Track: replica track usa motorsports
We have a new track maker on the loose and his name is GraveFan! GraveFan, whose name must surely indicate that he's a Grave Digger fanatic, has chosen this Expo to give us his first ever release "replica track usa motorsports", we must say that we're happy to have him with us, having done some fine work on what he claims is the second track he's made -- a USA Motorsports themed drag. We're thinking he's already off to a good start by not having distributed his first effort, due to the fact that such efforts are usually experimental in nature and of value mostly to the maker (that said in spite of the fact that this Expo was seeking such works! lol). All things considered, including what we've seen in his readme, we can't help but see a commitment to quality and an eye for detail forming in this new track author.
GraveFan's drag has been set up in an outdoor arena consisting of a flat dirt floor enclosed by grandstands, containing a fairly simple and uncluttered arrangement of cars and ramps that constitute a straightforward, neat and easily drivable arena, with no surprising or confusing elements and nothing to get entangled in.
For those who may not know, drag and replica tracks are fairly realistic courses made and used by hard core fans of the sport of monster truck racing, used to simulate the style of real racing and freestyle events. Due to the way these tracks are built and used they seldom contain courses or checkpoints (this one included) and are mostly played in a multiplayer environment, often in leagues. Monster trucks race on two separate but identical courses rather than side by side on the same course, and since MTM2 does not support two separate sets of checkpoints you'll generally need at least three people in a multiplayer game, one of which calls the race start, watches the race to spot penalties, times the lap and determines the winner. These tracks are also used for "freestyle" competitions in which each contestant takes a timed turn showing off their driving skills by making a steady series of jumps and wheelies, crushing cars, flipping or doing just about anything to score points with the judges.
GraveFan has wisely provided a bitmap along with his pod to demonstrate how the course was designed to be run, which is to "stage" the trucks at the start poles, accelerate straight ahead in order to jump over two cars and then over a set of five, make a left u-turn around the first turning pole, drive over a dirt mound, make another left u-turn around the second pole and then jump straight over the set of five cars again to cross the finish line, <a href=http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/usamotorlayout.jpg target=layout>shown here</a>. Also, according to our esteemed colleague RobbyH14, two racing layouts can be used here, St. Louis style and St. Louis style with a j-hook at the end.
The two lanes are not exactly even in all respects, but they are consistant enough that it should not make a big enough difference in online racing to kill the fun of competition. The left (blue) lane has a cluster of crush cars (<a href=http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/usamotorlayout.jpg target=layout>marked with an X</a>) that narrows the turning options around the first pole, which shouldn't be a problem for a driver running a tight lap but is a factor to consider when making a lane choice.
The left finish pole in the blue lane is set a bit wide (<a href=http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/usamotorpoles.jpg target=poles>comparison shot</a>), making a driver a bit less likely to foul by hitting the pole in that lane. That pole also has a unique quality that is surely the result of an accident, the pole is set to "non-collide facing", a setting that makes a model rotate to always face in your direction, something that is usually reserved for flat trees! One quirk of the "facing" setting is that the model will have a uniformly bright appearance in sunlight, if you look at the image linked above you can see how the pole on the left appears to be a brighter shade of yellow. The poles themselves are all set to non-collide, a choice that is certainly up to a track author, although if kept collidable they would certainly force the driver to remain focused, as well as eliminate any disputes regarding fouls.
One final quirk regarding the finish poles, a minor issue really, is that they are not set in a perfect line, each pole is offset by half a foot along the axis of the finish line and <a href=http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/usamotorfinish.jpg target=finish>none of the poles</a> are even with one another. This misalignment is probably due to the fact that GraveFan elected to create the finish line in the middle of a row of grid squares (a grid square is a basic unit of the track maker's world) rather than along the edge of a gridline that could have been used as a guide for placing the models. However, there is an easy technique for aligning models such as these and we hope GraveFan will make use of it in the future. Models moved along the horizontal x/y axis in Traxx will always snap to an invisible grid every 1/2 foot, so that there are 64 possible positions for a model within a single grid square, which is 32 feet by 32 feet. By allowing the models to snap into place and then making sure they share the same X or Y value in the model's properties box you can be sure that models even very far apart are in perfect alignment. <a href=http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/traxxalignment.gif target=traxx>This picture</a> should demonstrate the principle well enough for any track maker, the top image shows a pole aligned at the edge of a grid square and the bottom image shows it moved one notch over (1/2 foot), with the X value reflecting the change by one number. If GraveFan would have made sure all of his poles had the same X value they would have been in perfect alignment across the arena, making a race official's job that much easier.
Considering that GraveFan is a new track maker and that "object boxes" can be tricky business we must say that the ramps were nicely done, they seem to work well enough as is but they do have some visual as well as technical problems. In the case of the dirt ramp objects in front of the cars the author decided to leave them collidable, just like the ones you run over after the first u-turn around the pole. Invisible object boxes were then used as the actual ramp up and over the <i>visible</i> ramp and cars, but these object boxes were placed too far above the visible surface of the models and thus created an unrealistic <a href=http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/usamotorfloat.jpg target=float>floating truck</a> effect. You can see that the ramp and cars are angled to work well with one another, and with that being the case the cars and ramp should have been set to non-collide so that an object box could have provided a ramp that more closely follows the visible limits of the models. As it is the cars and ramp were left with their default collidable properties, which are not at all realistic, and so the object box ramp had to be raised to overcome their height. On most of the ramps the corner of the dirt ramp object protrudes through the front of the invisible ramp, creating a square bump that disturbs the free flow of the truck up the ramp, especially at low speeds. <a href=http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/usamotorramp.gif target=ramp>This image</a> depicts the aforementioned alignment issues.
The models and their textures are all very nice indeed, but the terrain itself needed more attention than a single texture or two, the one dirt texture used to cover the entire arena looks bland and doesn't even tile well, showing seams where adjacent textures join. When there are so many model textures packed into the pod it becomes somewhat ridiculous that only one small, bad looking texture was used to cover the whole arena. We would like to encourage GraveFan to consider something more interesting for his next track, and on that note we would like to point out that the <a href=http://forum.mtm2.com>Custom Textures</a> forum at MTMG is good place to seek advice, make requests or learn how to create new textures from scratch!
The single ground texture used in the pit area looks fine however, in fact <a href=http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/usamotorpits.jpg target=pit>the pit area</a> is rather nice and unique overall. The pure black texture used on the structure made of "ground boxes" looks bad however, solid color textures seldom look good in the game, something as simple as dark gray stripes to break up the monotony of the black would have made a big improvement, and this is something that could have easily been made from scratch in Microsoft Paint and then pasted right into the textures box in Traxx. Speaking of Microsoft Paint, we noticed that the image in the zip (used to demonstrate the proper course) was an uncompressed BMP which looked to have been edited in Paint. We also noticed that the track's preview picture was the default gray image from Traxx, so on that note we would like to point out that in the Track Components dialog in Traxx you can right-click on the "browse bitmap" and copy it, then paste it in a program like Paint, edit it, then copy and paste it back into Traxx in order to have a custom track preview image. Since all Windows systems have Paint there is little excuse for not including a custom preview picture in a track.
All complaints aside, the track can be a fun one to race or even freestyle on. The models are nicely arranged and tend to create the <a href=http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/usamotorprops.jpg target=props>atmosphere</a> of a live monster truck event, things such as a flipped-over monster truck laying on the track and transport trucks and bulldozers parked outside of the arena add realism without adding too much lag.
The "ramp" object type (as opposed to object boxes used as ramps), which are sometimes referred to as "yellow ramps" by Traxx users, were used to good effect along the sides of the rows of crush cars and on the car-van-car pyramids. They give a truck good air during freestyle considering the small size of the ramps themselves, and they were aligned reasonably well in relation to the visible models. Speaking of models, the alignment and collision properties of the grandstands could be better but they do not to present any real problems.
In freestyle mode you have the usual things present, like the car and van pyramids, but the absense of anything unique, extreme or even moveable makes this a less than spectacular location for a freestyle competition, but overall it is a very strong effort and the ramps work fine, with no hangups or getting stuck. GraveFan will surely mature into a very good drag track maker should he choose to continue his career in editing with efforts like this one!