Tora, Tora, TORA!

A little while ago I was heavily engaged in doing some research for my section of a book which is due out shortly – you’ll get PLENTY of notice when it does, believe me! As part of that research I got in touch with various people around the gaming world to advise them of what I was doing and, in some cases, to get their names as a gamertag wasn’t terribly useable.

During the course of that research and conversations I came into contact with The Online Racing Association, or TORA for short. They have been running various championship series over the years for players on Forza, F1 GP and other platforms. We struck up a conversation about what they’d been doing and what they planned to do and I felt that they deserved to be brought to you, my dear readers, so you can learn more too.

I do driving games a lot for Ready Up, you might have noticed over the weeks and months (dear god it’s now years!) that when it comes to driving games it’s usually my chops you’ll see up there at the top of the page. But the guys running TORA are in another league when it comes to ‘doing’ driving games. They REALLY know how games work and, a lot of times don’t work, when it comes to online play. But rather than interpret what they do, I thought I’d give them the chance to do it themselves so Duncan and Richard from TORA agreed to meet up and have a chat and this is what came out of it.

Ready Up: Thanks for coming along and having a chat. First things first, who are you and what’s TORA all about?

“I’m Richard Millard  and I’m the Community Manager for TORA, so I look after the forums and that kind of thing.”

“I’m Duncan Ray, I’m the Club Secretary and look after the administrative bits and pieces and make sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to.”

So where did TORA come from?

“It came from Matt – who ‘owns’ TORA – wanting to replicate the GT series online 4 or 5 years ago. He created the same kind of cars with matching PI (performance indication) but there was a mismatch between cars and some cars would shoot off because they had the acceleration but there was no way to limit horsepower.”

“The touring car series we run now, we’re able to provide limits on weight, horsepower and that kind of thing so we’ve got the cars much more balanced but with more variety.”

“With Forza 4 we’re looking at replicating the GT championship but without some of the constraints we see in the real world. In the real series there are only about 8 makes of cars which race, in our championship there aren’t any real limits to the makes we can have.”

“The other thing is the generally negative experience of playing online. You go into a lobby, any lobby, get into a race and someone will run straight into the back of you, use you as a brake into the first corner. Or you get the ‘you’re not very fast why are you here?’ kind of attitude and it’s that which we wanted to get away from. TORA is about a bunch of guys who want to race, who want to race cleanly and who want to enjoy it and learn as they do.”

“It’s about clean, fun racing and that’s it.”

TORA - Close but clean
Close racing, clean racing.

Rules in TORA – do they match real racing series, is it easy to manage this in game?

“It depends on the game, we use Forza because there’s such a great amount of customisation available. We used Shift 2 a couple of months ago, but it really didn’t work for us because the lobby system was effectively broken. We were impressed with the game, but it didn’t support running a series because of the lack of customisation in the online side of things and the limitations it had in terms of qualification – we were using time-trials, because there’s no real ‘qualification’ option but there was no consistency in that side of things, at some tracks it’d be 50 minutes, at others it’d be 20 and we had no control over that at all. It’s a shame really.”

Do you have any ‘real’ racers in TORA?

“It’s really cool actually, we have this guy Ashley Sutton, who raced in Formula V last year and in the Fiesta championship. He’s unbelievable quick online but he’s good to have in the championship as he brings a lot of professionalism and is sort of aspirational for the other drivers. But it works the other way round too, we’ve a guy in the States who’s used the online play to learn how to race and he’s then gone on to real races at kart tracks already knowing how to take lines and that kind of stuff. It shows how close sim-racing is to the real thing! Look at what happened with Gran Tourismo, those guys were fast in the game and they’re fast on a real world track too.”

Cars need to look good too!

Is it just all about racing though?

“The thing about Forza is that it’s more than just picking a car and racing, it’s about building the cars, tuning them, creating liveries. There are teams out there building communities and their drivers are saying “I race for this team” and they’re proud of that. So it’s really beyond just racing. ”

“As part of TORA we have guys who are really good at painting, we have guys who really understand the physics and we’ve got people actually learning about engineering because of the game and making the cars faster… it’s really cool!”

So how many of you are there, running the organisation?

“There are about 10 of us involved. Five run the top level stuff, we call them admins and we have the staff guys who run the individual series. It’s great because they really ‘own’ those things and we take care of the forums, the rules and that kind of stuff. Matt sits in overall charge and provides the direction for TORA, he really looks at where we could be taking the club and working with the admins and the community to make sure it works for everyone.”

“We had some issues with previous management but now we’ve turned that around and it’s been all about the community and about what they want to do rather than what one person wants to do. It’s been really good with good numbers in the lobbies and some good clean racing. Everything we do now, it’s about the community and making sure we’re delivering for them. The feedback for 2012 so far and the plans for Forza 4 has all been very positive.”

Tell me about what you’re doing in terms of promotion.

“We went down to Britcar at Silverstone because there’s a team sponsored by Forza and I wasn’t sure what to expect but I ended up talking to the team manager for about an hour, it was brilliant. I think the whole weekend was really good for us and that’s what we really want to do, we want to get the word out that we’re here and show people what we’re doing. And the key selling point for us is the recognition by the MSA!”

I wanted to ask about that, how does an online gaming club get recognised officially by the British Motorsport Association. Tell me about that.

“That’s one of the things we struggle with. The games companies’ reaction is sort of ‘yeah… so what, we don’t really care’ but when we speak to the guys who race for real, the drivers, team guys, mechanics and that kind of stuff and say we’re recognised they’re like ‘Really? That’s very cool!’. And it is , we’ve got the same standing as the BTCC and those kind of clubs, we actually have a say in how motorsport is run!”

“The way it came about was about getting some difference in recognition as a club, beyond all of the other online clubs. It took a lot of work putting the rules together, but we have the right set of rules and we have the same or even better stewarding than real racing because we have the ability to view the action directly and from any angle using replays. We applied and we got it.”

“The recognition is fine but we’re planning to really push that side of things because we know how important sim-racing is to real-racing and this is a really good and cheap way to get into the sport for real. We’re looking at pushing TORA TV and having some commentary too, to really show the value which we can bring.”

“It’s about accessibility too, an Xbox 360, the game and a Live subscription is not too expensive, even when you look at something like R-Factor which needs a good PC gaming rig and that’s not cheap.”

A learning curve.

So how do you handle the guys who are still learning?

“We do have some guys who want to jump straight into an LMP1 car because they’re fast and we’re working on having a ramp-up so that people can learn what it actually means to race these cars properly. We’re probably going to use the LMP-C class for that at that level, GTs are not so much of an issue. We’re also thinking about having community nights where we race something like Minis, that’s real clubman class but it’s still huge fun too and it helps people learn because they don’t feel they have to have the fastest car, they just need to learn to drive better.”

“It’s about making it easy for people to come along and enjoy our racing.”

Controller or wheel?

“It’s strange, some games are OK with a stick, but some are just rubbish – F1 2010 was great with a wheel, but it was impossible with a stick. I suppose it’s what you’re used to, we have some who are stick runners and some who are wheel only but that’s another reason why Forza works well for us, it’s actually good for both kinds of controller”

I wanted to ask about that too. Last year you ran over a few different games, is the choice to go with Forza based on an evolution or specifications or what?

“The main reason is the personalisation. We can control the games down to a very fine degree and the simulations are awesome or you can turn the whole thing on its head and play cat-and-mouse in arcade mode.”

“The key aspects on the choice of game are really accessibility, then physics and then the aesthetics. It’d be nice to have some more granularity in control like traction control and to have things like night racing, but that’s really a next generation thing I think.”

You’ve got 6 championships for 2012 – does that cover all of the ground you’d like?

“Pretty much, but the problem we have is that there are only a certain number of nights in the week so we’re limited to what we can actually run.”

“We’d rather keep it fun than it turning into a chore – for the racers as well as us – and get the official series right for everyone instead of trying to cover too much ground and risking making mistakes.”

“We’ve also done full 24hr races for charity in the past as teams, running stints etc, doing the full thing and we had other clubs putting teams together and wanting to be a part. So for this year we’re planning on doing a championship of 6 x 24hr races to expand that kind of thing”

What about off-road or two wheels?

“Well one of the guys tried to get a DiRT 3 championship running but no-one was really that interested”

“Matt plays SBK a lot and enjoys it but I don’t think anyone’s ever really thought about putting a championship together. We’ve grown up around Forza and the community loves Forza so that’s really where the racing focus is.”

“That’s not to say we’d never do it, but there’s no real drive right now.”

So looking ahead, years into the future, where would you want TORA to be?

“Ideally, we’d like to be in a place where we’re recognised in the industry as a genuine channel through which young drivers can progress, learning race-craft and developing ability without incurring the huge expense and investment which is required today. But also as a place where it’s cool to have fun, to race at Clubman level and enjoy the experience with others who feel the same way.”

“I’d like for us to be the place where all of the online series are run through, the hub if you like for all clubs to come to. I guess that’s what we can bring through the MSA membership, the technical regs, the rules, car specs, that kind of thing. We are good at making series which are fair, it’d be great if we could be at the center of on-line racing.”

“We’re talking to a couple of other clubs at the moment who run different series and we’re going to pursue partnerships like that so we can grow through affiliation as well as through direct growth.”

“We’d love to have a TORA team racing in a real-world series, TORA drivers who’ve come through with us in a TORA team in the real world.”

“But really keeping the community happy is the key, they are our future. It’s all about the community and expanding what we can deliver to them.”

“In the ideal world, we’d like to be able to provide services for everyone, from the kid playing Mario Kart, through to the hardcore racers running R-Factor on big-rig PCs”

What’s the message about TORA that you want send over?

“We’re a clean, professional, fun environment. With something for everyone and we’re recognised by the MSA for doing things properly.”







One response to “Tora, Tora, TORA!”

  1. Richard Millard avatar
    Richard Millard

    Once again, thanks for the opportunity and I am personally very grateful! I hope to see some of you on the track!

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