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(NB: This op is aimed at people who are reasonably familiar with offline Grand Prix Legends, as I've already written a long op on GPL itself.) Are you, like me, stuck on ye olde modeme connectione, gazing up longingly at the cable and broadband aristocracy having such gorgeous fun with their online deathmatches? Do you sob quietly in a dark corner as people brag about their ludicrously low ping figures? Do bullies kick silicon in your face? WELL, FEAR NOT! In just seven minutes I can make you a superhuman racing driver, able to fly through the tyre walls with the greatest of ease and leap tall kerbs in a single bound. You see, dear dialup user, salvation is at hand from the mighty Grand Prix Legends, bringer of truth, justice and the VROC way! So, what actually *is* it? VROC (usually pronounced vee-rock) stands for Virtual Racers Online Connection, and is the living proof that, whatever Lord Geoffrey of Crammond might have you believe, sim racing over the internet is not only possible, but highly enjoyable. Lawrence L Holbert wrote the program in *1999*, so you'd have thought the modern sims would have caught up by now, but no - the rumour is that Bernie Ecclestone (F1 ringmaster) doesn't like the lack of control over "his" cars' images that's inevitable with independent net play. Anyhow, the requirements for VROC are pretty simple. You need a PC that can run GPL at the magic 36fps (it's better to sacrifice graphics than speed - try turning off the bevelled tyres or the driver arms), you need the v1.2 patch for GPL (from www.papy.com and elsewhere) and - of course - you need a modem. It doesn't even have to be a 56k one - GPL can be played successfully with modems as slow as 28k. Some models seem to work better than others - my US Robotics "winmodem" (yes, Linux bores, I know it's not really a modem, but that's irrelevant now, okay?) works perfectly - but in general, it's
a good idea to avoid USB modems if you can. You'll also need the VROC software, as it's not an official addon (though it's so universal these days that it might as well be). Go to www.vroc.net and make sure you read the instructions *properly*, as it won't work straight "out of the box" - you need to install a couple of small patches first. Once you're done with installing everything, click the WinVROC icon, perform the quick setup procedure (basically, choosing a nickname) and away you go. When you launch VROC, you'll see a screen divided in two. The bottom half is the VROC chat area - it works pretty much like any other chatroom, so I won't waste time describing it. It's the top half of the screen that concerns us for the moment. Just make sure that the status line at the bottom reads "GPL.126.96.36.199" or "GPL.188.8.131.52" - if not, try closing and relaunching, as this sometimes "kick-starts" the thing. Now, *wait* for anything up to a minute (longer than it sounds when you're sitting twiddling your thumbs). Eventually (assuming the server isn't down), you'll see a list of races. Select the one you want (after checking, in the right-hand panel, who your opponents will be), double-click it and choose the options for car chassis and class, and get racing... ...but hang about - you can't just choose any race. Some are already in progress or have their quota of drivers (these will be marked with a red square). Some are password-protected (blue square). And some are just barely suitable (orange square). The green-square races are the ones you want to be looking at, but it's a good idea to discriminate even within those. The obvious figure to look at is the ping (latency in milliseconds) - the lower the better, but as a dialup user you'll be lucky to see much below 200ms. That's not really a problem for GPL, though - the game is very
good at second-guessing drivers, and "warps" (when the connection can't keep up) are fairly rare. The quality of the connection is much more important - a good quality connection with a 400ms ping is completely playable. So, let's say you've successfully connected, and are now sitting in the pits in your racing car. Don't just take off onto the track as you would in an offline race - first, you need to wait for the other drivers' games to be joined up with yours, which means sitting and watching the chat messages scroll past until the "NAME: CONNECTED" notices stop. Then, check your setup (especially fuel), send out a "PO" (pit out) message, and off you go. Well, all right, I wouldn't abandon you there, would I? So here's my VROC Survival Guide: KEEP A STEADY 36 FPS This is *the* most important thing. You need to maintain 36 frames per second at all costs (except during the start, where practically no-one can do it), because your bad performance will affect both you and other people. Turn off all the graphics you don't need (driver arms, clouds, specular highlights etc), and test it in races against the AI. When you can keep up 36fps in a race, that's the level you need. You'll probably notice the framerate counter wobbling about a bit - that doesn't matter, so long as the numbers are staying in the 36fps region. KEEP INFORMED Turn on the framerate counter (ALT+F) - if you find the controls going off a bit, it might be because your frame rate is dropping. At least if you know that, you can drive a bit more carefully for a while. Also turn on the connection quality meters (ALT+M) - this one only works online. Of the three red bars, the most important is the left-hand one, which shows latency (ping). 0 is at the bottom, 1000 at the top, and the lower the better - anything over about 500 gets unplayable, while anything under 250 is nice and sm
ooth (this, remember, is for people with ordinary modems - ADSL users, feel free to laugh pityingly). In the case of all three bars, the less red you see, the better. You can also press ALT-L (not while chat is active in the pits). This will give you a more exact report as to latency and connection quality. This is usually most handy when you've just connected and aren't out on the track. KNOW YOUR ENEMIES If you have time during qualifying, spend a few minutes riding in-car with some of your opponents, and noting anywhere where they have problems - either so you can overtake there, or so you can stay out of trouble when they crash. After a few races, you'll start to know people's driving styles and their strengths and weaknesses (eg, anyone who's raced me knows that I have trouble at the Parabolica at Monza, but am good at Stavelot at Spa). If someone has done a spectacular time (1:26 at Monza, for example), there's always the chance that it's a clock-smash or a railriding lap (probably the former). If you have time, try to look at a replay of it - but remember that client replays are not all that trustworthy online. DRIVE DEFENSIVELY Racing in VROC is very different to racing against the AI. The AI cars are fairly predictable (you *know* that John Surtees will ram you up the back on the runup to the Parabolica), and you don't have the problems of latency and warping. Overtaking, in particular, is far more risky in VROC, unless you have the co-operation of the other party (which is rare, unless you are lapping them). If you make a move, do it smoothly, and hold your line throughout. Better to come out of a corner second than not come out of it at all. (This is one of those platitudes that no-one actually takes any notice of....) When following someone, keep a clear gap between the top of your windscreen and the bottom of their wheels. You're a lot closer than you look, and there's a goo
d chance your pressure will cause your quarry to make a mistake in any case - and when that happens, you don't want to be too close. LEARN THE LINGO Anyone who uses IRC or the like will be used to abbreviated speech ("oic" for "oh I see" etc), but, because of the fast and frantic nature of GPL, this tendency is much more pronounced in VROC. For example, people are usually addressed by their initials only (check the driver list before you start to see if two or more people share those initials!). And don't be surprised if no-one answers your comment - they're probably concentrating on the track. In general, the most common abbreviations given here are used by all nationalities, although general chat is often pretty multilingual - French, German, Italian, Finnish, Spanish, Danish.... Here is a quick guide to VROC-speak, with the most important messages first... PO = Pit Out (*always* say this when you're exiting from the pitlane) PI = Pit In SRY = Sorry NP = No Problem (considered the polite answer to a SRY) THX = Thanks GLA = Good Luck All (traditional grid message) KIC = Keep It Clean WD = Well Done GL = Good Luck BL = Bad Luck MY BAD = Sorry, it was my mistake Generally, online racing in GPL is a much politer affair than most other online games - we're in 1967, remember, and sporting behaviour is considered a prerequisite. If you make a mistake, then own up - you'll very rarely have a grudge held against you in later events. This is another factor that helps to make VROCced GPL far and away the most enjoyable online racing sim, and the fact that it works so well on an ordinary modem is merely the icing on the cake.