The Sports Desk – Behind The Wheel Of Motorsport Manager

In racing games we’re all used to bombing down the straights and hanging on for the turns, but that’s not the only way to experience the thrills of the track. This week I highlight Sega’s Motorsport Manager by developer Playsport Games. Similar to the acclaimed Football Manager series (check this out for a flavor), Motorsport Manager puts you in control of a racing team and tasks you with the action in numerous areas. Recently I played a preview build of the September title and came away impressed. 

You start by choosing which of three racing tiers you want to start in (Europe, Asia, World Motorsport) of various difficulty, and from there you also pick a team. Naturally the expectations are different for each, but you can be hired and fired in mid-season, so there’s nothing wrong in bouncing around to find the right fit for your abilities and ambitions.

In terms of controlling your team, there’s a lot to consider, driver morale (you have two main drivers and one reserve driver), managing finances, building up your facilities, scouting, and giving interviews are just a few examples of things you can control. One of the interesting aspects in the game is a political system: Get enough influence with the powers that be in the racing federation and you can have a say in which tracks, for example, are run on the schedule. This means you could drop those circuits that aren’t suited to your setup. You can also try bending the rules in the manufacture of your R&D parts to try and give you an edge on the track. That is, of course, if the race officials don’t find out about it in the post-race inspection and fine you for it.

Managing your staff is also a concern. Drivers have contracts to renegotiate, competitive relationships with your other drivers (everyone wants the best parts), a relationship with your mechanic that gets better the more time they race together, and even random events like getting sick. These affect the racing stats of the drivers and those around them.

An important part of a driver’s ability is the amount and quality of feedback they give when they’re out on the track. The better it is, the better you can setup the car for success, which makes practice fun. Making changes to the car is easy. You can dial down into all the little numbers if you want, but a handy slider system for the tightness of your suspension, for instance, makes universal changes across the car deliver the desired effect. Get the car in the visual sweet spot over these tuning categories – which is where good driver feedback and a handy mechanic are important – and you’ll roll out of the garage with a formidable hot rod.

Controlling the car in real-time during practice, qualifying, and races is a matter or managing your risk and how much your nerves can handle. Aggressive racing affects your tire wear and fuel consumption, and you also have to worry about parts on the car breaking and needing repair in the pits. I liked checking out the weather forecast from lap to lap to anticipate what kind of tires I might have to put on in a future pit stop. Speaking of pit stops, you can also dial up your risk on these too. Being aggressive can shave off precious time, but also invite costly mistakes.

The game’s HUD during races is easy to use, including options to pause the action at any point (it automatically happens when you bring up the pull-down menus to make decisions), as well as speed up time.

During my play time I felt I was in control during races, but not having to micro-manage tons of details to get a good finish. I also felt like I was making smart decisions that made a difference – including being more aggressive or conservative depending on my drivers’ positioning, and where the pit window was. Just make sure to correctly calculate how much gas you put in, otherwise you’ll run out.

I didn’t get to manage my organization over the long run, but Sam White, co-founder and art director of developer Playsport, says the game’s not a herculean task only for the hardcore. “We often talk about how we all like to play the game quite different,” he told us. “[Christian West, co-founder and CTO] – he’ll spend a lot of time in practice. He’ll be the one that is tweaking all those setup values to try and get that extra split second on race day. While me, I’ll be like, ‘I don’t need to worry about that, I’m just going to buy a better driver who’ll make up that.’ I’m wheeling and dealing while he’s trying to perfect his setup. Whereas [Rob Pearson, design director], he’s all about the political system. He’s all about trying to find ways to bend the rules for next season to benefit his team. There is a bit for everyone, and you’re not forced to do everything.” 

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how different the game feels race to race, how competitive and smart the A.I. is on the track, and how easy it is to manage your team. So far, I have a very good impression of the title, and look forward to its September release.

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