A Journey From All-Assist To No-Assist – F1 2012 Video Game Guide

I love Formula One the sport.  And I love F1 2012 the video game.  I don’t think there exists another road racing game that has a speed as fast as a F1 simulation.  Recently, I have crossed the 100 hours play time.  One friend asked me, “What do you get out of this game with so much time put in?  Do you grind for experience points or currency to unlock faster cars?”  He is from a FPS and MMO background whereby unlocking gears is part of the game.  I chuckled and replied, “Not at all.  F1 is a skill game.  The only thing you need to unlock is your talent in playing a racing game”.

What a lovely racing game!

I am not a hardcore racer.  Fortunately, with the assist features this video game has offered, F1 2012 is accessible even to the most casual racer.  All-assist function is good.  It makes the game a lot less frustrating for some and the game play emphasizes on steering, a little bit of braking, sticking to the racing line, and making the most out of DRS and KERS technologies.  On top of that, it is a good introduction to the format of a F1 race.  The practice and qualifying sessions, yellow flag, pit stop, tire wear management, tire choices, penalty system, championship point system, racing rules, and more.

All-assist is good.  But as one gains proficiency on racing with the assist features, one may crave for deeper challenges.  F1 2012 offers a great depth to just that.  Turning off the assist features one by one rewards achievements or trophies, much faster lap time, predictability, and general satisfaction.

We love to stay in our comfort zone.  But if you decide to have a little adventure to see how far you can go with no-assist, I hope this article may inspire.

#1 Turn Off Brake Assist

Brake assist is the number one pace killer.  That is true.  By turning this one feature off, I have gained 3 to 5 seconds per lap.

Brake assist works best when you stick to the racing line accurately.  The moment you deviate from the racing line, brake assist kicks in.  This feature also slows down the car cautiously during corning.  It kills pace.

Turning off brake assist requires you to observe the brake markers on the side.  Depending on the turns, some have markers all the way from 400 meter ahead of the turn.  Finding the correct braking point for each turn (and each circuit) is important.  You may start with the very first sign you see.  And if you over brake, you may adjust accordingly.

Don’t over train on this part of the journey.  Once you are comfortable with braking function for a couple of different circuits, it is time to progress to the next one.

#2 Turn Off ABS and Traction Control

Personally, I feel ABS and TC (traction control) go hands-in-hands.  Allow me to provide a bit of background here.

ABS, like in road car technology, helps to prevent wheel locking in a heavy braking situation.  In F1 2012 in-game racing, ABS increases braking distance and stop front wheels from locking.  Locked wheels have no grip and it makes the braking non-effective.

TC helps to prevent rear wheels spinning.  Rear wheels spin when the engine rev exceeds what the wheel’s grip can handle.  This happens in a couple of places: starting grid, during turning (such as exiting a corner too aggressively), and wet weather condition.  When rear wheels spin, the car loses control.

Because ABS increases braking distance and TC reduces aggressiveness on gear shifting, turning them off improves lap time.  I can decrease the lap time for up to 2 seconds by turning these off, which is substantial, when added onto the no-brake assist gain.

To drive without ABS and TC, you have to be aware of grip condition.  Also bear in mind that down force is proportional to the square of speed.  Hence, as your car slows down, you have to gradually release the brake pressure or else suffer front wheels lock-up.  As you accelerate out of a corner, you may need to be gentle with the throttle or else suffer rear wheels lock-up.

Again, don’t over train on this setting.

#3 Use Manual Gearbox

Losing that auto gearbox, believe it or not, is not as bad as it sounds.  If you are using a console controller, you may wish to remap the DRS button (on top) to gear-up button (on bottom).  The default setup is neither comfortable to the hand nor intuitive.

Using manual gearbox – in some circuits – may gain lap time.  Especially places like S-Curves in Japan, sector 3 of Korea, and turn 3 through 7 in USA whereby engine braking is more effective than wheel braking, less frustrating than the auto gear hunting that goes up and down through a turn.  In other circuits, I may struggle matching my previous best lap records.  That is OK because manual gearbox provides better predictability in corning speed. Also, once you go manual, you won’t go back to auto.

The best way to learn how to work that manual gearbox is to watch how F1 professional racers lap a circuit on YouTube.  The strategies are as follows.

For down shifting from say a long straight at 7th gear, first, apply brake at the correct braking point.  After a second, quickly drop down 3 gears to 4th.  As you approach the apex, further drop down the gear to 3rd while releasing the brake.  For sharp corners, drop the gear to 2nd, and if need to, 1st.  Observe any sign of wheel lockup so as to further adjust the brake release timing.

For up shifting, the best time is when the engine hits the rev limiter (purple).  Holding the gear for too long kills speed.  However, you may notice shifting the gear up at high rev during corner exit may cause rear wheel spin (with no TC).  Hence in this case, you have to be gentle with the throttle.  Or shift gear a little bit earlier to keep the engine rev at a manageable state.  It is also a good lesson on why you have to use every inch of the circuit in opening up the exit.  Because the sharper the turning, the harder for you to be aggressive.

Of course, during wet weather condition, you have to watch out for engine rev.

By turning off brake assist, ABC, TC, and gear assist, it is time to really learn each and every of the 20 F1 circuits.  Use the brake markers and banners as braking points.  Find out the best gear choice for each chicane.  This is the most rewarding journey for me.

One area that needs to address is race start.  It is not easy without traction control.  The trick is that before the 5-light goes out, gently hold the throttle to green zone.  As you see the car moves forward, step onto the throttle.  Hold 1st gear till the speed is beyond 90 kph.  Then shift gears up as and when the rev limiter hits the purple zone.  Put in KERS if need to.

#4 Turn Off Racing Line

This is a person choice, more for immersion.  I don’t believe that turning off racing line would greatly help with lap time.  Especially when it is raining cats and dogs on track and visibility is terrible.

For some circuits like Brazil, I am comfortable in turning off the racing line.  For others, I am still learning my way.  Turning off racing line also forces you to really learn the track, and perhaps find a better racing line than the game suggests.

#5 More Challenges Ahead

If you are into beating lap time, i.e. time trial mode, you can explore the detail car setup feature for each track and fine tune your vehicle.  If you are into racing, i.e. career or quick race, you can turn on full damage simulation (and have a chance to see safety car!) and turn off the flash point system.  That is to say, mistakes can cost a great deal.  This game does not have hardcore mode.  You may even discipline yourself not to use the race restart function and take what it comes.

That is part of F1 racing.

PS. First season of my amateur F1 racing career can be found here.  Next season, I am planning to play with no-assist.

My “New” PC And That Extra Motherboard

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a brand new motherboard (that I did not buy) among the empty boxes returned by the shop.  You see, here in Singapore, assembling a new computer is as simple as ordering food from a restaurant.  You walk up to a shop.  They present you with a long list of components in the form of a pricing list.  You put a tick to each component you want.  They add up the numbers.  You pay the bill.  An hour later you return to the computer assembly area inside one of the back alleys.  You present the proof of purchase.  And they pass you the newly assembled computer, together with all the empty boxes and spare parts.  You bring the computer home with the empty boxes and that’s the end of the story.

This is my new computer that is aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. I was happy with my purchase until Kevin my buddy in Google+ said that this reminded him of a dustbin.

Except, in my case, when I returned home and went through the boxes, I found a brand new motherboard!  No wonder the boxes seemed heavier than I expected.  I am not a saint.  So, for a good ten seconds, I fantasized what I could do with an extra motherboard.  Perhaps for my wife’s computer upgrade?  Pass it to my brother-in-law?  Sell it?  I mean, the same shop was being very mean to me when I wanted to exchange for a new webcam due to a faulty product.

I called the shop the next day.  The store manager turned up at my home in the same evening looking all jolly and happy as I returned to him the new motherboard.  He lingered for a bit telling me that he should have brought a souvenir for me.  He paused for a second or two and he told me that he would extend my assemble warranty for one full year.  I doubt he would remember my face even though I am a loyal customer for more than a decade.  My Guild Wars 2 group was waiting as we were in the middle of a dungeon outing.  I bid him goodbye and quickly jumped back to my online game.  End of story.

Now, why do I write a post on my computer configuration every time I upgrade my PC?  Two reasons really.  My friends often ask: Tell me more about your new PC!  And I would reply: Check out this link and scroll to the bottom!  The second reason is that I know for sure some time in the future, I would want to upgrade some of the components.  Like adding new RAM or getting a new graphic card.  And I would all of a sudden, somewhere not at home, want to know my existing configuration and see if the parts are right for me.  Hence this post.

If you are assembling for a new computer today, I would recommend two items for your consideration.

  1. Get a SSD (solid state drive).
  2. Get a sound proof case.
This is my PC sitting at the assemble area. These guys work so fast! Kudos to them.

I install my operating system into the SSD.  The start-up time is like less than 10 seconds.  The shutdown time is a second or two.  You may say, SSD is expensive, and may breakdown.  And you really don’t mind the longer waiting time for start up, software and OS update, and shutdown.

To that, I would say, the ability to switch on my computer in less than 10 seconds whenever I want to do something with it is priceless. I bought this computer on Sept 18.  I am still feeling the joy every time I switch it on.

I invest good money in my new case too.  Some may be taken aback by the fact that it is just a case.  Well, it is not just a case.  The Scandinavian design is beautiful.  It has an internal dust filter covering the entire front panel.  On top of that, the entire case is sound proof.  My PC runs quiet.  Very quiet.

With these two items, I am happy from the moment I switch on my computer, all the way till it is shut down.

OK.  That is just about all that I wish to talk about in this post.  The specification of my “new” PC is as follows.

  • Intel i5 3570 3.4GHz 6MB LGA1155
  • Asus P8H77-V
  • Corsair Vengence 1600 8GB Kit CL9 (2 x 4GB) Black
  • Corsair Force Series GT 120GB SSD SATA 3
  • Sapphire HD7850 2GB GDDR5 PCI-E (OC Edition)
  • Fractal Design Refine R4 White USB 3.0
  • Corsair TX750M Broze PSU
  • WD Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5″ 64MB SATA 3
  • Samsung SH-S222 22X SATA Internal DVD Writer
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
I thought for 10 seconds if I shall keep this, hehe.

F1 2012 Video Game – A Brief Review As A Casual Racer And An Avid F1 Fan

Edit (Oct 4, 2012) – Bahrain race added.
Edit (Oct 7, 2012) – Spain race added.
Edit (Oct 9, 2012) – Monaco race added.
Edit (Oct 11, 2012) – Canada race added.
Edit (Oct 13, 2012) – Valencia race added.
Edit (Oct 21, 2012) – Silverstone race added.
Edit (Oct 23, 2012) – Germany race added.
Edit (Oct 25, 2012) – Hungary race added.
Edit (Oct 27, 2012) – Belgium race added.
Edit (Oct 31, 2012) – Italy race added.
Edit (Nov 3, 2012) – Singapore race added.
Edit (Nov 5, 2012) – Japan race added.
Edit (Nov 8, 2012) – Korea race added.
Edit (Nov 10, 2012) – India race added.
Edit (Nov 10, 2012) – Abu Dhabi race added.
Edit (Nov 11, 2012) – United States race added.
Edit (Nov 11, 2012) – Brazil race added. 

Onto its third generation, F1 2012 is a jolly good Formula One simulation game.  I am not a racer.  I am terrible in this type of games.  I have not played the last two installments so I have no bearing on what this year’s edition has done better or worse than previous years.  But as an avid F1 fan who has been watching almost all the races for the last few seasons, I would say that I am delighted by the experience thus far.  You can watch F1 on TV all these years, listen to the commentators, or read the articles online.  Nothing beats experiencing the tracks first hand, at the simulator.  This franchise may not be a perfect simulation yet.  However, it is good enough for me to better appreciate the sport.  The entire experience – or the majority of it – feels authentic from a spectator’s viewpoint.

I have written and rewritten this post for a couple of times.  Without making it sounds too technical (and hence boring), I have chosen a journal style in sharing with you my experience thus far.  It may sound depressing at first.  But there are some happy moments for sharing.

Young Drivers Test

Formula One is at the pinnacle of racing.  The technology involved in this sport is ever evolving.  To introduce F1 to the players who are new to the sport, Codemasters the game developer has set up a series of scenarios in the Young Drivers Test.  KERS, DRS, dry tires, wet tires, racing line, apex, and braking distance – all the essentials to get me started are covered in this mode.  Typically, this mode takes 1/2 to 1 hour to complete.  But I am slow.  I took 2 hours to complete.  It was eyeopening to see how corners are tackled.  I have seen so many F1 maneuvers on TV.  Nothing has prepared me for this.

I graduated with a pass, didn’t score a gold.  Perhaps that has affected my option later in my Career mode.

Quick Race

Because I bought the game over the Singapore GP weekend, the first thing I did was to try out the Singaporean track.  The wonderful thing about Quick Race is that I can pick any car, be any driver, and be on any track.  The default setup of a Quick Race is 3 laps with no pit stop.  That is around 6 minutes of game play.

Quick Race is exhilarating.  I live in the city and I can relate to every inch of the simulated track.  Lap one is the most exciting part of the race, as it is in the real F1.  So many cars jam packed into the first few corners.  Trying to find space without causing an incident is an art.

It is rather easy to win the race with one of the top teams on easy setting.  I managed to win with Red Bull Racing (Webber), Ferrari (Alonso), and McLaren (Button).  I have also tried Lotus (Kimi) and Mercedes (Schumacher).  All the top teams usually start at the front of the grid, between P6 to P11.  To see how realistic the race is, one time I picked a Williams car (Senna).  I started further back, pushed all that I could, and managed a point scoring result.  That was probably the best I could muscle out from that car, in that starting position, with my skill today.

Career – Australia

OK!  I was excited and ready to start the career mode.  I have three teams to choose from: Marussia, HRT, and Caterham.  Since I am in love with anything Spanish, I picked the Hispania Racing Team (HRT).  Using a Cosworth powered engine and as a relatively new F1 team, there is only that much the car can do.  In retrospect, I should have picked Caterham.  At least for the KERS technology.  But I am in for immersion.  I pick with my heart.

Instead of 3 practice sessions like in a real F1 weekend, F1 2012 the game only has 1 session that lasts for 1 hour.  I am new to the game so I took my time getting familiarize with the track.  The Australia track looks straightforward.  It is rather round.  But some of the kinks were giving me headache.  During the practice session, I have caused an accident.  So, I was given a 10 place penalty that could not be erased by a flashback (a feature to rewind time and undo a mistake).  Looking back I could have restarted the practice session.  Since I was among the bottom cars, that wouldn’t have mattered much anyway.  Besides, I am in for game immersion.

On round one qualifying, I couldn’t remember which tires I have used.  But the timing was not impressive.  Just like F1, there is a warm up lap to get the tires up to temperature and the clock starts at the end of the warm up lap.  In my overly enthusiastic state of mind, I was trying to do what real F1 drivers do towards the end of the warm up lap – create a gap from the cars in front.  Unfortunately, I slowed down too much and was given another penalty for illegal blocking.

Whatever.

So I started on P24 – the last car on the grid with a combined grid penalty of 20.  I chose a 25% duration setting so the race has a total of 15 laps.  I started well on option tires, gained 7 positions on lap one thanks to all the in-game assist settings.  My scheduled pit stop was on lap 7.  That is silly because even option tires can last longer than that.  But, rules are rules.  I have to use both sets of tires in one race.

I did not know what happened to the option tires.  But since my lap time was not improving, I dived into the pit 2 laps ahead of schedule and went for the more long lasting prime tires.

I got out of the pit, found myself at the back of the grid, and I struggled to get the tires to optimal temperature.  When the cars in front pitted, I was hoping to gain places but I did not.  I was at 23rd, lapped by the front runners.  To rub salt to the wound, even as I moved out of the racing line when I was blue flagged, I was handed a time penalty for blocking the faster cars.  That was not it.  Car 24 tailgated the train of faster cars, overtook me as I gave way.  I started at P24 and ended up at P24.

Overall, a forgettable race.

Career – Malaysia

For some strange reasons, I love the Malaysian circuit.  The flow is good.  The two long back-to-back straights are fun to drive.  The only thing confusing is the pit entrance.  It is at the end of a hairpin and is barely visible when making a tight left turn after a long straight.  It took me quite some time to get the angle right.

Throughout the practice session and qualifying round, I kept it clean.  I did not want another penalty.  I qualified P19.  Still at the back of the grid but higher than my team’s expectation.  Time to celebrate?

Race day was a frustration, due to a wet weather condition.  I have restarted the race a couple of times with different strategies but that did not matter.  I could blame the game (if indeed it was a bug on tires) or my lousy engineer or perhaps my driving and judgement skill.

It started off dry and I have raced my heart out, gained 10 positions by the end of lap one.  P10 is a point scoring position.  I was doing well until the rain started to fall.  I have tried different tire strategies but nothing seemed to work.  The rain looked pretty heavy but since the rest of the cars were still on prime, I stretched my option tires to as long as I could.  I put on the prime tires on my first overdue pit stop.  By then, the rain was too heavy.  I tried to crawl to the finishing line with the wrong tires but I have lost too many positions.  On the last lap, I dived in and got the wet tires on.  I finished one position down at P20.  A very disappointing weekend.

I wish that my engineer is more intelligent and react better to the climate condition.  I wish that calling for a tire in-game outside of scheduled pit stop does not involve getting my thumb off the steering stick and press a combination of 3 keystrokes using the directional pad.

Career – China

I thought Malaysian track was great, Chinese track is even better.  Some of the connecting apexes need to be attacked with a good precision and the result is a better carry through speed.  Very rewarding to drive.  Also, it has a pretty long straight that enables my Cosworth engine to be maxed at 314 km/h for quite a distance.  I really get this track.  I just love it!

During the practice session, I was given a tire wear R&D objective.  I needed to run 3 laps without exceeding a certain amount of tire wear and within a certain time target.  This was for my team to collect some data so as to reduce tire wear during a race.  There was light rain, I was on intermediate tires, and I nearly made it.  On lap 3, I was blocked by a slow moving car.  Not wanting to incur a penalty by causing a collision, I braked too soon and lost the objective.  As the sky opened up, I tried again with option tires.  Interestingly, the time target has revised accordingly because option tires are much faster than the intermediate tires.  I nailed the R&D objective with no problem this time.

Before the practice session expired, I put on the prime tires.  To my surprise, they worked better than the option tires.  By now, I can only conclude that as the track rubbered in, the lap time drops.  Unfortunately, I had to learn this during the qualifying session.

There was no rain during qualifying session.  I put on my option tires and I was fast.  At least I thought I was.  Before I came in for a refuel, I was outside the relegation zone.  My engineer recommended the option tires.  But I insisted on the prime.  Prime tires took a long time to warm up and the lap time was not fantastic.  I raced till the very end, until I ran out of fuel.  Now, why didn’t my engineer called me into the pit when I was running out of fuel?  No idea.  In my relief, I was not penalized as I crawled back into the pit.  P19 was the best I could qualify with.

On race day, I prayed for a sunny weather.  Codemasters answered my prayer and gave me just that.  The dry race was fantastic.  On start, I lost at least 4 places without KERS technology.  I gained up to P8 from P19 during the first few laps, which was pretty remarkable.  Button and I had some wheel banging moments as we overtook each other.  I even got to use the DRS at the DRS zone a couple of times!  For a few laps in this race, I was within 1 second to the car in front.  That was how close I was to the top teams.

By mid race, I lost a position.  KERS plus DRS were not easy to fight against, especially when I have picked one of the two teams that do not have KERS.  I pitted at the exact lap as planned.  I gained back a position from Webber.  But I made a few mistakes under pressure.  My prime tires were cold.  Vettel just zoomed past me.  I could not hold off from Button and Webber for long either.  It was a nail biting moment sitting on P10 – the last point scoring position.  I defended my position like mad because even 1 point in this championship means a lot to me.  At one point, the car behind tried to use a high fuel combination to catch up on me.  That did not last and as I put in some perfect laps, the gap has widen again.  I was relieved to see a breathing gap only to lose it due to a few mistakes I have made.  That turn 16 right before the pit entrance is my Achilles’ heel.  I still can’t get that right.

I was in tears when I saw the checker flag.  P10.  That is a rather good achievement on a HRT car.  I have scored one point, way beyond the expectation of my team.  More importantly so, I beat my own teammate, again.

Career – Bahrain

With my new found confidence, I was all hyped up for the fourth track of the season – Bahrain.  You know how it is like when you first land on a new track.  Either you feel great and love the flow.  Or you feel bad because you don’t get it.  Bahrain, to me, belongs to the latter.

Some of the kinks are hard to master.  If I miss the apex, I will overshoot at the exit and lose time.  Turn 2 is a good example.  It is a rather high speed corner at 158 km/h.  The worst part of the circuit to me is Turn 5, 6, and 7. At 190 km/h, any mistake on this set of three corners often ends badly.  Leading out of Turn 7 is the slowest corner of the track – Turn 8.  Entering the apex at 253 km/h with an exit speed of 79 km/h.  That corner is sharp and slow.  It is so easy to lose control at Turn 8.  My engineer often tells me that I am doing badly on sector 2.  I am not surprised.

On practice day, I started with prime tires.  My HRT did not do too bad, ended up somewhere at midfield.  On my first pit, I changed to option tires, clocked an impressive +0.081 seconds off Alonso’s first position.  That record stayed through the remaining practice session.  On my second garage refuel visit, I kept the tires.  What people say about option tires is true.  They don’t last.  My timing got worst.  I pitted and changed back to the prime tires, even boosted the fuel composition to rich.  Still no improvement.  I must have lost my concentration somehow.  Nonetheless, P2 for a practice session is a good result.

On qualifying session, my engineer asked me not to push too hard.  Looking at my practice result, he reminded me that I should nail Q1 with no problem.  You know what they say about practice results do not necessarily mean anything?  It is true.  I pushed hard on option tires.  By the fourth lap, I was at the relegation zone.  My fuel tank only allowed me to do one more lap.  I blew it.  On the 6th lap when I should have retired into the garage, I had a good feel that my timing was good (the car was lighter due to low fuel) . I decided not to pit and scored a P16.  I had to crawl back to the garage on second gear because there was little fuel left in the car.  Miraculously, I did not incur a penalty for blocking the traffic . I was careful on my crawling line.

Q2, I put on a new set of option tires.  The best I could do was a P17, which was pretty much the last car in round 2.  It was my first Q2 though, so I was happy.

As for the cloudy race day, the same happened.  On start, without KERS, I lost at least four positions.  Gained them back and more through my aggressive driving style (thanks to all assist setting).  As the race settled, I was sitting at P8, which was a pretty good position.  After my pit stop, I rejoined at P11, gradually worked my way back to P8 as other cars pitted.  At one point, Massa overtook me.  I tried to chase him down but I had made one too many mistakes.  He was two seconds ahead, pulling away from me.  And the car behind was two seconds away, gaining up towards me.  Toro Rosso’s Vergne tried to close up the gap with rich fuel setting.  Four more laps to go and my engineer informed me that if I made another mistake, Vergne would be within the one second DRS zone.  I have used up all my flashbacks.  I checked my fuel tank and it has three extra lap worth of fuel.  So I responded with a rich fuel setup, drove relatively flawless for four long laps.  The two seconds gap between Vergne and I was maintained.  I took the checker flag at P9, earned two championship points.  It was time for celebration!

Career – Spain

The Spain circuit, I just don’t get it.  Fans of this video game franchise are right.  We need three practice sessions to attempt in mastering a F1 track, not one.  I have restarted the 1 hour practice session three times and I still felt inadequate.

While this circuit does not have a straight long enough for my HRT car to attain a maximum speed, it does have a number of 90-degree chicanes.  Turn 9 is quite a monster with a corning speed of 230 km/p and a G-force of 3.57, which of course, in the comfort of my home and in front of my 42″ plasma TV, I don’t get to experience.  Leading up to turn 9 is a down slope 90-degree turn 7 and an up slope turn 8 that follows through.  Turn 3 is also my headache because once I am off the racing line and run wide at the entrance, it is extremely hard to hug the corner and race through it.

Weather forecast said that there would be heavy rain on practice day, sunny on qualifying, and light rain on race day.  I am not Michael Schumacher.  I really am not good at wet weather racing.  Why does the weather forecast always right in F1 2012 video game?

Practice day went from wet to dry and back to wet.  That gave me plenty of opportunities to experiment all four types of tires.  In fact, that helped me on my race day when I have to decide when to pit based on track condition.  The only noteworthy timing I have clocked was on the option tires.  I finished the practice with P13.

Qualifying was a sunny day.  Because I was so used to the slower speed on wet condition, I found the dry track speed rather overwhelming.  Throughout the weekend, the car felt twitchy.  I just did not like the setup of the car at all.  I used up both sets of option tires.  But the best I could get was P19.  Hence, I was relegated.  No Q2 for me.

Race day started with light rain.  I have restarted the game quite a number of times.  I noticed that while the race has to be wet as per the forecast, there were tiny random variances that Codemaster the game developer has introduced into each restart.  Like the choice of tires for the rest of the cars, start up speed, accidents, and etc.  On my first attempt, my engineer recommended the intermediate tires, which in retrospect was the dumbest idea.  I was the only one who ran on intermediate tires.  I was basically a sitting duck when the option tires outperform intermediate tires by 6 seconds per lap.  The rain only came in on lap 3.  That was a dumb choice.  I want to fire my engineer.

On my second attempt, I started on option at P19.  I worked my way up to the front and on lap 2, all the cars dived into the pit for the intermediate tires.  I stayed out one extra lap because the track did not look that bad.  It was a wise decision because after my pit stop, I have gained at least 2 positions.  As the track dried up and with 12 laps to go, I switched to option tires.  Unfortunately, the option tires did not last and I struggled a lot for grip towards the end of the race.  So I restarted the game again.

On my third attempt, I did everything exactly as my second attempt except when I switched back to dry tires, I picked the prime tires.  The problem with prime tires is that while they last, they are not known for speed.  I was P1 on lap 2.  When I rejoined after putting on the intermediate tires, I was at P8.  I should have dived into the pit one lap earlier when the track dried up but I was one lap long (such is the excitement of F1 when decisions like this matters).  I lost 4 positions after I put on the prime tires.  It was a nail biting experience at the pit.  P12 when I rejoined.  I lost 1 more position to Massa at pit exit because of a camera view bug (duh!).  I tried to hold off the cars behind me but they were on option, I was on prime.  Even with rich fuel mix, the prime tires are not competitive.  The good news was that the prime tires felt really right towards the end of the race when I was under immense pressure from the cars behind.  The wearing was low and the grip was perfect.  I finished at P15.  Not a point scoring position but I managed to exceed the expectation of the team.  Most importantly, I outraced my teammate Pedro de la Rosa.

Career – Monaco

If you are still undecided about F1 2012 the video game, trust me, being able to experience the Monaco track makes your money worth.  Cynthia and I have visited Monaco once.  We have driven on the road that is part of the F1 circuit.  What Codemasters the game developer does to the Monaco track is amazing.  So much details.  Such realism.  When I first took my HRT car out of the garage, I gasped.  The city is beautiful.  The track is breathtaking.  No wonder all the F1 drivers love this street circuit.  It is narrow and it commands respect.  The moment you make a slight mistake, you wreck the car onto the walls.  Cutting the chicane too fine?  Your rear wheels get tripped and your car spins to the opposite direction.  Some part of the circuit can be bumpy and it is so easy to lose control of the car.  However, once you master the track with millimeter precision, it is a rewarding drive.  All the turns, all the straights – they are memorable.  I simply adore the Monaco track.

I thought I would suck in a street circuit but surprisingly, I do not.  On the sunny practice day, as usual, I put on the prime tires (yellow – soft) saving the super soft tires for later.  Once the track gets rubbered in, my timing should improve.  I gave it my all on the first few laps and I clocked in an amazing lap time of 1.26.152.  No one could get close to this result.  I tried to best myself but somehow, I had problem with Beau Rivage leading up to Massnet as well as the slowest corner Turn 6 and the Turn 15/16.  Towards the end of the practice session, I put on the option tires (red – super soft).  No improvement even though I felt I have put in a few perfect laps.  Strange.

Does it mean that prime tires works better in Monaco?  No idea.  P1 on the practice session.  1.079 seconds ahead of Massa’s Ferrari.

Qualifying, I have a good feel about this track.  Could I replicate my success?  Q1, I put on the primes, clocked in a rather impressive 1.26.726 but only on P12.  0.507 seconds off the first position.  Maybe the yellow soft tires did not cut it.  I got into the next round nonetheless.

Q2, I went for the options.  When I saw my lap time at 1.25.282 on second lap, I knew my work was done.  So I sat at the garage waiting for the session to be over.  P1, I was at.  First time I would be on round three.

Q3, the rain started.  I put on fresh options like everyone did.  Got out of the garage as fast as possible.  I did a flying lap but the result was not impressive.  I stayed out on options for too long and when I changed for the intermediate tires, the track condition has worsen.  There was no point putting on wet tires because I would not be able to beat others.  So I retired at P7.  What a disappointment.

The scoreboard said that I was at P7.  But when I proceeded to the next stage, the game put me on P10.  I must have violated the time-space continuum a.k.a. PS3 bug.

On race day, I started on the super soft tires.  Rain has started falling from the sky but everyone was on options.  Lap 1, I made some aggressive overtaking on Turn 1, gained up to P6.  Then gained another position along Beau Rivage.  Round Turn 3, I followed the cars in front closely, managed to gain another position at Casino from the outside.  I held onto P4 through Tunnel.  Unfortunately at Chicane, I oversteered and was overtaken.  I lost a position but that was racing.  I was cool with it.  By then, the rain appeared to intensified but the track remained somewhat dry.  All the car in front dived into the pit and changed for intermediate tires.  I have decided to stay out and watched my lap time closely sitting at P1.

Lap 2, there was no significant drop of timing so I thought, perhaps the rain was not that bad.  I pushed onto lap 3 and my engineer told me that the Red Bull behind were pitting for intermediate tires.  I must have gained enough gap due to my tire decision because when I pitted for intermediate tires, I was still on P1.

As the track remained wet, Rosberg behind me was in fuel saving mode.  In retrospect, that was quite a good strategy.  Since the one behind me was not chasing, I was quite relaxed sitting at P1.  By lap 6, the rain has stopped.  Some cars have pitted for dry tires but I have decided to stay out for another 2 laps, again watching my lap time closely.

I was losing 3 seconds for lap 6 and 7 so I thought, now could be the right time for dry tires.  Options or primes?  There are still 13 laps to go.  It could be a challenge to make the super soft option tires last that many laps.  But what if it rained later?

Decision, decision.  I put on the faster option tires on lap 8 with Rosberg still behind my back not wanting to let go.  He switched to rich fuel mix now that he had saved enough fuel during the wet weather racing.  Uh oh.  At first there was a 7 seconds gap.  Then it was cut to 5 seconds.  I put in some flawless laps so as to maintain the gap.  That seemed to work until I met the black markers.

Black markers are the slower cars that let you overtake once you are near.  The challenge is, there aren’t many places on the track whereby you can comfortably overtake a black marker.  Any time spent behind a black marker is a lost in lap time.  Rosberg was closing in while I was patiently waiting for my overtaking opportunities.  Causing a collision incurs time penalty and I surely do not want that, especially in this race.

By lap 16, I started to feel the tire wear effect.  The grip was deteriorating rather dramatically.  I had to lengthen the braking distance and reduce the cornering speed.  Rosberg was only 3 seconds behind me!  I was losing more lap time than what Rosberg has gained.  So I thought, perhaps he was struggling with tire wear as well.

True enough, by lap 18, Rosberg trailed behind and was overtaken by Alonso who was on prime tires!  This time, Alonso was after me, potentially with better tires, maybe 2 laps older than mine.  2 more laps to go and my tires were in lousy condition.  There was no grip.  I had to put in a lot of focus and drove conservatively . I slowed down quite a bit so as to nurse the car to the finishing line.

I was in tear when I took the checker flag at P1.  At that very moment, I was mentally and physically exhausted.  A maximum of 25 championship points for the team and for me.  Alonso was P2, Rosberg P3.

Career – Canada

Life of a F1 driver as such.  Hero in one race, zero in another.  And people’s memory is as good as the last circuit you raced.

One look at the Canada circuit and I knew that my HRT would not be able to make it.  The track is wide, lots of straights, plenty of overtaking opportunity.  With no KERS and a humble Cosworth engine, I would be a sitting duck.

My guess was spot on.

It was yet another wet weekend.  Started the practice session on prime, then into intermediate and wet.  I struggled tremendously for pace.  Best timing was 1.23.231 at P7, which is 0.408 second off Kobayashi’s option tires.

Turn 13/14 continues to be my pain point.  At a maximum speed in excess of 300 km/h, the turns are sharp with a carry through speed of 135 km/h.  A tiny mistake my car would hit the white chicane and smash onto the wall at exit.  So hard to get that right.

Q1, P15 on intermediate.  That was the best I could squeeze out of the car.  Q2, P17 on option.  And I began to think that for this track, option is just not as good as prime.

On race day, first 4 laps on intermediate then the remaining 14 laps on prime.  Gained some positions on lap 1 but I slipped from P13 to P16 driving defensively most of the time.  The infamous Maldonado hit my car at Turn 13/14.  Even with 10 seconds penalty, he was still ahead of me.

How in the world did I lose 13 seconds over 2 laps?  That collision must have caused me much time.  Tire wear too.  In a real F1 race, causing an accident would have been handed with a drive-through penalty, which translates to 20+ seconds.

Ah, whatever.  Time to look forward to the next race.

Career – Europe (Valencia)

Valencia is a street circuit.  I knew I would do good in this one.  What a pity that we will not be seeing this track in the next year’s Formula One calendar.

Now, before we get to the race, let’s talk about my favorite topic: practice day.

Some of you may wonder, what is the fun in practice day when the results do not matter?  To me, I enjoy the 1 hour practice session because I get to compete against myself.

In this simulation, practice day consists of three stints.  Since prime tires last longer than options, I would reserve the option tires to the last stint when the track is rubbered in.

In each stint, my team puts in a fuel load of 10 laps.  Minus off the warm-up lap and out lap (pit entrance is before start-finish line hence out lap has no lap time record), depending on track length, there can be over 20 race laps in one practice session.

Lap time is recorded at the end of each of the three sectors.  When you better your best sector time, the timing is indicated in green, just like what you see on TV.  When you set the fastest sector or lap time among others, it is indicated in purple.  Otherwise, in red.  As you can imagine, every 40 seconds or so, I would take my eyes off the track and observe my sector and lap performance.

First stint is always better than second stint.  Because as tires are wearing off, the lap time lengthen.  The lap-by-lap comparison between the first two stints often gives me a good indicator on how tire wear works for a particular track (because fuel load is held constant).

At the beginning of each stint, the car is heavier due to high fuel load.  Towards the end of each stint, tire wear effect kicks in.  So the break even point is somewhere in the middle, when tire and brake temperature is at the optimal.

Of course, when done right, there is a good chance that the third stint sets the best personal record.  Again, that depends on the track layout.

Practice day is also one way to judge how competitive my car is with respect to the rest.  In Valencia, I clocked in a lap time of 1.53.795 on option tires. 0.598 second ahead of Vettel.  That is a pretty good result.

I love racing in Valencia (Spain).  There is no sudden change of direction.  I have sufficient time to slowly inch toward the wall.  Smooth driving is the key.  The last few sequences before the start-finish line is breathtaking, flowing through the turns at 295 km/h.  What I love about this track is that putting in a perfect lap is very doable.  And it does not require too high a concentration.

First round of qualifying, I scored a P1 with 1.53.341 on primes.  Maldonado was merely 0.049 second behind me, not sure what tires he used.  Q2, Alonso qualified 0.153 second ahead of my P4 result at 1.52.684 on options.  I did not have much hope for Q3 because I don’t usually qualify well.  When I saw my lap time of 1.52.074, I knew I nailed it.  Alonso was 0.199 second behind me.

So, first time in my F1 video gaming career, I was the pole sitter.  I did not have high hope on race day because without KERS, there is no way to have a good start.  I tried my best to block Alonso on start but Hamilton and Alonso shot pass me before Turn 1, one on each side.  Through the initial slow sequence, I followed the two cars closely but I did not manage to overtake Alonso until the second lap.  By then, Hamilton was well ahead and I have Alonso on my back.  With DRS enabled, it was nerve wrecking trying to drive defensively and at the same time, stay on the racing line.  That was quite impossible.

Then the rain came.  The official disabled DRS.  That got Alonso off my back.  My engineer asked me to pit in on lap 6 but again, with the changing weather condition, there was no point in making too many pit exits.

Because of the pit stop reshuffling, I was momentarily on P1.  Unfortunately I stayed out too long and the rain was getting too heavy.  I did not know how Hamilton did it but he managed to overtake me on dry tires.  I dived into the pit at the end of lap 8, switched to intermediate tires, and continued the race.

At one point, Webber tried to go full red and overtake me.  I responded with full red and drove as perfectly as I could.  At the end of lap 14, the track was too wet so I put on the wet tires.  Hamilton was 13 seconds ahead of me and Button was 3 seconds behind me.  Button managed to close the gap down to 1.7 seconds but I responded.  Hamilton was too far gone and my target was to bring home a P2.  Last couple of laps I put in some good timing.  I took the checker flag 3 seconds ahead of Button.

With all considered, P2 is a good result.  I am happy to bring home 18 championship points, for my HRT team and for me.

Career – Great Britain (Silverstone)

What a frustrating ‘weekend’.  Except this in-game weekend has lasted more than a week in real life.  I have tried hard.  I just cannot get the Silverstone track right.  Sector 1 involves a set of odd shaped slow corners.  Sector 1 is also consistently my worst performing sector throughout the ‘weekend’.  I could lose up to a second in sector 1.  What gives?

While my sector 1 performance is consistently bad, sector 2 ranges from spectacularly good to spectacularly disastrous.  Maggots and Becketts are tough.  These are high speed chicanes.  If I turn slightly too early or too late, the error would get accumulated through the turns and my car would overshot into the grass.

Sector 3 is my best sector.  It is rather straightforward except the sharp chicane Stowe.  I realize that so long as I go a bit easier on the gas petal as I exit the corner, it is possible to stay on the racing line.

Onto the 9th race of the in-game season 1, my standing is at 9th in the championship.  I do not quite understand how the AI in this game works.  After repeated the 1 hour practice session not less than 3 times, I managed to clock a best lap time of 1.44.461.  I was at P2 just 0.064 seconds behind Kimi.

So I thought I have finally nailed this track.  Q1 I clocked a 1.44.474 on option – very similar to my practice day result – but was at P16.  1.271 seconds off the pace of the leader.  Where did the AI cars find the sudden improvement?

In Q2, I pushed for another improvement at 1.44.031.  That only put me at P14 with a even larger gap of 1.863 seconds off P1.  Needless to say, I could not move into Q1.  More importantly, it was a shocking revelation on how bad the HRT car is and / or how bad my driving skill is.

I took a break from the career mode and headed over to quick race mode.  Same track but with a Lotus Renault.  I had no problem in winning while clocking a lap time of 1.40-ish.

Ah, whatever.  It is not like I can drive a Lotus any time soon.  My best memory of this game has to be stuck behind one of the worst, if not the worst car of the game.

On race day, starting at P16, I dropped below P20 at first corner.  But that was not news to me.  I fought hard for position and managed a P10 on prime.  Alonso was again behind me.  The problem with defensive driving is that I lose lap time against those who would have pitted and raced on a different part of the track.  I held Alonso off till he pitted.  Then I lost a position to Vergne of Toro Rosso but managed to regain it back.  Kobayashi was behind me and I fought him off too.  I was at P8 when I pitted.  But only rejoined at P12.  At pit exit, I lost track positions to 3 cars that sped pass me.  My tires were cold and I could not defend against Vergne.  So I dropped to P16.

Gosh.  I hate Vergne.  He is there to have a last laugh at me in every other race.

Once the option tires got up to temperature, the last 5 laps was rather uneventful.  I was not able to chase after the cars in front.  The cars behind were not able to catch up on me.  Quite possibly the most enjoyable stint of the race.

P16, no championship point.  Ironically, my team boss is happy with my progress.  And I am officially on equal status with my teammate Pedro de la Rosa who was the 1st driver of HRT.

Career – Germany

What a tiring but delightful race ‘weekend’.  Germany GP was the 10th race in the calendar, the halfway point of the season.  I have made a few discoveries on this game that are worth sharing.

First, is the Young Drivers Test.  When I started this game, I did not pay much attention to the test.  I have passed the test, good enough to obtain my super license and race.  Now that I am more comfortable with the game mechanic, I have attempted to complete all my objectives and managed to score a silver medal in the final evaluation.  Instead of 3 car teams for my picking, if I was to restart my F1 career today, I would have 5 teams to choose from.  That would, I guess, include Toro Rosso and Williams on top of the bottom 3 cars.

Now, why didn’t I do that?

Second, let’s talk about objectives.  The only way to gain XP and ranks is by meeting objectives.  It can be a frustrating business because the targets appear to be rather random.  They change every weekend.  I may be wrong.  But the qualifying objective seems to be an average between my current standing and my last race result.  Going into Germany GP, my standing was P10 and my last race was P16.  My qualifying target was P13.  Race day target appears to be one position above your qualifying result.

Because each track is different, I am finding it hard to be consistent in the progress.  This rule rewards graduate improvement over the season.  Not erratic results like mine.  Some weekends I would miss out on both objectives, even when I got into a point scoring position.  Most weekends I only got one.  This is certainly an aspect of the game I wish to see improvement come next year.

Third, I have finally nailed down on the reason why in some sectors I may lose up to 1 second in terms of lap time.  Turn 3 and 4 prior to Parabolika look rather harmless.  But through the heavy grilling of qualifying rounds as I was hell-bent in beating the target, I realize that because I am on the auto-gearbox mode, the gear shifting can be very sensitive to track condition.  Depending on the corning speed, a sharp steering may result in a gear down-shift or a delayed up-shift that affects the exit speed.  Those two turns alone may eat up 1 second of my sector time between my best and worst.  Sticking to race line does not seem to yield a desirable result.  I have to really ‘feel’ the car by listening to the engine while turning.

Now, back to the race weekend, Germany GP is a beautiful track.  Parabolika – quite possible the fastest and longest turn in F1 – is breathtaking.  It is a very memorable turn in my F1 career too as you will read later.  At the end of Parabolika is the 59 km/h Hairpin.  Sector 3 consists of 6 fast paced turns.  Also, from a driver’s point of view, the line-up of the colorful grandstands along these turns is an unusual eye candy.  As for the rest of the track, it is mostly trees on one side, buildings on the other.

I have struggled a lot on this track with my HRT.  Practice session saw changing weather condition.  I have used 4 different types of tires, tried for days.  My best time was 1.26.163, +0.946 second off Kimi.  That put me to P16.

It was a sunny day for qualifying rounds.  Initially, I could not even get through to Q1.  How to beat my P14 objective?  In the end, I tried mix-3 fuel setting on option tires, managed to score a P16 at 1.24.992 (+0.515 second off Maldonado).  The problem with mix-3 fuel setting is that my fuel burns fast.  It is enough for 1 warm-up lap, 2 good laps, maybe 1 more lap before the out lap on lean fuel setting.  My rhythm would be if the third race lap timing does not look good, I would return to my garage, refuel, maybe have the tires changed, and then retry.  Tires take at least 2 laps to get to an optimal temperature.  As you can see, my window of opportunity is narrow.

Through persistence, I nailed Q2 at P13 with a lap time of 1.24.573 (+0.749 second off Button).  I could not get through to Q3.  But I am happy.  Because I beat the P14 target.

Race day is yet another dry race (hooray!) and I started on option tires.  I raced my heart out looking for gaps in the opening lap.  I pushed up to P10 and I was first hassled by Schumacher.  After a few laps, he must have overtaken by Kimi.  It was tough to fight off Kimi.  At the long straight off turn 1, I lost a position to him.  I desperately regained it back at turn 3 by braking from the inside.  It was a bad decision because in order to avoid a collision, Kimi and I have slowed down so much so that the cars behind must have caught up on us.  Two cars attempted to overtake me at the Parabolika DRS zone from either sides.  I quickly looked behind and have decided to let Kimi pass while blocking Schumacher.  My target was P12 so P11 was acceptable.  Kimi is lethal.  Schumacher is not.

Lap 8, I dived in for a tire change.  I got back out on track at P16 thinking that my race was over.  Then the cars in front went in for their routine pit stops and I was back to P11.  Now, I have Massa on my back.  I switched to mix-3 fuel setting and have to watch closely on the gap between Massa and I as well as my fuel tank.  When the gap was less than a second, I have to prepare for the worse at the DRS zone.  Massa and I battled each other all the way to the last few laps when one of my late braking must have cost him dearly.  Because guess what?  My all-time-rival Vergne of Toro Rosso was right behind me!  He who from time to time always try to ruin almost all my races.

Lap 16 of 17, I was not about to lose to Vergne without a fight.  At Parabolika, I quickly closed up the inside so he has to attempt overtaking me from the outside.  I blocked him once and he went further out.  Parabolika while appears as straight is still a turn.  He lost control of the car and the yellow flag was out.  Bye bye Vergne.  Oh, how I love Parabolika.  His teammate Ricciardo was 2 seconds behind me.

2 seconds was a good gap.  I drove as flawless as I could.  Observing that I still have excess fuel, I switched back to mix-3 setting.  I took the checker flag at P11.  Objective met.  It was Hamilton on P1, Ricciardo on P12, Massa on P14, and Vergne on P17 (ha!).

To top up my double objectives met this race weekend, Toro Rosso has offered me a contract!  By taking up this contract, I will not be able to enter into any contract negotiation for the next season.  I am frustrated with my HRT car.  Without KERS is a serious handicap.  The current world champion Sebastian Vettel has driven a Toro Rosso before.  Besides, I get to unseat Vergne.

I took the contract in a heartbeat.

Bye bye Vergne.

Career – Hungary

The Hungarian Grand Prix is going to be the highlight of my F1 gaming career.

I enjoy role playing.  Hence in whichever game I play, I try to role play as much as I can.  Same for F1 2012 the video game.

With this new contract, I am now racing for Scuderia Toro Rosso (STR).  Do I miss HRT?  Of course I do.  The beautiful white and gold livery.  The good old comfort zone.  Now, I have to prove myself again, with a new teammate.  If I still cannot win more races, that could mean that it is indeed the driver’s problem, not the car.

The Hungarian circuit is rather short.  But it is full of action.  The curves are pretty evenly distributed and are rather sharp.  On practice day, it rained.  I thought the rain was pretty bad but I went out with the prime dry tires.  Whoa, the road was slippery!

I then took my engineer’s advise, put on the intermediate tires.  It was even worse.  How could it be?  OK, the ground did not look that wet.  I tried the wet tires and it was impossible to drive.

So, it was dry tires on a rainy day with part of the circuit rather dry and part of the circuit rather wet.  Oh boy.  Was that the localized weather condition?

I have raced wet weather on dry tires in a HRT car before.  Toro Rosso – based in Italy and equipped with a Ferrari 056 engine – surely feels more agile, and the car comes with KERS.  But it is also harder to handle compared to HRT.  If I am going too fast into a corner or accelerate too fast out of a corner, the car will spin.  How fast is too fast?  It is hard to tell, especially with localized weather condition.

Through persistence and practice, I discover that the track after the L-shaped turn 9 all the way to the start-finish line can be very wet.  I also discover that the dry track is not easy to driver either.  I often overshot or lose control of the car at turn 2 and turn 6.  The pressure was indeed mounting!

To my surprise, I clocked a best lap time of 1.29.952 during practice session.  That is 1.079 seconds ahead of Vettel on 2nd place.  Maybe I have it in me?

Q1, the condition was somewhat like the practice session.  I intended to save the option tires for later rounds.  And with my practice result, I did not think I would have problem qualifying above P17.

From a career perspective, KERS was a new technology for me.  I have to strategically deploy the 6.6 seconds boost along the circuit.  I choose to pour in half of the KERS allowance on the start-finish straight so as to gain the top speed – the only place in this circuit where I can – as fast as possible.  And I need to watch out for the rev limiter because there is no point in burning KERS when my car cannot go any faster.  The long straight after turn 3 is also my favorite spot to burn 2 seconds of KERS.  The remaining 1-ish second I deploy at the exit of 14 so as to achieve a better carry through speed to the start-finish line when the KERS timer gets reset.  That helps my goal in gaining top speed as soon as possible.

Back to Q1, in my first attempt I got a P3 so I was happy.  Then we have a power trip at home and I have to do it all over again.  On my second attempt, I put in one hot lap.  When I saw 1.29.169, I knew I nailed it.  For the remaining session, I sat at the garage watching the live timing.  My engineer asked me to try again but I doubted anyone would beat my timing.  So I waited at the garage till Q1 expired.  P1.  1.02 seconds gap with Maldonado.

Q2, it was heavy rain.  I have not practiced on wet tires and not sure how I would compare among others.  I was at the bottom on first attempt.  OK, I needed to push harder.  And I did.  Laps after laps I pushed harder and harder till I lost control of the car.  I did a 1.38.279 and was surprised that again, I was at P1.  0.231 second ahead of Hamilton.

Q3, the rain was even heavier.  Wow.  The road was really slippery!  Was it even safe to drive?  Q3 is a very short session.  You have one shot and have to make it count.  I lost control of the car during warm up lap and was concern about the track condition.  I did not push too hard and did a best lap time of 1.39.106 that I was unable to improve.  I was prepared to restart Q3 when I saw my name staying at the top of the list till the session expired.  0.22 second ahead of Alonso.  How did I do that?

I was on pole!

Race day was sunny.  I have not driven a Toro Rosso on a dry track.  I have not practiced the Hungarian track on a dry condition.  It was time to improvise.  Perhaps continue trying for the rest of the week?

First time in my racing career I have KERS to defend my position.  I was on pole in Valencia and was unable to convert that into a win.  Now, there was nothing to blame but me.

Starting on pole is breathtaking.  You look ahead and you see an open track.  No car in front of you.  Once the five lights were out, I accelerated fast, slowly moving over to Alonso’s P2 direction while burning half of my KERS.

Onto turn 1, I was still in the lead.  I tried to be cautious when exiting the turn and unfortunately I was a tad too slow.  Alonso sped pass me at the exit.  I don’t normally use KERS at that stretch but it was now or never in order to regain my position.  By turn 3, I overtook Alonso while Hamilton followed my race line and gained a position against Alonso as well.  It was now between Hamilton and I and I burned the remaining KERS allowance right after I exited turn 3.  I did not know what Hamilton has.  Now it was the time to put in all that I have learned and drive as flawless as I could.  So long as I could pull a 1 second gap by the end of lap 2, before DRS was enabled, I should be fine.

By the time DRS was enabled, Hamilton was 2.8 seconds behind me.  It was an exhilarating experience leading a race with a healthy gap.  I needed to pit for my prime tires at lap 8 and by then, I was close to 8 seconds ahead of Hamilton.

Woohoo!

I was happy a bit too early.  Because by the time I exited the pit, I dropped to P9.  Ouch.  That was painful.  The car in front was on option and my engineer told me that I had no hope in catching him.  I turned my fuel to mix-3, managed to defy my engineer’s prediction and overtook a few cars.  All of a sudden, I was on P1 as the cars in front pitted.

It was not the time to lose concentration because the cars behind me should be on option tires.  Hamilton managed to close the gap slightly on fresh and faster tires.  But I was able to pull away as my prime tires got into optimal condition.  On lap 16 of 18, I have more than 12 seconds gap with Hamilton.  My engineer radioed in and informed me that I did not need to push too hard, just bring home the car.

The race ended after 27 minutes and 46.794 second.  Hamilton was on P2, 12.093 seconds behind me.  Alonso was on P3 with a 15.994 seconds gap.  I took P1 on race day, on all three qualifying rounds, and on practice session, in my first race for Toro Rosso.

I am a happy man.  I am not sure if I will do well on a fast track.  We shall see.  For now, it is time to celebrate!

Career – Belgium

With my new found confidence from the Hungarian race, I was keen to start on Spa, the famous Belgium race.

Spa is best to experience on track.  Eau Rouge is famous for a good reason.  The turn is on an elevated ground.  Attacking Eau Rouge at a high speed and on qualifying rounds with the DRS wing opened, I need to exercise extreme caution running up the hill.  Because it is hard to see where the track is heading until I hit the top.  Sector 2 is pretty technical in nature.  Misjudging the cornering speed often lands my car onto the gravel or grass.  The flow of sector 3 is good.  With gentle steering, it is possible to open the DRS wing on the downhill sequence.  Breathtaking.

I was concerned about how the PS3 patch 1.2 (equivalent to 9 PC patches) would change the difficulty of the game.  On practice, I clocked a 1.59.593 on prime.  I could not get a better result on option.  P1. 1.38 seconds faster than Webber’s P2,

OK.  That is a positive result.  Q1 I put on the prime tires and did a 1.58.591 on first lap.  That was a 1 second improvement over my practice session so I sat at the garage waiting for Q1 to be over.  Vettel took P1, 0.445 second faster than my P5 lap time.  Not a problem.  I am still through to round 2.

Q2, I chose option tires and did a 1.57.297.  My goal was to get into top 10 and that was a pretty good result.  And I was on P1.

Q3, I was unable to match my Q2 result and only managed a 1.57.652.  But that was still 1.077 seconds faster than Alonso’s P2.

So I was on pole again!

I enjoyed a dry weekend.  This new patch has indeed fixed the frequency of wet races.  Unlike the Hungarian race, I did not give Alonso a chance to overtake me at the exit of turn 1, although he tried.  Burning half of my KERS running up to Eau Rouge, the car felt so slow!  The high fuel load was killing me.

Keeping it neat and tidy, I spent the rest of the KERS on Kemmel Straight.  From this point onward, it is about opening gaps with the cars behind.

Spa is a rather long circuit.  So at 25% race duration, I only needed to complete 11 laps.  Lap 5, I pitted for the prime tires and rejoined the race at P5.  I did not panic this time because the cars in front would need to pit eventually.

It wasn’t a perfect race.  At one point, Alonso was 2.8 seconds behind me.  I wasn’t opening as much the gap as I wished for.  I regained my concentration and pushed for a tidier run.

The race ended after 22 minutes 37.948 seconds.  I took the checker flag at P1.  My best lap time of the race was 2.00.363.  Alonso was on P2 (+5.567 seconds) and Hamilton was on P3 (+6.618 seconds).

25 championship points for Toro Rosso.  Not bad for a number 2 driver.

Career – Italy

Monza is the fastest circuit (I think) in the F1 calendar.  Historically speaking, I do well on slow tracks, terribly bad on fast tracks.  Critical to my F1 career, I have to get this circuit right (as you will read later).  My mind is fixed on winning this track, and the six races thereafter.  I would do whatever it takes to achieve me goal.

Whatever.  It.  Takes.

I have practiced this track on the Time Trial mode for no less than 200 laps.  In one particular setting, I went round and round in circle for ONE HUNDRED laps trying to beat my best time.  Each lap takes about a minute and a half and you can do the maths.  Oh yes, I am committed.

Onto the 13th race of the season, I can pick a rival to go against.  If I am able to beat him in 7 races, I will get to steal his seat and join his team on the 20th race at Brazil.  The stake is high.  To help you understand my dilemma, here was the scoreboard prior my racing in Monza.

  1. Hamilton
  2. Alonso
  3. Webber
  4. Grosjean
  5. Me
  6. Button
  7. Schumacher
  8. Rosberg
  9. Raikkonen
  10. Massa

I was rooted for a Ferrari car.  Unfortunately Alonso was too high and Massa was too low.  I only allowed to pick one of the two up’s or two down’s.  Ugh.  I would want a black Lotus.  But Grosjean has been doing pretty good in this season and Lotus is a tier-2 car (same as Mercedes).  Since I have to work hard for this, why not shoot for a tier-1 car?

So I picked Button as my rival.

Monster Monza only has 11 turns.  One friend of mine said that it is a beginner’s track.  I have to disagree with all my heart.  Monza is a monster.  Let’s break it down.

Turn 1 and 2 are the slowest chicanes of the entire track.  Approaching them at top speed, you really have to be very gentle in flowing through the chicanes.  I often think of feathers while caressing Turn 1 and 2.  These chicanes can cost me 1 second or more if I am not gentle.  Getting them right is what the first sector is about.  Turn 3 is OK so long as I am wide awake (after 100 laps, I can’t say).  It is easy to touch the grass on the left and the gravel on the right when I am trying to use too much space.

Turn 4 and 5 are nasty.  Cutting the chicanes too deep and my car would land onto the gravel to the left.  Going too gentle and I would lose too much speed.  The real excitement comes from Turn 6 and 7.  These are fast 90-degree corners.  A misjudge in the corning speed would again land my car onto the gravel.  The penalty is brutal.

Turn 8, 9, 10 are somewhat like Turn 4 and 5, but with a much faster speed.  I have discovered that so long as I cut deep into Turn 8 and be gentle with the throttle, Turn 9 and 10 do flow through rather nicely.  Otherwise, my car would slow down at a snail pace exiting Turn 9 due to a lack of space.

Then, there is another long straight leading to the final turn, Curva Parabolica.  It is easy to lose time here too when not attacked at the right speed and angle.  But when done right, accelerating through this turn is breathtaking.

Out of my 200 odd practice laps, a vast majority ended bad.  My main problem with Monza is consistency.  I was concerned before the race weekend.  Getting a good lap time in Monza – to me – has little to do with tire choice or fuel load.  It has everything to do with one thing: Am I keeping it clean and tidy?

I have no idea how I am doing compared to the AI cars.  On practice session, I was on P1 with a lap time of 1.28.646.  That was +2.215 seconds faster than Grosjean, one of the biggest gaps I have seen this season.  Does this mean that my hard work has paid off?

True enough, once qualifying rounds have started, some car teams have suddenly found dramatic improvement.  Q1, I was on P1 with a 1.28.823 on prime.  Hamilton was merely 0.662 second behind me.  My advantage has been chipped away!  Q2, I switched to option and pushed hard.  Again, P1 and this time with a 1.28.213.  That was 1.161 seconds faster than Vettel.  Phew.  Q3, I pushed harder and did a 1.27.679.  I should be happy with the result.  Unfortunately, Button my rival was right behind me with a 0.712 second gap.  How did he find the pace and even beat his teammate Hamilton?  I must have motivated him somehow.

On race day, I was on pole and was weary of McLaren’s pace.  I may be winning these days, but Hamilton is still on top of the scoreboard.  I have to win Button in Monza and he was on P2.  This was going to be an epic battle, a worthy battle.

5 lights went out and I charged to the first chicane with my mighty Toro Rosso.  I contemplated if I should use KERS on the first long straight as my starting position put me right on the racing line.  There is no way for Button to attack the first chicane from the inside.

But I used a bit of KERS just in case.

I gained a good gap on sector 1 but I did not do too well on sector 2.  Onto sector 3, Button was merely 0.7 second behind me threatening to overtake me on the final long straight.  I knew this day would come so I used my remaining KERS to defend my position.

Once my tires got to optimal temperature, it was all about keeping it neat and tidy and open enough gap from the cars behind.  By the time DRS zone was enabled, I have a 2+ seconds gap from Button.  So I was comfortable.  After a few laps, the gap went as high as 5 seconds but it dropped to 3 seconds as I was not too perfect in my execution.  I was concerned but I did not want to push too hard and land onto the gravel.

Button must have pitted early because all of a sudden, I have Vettel 7+ seconds behind my back.  I wished my engineer could tell me how Button was doing with his new tires.  Was he gaining lap time against me?  Should I pit early in order to cover my position?  Talk to me boss!

By the time I pitted for the prime tires and rejoined the track, I was at P10.  I dialed the fuel mix to 3 and overtook one car in front that was on option.  2 laps later when all the front runners made their schedule pit stops, I was back in P1 with Hamilton behind me.

What happened to Button?  Maybe AI cars do not cheat after all.

The gap with Hamilton was comfortable so I did not need to push too hard.  To my utter surprise, I was able to keep to the track on the entire race of 13 laps, without even the need for a flashback (a time rewind to correct mistakes).  Driving a Toro Rosso definitely feels different from, say, a HRT or a Caterham.  The car just does not turn when I want it to.  I have to come off the throttle early, feel the gear’s downshift, and gently apply gas.

The real excitement was at the last lap, I heard thunder rolling from the outside.  Lightning is known to cut off my Internet connection and at time, cause power trip.  I was praying hard that my PS3 would not get turned off before my progress was saved.

Woot!  I took the checker flag at P1.  A total race time of 20 minutes 23.200 seconds (best lap time was 1.30.771).  Hamilton was 12.743 seconds behind me and Rosberg took the last podium position.

Most importantly, Button was at P5.

Career – Singapore

I am a Singaporean.  So this track has a special place to my heart.  Indeed, this circuit has so many turns that some sequences would make me dizzy.  It is a challenging track.  There are walls everywhere, like in Monaco.  But the streets are not as narrow as Monaco’s.  Because there are so many chicanes, it is rather easy to cut too deep and trip on one of them.  F1 drivers dislike Turn 10, the Singapore Sling.  I agree wholeheartedly.  In my mind, it is one of the few death traps.  I could glide through it.  Most of the time I am OK.  But when I am not, the car ends up bad.  I hate leaving things to luck.

Another death trap is Turn 9.  Carry too much speed and my car would smash right onto the barrier.  It is hard to judge most of the time and when I discover that there is not enough space, very often it is too late.

I like sector 3.  These are new roads made for racing.  The flow through Turn 22 and 23 is excellent.

Now, because I live in the city and have driven on these roads in real life, I find it rather easy to memorize the turns.  I can understand why Singaporean circuit is one of the least favorite tracks in game.  So many walls, so many turns.  For me though, I love the graphical representation of the track.  One time, I slowed the car to 40 kph so that my family could marvel at the buildings and the trees, the marina and the road markings.

Like the Monza track, I practiced this one hard on Time Trial mode.  Time Trial is an excellent way to identify problem areas and to better yourself.  Fuel load, tire wear, engine and tire temperature are taken out of the equation.  On the road, there are only two cars.  Yours and a ghost car that represents your personal best.  You can shoot through a ghost car.  No overtaking is required.  By observing the sector-by-sector timing comparison as well as when the overtaking takes place, you know where you can push harder and where you should keep it tidy.

Back to the race weekend, the AI cars seem a bit weak.  Maybe I have come well prepared.  The gap on practice session between my car and the car behind was be as high as 8.477 seconds.  And guess who was on P2?  My rival, Button.

I suppose for a track like Singapore, Codemasters the game developer has to take into consideration that there is a wider variant in terms of individual player’s performance.  Hence the weaker AI cars.  Or perhaps Codemasters intends for us to love the track a little bit more.

On practice, I did a 1.50.290.  The main problem I face was extreme tire wear.  Perhaps I pushed the car too hard and that was a concern.  Prime tires usually last for 2 stints but I had to pit in earlier than usual and put on the option tires.  The option tires were even worse.  Once the Pirelli tires expire – like in real life – the tire performance falls off the cliff.  There is no grip or whatsoever.

Being confident that I would qualify well, I put in one lap for each round. 1.51.055, 1.50.157, and 1.50.456 respectively for each of the three rounds.  Hamilton was 5.872 seconds behind me and he took P2.  Alonso was on P3.

On race day, I was genuinely worried about tire wear.  So I started easy having tire management in mind.  Pulled away from the cars behind using KERS on start-finish line, the gap was gradually opened.  I was running at 25% race.  That translates to 15 laps.  Lap 7, I pitted for the prime tires.  Normally when I came out of the pit, I would be behind the front runners yet to pit.  Not this time.  The gap was large enough to absorb the pit stop.  Boy, that felt good as I rejoined on P1.

I thought the rest of the race would be uneventful.  Lap 11 onward, I got a chance to overtake trains of black markers.  I even got a taste of the DRS zone.  Last 3 laps, the rain has started.  Uh-oh.  The track was getting a little more slippery and my tires were getting a little more worn out.  There were heaps of black markers in front of me.  I nursed the car and finished the race after 29 minutes and 4.320 seconds with a best lap time of 1.52.814.

Besides taking P1, I have also unlocked the Domination PS3 trophy by setting the fastest lap in all sessions through the race weekend.  Hamilton was on P2, 1.16.577 minutes behind me.  Webber was on P3 while my rival Button was on P8.

Another 25 championship points for Toro Rosso and me.  I don’t think I can win this season against Hamilton.  My goal is to beat Alonso and finish 2nd.

Career – Japan

Japan, ah.  Finally I got a taste of Suzuka.  It is the only F1 circuit that is crisscrossed.  That means first you start clockwise, then flip to anti-clockwise.  On third stint, flip back to clockwise.  Suzuka has a humbling opening sector too.  Entering Turn 1 with that long straight going down-slope to First Curve, there is a tendency to carry too much speed and land onto the gravel.  “S” Curves and Dunlop Curve are a series of S-shaped up-slope chicanes that test one’s confidence in holding the full throttle while not leaving the track.  There are 5 turns in total.  Amazing stuff.

Turn 8 and 9 are beautiful.  They remind me of Italy’s Curva di Lesmo but are less punishing.  It is a down-slope drive and the design of the angle is perfect in flowing through to the 90-degree turn.  Depending on the car’s setup and how steady the steering is, it is possible to drive through Turn 12 with DRS wing open.  Then comes the Spoon Curve whereby it is crucial to get it right so as to build momentum into yet another long straight up the slope.  Because …

… up ahead is the famous 130R.

130R is breathtaking.  It is perhaps the highest speed corner in F1.  Entering 130R at top speed, when judged right, it is possible to take the turn with full throttle, leaving the car on 7th gear.

Entering the race weekend, I have already won 4 races straight.  How is it possible?  The Toro Rosso car must have made a difference compared to HRT.  Later, I discovered that R&D results are bound to the player, and not the car team (strange eh?).  That may have made the car more competitive.  And who knows?  My driving skill may have improved over that many races and that many laps?

Edit: There is a R&D bug and unfortunately, I keep on repeating the same test throughout the season and have received no upgrade parts. Hence, I could safely remove R&D advantage out of the equation.

Practice day is always a day for a reality check.  My best lap time was 1.43.310, which was 2.681 seconds ahead of Hamilton.  I must say, Hamilton was on fire going after me throughout the race weekend.  In my alternative universe, he is leading the scoreboard by a mile.  Q1, Q2, and Q3, I did 1.43.542, 1.42.363, and 1.41.202 respectively.  Hamilton was on P2 and the gaps were 1.120 seconds, 1.917 seconds, and 3.037 seconds.  In retrospect, I should have done a single lap in Q3 and saved the tires for the race day.  But I saw my timing tumbled by a second after 130R.  I could not resist not to further stamp my authority onto this track.  I mean, this could well be once in a lifetime opportunity for, who knows, I may tune up the game’s difficulty level in the next season.

One point to note though is that Q2 was rather frustrating for me.  The traffic was horrible.  I could try to build a gap between the cars in front and I like F1 drivers do.  But once I hit First Curve, I was often greeted by a train of cars entering the circuit for a warm-up lap.  It is near impossible to overtake on “S” Curves without compromising too much on the racing line.

Race day I started on pole and the first part of the race was rather uneventful.  First few laps with heavy fuel load, the car felt slow.  To open up the gap and burn some fuel, I dialed to fuel mix 3 straight the way.  I did not think I would need the extra fuel to defend my position later in this race.

The excitement came when I pitted on lap 5.  At pit exit, there were heaps of cars entering First Curve.  I was in no mood to stuck behind the slower cars and crawl through “S” Curves.  So I burned some KERS trying to overtake using my cold prime tires.  Whoa, that was risky.  Up ahead, one of the Red Bull cars lost control and parked in the middle of the road.  I had to brake heavy and dashed to the right in order to avoid a collision.  Some cars behind me were not so fortunate.  Yellow flag was out, briefly.

I did not know when Alonso overtook Hamilton.  I took the checker flag at P1.  Alonso was on P2 (30.593 seconds behind) and Hamilton P3.  The race ended after 23 minutes 11.978 seconds.  My best lap time was 1.43.389.  I reckon if I was to start on prime, I might have a better record.

From the championship point of view, Hamilton has 281 points.  Alonso has 177 and as for me, 171. 110 points behind Hamilton.  With 5 more races to go, I am merely delaying the inevitable.

Career – Korea

To recap, I have picked Button from the McLaren team as my rival.  If I can beat him in 7 races, I get to take his seat on the Brazilian GP.  I did not think I could even remotely do it.  But Toro Rosso has been kind to me.  While the car seems less drivable than my old HRT, it does have the performance.  And KERS.  Korea was my 4th race against Button, my chance to win the Rival Challenge.

The Korea track is a rather forgiving track.  Plenty of runoff areas (not that you would runoff that often anyway).  It is not hard to master.  Sector one has three long straights.  Sector two starts with three very slow turns that can put me to sleep.  Then a slightly curved straight building up to a few exciting, albeit easy curves.  Just when I am looking for a climax, I am hit by a slow Turn 10 (duh!) and a series of S-shaped curves that are as entertaining as the “S” Curves in Japan.  Instead of 5, there are 8!  My problem with these sorts of curves is that with an auto-gearbox, the constant gear hunting kills me.  But when done right, you can really feel the momentum carried forward to another turn, and another turn.

Until the whole process repeats again.

Yet another dry weekend, I clocked a lap time of 1.47.942 during practice session, 6.822 seconds ahead of Button who was on P2.  The tire wear was alarming.  It was as bad as the Singapore track.  I do not understand why.  Perhaps I drive too aggressively.

Q1, I did a 1.48.862 on prime tires with one hot lap.  Hamilton was 3.689 seconds behind me taking P2.  Since the gap looked good, on Q2, I used the scrubbed tires from Q1.  P1 with a slightly worse lap time of 1.49.234.  I tried another round but could not improve.  Hamilton was 3.186 seconds slower than me and I was happy.

Q3, I have a new strategy.  I put on brand new option tires, clocked in one hot lap (a rather disappointing 1.48.627), and slowed down considerably for my in-lap.  I wanted to save my tires for the race day.  Still, I was 3.979 seconds faster than Hamilton.  Alonso was on P3.

I think I can now relate to Vettel.  Since the car is competitive, all I need is to qualified pole and on race day, run away from the cars behind me and focus on opening gaps.  I did exactly that in Korean GP.

My rival challenge must have motivated Button a great deal.  Because on the opening lap, he shot up from P6, gained 4 positions, and onto P2.  Hamilton dropped further down in the field and I was happy for a moment.  Because he is my world championship rival.

By the time I pitted, I have opened up nearly half a minute gap with Button.  I rejoined at P1 and watched intensively on how the race unfolded at the back.

Somehow, Hamilton managed to pass Alonso.  No!  3 laps left, he was within 1 second behind Button.  Oops.  That was bad news for me.  Onto the last lap, Hamilton was within 0.6 second.  When I took the checker flag, the gap between Button and Hamilton was reduced to 0.4 second.

The bad news is, Hamilton took P2.  The good news is, I will drive a McLaren in Brazil.  Entertainingly so, I enjoyed overtaking two trains of black markers on this race.

The Korean race ended after 26 minutes 11.062 seconds (best lap time was 1.49.428).  Hamilton was 1 minute 5.075 seconds behind me.  Button took P3.  At the podium, I was sandwiched by two McLaren drivers.

From the championship’s perspective, Hamilton is leading with 299 points.  I am promoted to a second position with 196 points.  And Alonso is at 189.

A deficit of 103 points with 4 more races to go, the world championship of season one goes to Hamilton!

Career – India

I have practiced very hard on the India track. Because it is really hard.  No wonder the F1 drivers love this track.  It has good elevation and Turn 10 and 11 demand lots of concentration.

Sector 1 is cake, long straights and simple turns.  Sector 2 is probably one of the hardest sectors I have experience.  It is hard to judge how much speed I can get away with when tackling Turn 5, 6, and 7. The turns are tight.  Precision in staying with the racing line is a must.  The loop at Turn 10/11 is unique.  If my speed is too low, I would go off the track to the right.  If my speed is too high, left I would go.  If I am unable to tuck in at the exit of Turn 11, that would mess up my Turn 12.

Sector 3 is not easy either.  I am always terrible in 90-degree turns.  It is so easy to exit Turn 13 with too low a speed (1st gear duh).  It is also a challenge to hold 3rd gear at Turn 15.  All in all, I am experiencing a lot of understeering problem in this circuit.  The car just wouldn’t turn where I want it to.  Tire wear is exceptionally high on this circuit as well.

By right, I did not need to race that hard for the remaining of the season.  World championship hope is gone.  Rival challenge is a success.  I do wish to match Ascari and Schumacher’s 7 consecutive wins record though.

Besides, India circuit is fun, albeit hard.  The race ended after 25 minutes 2.668 seconds (best lap time was 1.36.791).  Rain started to fall on the last two laps.  Fortunately, I took the checker flag on dry tires, without an extra pit stop. P1.

Practice: P1 1.34.865 (+4.474 Grosjean)

Q1: P1 1.37.205 (+1.569 Di Resta) [prime]
Q2: P1 1.35.461 (+2.497 Button) [scrubbed prime]
Q3: P1 1.34.705 (+2.724 Alonso) [option]

Race: P1 (+38.554 Alonso at P2, Webber at P3)

Career – Abu Dhabi

Yas Marina track in Abu Dhabi is beautiful.  The changing artificial light from the surrounding buildings, the twilight as the race enters into evening hours, the reflection of light upon the car, the glaring of the setting sun – all and more that makes this track unique.

I have done this track numerous times during the Young Drivers’ Test evaluation.  It is a pretty technical circuit.  But once I memorize the turns and with anticipation, it is not that hard.  I discover that I can keep the DRS wing opened through Turn 15 and 16.  That is neat.  It is easy to overshot on Turn 19.  The rest of the turns have a nice speed build up to the start-finish line.  Yas Marina is enjoyable, once I master it.

I do not know if there is rain in Abu Dhabi.  Reading Wikipedia, it does not seem so.  Sandstorms maybe.  But here in F1 2012 the video game, anything can happen.  Practice day started with heavy rain, in a desert.  The weather dried up on second stint.  I stayed out through the 1 hour practice.  The twilight at dusk was captivating.  Unfortunately, the race only lasted 26 minutes 41.650 seconds.  I did not get to see the sky turned into darkness on race day.  Nevertheless, I have thoroughly enjoyed the race.  Took the checker flag at P1 with a gap of 1 minute 11.772 seconds in front of Hamilton.  Vettel took the last spot on the podium.

Practice: P1 1.50.907 (+5.742 Vettel)

Q1: P1 1.51.500 (+4.436 Button) [prime]
Q2: P1 1.49.911 (+5.046 Hamilton) [option]
Q3: P1 1.50.293 (+3.475 Vettel) [option]

Best lap time on race day: 1.51.682

Career – United States

Thanks to my technicians at Toro Rosso (a.k.a. PS3 bug), I nearly lost the race.  But I will get to that a little bit later.  Now is time to sing praises for this brand new Austin circuit to be debuted next weekend.

Austin track is breathtaking.  You start at the back of a long straight going up the hill.  At the top, a tight hairpin drops the speed to low before the opening sequence of a series of S-shaped chicanes that resembles the S-Curves in Japan.  6 turns in total while climbing uphill before opening up to Turn 9.  If the exit angle of Turn 8 is not optimal, Turn 9 would be a disaster.  Passing Turn 10 is a downhill drive to yet another tight hairpin before the longest straight in this circuit.  Turn 13 through 15 are likely to be demanding to the tires.  You can really feel the lack of grip with worn tires.

The half-circle Turn 16 through 18 going downhill is exhilarating.  Flat out on the throttle with the steering on max, the space is just nice to swing the car into the 90-degree Turn 19 before the closing Turn 20.  What a fun track to drive.  There seems to be enough overtaking opportunities.  While the track is generously wide, overtaking off the racing line does not seem to be easy.  Because it hurts the exit speed too much.

US race was meant to be my last race with Toro Rosso (yet another PS3 bug to be covered in the next race).  On race day, I started on pole with I thought a set of near pristine option tires that I have used for one hot lap in Q3.  Five lights out and I immediately noticed something abnormal.  I had no grip.  I burned all my KERS and still, Alonso cut into the chicane from my left, blocking me from the racing line.  In order to avoid an accident, I ran a little wide.  Instantly, the two Red Bull drivers Vettel and Webber overtook me from left and right!  Wow, something was definitely not right.  I have been taking it easy for the past few races and this race did not go as what I have anticipated.

Through gusty aggressive drive, I put the two bulls behind me.  But I was still not close enough to take down Alonso.  Exit Turn 11 and onto the long straight, I tailgated the Ferrari as closely as I could, dialed the fuel mix to 3.  I out-braked Alonso at Turn 12 and took back the lead.  Turn 13 through 15 were surprisingly slippery.  I nearly lost control of the car.  What happened?!

Was it because (1) it was heavy rain the day before during qualifying rounds and the track was still wet, (2) my technician has mistakenly fitted a set of worn option tires during Q3 (i.e. PS3 bug), or (3) rival team has sabotaged my tires overnight (i.e. magic)?

I had no idea.  My tires were all worn.  On second tap, I lost control of the car at several spots and it was really hard to keep the car on the road.  I had to drive really slowly through some of the chicanes.  Still, that did not always help.  My tires had no grip.

By lap 6 of 14, I dived into the pit for a – I hoped – brand new prime tires.  I rejoined at P4, nearly got into an accident with Grosjean on the right.  I burned some of the KERS just to got pass him.  OK.  The new tires felt great.  I was back in the game.  In front, was Massa.  Before I got a chance to hunt him down, he dived into the pit.  And then, I had Button in front at P1 on option, still yet to make his pit stop.  At the same spot I overtook Alonso on lap 1, I shot pass Button.  It was P1 all the way to the checker flag.

Gosh.  What a hard earned win.  The race ended after 26 minutes 18.128 seconds.  Vettel took P2 with a 40.337 seconds gap, followed by Webber.

Practice: P1 1.46.372 (+6.185 Hamilton)

Q1: P1 1.46.615 (+5.231 Maldonado) [prime]
Q2: P1 1.45.170 (+5.635 Hamilton) [scrubbed prime]
Q3: P1 1.47.348 (+3.544 Alonso) [option]

Best lap time on race day: 1.47.007.

Career – Brazil

OK.  Yet another PS3 bug, or shall I say, in the world of virtual F1, anything is possible.

I have beaten Button in my first season’s rival challenge.  McLaren has written an email to me saying how excited they are to welcome my arrival in Brazil.  In the past 7 races, I worked so hard to see this happens.  But it did not happen.  McLaren must have forgotten that we had a deal.  Button might have pulled out more sponsors than I do.  Ah, whatever.  I am still with Toro Rosso and to be honest, Toro Rosso has been really kind to me.  I have an excellent car to drive and in all my races with STR, I have taken home the win.  Any sane F1 driver would have stayed with Toro Rosso.  Any smart tier-1 car teams would want me as their driver.  I am not logical.  Neither is the rather buggy PS3 game.

While I enjoy qualifying pole and keep winning races, I must say, the most thrilling fun was back in the beginning of my rookie season, when I was driving for HRT.  My heart raced.  Very often, my hands would sweat so much that I could not even control the car.  It was chasing dreams, not seeing an inevitable victory to be unfolded.  After that little episode in USA whereby my technicians screwed up my tires (more like Codemasters has screwed up on the development of the game), the first stint of the race was extraordinarily exciting.  I wanted that feeling.  So, for the Brazil race, which I have nothing to lose, not even that promised McLaren seat to gain, I took part in the practice session without any prior experience with the track.

The Brazil track is surprisingly easy to drive.  Very thrilling on such a short circuit.  The only challenging bit – for me – is Curva do Laranjinha through Pinheirinho.  Control of the throttle and the steering precision at the hairpin is the key.  The build up from Turn 13 through 14 and 15 and finally to the long straight is exhilarating.  You can easily hit the rev limiter before you even hit the start-finish line.

On race weekend, I was upbeat after the practice session.  I was new to this track and have done OK.  On Q3, after putting in a hot lap, I wanted to call it a day.  But on my 2nd lap, after seeing that I have shaven close to 1 second to my Q2 timing, the F1 racing spirit in me was ignited.  I further knocked my 1st lap timing down by a full second.  Man, I felt good.

The race ended after 24 minutes 3.994 seconds.  Took the checker flag at P1, Hamilton was 37.965 seconds behind me, followed by Vettel.

That is the end of my season 1 career.  11 wins and 11 pole positions.  A total of 296 championship points putting me #2 in the scoreboard sandwiched between Hamilton and Alonso.  At the end of the race, the game asked if I wish to advance to season 2.  Why not?

And then Christmas has arrived.  I am indeed starting with McLaren, as their number 1 driver with Hamilton – one of my favorite drivers in F1 – as my teammate.  I have a good feel that we will win the constructor championship in season 2.  Hamilton, I am counting on you!

Practice: P1 1.17.937 (+2.347 Button)

Q1: P1 1.18.255 (+1.244 Di Resta) [prime]
Q2: P1 1.17.729 (+0.914 Vettel) [scrubbed prime]
Q3: P1 1.16.713 (+1.967 Ham) [option]

Best lap time on race day: 1.18.216

 

6,311 Hours Of Played Time: World Of Warcraft

At times I ask myself: Am I playing too much World of Warcraft?  It is hard to comprehend what 6,311 hours mean without a context.  My record shows that I have played this online game since the beginning of 2005, spent more than US$1,000 on subscription fees.  I don’t play WoW every day.  As of now, I haven’t touched the game for months.  But when I touch it, I could go crazy with it.

Theramore, Destroyed.  Jaina Proudmoore’s hair has turned white.  Hellscream is safe and sound.  What’s next?

Typically for me, a video game takes around 40 hours to consume.  A good game may eat up 80 to 120 hours of my life.  The third expansion Cataclysm was released two year ago.  That expansion alone I have clocked in roughly 1,700 hours –  the most played expansion of all.

There has been great debate on how Cataclysm flares compared with the previous expansions, even with the original game released in 2004.  There are fans who say that it is disappointing.  The sales figure also seems to support that sentiment.  Towards the end of the expansion, even the developers feel the heat and the need to reverse a good portion of their design philosophy.  This clearly has an impact on WoW’s next expansion Mists of Pandaria, which is due to be out in a few days’ time.  The question is: Is Cataclysm all that bad?

Personally, I welcome a better emphasis on skill-based rather than gear-based approach.  The content at the beginning of the expansion was significantly harder than before.  That required us to reexamine our priority system.  I love the challenge, although I must say, Blizzard seems to have over-engineered some of the game mechanics.

The problem of this increased challenge is that some players no matter how hard they tried or read from the Internet simply could not bridge that gap.  In the previous expansions, we could compensate skill with gears earned through persistence.  That did not seem to work for the first year of Cataclysm.  To make it worse, the then-high-end content failed to reward the effort required.  The net result?  People were frustrated.  Relationships were strained because not everyone performed or could perform at the same level.

On the plus side, I like the bite size stories spread across the new zones.  I also like the new dailies hub that evolves as we progress.  The quests do not feel too taxing either.  And I like how Blizzard opens up raiding to the less hardcore players.  Being able to collect an armor set that was used to be exclusive to raiders who invest immense amount of time and sacrifice is one good news (ironically, I do not seem to invest any less played time either).

What’s Next?

Having played the beta of the new expansion Mists of Pandaria and having seen some of the new game updates, I must say that I am underwhelmed.  The graphics look dated.  World of Warcraft indeed plays like an aging game.  Fans would defend this online game by pointing to the fact that game play is the most important aspect of all.  But there is a limit to how far this saying could go.

My friends and I have recently logged back in and tried out the new scenario mode.  That was insanely boring.  Perhaps if we haven’t tried the latest massively multiplayer online game, we could have overlooked these flaws.  Would I continue to pay US$14.99 a month to play this game?  Cynthia’s commitment to the annual pass deal will continue till end of this year.  Hence, we may still get the new expansion and try it out.

This time round, I doubt I would pushed the played time beyond 7,000 hours.  I sure pray that I won’t.

While the scenarios from both the Horde and Alliance perspective are incredibly boring, we took a screenshot nonetheless.

Why Guild Wars 2 Is Promising

As someone who has sunk in thousands of played hours and thousands of dollars into a single online game World of Warcraft, since 2004, no game has managed to tempt me to look the other way.  Until now.  I have recently participated in the Guild Wars 2 final beta weekend.  Putting my hyper-optimistic hat on, the game has blown my socks away.  Even with my skeptical hat on, S$59.99 is a no-brainer for such a fine game that has no monthly subscription fees.

When considering a MMO game, money is not the major component.  Time is.  In this blog post, I am going to critically look at Guild War 2 from the eyes of a WoW veteran as well as a loyal Blizzard customer.  I am not going to clinically dissect Guild Wars 2.  That I have already done so in Google+ and  the original write-up will be shared at the end of this post, together with a link to some of my favorite screenshots taken during the beta weekend.

Aesthetically Pleasing

From character customization to the environment, the art and graphics is top notch.  I have played many video games.  None has empowered me to create a truly beautiful and unique looking character to my liking.  From the finest facial features to body shape and height, even down to costumes and make-up.  I could spend hours customizing my character, name my character with a unique family name, and create a personal story. Why is this important?  As a role-playing game, emotional attachment is a key factor.  Guild Wars 2 just have that very edge.  To get us attached to our characters, and to the virtual world that is so beautiful to look at.  I want to be inside that world.

The Freedom to Progress

A typical online game usually consists of quest givers standing or pacing around a known location, dishing out known quests for us to earn experience points and rewards.  Collect 20 dried wood pieces and 20 metal scraps.  Kill 20 boars and loot 20 snouts.  Sure, there are quest texts that tell you why these wood and metal pieces, boars and snouts are so important.  Chances are, you yawn, skip the text, and do what is asked of you.  Everything is linear.  Predictability is a key feature for the traditional MMO games.

In Guild Wars 2, while there are still quest givers (like a few in the entire zone), most quests are driven by dynamic events.  What do I mean by that?  You venture into an area.  All of a sudden, there is a call-out signaling to you that there is an event happening nearby.  The farmers need some help.  You walk into the farm while other players may have already progressed into the event.  The event scales up as more players are in the area.  Multiple objectives are shown on your screen.  You can either help to drive out the waves of bandits.  Or put out the fire on the burning crops.  Or you could do some weeding, feed the cows.  The choice is yours.  If you feel like it, you could stay throughout the event, drive out as many bandits as you can or feed as many cows as you like.  Alternatively, after a certain level of contribution, you could walk away and do something else.  Chances are, there is another event happening next door.

So, what is the point in doing dynamic events?  Depending on your level of contribution, you may earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal that has a direct impact to your in-game currency and more.  But you don’t have to get a gold medal all the time.  You don’t have to collect 20 dried wood pieces, 20 metal scraps, kill 20 boars, and loot 20 snouts if you don’t feel it.  Participation is key.  You don’t enjoy the event?  Do a bit or none, then move on.  You like what you are doing?  Stay long enough and get a gold medal.  The choice is yours.

Another thing I notice is that in Guild Wars 2, there is no quest log, which in a traditional MMO, it is essentially a list of to-dos.  Online gaming should not feel like work.  As I enter a designated quest area, a quest would suddenly show up on my screen.  As I venture out of the area perhaps distracted by a nearby dynamic event, the quest would disappear, but the progress is saved.  The next time I return, the quest reappears, together with my past progress.

A Fresh Approach to Combat System

I wouldn’t say Guild Wars 2‘s combat system is far superior than other MMO games.  It is certainly sophisticated.  In a traditional MMO like WoW, you tend to have 20 or 30 buttons lined up on your screen.  You stand still, lock a target, and you cast a spell.  You mix a few spells according to some priority or rotation systems.  You may be required to occasionally move out of danger, or switch targets, that’s about it.  And then in a dungeon setting, there is this tank-heal-DPS trinity.  Each has a role to fulfill.  There is no go till the trinity is formed.

In Guild Wars 2, every profession (i.e. class) has a self-heal spell.  There is no tank or DPS concept.  Fallen allies can be revived.  You can move while casting spells.  You have a finite number of spells (like 10) depending on your profession and the weapon type.  You may switch to another weapon in the middle of a fight to switch 5 spells and potentially change your strategy.  Casting spells generates unique profession specific resources that can be consumed for a more powerful ability.  Even when defeated, you can still fight to survive using 4 abilities.  When you win, you get back up.  Is this a better combat system?  Too early to tell.  But I welcome a fresh approach.

The Freedom to Play When I Want, However Little I Want

Traditional MMO build their business model on recurring income.  To get you paying a monthly fee and continuing to play the game, they put in place incentives that compel you to play regularly.  Most are repetitive contents that may not even be fun by the time you have done it zillions of times.  But you will do it nonetheless; keep paying while you are at it; keep paying even when you hardly log on.

Guild Wars 2 by and large frees us from the above scenario.  You pay once and you can play as much or little as you like.  There is no monthly fees.  There will be micro-transactions though.  But I wouldn’t mind paying if the game is fun, although I don’t have to.  This is a fairer deal, I think.

A Few Other Things

Honestly speaking, I have no idea what the end game is like for Guild Wars 2.  Those who enjoy PvP would indulge into World versus World battle.  The level cap for PvE is 80 so I reckon there should be enough things to do before reaching there.  Cynthia and I have already pre-purchased the game and we will have a head-start this Saturday.  The game will be launched next Tuesday.  To join us, more information can be found in my Google+ profile.

  • Click here to see the beautiful screenshots I have taken during the beta weekend.
  • Click here to read more about my first impression.

Nokia Lumia 900 – A Reivew

Prior to writing this review on Nokia Lumia 900, I have started a discussion in Google+.  The interaction turns out to be constructive and insightful.  Some have used this model for months.  Google+ truly melts away geographic boundary and brings people of common interest in one virtual space.  This entry is dedicated to my new and old friends over in Google+.  You guys rock!

The major difference between Lumia 800 and Lumia 900, as far as I can see, is size and size only.

A little bit of background here.  I have reviewed Lumia 800 back in March this year.  Since then, my wife Cynthia has been using the phone.  I have heard some of the feedback in Google+.  Nokia has sent me a Lumia 900 review unit for me to try out, like before.

To cut a long story short, Lumia 900 is a super-sized Lumia 800.  Since there is little value in copy-and-pasting my previous content here, if you are serious in purchasing a Noka Lumia, I urge you to read that review first.  All that works and doesn’t, it is in that article.  I have verified the entry and found that as of today, it is still valid.  Except the form factor section, the entire entry is relevant to Lumia 900.

Assuming that you have caught up on Lumia 800, the rest of this article focuses on the difference between the two.

Form Factor

Nokia Lumia 900 is huge.  With a dimension of 127.8mm x 68.5mm x 11.5mm, it weights a solid 160g.  With a display size of 4.3″, the screen-to-body ratio is under 60%.  Compare to my 4.2″ Android phone’s ratio of 70%, no wonder Lumia 900 feels so much bigger although the display size is similar.  For those who have large hands or prefer a sturdy phone, this may work.  Also, due to the wider margin, it is less likely that you may accidentally touch the screen as you flip the phone from portrait to landscape and vice versa.  Like I often do with my Android.

Unlike its little brother, USB port is now exposed in Lumia 900.  No longer do you require to flip the flimsy latch opened every time you charge the phone.  Personally, I prefer a concealed USB port.  Lumia 800 looks more elegant that way.  But I can understand why others may prefer not to mess with that latch on a daily basis.

Also unlike Lumia 800, Lumia 900’s AMOLED Gorilla glass does not curve and flow through the phone’s rounded edges, which is a shame.  Gone is the scratch resistance mat color back cover found in Lumia 800.  Lumia 900 uses shiny plastic cover.  The white color review unit I have got has already collected quite a fair bit of scratches, grease, and stains.  I have no issue with shiny plastic phone cover.  Just that Lumia 800 seems so much better in terms of form factor.

Lumia 900 comes with a 1MB front-facing camera.  Lumia 800 does not.  Now, if only Google Hangouts works on a Window Phone.

What About That Bigger Display Size?

Lumia 800 has a 3.7″ display size.  Web browsing can be a pain.  As you can imagine, I have high anticipation with Lumia 900.

4.3″ is not large in today’s standard.  While iPhone still stucks in the past, Android has pushed the display size to 4.8″ in the phone category.  As you may already know, display size is only one side of the story.  Resolution is what makes a display looks good on a phone.  That is why people still don’t mind iPhone’s small display size.  And that is why web browsing is more enjoyable on my 4.2″ Android phone than the 4.3″ Lumia 900 (800mm x 480mm resolution with ~217 ppi pixel density).

I wish Lumia 900 has alternative browsers (maybe there is one, but I can’t seem to find it at Marketplace).  The double tap zooming is not consistent.  Depending on where you tap on the page, the browser may zoom in nicely for you.  Or the zooming result may still be too tiny for the naked eyes.  At times first double tap is to zoom in, second double tap is to zoom out.  Other times, there are two levels of zooming in, i.e. 2 taps to zoom right in and 2 taps to zoom right out.  I regularly visit online forums.  Putting the Lumia 900 4.3″ side-by-side with my Andoid 4.2″, the zoom feature of the Lumia browser does not seem right.  The words are still too small to see.  Fortunately, there is manual pinch zoom mode.

My friend from Google+ shared with me that his Lumia 900 has problem loading some websites, such as Mashable.com.  I too have problem using Google+ web version on photo upload (there is still no Google+ app for Windows phones) as well as other websites.  I have noticed the browser issues back in March when I reviewed Lumia 800.  Looks like the issues persist.

Web browsing aside, a larger screen size is a joy to use.  The virtual keyboard is more user friendly.  The font size is bigger.  If you feel that Lumia 800 is too straining to your eyes, Lumia 900 may be the answer.

Will Lumia 900 Get Windows Phone 8 ‘Apollo’ Upgrade?

Some of you have asked the question on Lumia’s next OS upgrade.  Here is an unofficial respond I have received from one of my contacts working with Nokia.

The Lumia 900 along with the Lumia 800, Lumia 710 and Lumia 610 will receive an update with new Windows Phone 8 features, including the new start screen.  They will also receive a pattern of updates from Nokia that will deliver new features like WiFi tethering, flip-to-silence and media content streaming.  Nokia is also introducing new applications like Camera Extras exclusively for our Lumia range, games coming from Zynga, the makers of Farmville, as well as updates to Drive and other signature experiences.

The question would be: Are these new features Nokia bringing over to Lumia series be sufficient for you?  One friend of mine at Google+ has shared with me a list items on why Windows Phone 7.5 is still lacking.  I have gone through the list and found most of the items appears to be valid.  Perhaps that is why fans are crying for Windows Phone 8?

Ecosystems Revisit

A review should be read with the current state of affair.  Early this year, all eyes were on Nokia on their maiden foray into a new operating system.  It was an exciting time.  Because time and time again, we see commercial miracles, like that year 1999 Nokia ‘banana’ phone that Neo used in The Matrix.  Half a year has passed.  Android is advancing, in an ever increased pace.  Samsung has emerged as a strong competitor in this brutal phone making business.  Some of the older Android models from different makes are getting the Ice Cream Sandwich update and the new Jelly Bean OS is just round the corner for the new models.  Apple fans are always Apple fans, holding onto whatever Apple produces.  Today, I look at Windows Marketplace.  The apps are still few and expensive.  Cynthia is still hoping for the much desired update to her Whatsapp and Evernote apps on her Lumia 800.  At times I wonder, how does Windows Marketplace plan to fight against Apple and Android?  How does Nokia plan to keep up with the pace?

I don’t know.  What I know is fans are still fans.  Nokia fans will still love the Nokia ecosystem.  There are exclusive apps like Nokia Map and Nokia Drive that provides turn-by-turn navigation as well as offline maps to more than 100 countries.  Nokia Music sells DRM free music and Mixed Radio plays music over the Internet free to Nokia Lumia users.  Nokia fans whom I interact with seems to be happy with the quality apps in the ecosystem.  In fact, it is interesting to note that all three major camps seems to be with with their respective ecosystems.  Will Windows Marketplace survive?  Only time can tell.

Conclusion

Lumia 900 is a simple to use phone.  Take my wife as an example, she still enjoys using the Lumia 800 because of its simplicity and she is probably unable to relate to most of the concerns listed here.  If you are a Nokia fan and find that Lumia 800 is too small, Lumia 900 could be the answer.  If you are undecided between Lumia 800 and Lumia 900, Lumia 800 may be a better choice due to better form factor and the fact that the improvements Lumia 900 has over 800 appears to be minimal.

The new Nokia Lumia 900 is retailing for SGD849 at Nokia retail stores and at all mobile operators in Singapore.  It is available in Black, White and Cyan.

This is a photograph taken using a Nokia Lumia 900 at a mall near my office.

Diablo III Madness – 140 Hours And Counting

This Diablo III madness has no end.  140 hours have passed and I don’t even feel it.  It is like that one scene in Twilight whereby Bella sits by the window observing the change of seasons in one minute.  There are four levels of difficulty in this video game.  It takes me 140 hours to clear the second difficulty level – Nightmare – for all my five classes.  My next milestone is to complete the third difficulty level – Hell – and call it a day.  Inferno difficulty could well be too brutal for me.

Or maybe not.  We shall see.

Heavens burn as we cast the Prime Evil into oblivion.

I will not repeat what has already been said in my last post “Diablo III – First 80 Hours“.  What I said back then is still valid today.  Instead, I will share my experience with the game as I progress through different difficulty levels.  And a short recap on news surrounding the Diablo community from launch till now.

At launch, Diablo III smashed records, sold more than 6 millions copies excluding the 1 million World of Warcraft annual pass subscribers who got the game free.  Due to this unexpected sales record, a game that requires constant connection to the servers became unplayable as the servers were brought down time and time again by the surge in demand.  Onto then second week, when the US servers finally gained stability, reports started to come in as players’ accounts were compromised, in-game progress was lost.  The solution is to use a physical or mobile authenticator that provides an extra layer of protection like how Internet Banking tackles security.  On top of that, Blizzard gives us an option to enable SMS alert whenever account information is modified.  I do not know of any video gaming company that goes into this level of security to protect our accounts.  That could be due to the Real Money Auction House (RMAH) that I will talk about in just a bit.  Back to the first month after launch, the ride was bumpy.

Meanwhile, while the US region cried about the rumored hacks, Blizzard‘s office in Korea responsible in hosting the Asia servers was raided by the local government that sought evidence against Blizzard in their denial of refund requests.  Asia region has its own controversy.  Koreans were given more quotas in accessing the Asian game servers while other locations such as China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong needed to queue for hours just to get into the game.  In-game exploitation also ran wild in the Asian servers causing long extended maintenance that denied people from playing the game.  Players in Asia were as unhappy as the US counterparts.  I have no idea how the European players were coping.  I suspect they would have faced similar issues.

RMAH was launched in June.  Those who had high end in-game items made profits due to the initial craze.  One item could be sold for US$250 up.  While minority made money out of playing a game, the community overall appeared to view RMAH as the unnecessary evil.  Couple that with the fact that the game had been exploited by some and the economy imbalance that persists till today, RMAH has become a messy business.  However, if we are to take a step back, with or without RMAH, people trade items – items that they do not create – using real money.  While RMAH provides a safer environment for trading, it also encourages those who would not have traded trade.

To add onto this drama, Blizzard has decided that one of the gear attribute – attack speed – was too high.  Balancing the game means that all in-game items – past and future – have to be adjusted.  To compensate, Blizzard also makes Diablo III‘s inferno difficulty more manageable.  The net result was that those who have spend hundreds of dollars buying gears from RMAH suddenly woke up to the new reality that their gears were less powerful than before.  This seems to have put a brake to RMAH sales.  Are you willing to buy in-game items using real money only to find that one day, the items may be no longer what you wanted them to be?

Tricky situation.

If you read the online professional reviews, Diablo III has done pretty well.  If you crosscheck the scores with user reviews, the two do not tally.  User reviews from Metacritic to Amazon slam down the score to the lowest possible.  Some players from US demanded a full refund after beating the game and strangely, Blizzard has granted their requests.  Official forums continue to be on fire citing Diablo III as the worst game Blizzard has ever produced.  Participation in public games seems to dwindle.  The community seems to thin out.  Perhaps the end game is not quite there yet as we are still waiting for a future patch to address this issue.  Or perhaps action hack-and-slash genre is not something some would enjoy doing for hours.

What about me?

This is the secret level, “pony land”. Rainbow and all. Colorful but deadly.

I love it.  My friends seem to love it too.  Day in day out, I play with my friends online, overcoming challenges.  The contents may be the same.  It is Act One through Act Four.  The story is linear.  But different classes play differently.  Different difficulty levels play differently.  After we have cleared Nightmare difficulty (the second level), Hell plays like a whole new different game.  The challenge requires me to pay attention to mechanics I may have overlooked in the previous difficulty levels.  To me, Diablo III is like Tetris.  The framework and the pieces do not change over different levels.  But the fun stacks up as the pace increases.

How long will I stay with this game?  I am not too sure.  Maybe till the new World of Warcraft expansion Mists of Pandaria is out?

Diablo III – First 80 Hours

What a blast!  20 days into Diablo III and I have clocked in 80 played hours.  On top of that, Ihave finally defeated the ultimate evil for one of my five characters.  One down.  Four more characters to go.  And then onto the next difficulty level.

Note: Did you know the Diablo III runs in both PC and Mac platform?  Once you purchase a game key, you can download and install the game to either platform as many times as you wish.  Do check minimal system requirement though.  To purchase the game, click here to create an account and head to Blizzard Store.  If you are a Android or iPhone user, don’t forget to download the free  Battle.net Mobile Authenticator app (or you can purchase a physical one online at Blizzard Store).  Also, you may wish to turn on the SMS verification feature in your account management for extra security.

“You dare to judge me?!”

Games are certainly more fun played with friends.  In general, that is true – physical and virtual world alike.  So I have played with Cynthia mostly, when she is online.  Sanctuary seems less lonely that way, and less scary for sure.  She can go head-to-head with the mobs at the frontline while I, well, I heroically shoot the enemies from a safe distance.  Now you know who wear the pants at our home.  We have played with our real life friends too.  It is mindless zerging, destroying all things that move, all things that don’t.  It is an insane fun, in a therapeutic kind of way.  Though at times I wonder if we are holding our friends up by too obsessively exploring every corner of the map and smashing every jar we see (there is an achievement for 1,000 jars destroyed for the OCD ones, like me).  At times, we join the public games just to repeat some of the memorable boss fights.  Getting a random group is super fast compares to, say, World of Warcraft.  In that online game, we could end up waiting for up to half an hour or more for a group to be assembled.  In Diablo III, it is instant.  As our party size increases (up to four), so is the strength of our foes.  When one is leaving, no problem.  Our foes will scale down accordingly.  I like this dynamic aspect.  It keeps the encounters challenging and from the social interaction point of view, the more the merrier.  Almost always.

The game in Normal setting does not require 30 hours to beat, which we eventually did.  Typically, it can be done in 20 hours, or even less.  Cynthia and I are the thorough ones.  We enjoy opening up unexplored areas to hunt for treasure and face the seemingly formidable foes.  I take one step further that drives Cynthia nuts.  I listen to all the dialog, again and again.  My only complain with the public games is that most random players would choose to skip the cut scenes and dialog.  That is totally understandable.  But as for me, I am in for the full experience.  Discovering the little stories my in-game companions have to tell, pieces of lore, trivial dialog that keeps the game alive, and more.  To that end, I solo the contents as well.

Scoundrel (my rogue companion in-game when I have no one to group with): Sometimes I wish that when we’d met, you’d taken one look at me and fallen desperately in love.  But then I think of all the gold I’ve gotten with you.

Kasumi (my demon huntress): You know that that it won’t end that way, right?

Scoundrel: Right.

Upon completion of Normal difficulty setting, characters are typically around level 30.  After which, the entire game play can be repeated in a higher difficulty setting called Nightmare.  That boosts character level from 30 to 50.  To reach the level cap of 60, Hell difficulty awaits.  Beyond that is Inferno setting that is tailored for those who demand the ultimate challenge.  If you are seeking for a deeper thrill and a sense of purpose, Diablo III offers a Hardcore mode whereby all deaths are permanent.  That is pretty hardcore.  It is like play Tetris with one life and you want to see how far you can go before getting beaten.  My goal is to reach the level cap for all my 5 characters covering all 5 different classes.  Inferno is likely not my cup of tea.  If and when I reach there, I would love to take a holiday for a well deserved break.  Hawaii would be nice.  How many times must we save Heavens and Sanctuary?  As many times as we defend Azeroth from Deathwing I suppose.

“Cartoon-ish? Perhaps. But the level of detail is astonishing.”

Some asked me if this game is any good.  It is an incredibly easy game to pick up.  In the initial stage of the game, you can simply hack and slash your way using the two mouse buttons.  As you progress, you can use the four extended skills that are mapped to the numeric keys 1 to 4.  6 buttons are all you need to master this game.  You get to choose 6 active skills from a total of 22 at any time of your game play.  Each skill can be augmented with one of the 5 different runes (6 if you count the no rune option).  That in turn changes how the skill works.  On top of that, you get to pick 3 passive skills from an array of 15.  You can do the mathematics and work out the potential number of combinations.  It is rare to see two players picking up the same configuration.  Individual build shapes one’s play style.  Coupled that with the individual’s gear stats preference, there is much depth in Diablo III.  Now, while I cannot vouch for what happens in the Inferno setting, I am pretty sure that it is Blizzard’s interest to avoid cookie-cutting builds that make everyone alike.

If you are into or open to hack-and-slash role playing games, Diablo III is the benchmark.  The game play is fluid.  The artwork and soundtrack is beautiful.  Each time you level, you feel more powerful as more skill options are available at your disposal.  Within the virtual world of Diablo III, you are always gold hungry, loot hungry.  All items’ stats are randomly generated making it unlikely that two gears are identical.  Blizzard, unlike other developers, continues to improve the game based on community feedback.  Other developers more often than not de-prioritize the fixing of their games after they have taken your money.  Instead, their first priority is to build new DLC (downloadable contents) and new expansions.  Not Blizzard.

In this new era, no man is an island.  Collaboration and trading for mutual benefits trump working on your own.  You may hate the concept of the in-game Auction House that facilitates the trading of game items using either in-game currency or real currency.  But it is a good way to help each other in order to fasten the pace and overcome challenges.  Items that you no longer need can be offloaded into the Auction House so that someone else may find a use of it.  Or you may pick up an item from the Auction House that others do not need.  If you are not the type who spends real currency to acquire virtual items, you can stick with the in-game currency.  If you do, Blizzard provides a safe environment for real money trading to occur.  Is Blizzard charging too much as a middle man?  I do not have a benchmark for comparison.  Besides, I hope Blizzard can continue to make money somewhere so that the servers can be funded – free of charge for us folks – for many months or even years to come.

Any downside?  Sure.  It is called weekly scheduled maintenance that happens during our prime evening hours.  Something some of us have been bearing since the launch of World of Warcraft.  It is worse than Error 37 if you were to ask me.

To continue reading my adventure of 140 hours with the game, click here.

“You still haunt my sleep.”

Evil Is Back: Nine Things To Get You Ready For Diablo III

Update: You can start to install the digital download on May 14 11.01pm GMT+8 and the server live date is May 15 3.01pm GMT+8.

For some, this has been a wait more than a decade long.  It gets more excruciating as we approach May 15.  Diablo III is featured on our local paper today.  One couple has postponed their honeymoon to next year in anticipation of the game’s release.  That is some kind of commitment!  I am unsure if I would love Diablo III that much.  Not even sure if Cynthia who gets the game free thanks to WoW annual pass would enjoy playing this game with me.  I have faith in Blizzard.  They make good games.  And to my readers, here are nine things you should consider doing in getting yourself ready for this upcoming epic gaming journey.

1. Watch the Cinematic Trailer

Here is a little crash course for you.  Mortals have been using Soulstones to trap the three Prime Evils from Hell.  The bad guy you see in the video below is Azmodan, the Lord of Sin, who is also one of the four Lesser Evils.  According to Book of Cain (which I will cover later), the Lord of Sin is a clever manipulator who trades in vice and coruption.  He is passionate and plotting – both to very dangerous degrees.  He is by far the most charismatic and seductive of all the Evils.

Little has been revealed about Azmodan, yet it is hinted that he is looking for a promotion to be a Prime.  I suppose Diablo III may tell a deeper story on this Lesser Evil, who is by no means less evil.

2. Read Book of Cain

When I played Diablo II eons ago, I did not really get into the story.  In fact, I did not complete the game.  I have participated in the closed beta.  It was a pleasant experience, with voice acting and etc.  Still, I could not quite get the story.  What I missed was the lore.

To fully enjoy Diablo III, you have to read the lore.  There is one such book that fits the bill.  It is Diablo III: Book of Cain.  148 pages only, with tons of artistic illustrations.  The book tells the story of the beginning of time, before Heaven and Hell were created.  It is a book of mythology that defines the universe of Diablo.  In this realm, mortals as products of angels and demons are not powerless.  That’s why we get to trap the Evils inside the Soulstones in previous episodes.

Evil is back in this third episode.  Get acquainted with the lore today!

3. Pre-order the Game

Unlike Starcraft II, there will be no price difference between getting a local physical copy or downloading the game online via Battle.net.  Either way, after online registration, you will be able to download the game client to any machine – PC or Mac – in the future.  Getting a physical copy saves you the hassle of spending 6 to 12 hours downloading the game.  Getting a virtual copy saves the environment (sort of), with one less packaging, and you get to download the game client in this very moment.  The choice is yours.

Local copy of the game is marketed and distributed by Asiasoft here in Singapore.  For pre-order information and more, visit this link.

4. Attend the Launch Party

Like all Blizzard games, there will be a launch party at Funan DigitaLife Mall and it is held on May 15, 2012 from 9am to 9pm.  For those who have pre-ordered the game, you may collect it from 3pm onwards.  Marc Messenger, the lead developer of this game will be there.  There will be cosplays, hourly giveaways, and lucky draw.

I wonder if the local cosplays standard will be as close as Tasha and Miyuko who are featured in the official Diablo site (see picture below).  What do you think?

5. Create a Battle Tag

You will need a Battle Tag in order to play Diablo III.  It is a name that represent you in Battle.net.  So, choose wisely.  Since it may take time for you to dream of a handle, start dreaming now.

From my experience, a short Battle Tag is much desired.  You may wish to call yourself Iamawesome1337.  Unfortunately there is a space constraint in the game interface.  To others (and even to you), your portrait may show Iamawe… instead.  This may frustrate you.  Think of something short.  It doesn’t have to be unique.  Because Blizzard will tag a 4-digit random code behind your tag.

Diablo III is meant to be played with your friends online.  It is built that way.  Enemies scale up as more join the party.  So, start socializing with your friends and sharing your Battle Tag.  Mine is Lace#1115.  See you in the game!

To create a Battle Tag, you will need to first create a Battle.net account.  Head to http://battle.net for more information.

6. Pick a Class

At launch, there are five classes to choose from: barbarian, wizard, demon hunter, witch doctor, and monk.  You will need to pick one to start your journey.  The question is: Which one will you pick?

I have participated in the closed beta.  I enjoy all five classes.  With ten character slots and a shared stash for you to pass the items around, you are free to experiment what works for you.

Barbarian and monk are melee classes.  You get to face the enemies up close.  Barbarian is the traditional warrior class.  You jump into the battle faster than any other classes.  And you hack and slash your foes away, right to their faces.

Monk on the other hand is a nimble melee class.  You get to jump in and out of the scene and to think how to deal damage without taking too much of it.

Witch doctor, demon hunter, and wizard destroy enemies from a distance.  Witch doctor summon pets to assist you.  Damage over time is the key strategy.  Contrast to wizard, wizard deals direct damage.  Initially I thought wizard would be boring to play, but it is not.  As for demon hunter, first, know that this class does not come with a pet (somehow WoW players associate the word ‘hunter’ with pets).  Second, this class gets to carry two bows that do some really funky stuffs.  It is probably the most interesting class in this genre.

In short, pick your first based on your play style or even artistic preference.  However, I suspect you will get to play all eventually, in different difficulty settings.

Still need more inspiration on which class is for you?  Head to PC Gamer site and read how game developers may pick as their first.

Oh, when you first start the game, make sure you pick the correct geographical region.  You are allowed to switch between the three regions.  The game is not region locked like Starcraft II.  However, characters created in different regions are not connected.

7. Know Your Resources

This may sound obvious.  Official forum is the best place to get up-to-date information, contributed by the community as well as the developers.  There will be discussion and sharing on how to play your classes better.

Character profiles will be available for the tracking of your and your friends’ progress.  There is a skill calculator for those who enjoy fine tuning their characters’ abilities based on play style.  Have you ever wondered what Diablo III is?  The video below will have the answers for you.

8. Watch the Wrath Animation

For those who enjoy watching animation, this close to 7 minutes video clip depicting the conflict of High Heavens and Burning Hells is not to be missed.  It is created by Blizzard Entertainment teamed up with renowned director Peter Chung and acclaimed animation studio Titmouse.  This video does make more sense if you have read Book of Cain as recommended earlier.

9. What’s Your Excuse?

Come this May 15, you may find your colleagues disappear, your loved one disappear.  Try to think of the annual Great Singapore Sale, or the upcoming Euro Cup.  People do disappear for various reasons.  Be sympathetic.  Chances are, your friends are busy fighting demons in the Burning Hells.

If you are finding it hard to come up an excuse for your colleagues, or your loved ones, here is a fan-made website http://www.sorryformay15.com that may just do the job for you!

Banshee, And A Look Into Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Versus World Of Warcraft Dungeon Crawling

The resounding wailing of a banshee is enough to send a chill down my spine.  First, the bone chilling scream.  Then, the sighting of a banshee from afar.  Shortly after, she performs a series of biotic jumps that closes the distance in a frightening, lightning speed.  Blast!  There is a big bolt of biotic energy radiates outwards that hurts.  If she is close enough, she would carry you up in the air by your waist and with another hand, she caresses your head.  Time seems to stop.  Before you know it, your spine is snapped, you body is discarded.  It is an instant death that not even your teammates could revive.  The banshee screams, looks around, and onto the next target she goes.  This weekend is Operation Silencer.  Mass Effect 3 players at a global level are tasked to take down 3 million banshees in multiplayer mode.  I have played my part, with blood and fear.

“Into thy embrace I surrender my body, once again.”

Like the picture above?  I have more in my Google+ album.

I wrote about my first impression of the highly anticipated video game Mass Effect 3 in March.  I went on dissecting the controversial ending in April.  To wrap things up, before I dive into Diablo III next Tuesday like millions will do, it is fitting for me to write a short entry on Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode.

Initially, I found it odd to read critics’ comments.  They said, the multiplayer mode works much better than they thought.  Now that I have sunk in a fair bit of hours into the multiplayer mode, clocked in enough rating to attain a ranking of #39 at a national level (as of this morning), I can understand the critics’ sentiment.  It is good.  So good that it overshadows the single player story mode, which is a shame.  Because traditionally, the Mass Effect franchise is about an individual compelling story, with players’ decision inputs that steer the events in game.  What makes Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode such a success?  Is there something the aging online game World of Warcraft can learn from it in the design of PvE contents (player-versus-environment)?  I think so.

  1. Fast Pace, Fast Assembly, Fast Reward – Getting a team of four online in Mass Effect 3 is fast.  Almost instant.  Once a team is assembled, you get to pick another class to compliment the team.  Each game takes 15 to 25 minutes to complete.  At the end of the game, credits are rewarded depending on performance and difficulties.  Credits can be used to purchase items.  In World of Warcraft, it may take up to half an hour for a group to be formed.  You are stuck with the character you queue for.  Each game takes up to an hour to complete.  You may end up with no loot after the game.  And some tokens that take a long time to accumulate.  Up to weeks.
  2. Skill Matters, More than Gears – To do well in Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, skill matters.  Because the score is published at the end of each game, you feel motivated to do well.  I do not know why till today, World of Warcraft still does not have an official scoring system for PvE contents.
  3. The Same Gear Dropped?  No Problem! – To keep the long term attention of the gamers, developers introduce random rewards.  In World of Warcraft, you grind the same dungeon many times in the hope of a gear drop.  When it drops and is won, you care less about that encounter anymore though you still may have to do it for different reasons.  What if every time you win the same gear (which would have been a waste now), you get a slight upgrade to your existing one?  In Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode, a gear can be upgraded 10 times.  When it reaches the highest level, that gear will no longer drop.  This makes so much sense.
  4. Gear Tiers Decoupled from Challenge Level – In Mass Effect 3, casual online players (or players with a low level character) can join a bronze challenge – an accessible content for most with 33% to 50% of success rate.  Or they can up the challenge for silver or gold.  Higher level of challenge rewards more credits.  Credits can be used to randomly unlock items of different tiers.  High tier items, of course, cost a lot more credit.  If you have a bunch of reliable friends to do gold challenge, that is great.  You get to unlock highest tier items at the fastest rate.  What if you don’t?  Not a problem.  You gain credits in a slower rate through bronze and silver challenges.  But you still have access to the highest tier items.  I wish Blizzard could incorporate this to their massively popular online game.
  5. My Loot Is Mine – I know Blizzard is changing how loot works in the upcoming expansion, for some of the encounters.  However, it is still worthwhile to mention that without having to roll against each other like in Mass Effect 3, it wipes away any negative feeling on who should get what.  Suddenly, there is fun, and peace.
Back to the banshees, I am going to meet a few more before the weekend expires.  Don’t forget to check out more pictures here.  I am out.  Wish me luck.

“Oh banshee, I do love to see you go up in flame.”