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How to be an armchair racer - News

THE tight hairpin approaches and I throw my body left, stick my knee out and crane my neck round before heaving myself upright and over to the other side for a fast right hander.

My heart’s jumping out of my chest and I’m not even on a bike. I’m sitting in front of a TV screen pressing buttons on a hand-held box.

I’m so engrossed in Capcom’s MotoGP game that I can’t help moving like I’m having the bike ride of my life.

How deeply un-cool, especially with the UK’s 125 GP hero Bradley Smith watching.

In fact, if you still puff your way on foot round a circuit in an effort to learn it before a track day, then wake up to the 21st century.

In these days of high-tech computers, motorcycle racing games are the kiddies to teach you the lines from the comfort of a gaming chair.

Capcom’s launch of the updated MotoGP game is something different to a regular bike launch. Yes, we’re at a racetrack - a half dug up Silverstone that’s having millions thrown at it to host everything this season from Formula One to World Superbikes and of course, its first motorcycle Grand Prix since the days of Barry Sheene.

But given the unfinished track’s sorry state on this cold day, it’s not such a bad gig to be holed up in the prestigious BRDC suite with a GP youngster showing us the virtual way round.

The graphics are realistic, from the circuit layout to the surface markings. The game’s creators photographed every inch of every track surface for an accurate virtual representation.

“We only visit the tracks once a year so playing MotoGP on Xbox is a great way to refresh the memory,” says Bradley. “And it’s great for learning a new circuit.”

And it’s not just the tracks that are realistic. The rider and bike graphics are genius.

Last year’s game was criticised for the bikes being too car-like in their handling. So the game’s creators got a dedicated physics programmer on board to work on bike behaviour, with input from riders including Casey Stoner.

“Casey had a problem with the way our bikes behaved through corners so we adjusted the graphics accordingly,” says the game’s lead artist Harvey Parker.

While the controls are alien to a motorcycle rider - it’s a matter of pushing buttons rather than pulling levers and twisting grips - Harvey says it’s about getting the right balance between the game experience and the real thing.

“The experience focuses on learning to control the motorcycle on track - so braking at the right point, laying down power at the right time, taking the right line… over learning to use a motorcycle‘s controls.”

As you play, a sat nav-style graphic shows you the racing line - and it differs whether you’re on a 125, 250 or MotoGP bike.

The bikes feel different to control too, the lightest and most agile being the 125.

“It’s close to real life,” says Bradley as he crashes accelerating on wet grass. “However it does let you brake an unfeasible amount through the corner without locking up, and you can throw the bike into corners in a manner that you just couldn’t get away with in real life.”

Perhaps that’s why his lap times are a bit too good.

“My fastest lap at Mugello is 1.50,” says Bradley, “but in the game I’m doing 1.45.8!”

I guess there’s no substitute for two wheels…

Capcom's 2010 MotoGP game is available for Sony PSIII and Xbox.

Author: Harriet Ridley