GRAND PRIX LEGENDS





THE GRAND PRIX LEGENDS STORY 3


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As i mentioned the game was published in 1998 by the Papyrus division of Sierra Entertainment and there was a subsequent demo released in 2004 with limited circuits and cars. To this day it maintains a reputation as a very realistic race sim.

Its strong points are:
  • It has accurate car physics
  • Reasonably attractive graphics - for the time anyway
  • Impressive engine sounds.
Everything that moves in Grand Prix Legends is subject to the real-world laws of physics. Each tire has its own physics model. Each suspension part may be seen moving realistically up and down. If you stomp on the brakes, the nose of the car dives. Put the pedal to the metal and the rear end squats. Bang into a curb and the steering wheel visibly shudders. Even the rotational inertia of the engine is modeled, so when you push in the clutch and blip the throttle the chassis rocks. Let the clutch out in neutral and the idle speed drops.

Its weak points are:
  • The game's difficulty as the cars are quite difficult to drive well (although many fans consider this to be a virtue because Formula One cars of that era were extremely difficult to drive.
  • It has some minor physics flaws, such as primitive aerodynamic modelling (for drag and slipstream,ing etc.)
  • It has a simplified tyre model that completely omits tire wear, but does make use of tyre pressures and temperatures
One criticism (valid initially) that people had was that the cars would spin without warning but this was addressed later and I'll come back to it.

There are 11 vintage 1967 tracks in the game, including of course the 14 mile long Nurburgring, the high speed Monza circuit in Italy and the tight street circuit of Monaco. All 11 of the tracks featured in the actual 1967 Formula One season apart from one, the French Grand Prix at Rouen. The actual French Grand Prix of that year was held at the Le Mans Bugatti track, but the Bugatti track and its surrounding landscape is generally considered somewhat lacking in interest by comparison. In fact, the Bugatti circuit proved unpopular with the drivers at that time and Jack Brabham called it a "Mickey Mouse" track.

Much of the difficulty in driving the Grand Prix Legends machines is due to the accuracy of the physics model. The car handling is somewhat slippery but 1967 Grand Prix F1 cars generated a large amount of power i.e. over 350 hp (260 kW), had very little mass i.e. about 500 kg (1100 lb), and rode on hard, skinny, 'pre-radial' tires, with no downforce of any kind. All this combined to make what was in reality one of the most dangerous Formula One seasons ever.

The game didn't help matters though because certain decisions were made during production that perhaps with hindsight would not have been.For example the demo version gave users a taster of the Brabham BT24 at the Watkins Glen circuit. Unfortunately the car was set up with approximately one degree of positive camber angle whereas an actual car of that era would have run one or more degrees of negative camber. What negative camber does it physically change the angle of the wheel. When you stand in front of the car looking back at it, negative camber will mean that the whole wheel is tilted in at the top so when travelling in a straight line the inside edge has most contact with the road. However as soon as you turn into a corner and the car and tyre start to roll, the whole of the outside tyre is in full contact with the road surface, so this meant that the game gave you less grip that you would have had in real life.

The learning curve was steep too because the "trainer" cars had reduced power and in the case of the Novice Trainer, fewer gears but they were only available for use in practice sessions so your first taste of an actual race had to be in a full f1 car at F1 speeds with F1 opponents.

Add to this the fact that low powered PCs of the time allowed users to reduce the number of computer opponents if their PCs were unable to render a full grid of cars at a reasonable frame rate, but unfortunately, reducing the field was achieved by removing cars from the back of the grid starting with the slowest first, so you were left with a full F1 grid containing only the fastest drivers.

Even so, perhaps the most damaging aspect to the game's reputation was that of ride height, the height that the car's body physically sits above the track. Grand Prix cars from 1967 typically ran 5 to 6 inches of ground clearance but Grand Prix Legends only allowed its cars to be set up with a ground clearance of one inch. Lowering the ride height is good because it lowers the car's centre of gravity of the car which helps improve cornering ability but a consequence of this is that the car has less available suspension travel. It just cant bounce. So when the suspension is fully compressed it reaches the bump stops, small blocks of rubber that catch the suspension arms at the end of their range of movement. This is often referred to as "bottoming out" and once that happens the springs have no effect and the bump stops become in effect very hard suspension.

Having harder suspension at one corner of the car or on one wheel means that weight is transferred onto this wheel and away from the other wheels, so if a front wheel is taking all the weight the car will understeer and if it is a read wheel the car will oversteer.

The default setups in Grand Prix Legends combined uncharacteristically low ride heights with short bump stops which meant the cars bottomed out a lot, especially on 1967 tracks with bumps and kerbs around or even under any significant amount of acceleration or braking. These sudden onsets of either understeer or oversteer meant that you needed not only lightning reflexes but also a lot of luck. What didn't help was the fact that there was no sounds associated with bottoming out so you didn't know what had happened, all you knew was that you had spun off the track again.

On the very first page of the manual, it cautions, "The first time you go out on the track, you WILL spin and crash. This is because, the first time they play Grand Prix Legends, EVERYBODY spins and crashes."

There is a rumor that when Jackie Stewart had an opportunity to play the game he claimed that it was harder to drive than the actual 1967 Formula One cars were.

Papyrus recognised the ride-height problem and the first patch (version 1.1) prevented setups from being lower than 2.5 inches but the reputation of "overly difficult handling" and "no grip" was already established, but for those that persisted the cars were now extremely driveable.

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