racing wheel and pedals?” would be answered with “the controller.” After all, they have spent thousands of hours, most likely, playing various games in all genres that require various types of control inputs, and maybe tens, or hundreds, of hours with their expensive new wheel. This is important, because being effective at controlling your car depends on the accuracy of your inputs into the game, no matter what interface you are using to make them. If the average person with decent motor skills jumped into a low-level race car in “real life” and drove it around the track for awhile he would develop a pretty quick feel for the turning radius, the grip available to the car, how fast it can stop, etc. because he is actually in that car. He is being buffeted by physical real-world stimuli that his brain is good at computing and turning into effective action. Therefore a “wheel” is much more useful in a real car than in Forza. Just my opinion, I’m no video game scientist.
I could go in depth into how the response seems to be more laggy with the wheel, and how the force-feedback lag hurts the perception of contact between your car and the in-game road, but I’ll recuse myself from the discussion because I’ve never been a long-term wheel user. I don’t have a big home or a dedicated gaming space (it is also my office and man-cave). So therefore I won’t pretend to know how to set it up properly, or give advice on the best way to use it. I will talk about the controller primarily, and it will be up to the wheel users to apply what is useful to them. My only advice would be that if you’re going to use it, use it a lot. Get really familiar with how it controls and drive around for hundreds of hours in the game, purposefully getting yourself out of control and back into control on test tracks. Make yourself as familiar with it as you are with your old baseball glove. Research the settings to make the controls as precise as possible for your preferred range of motion.
“Side bite is fine – but you have to be going forward to win” – Danny Ongais – At the head of Chapter 5, entitled “The Cornering Sequence” (Drive to Win, by Carroll Smith)
I don’t know the circumstances that prompted this quote from Mr. Ongais but I thought it was a fitting quote to start a discussion on controlling your car in Forza. The #1 goal most of the time is going to be keeping the car moving forward as quickly as possible. However, the means to that end is accomplished not via brute force, but by subtle movement.
To get a feel for what I’m talking about, go to a big open area like in some of the test tracks (turn on telemetry so you can see the throttle bar) and turn your wheel all the way to the left. Using the throttle now, gradually accelerate from 0% to whatever percent of throttle the car can handle without slipping or sliding out. Get a feel for that. That is approximately what you’ll need to duplicate quickly, and on command safely and quickly come out of a hairpin turn time and time again. If the car rotates too much or has wheel spin, you’re losing time.
One tip that I can give for good throttle control is instead of using the tip of your finger to pull the throttle button, reach further across the button with your finger so that you are basically pushing down across the button with the crease of your first finger joint. At first it will feel like you’re strangling the thing but the result should be that you have improved control and can dial it to any percentage necessary whenever you need to – if you practice. (Please keep in mind… I’m not telling you to play like this all the time; it’s sort of like a swing thought in golf. Something that can give you the feel of how delicate you need to be, but not something to always be taken literally. Eventually during the race you’ll just have to “swing away” and may not want to be thinking about it.)
By the same accord, you’ll need to figure out how to use the “in between” of center and left or right on the controller. You need to use this a lot. If you are a good Call of Duty player you will know what I’m talking about. If there is an enemy just to the left of your crosshairs and you flip out and flick the controller all the way to the left (and maybe down as well), you’ll have to double back again and well… probably be dead. In this game, you just lost control of the car and lost time. The best advice I can give on this end is to start using Kontrol Freeks. It is something I started using just this year and has improved my control immensely.
As you can see by photo, the point of the kontrol freeks is to lengthen the joystick so that you have a larger area of movement between center and any direction. This increased radius gives greater control because it’s MUCH easier to operate at a low percentage of your total movement. If you try these for a few days and give it time you’ll be amazed at how stumpy and useless the default sticks feel. This has given me so much more confidence in doing high-speed maneuvers on tracks like the Nordschleife, because I can totally, and comfortably, operate at relaxed minimal movement if necessary. Please note, I have not tried the “speed freeks” and cannot vouch for those, although Del likes them. I recommend trying both the concave default style that they offer as well as something convex… It may give you better control not having to move your thumb to either side of the pad.
There are all sorts of drills you can probably think of for how to get better at this, I’ll leave that to you. You get the idea and what needs to be improved in order to get faster times. The key is knowing you need to do it and practicing doing it. Familiarity and confidence will play a big role.
Another aspect is knowing your car. If it’s front wheel drive it will react differently to being on the edge of control than a rear wheel drive or all wheel drive. If it comes out one way, it will require a different type of maneuver to get out of it depending on the drive type, weight distribution, power level, tire type and width, etc. – too many variables to even name. Practice with the various drive types, that way you will develop a feel. Some of this is inherent to some people. Some will really take time. Get used to using the right stick to look around you in each direction (quick flicks, not staring) to see where opponents are approaching from. Your situational awareness will be important to develop so that you can better share the track with other cars around you and advance through the track. We are all learning at this, and we all make mistakes. Keep that in mind.