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Somewhere in this apartment, hidden among the collected detritus of a half-dozen moves across ten years (a fossil record of phone chargers, power strips, and old utility bills), there lurks a massive orange spiral notebook filled with cryptic names, numbers, and abbreviations. It says helpful things like: “SILVERSTONE GP - M3 - FSprings +2 N/mm Result 2:58.338”, which years later tells me that I stiffened the front springs of a BMW M3 at the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit and set a lap time of two minutes, fifty-eight seconds and change.
The notebook is full of these records, sometimes containing asides like “mushy, loose rear” that were concisely descriptive in their context but now come across as crassly suggestive. They are a testament to my self-aggrandizing devotion to a trilogy of racing games: SimBin’s GT Legends, GTR 2, and RACE 07. There were racing games I loved prior to these, and I’d even argue there are a number of far more recent games that surpassed them. But nothing since has ever inspired in me this same kind of dedication and attention to detail—where every wing, sway bar, gear ratio, and brake adjustment was recorded, tested, and judged in my Book of Fast Laps.
The entire effort was quixotic, of course. The only thing that makes such a scientific approach feasible is the guarantee that you have a roughly stable baseline against which to judge performance tweaks. In other words, the driver themself can’t be getting significantly better at the track as you’re trying new setups, otherwise you don’t know if you gained three tenths of a second from that stiffened suspension, or from the fact that they finally mastered Turn 5. But my performance was a constantly moving target, and what these notes prove in the end is that doing scores of test laps on every track eventually made me a better driver, despite my endless and occasionally counterproductive tinkering.
I know all of that, but I can’t help but look back fondly on that notebook and what it represents. That was probably the most I’ve ever been into a simulation game. Hours would fly by after I donned a head-tracker kit, hooked up the racing wheel, opened a fresh page, and started testing again. It was restful and, in a way, deeply centering.
It also taught me one of the paradoxes of racing and racing games: The faster a car feels, the slower it is probably going. Because every time I felt like the car was at its limit, like it was about to fly off the track in every corner or explode on every straight, it was a sign that the car or its setup was no good. It was when a car was steady, predictable, and thoroughly under control that I achieved my best times. I don’t particularly like this lesson: “Smooth is fast” might be the accurate, but it’s nowhere near as inspiring as a leaving a coiling black scar of burned rubber behind you at every turn.
I don’t know why I stopped playing games that way. Maybe I figured out the futility of my effort, or maybe I just don’t have the time that I did when I was starting out freelancing. I also think there was something laser-focused about that era of SimBin games in themselves. They looked good but were never graphics showcases. They weren’t exciting in the way other racing games tried to be. They were just detail-obsessed, to the point where it really did seem like you could feel the effects of your miniscule changes to the car. It felt more real than real, and it certainly mattered more to me than much that was real at the time. So I took notes. Meaningless now, except as a monument to the most I’ve ever gotten into video games series.
What about you? What’s the deepest you’ve ever gone down a gaming rabbit hole, and did you go to any weird extremes to service your hobby?