Track racing fans have the Dodge Viper, the Corvette C6, and the Ford GT. But pity the off-road nuts who want a taste of the Baja 1000 without risking life and limb. Luckily, Ford answered their prayers with the off-road equivalent of the GT: The Ford Raptor SVT.
Eleven and thirteen inches of suspension travel front and rear, and a 320 hp engine with 390 lb-ft of torque, however, made test-drives at auto shows a non-starter. So Ford asked us to give show-goers a feel for the truck... without the truck.
We put a real Raptor steering wheel on the 401 driving simulator, and built a custom vehicle and track using the rFactor engine, to match the performance, power, and — crucially — sound of the Raptor.
Instant Baja: How we built the track
Content creation is a different story with a racing simulator than with a static race frame (or even a normal motion simulator with restricted range and response time compared to the 401). We wanted to make sure that drivers could experience the jarring jumps and long slides that define off-roading, and to take advantage of the unique capabilities of our motion systems.
Track creation started with sketches and multiple run-throughs of various layouts. In the end, we settled on a tight, twisting canyon section to show off the handling of the truck, followed by a 'reward' for the drivers for getting through it: A long, straight blast down a desert track filled with ruts and jumps. It's not so much you can't go flat out, but it's more than enough to punish mistakes severely!
Because time was tight (we only had about four weeks to build the track), we developed the terrain procedurally rather than modeling it all by hand. A height-map was hand-drawn in Photoshop, with high altitude white and low altitude black (upper left).
The result was put into World Machine (upper right), where we ran a series of fractal generators and erosion algorithms to make the result more realistic.
From there, the track (in its raw form about 100 times too complex for the game renderer) was put into Maya (lower left), 'decimated' to reduce the polygon count, and exported to 3D Studio Max (lower right), where the final track was textured and populated with various objects for use in rFactor.