Track: Figure 8 Drag Racing
Most mtmers know, and a few of you might not, that until earlier this year BowtieBandit2004 was formerly known as mtm vetran drag track maker DodgeDude2004. But regardless of which moniker he chooses to affix to his creations, there can be no mistaking he's one of the most prolific (<a href="http://mtm2.com/~tracks/search.cgi?search=DodgeDude" target="_blank">21 tracks</a> as DodgeDude2004, <a href="http://mtm2.com/~tracks/search.cgi?search=BowtieBandit2004" target="_blank">7 tracks</a> as BowtieBandit2004, and for those of you who are mathematically challenged that means a total of <a href="http://mtm2.com/~tracks/search.cgi?search=2004" target="_blank">28</a> by this) drag track maker in our game's brief history.
For the expo, BowtieBandit2004 reached back deep into his repertoire in order to pull up a previous opus at which he aimed the arsenal of experience he's accumulated over the years. The result was an entry which is no less than the seventh incarnation in the evolving Louisville Motor Speedway series. The <a href="http://mtm2.com/~tracks/dl.cgi?dl=2043" target="_self">first</a> was deemed laggy due to a few extraneous models parked around the track, and so a <a href="http://mtm2.com/~tracks/dl.cgi?dl=2039" target="_self">second</a> <i>fixed</i> version was released a few days afterward. For an unknown reason, the second track was <a href="http://mtm2.com/~tracks/dl.cgi?dl=2018" target="_self">released again</a> about three weeks after that. Finally, six weeks following the third release, the <a href="http://mtm2.com/~tracks/dl.cgi?dl=1980" target="_self">LMS Memorial Pack</a>, which contained a revamped Louisville Speedway as well as three other tracks based on the same terrain and design, was released. And there they remained untouched for two years until <i>Figure 8 Drag Racing</i> came onto the scene to bring the series back to life.
Now, drags are not the same as your usual circuits and rallies. And Figure 8 is not your usual drag. But before getting ahead of ourselves, we should note that drags are a type of track that caters to fans of the sport of monster truck racing, designed to simulate the racing styles of monsters as we might expect to see them when they come to our area. Naturally, mtm2 is not designed for this sort of event and, just as with cnr and rnr, drags must be run using a user specified set of rules. Being a drag race this means races are between two trucks pitted against one another. Also, since there are no actual checkpoints, a third person is required to function as judge (and sometimes timer). The way it works is: the two racers set themselves up at the start line, and, when ready, the judge will give them the signal to "go!" The racers then run the course, and the judge, who is positioned to view the finish line, will determine the winner. Races can be run for casual fun among friends, or they can be serious business in which times are recorded, or they can be run in tournaments with many contenders and with a full range of qualifying heats and the whole shebang. There is really no limitation to drags other than the format of the drags themselves. And once you grow accustomed to the non-computerized aspect of the race, they can be quite a bit of fun.
While all drag tracks share certain characteristics (driving in your own lane, running over crushed cars, avoiding poles, and jumping over ramps, etc.), they can differ with regard to course. Some are straight line drags, others are J-style (in which you drive down a straight, make a u-turn, and head back toward the start). J-style can run side by side or they can run in opposite directions. Figure 8 Drag Racing, the track of the day today, has a unique layout comprised of a <a href="http://cownap.com/~tracks/P2003/figure8dragracingbybowtiebandit2004.jpg" target="_blank">figure 8 and an oval</a> in the same race area, tho the oval is not the focus of this particular rendition of the Kentucky speedway. To add to the novelty of this configuration, the trucks run in opposite directions but such that the finish line is at the same mark so the judge can see and declare a winner.
The track is generally well done but there are a few noteworthy points that we'll try to cover. The first is the starting position of the trucks. Typically in a drag, the first two trucks will be positioned at the start line of each lane and the remaining trucks parked out of the way so as to not interfere with the race. Figure 8 has the start positions down, but the off track trucks are a problem as they're parked <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag1a.jpg" target="_blank">face first into a wall</a>. Sure, this is not a major problem, and it could be worse, at least this wall is a see-through fence, but requiring reverse at the beginning a race is a tad unsettling when they could have been parked in a center grassy area and been already out of the racing lane.
There is no rule of thumb regarding computer trucks in drag tracks. Since drags are not raceable in the usual sense, makers have tried all sorts of things to deal with the computer trucks. Some try and get them to run the course, others have them circle the race area (both near and far from the course), and others leave them out entirely... reasoning separate lanes are not definable or that drags are online tracks anyway, so the computer trucks aren't relevent. Since this track is a figure eight, BowtieBandit has seen fit, happily, to define the course so the computer trucks can complete a lap. But the best laid plans often go awry and such is the case here. If the computer trucks can complete the first lap, they are held <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag1b.jpg" target="_blank">permanently to the start line</a> on the second and can go no further. This oddity is caused by the way the ramps are set on <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag1c.jpg" target="_blank">the first row of cars</a>, and can be fixed in one of several ways. The easiest would be to switch the mtm2 ramp to the leading position on the cars rather than on the trailing spot. Another would be to use a different ramp configuration entirely that places a large portion of the model'd ramp below the ground (like an ice berg effect) so that object boxes become unnecessary. And still yet another way is to set the object box to barricade rather than leave it on default type. Agreed, this is a minor point, and no purpose is served in keeping the computer trucks going, but it's there, and it can be the source of some annoyance if you want to get some off line practice laps in. The fix is easy and makers should keep these notes in mind for future tracks.
Once the race gets going, the rest is smooth sailing. The lanes are very even, which is very important when considering online racing and the nature of drags. Fences mark the outside of the track, and grassy areas mark the inside part. The lanes are divided by cones all the way around the track, and each lane is differentiate by the color of the crush cars (there's a red lane, and a white lane). The outside corners are banked ever so slightly to give that added edge to your speed. And, the finish line is perfect dead center so both lanes finish equally and fairly. The only drawback, if there is one, is that the game is not designed to hold a racer on the course. It's very easy, in the absence of barriers, and very tempting to hedge the lanes while travelling the outer loops of the eight and traverse the grass on inner lane. And, unless you have three judges (one on the finish line, and one on each truck), then it's near impossible to watch that racers not try to give themselves that slight advantage. Therefore, this is definitely a track that puts you on your honor. Given, perhaps, that drags are an unprogrammed mode of play, this might go without saying. However, with the trucks spread out in this way, a racer is expected to follow their lane properly and race with good sportsmanship and integrity. Failing to do so would render the fun in this design pointless.
Speaking of designs, the layout and scenery of Figure 8 is very nice. The setting is that of an outdoor race track, <i>based on the real Louisville Raceway</i>, and is complete with grandstands, parking lots, access road, Andy's pop machines, as well as hot dog and souvenier vendors. The track is contained within concrete fencing, there's light standards amist and around the track, there's members of Burn's pit crew on the track along with photographers, and there's a media booth above the stands. Lastly, the trees are arranged to mask the stark flat surrounding mtm world, and the whole arrangement is very good, and has improved with each update in the series. This is definitely a fine looking track.
For textures, he used the <a href="http://gkcastle.net/Games/Mtm2/texture.htm" target="_blank">Texture Pod Set</a> by Sir James. BowtieBandit credits Xtreme for the initial texture work, but Figure 8 has underwent several modifications. Generally it's without problems, but some areas where the parking lot and stands come close to the track suffer from <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag4a.jpg" target="_blank">poor transitions</a> and a <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag4b.jpg" target="_blank">couple corners</a> (mind the model placement note on that one) are hurting from where the set is being used in ways probably not envisioned when they were made. Each of these problems can be solved by creating a few custom textures. Nothing elaborate would be necessary as the <a href="http://cownap.com/~mtmg/traxx/trans.html" target="_blank">layer and erasing</a> method described by angus in his transition tutorial should be plenty sufficient to take care of these blemishes.
Models, on the other hand, are the track's weak spot and run the full gamut from minor misplacement, to poor alignment, to invisible barriers, to incomplete or unfinished models. An advantage of basing a new track on an old one is that much of the creative process has already been done. A disadvantage is old problems are carried over into the new track, or existing items that remain are taken for granted and thus cause unexpected results. Such is the case here where the road cones are either <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag2a.jpg" target="_blank">floating</a> or <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag2b.jpg" target="_blank">sunken</a> into the ground. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this happens when the terrain is adjusted after models have been placed - such as one would do when remaking a track. The only solution is to reset them after altitude changes are complete, or just take them out and put them back in afterward. This latter method is what has been done with the fencing. While the floating problem of earlier versions has, by and large, been fixed, the placement, unfortunately, suffers from a lack of due care when lining them up, as can be seen all around the track like <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag3a.jpg" target="_blank">this</a>, <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag3b.jpg" target="_blank">this</a> and <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag3c.jpg" target="_blank">this</a>, as well as in the picture illustrating texture seams above. And there's just no call for this sort of thing, especially when we look at the model placement of the cars and ramps on the track area. There, the model placement is near perfect... with perhaps only one minor ramp miscue on the school bus pyramid. The problem, it would seem, is that off track items did not rank the same priority as on track items, and so failed to get the same sort of attention... which is really too bad since the track looks great in the arena setting.
And speaking of the setting, the grandstands are only one sided. That is, they look fine from the front, but they have <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag5d.jpg" target="_blank">no back to them</a> ( <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag5a.jpg" target="_blank">5a</a> | <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag5b.jpg" target="_blank">5b</a> | <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag5c.jpg" target="_blank">5c</a> ). We've done some checking and found that Louisville 1 uses stands that have 560 vertices and 552 faces. There's no mistaking that the stands were chopped in favor of the low lag version of the track. The new ones are only 96 vertices and 36 faces, and it's this model that's used in Figure 8. And there's no denying the benefit this reduction brings to the track, but at the same time if a maker allows trucks to travel around in behind them, then they should at least appear as finished, whole and complete. In the case of some models, that would involve adding to the total vertex count, but not here. Simply using the same method with which one would fiberglass a truck should solve the trouble; specifically, flipping all faces and inserting the model into itself, then merging and removing the extra vertices. This would add faces to the back and underside without adding any vertices, so the lag factor would be unchanged. (Perhaps this is something we can add to the next fixmore.pod).
Next is the collide/no collide problem at the base of the light poles in the middle of the grassy center areas. BowtieBandit has planted Sir James' flowers at the foot of the poles and left them, as he should have, as no collide. After all, the progress of monster trucks are not hindered by flowers. Then he's surrounded the floral arrangement with MomentumX banners, which look very fine. Unfortunately, these too are no collide which makes for some <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag3d.jpg" target="_blank">ugly in game</a> situations. To add to the problem, you can pass through the signs length wise along the track but if you try it the short way, you're stopped abruptly by an invisible barrier. What's happening here is the pole itself is set as collidable, and since models are basically cuboid in shape, we're coming into contact with the part from the cross beam at the top and that extends down its <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag3h.gif" target="_blank">entire length</a> ( <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag3e.gif" target="_blank">3e</a> | <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag3f.gif" target="_blank">3f</a> | <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/figure8drag3g.gif" target="_blank">3g</a> ). The trick here would've been either to set the pole to no collide and fit it with an object box post, or better yet set the MomentumX banners to collide so the trucks can't get near the invisible part of the pole model.
Finally, on the model front, we've noted somewhat poor framerates and sluggish performance in this track <i>on some systems</i> - it ranges strictly from low 20's to upper 40's, which isn't the worst we've seen but is certainly rather laggier than ideal for a crowded online room. This is caused by too many high vertex models in close proximity to one another, and which we'll talk about in the next note dealing with scenery levels.
It is common practice among drag track makers to release two and three versions of their tracks in the same download. The theory holds that each version is used individually for the race part of the drag experience, then another for the freestyle part in which players demonstrate their driving skills while executing jumps, wheelies and donuts etc., and some makers will include a computer raceable version as well.
Interestingly, BowtieBandit has managed to combine these drag elements into a single track. He did not require a second or third version to include everything he needed. Tho there is no computer raceable version, the freestyle is part and parcel with the race version and neither one interferes with the other. This is well done and full points to him for his design. However, if we keep this idea in mind, and then recall the slight performance hit of the final model note, we realize that he's made no use of the game's scenery levels. A <a href="http://cownap.com/~mtmg/traxx/level.html" target="_blank">scenery level</a> (sparse, normal, and complex) is a model property that determines when a model is displayed in the game. They are designed to accommodate various systems which may not perform at the same level. Now, what we get from this, first, is BowtieBandit should certainly have made use of scenery levels. For example, the five well detailed truck prop vehicles, all of which are in range of the course itself, constitute a combined total of 1590 vertices, 1482 faces and ten 256x256 textures added to the rendered environment. Extra vertices aside, those trucks alone constitute one fifth of the total texture load in the track, using ten of the forty-five large textures used by the scenery. What this means is that had BowtieBandit assigned the freestyle objects to normal scenery level, and the parking lot vehicles to complex scenery level, he could have effectively eliminated lag from his track, at the racing level, and at the same time differentiated the race from the freestyle version of his track from one another via the use of scenery levels instead of the customary second track.
We have no intention of faulting BowtieBandit on this score since this has all become the norm in the drag community - and especially so since he's not guilty of the second track problem. And while we don't particularly want, amidst the Figure 8 review, to pontificate about general track making procedures, we feel we must take advantage of this opportunity to draw attention to the usual drag making practice of creating two or three tracks where scenery levels alone would do the job adequately. In such cases multiple tracks are just flat out wasteful and cut into the game's 100 pod, and 99 sit, file limits unnecessarily, while scenery levels will more than accomplish everything you need and do it in a more efficient and game friendly way. If it has taken the expo and Figure 8 Drag Racing to bring this matter to light, then we owe BowtieBandit a debt of gratitude for injecting drags, deliberately or inadvertantly, with a stroke of common sense. We can only hope this marks the beginning of better things in the drag world.
Wrapping up then, and turning to the positive, <i>Figure 8 Drag Racing</i> offers a fresh approach to drag tracks. The figure eight, the opposite direction course, the first rate ramp work, and the fact BowtieBandit2004 has managed to cram a race and freestyle into one track are to be commended. The problems and blemishes, though they should be tended to, are minor and mostly off the main track area and so do not interfere with racing. Or to put it another way, sound track making practices should never be taken for granted, but by the same token a texture here or a model there do not prevent <i>Figure 8 Drag Racing</i> from being what a drag track is all about. Well done man.