GPL Survival Guide
See also The Essential GPL Sites and the GPL Beginner's Guide by Phil Lee.
2009: For my blogs and other sites, go here.
The things I consider essential include a suitable computer, video card, force feedback wheel, pedals, and of course a copy of GPL itself.
In more detail (prices are as of February 2003):
All this stuff might seem expensive and maybe a pain to acquire, but it's worth it. With the right equipment, GPL is amazing. Trying to get by with inadequate equipment is a mistake; you'll likely have just as bad a time as if you were trying to race with the real F1 circus using a clapped out ten year old car and worn out tires.
Spend the money, do your homework, and you will have the opportunity for some truly ecstatic racing experiences.
See also What other hardware goodies should I consider for GPL? and What kind of computer do I need for GPL?
Because of its sophisticated physics and detailed graphics, when it was released in 1998, GPL had fairly high hardware requirements, and few people had a computer that could run GPL well.
Fortunately, computer technology has caught up with GPL. These days almost any off the shelf Windows PC will run GPL quite well - provided it's equipped with a good 3D video accelerator, and you download the appropriate patches from Papyrus. See What do I need to download for GPL?
Still, having the right computer is essential to having an enjoyable experience with GPL. GPL's cars are difficult to control if frames are being displayed at less than 36 frames per second (fps).
These days I regard 900 MHz to be the minimum with the current video cards, especially if you want to use the gorgeous graphical updates such as the GPLEA cars (see my Links page for details). A faster machine will be even better.
Note: Machines with CPU speeds above 1.4 GHz may require the CPU Speed Fix.
Faster computers not only allow a much more pleasing appearance but give better control response. On slower computers, for example, there is a small but noticeable lag between the instant you move the wheel and the when you see the wheel move as displayed on the screen - and the moment the car responds to your input.
Also, slower machines have a small lag between the instant some event (such as locking the front wheels or hitting a curb or wall) generates a change in force, and the moment when you actually feel this change in force. Faster machines pretty much eliminated these lags, giving a much crisper and more satisfying feel, and making GPL's cars easier to drive.
GPL looks great on Voodoo4 and Voodoo5 cards, due to a feature called Full Scene Anti-Aliasing. FSAA makes a dramatic difference in the way 3D objects are rendered on the screen. Racing GPL with FSAA turned on is a real joy.
However, a faster CPU is needed to take advantage of FSAA and get the better appearance. I recommend at least a 900 mhz machine with these cards. See my Thunderbird page for more information on building an AMD K7-based machine with a Vooodoo5.
Many people are also using GeForce and Radeon cards with excellent results. These cards require either the OpenGL beta driver or the GPL Direct3D Rasterizer, both available from the GPL Download page at Papyrus.
Newer GeForce cards have FSAA but they are very inefficient with this turned on, and use of FSAA may also cause menu corruption and other artifacts in GPL. I turn off FSAA on my GeForce but I use another feature called Anisotropic Filtering, which improves the look of GPL with less of a frame rate hit.
The Direct3D Rasterizer also allows GPL to run on computers with other types of Direct3D-supported video cards. One reader reported excellent results with the ATI Rage Fury Pro on an Athlon 600.
Memory. GPL uses memory to store replay information, so the more you have, the better. Above 512 MB, GPL has a bug, but this is easily worked around by setting the replay length to some reasonable number, like 60 MB. You can do this either using GEM+ or by editing GPL's core.ini file.
Hard drive. An initial GPL installation doesn't take up a whole lot of room by today's standards (a few hundred megabytes) but the addition of new tracks, graphic updates for cars, and replays of races you save can easily push GPL's disk consumption to several gigabytes. Allow for this when you pick your hard drive.
As of February 2003, I have two computers which run GPL quite well:
GPL looks and runs better on the Voodoo5, but newer sims like the wonderful GTR 2002 mod for EA Sports F1 2002 and Sierra/Papyrus' superb NASCAR Racing 2003 Season run better on the GeForce 2 Ultra.
If you've got an older machine, you may still be able to run GPL. At least a 200 mhz machine is needed for GPL, but such a slow machine will require you to turn the graphic details way down to get the necessary 36 fps. You'll also need a suitable video card - and newer cards won't do.
400 mhz is better, but you'll still need to make compromises and you won't get the optimum experience with GPL - but it's still worth it!
If you have an older computer, go here.
A digital sound card helps performance, and avoiding the use of the serial port (for either analog modem or game controllers) and game port can make a big difference in frame rate.
See What other hardware goodies should I consider for GPL? and my Hardware FAQ for more details.
Some handy gadgets can improve your experience but are not essential to get going:
To repeat what I said above, all this stuff might seem expensive and maybe a pain to acquire, but it's worth it. Trying to get by with inadequate equipment is a mistake; you'll have just as bad a time as if you were trying to race with the real F1 circus using a ten year old car and worn out slicks.
Spend the money, do your homework, and you will have the opportunity for some truly ecstatic racing experiences.
There are two categories of things you need to download for GPL. First you need to download some patches from Papyrus, and then you can download a host of unhancements created by the GPL community.
Go to www.papy.com and download the following:
If you have a Voodoo or Rendition video card (the latter is highly unlikely unless you have an older computer!) you won't need the D3D and OpenGL patches, but you might as well get them in case you upgrade to a newer video card later. Get the CPU Speed Fix too, in case you upgrade your CPU later.
Patch Installation Note: Make sure you install the GPL 1.2 patch before you install other patches! If you install the CPU Speed Fix before you install the GPL 1.2 patch, GPL will crash to the desktop when you try to go to the Mulitplayer screen.
Fortunately the fix is easy: copy the original gpl.exe from the GPL CD to the GPL folder on your hard drive, reinstall the GPL 1.2 patch, and then reinstall the Speed Patch.
Note: If you are running Windows XP, please see my Windows XP FAQ for more information!
There is a large and very active GPL community, which has created hundreds of tracks for GPL, as well as gorgeous car graphics upgrades and many useful utilities and add-ons which can greatly enhance your enjoyment of GPL.
My favorite utilities are:
Other downloads include hundreds of setups you can use right out of the box, as well as add-ons like enhanced engine sounds and stunning car graphic upgrades.
For more information, see:
Once you've got a suitable computer with GPL installed, you can race with other GPL enthusiasts all over the world, any time of the day or night. You can also join one of many clubs and series devoted to online racing.
To race online, you'll need:
This may seem like a lot of downloading, but as software updates go, they are very small, a total of less than 3 mb for all the above downloads. Together with GPL, these downloads provide you with the absolute state of the art in Internet-based racing.
See my Online Racing page for more information about racing online. See What do I need to download for GPL? for more information about downloads for GPL.
If you use AOL, you may also need to get a different ISP. AOL used to be terrible for gaming because of very high latency and other problems symptomatic of an overloaded network infrastructure. I've heard they have improved their network and it may be possible to race over AOL now, but other ISP's will probably work better. You can try AOL first and see how it goes.
If you do get another ISP, you can still keep AOL and drop to their Bring Your Own ISP plan for $10/month.
If you can get a modem, DSL, or ISDN, you will almost certainly be much happier than with an analog telephone modem. Here are two sites that can help you check DSL availability and prices:
If either or DSL is available, I suggest you get it and ditch your analog modem.
Update, Februaruy 2003: When I first got my cable modem, I had a wonderful connection. However, over time it deteriorated and eventually became almost unusable. The cause turned out to be that my house is about 200 feet farther from the street than all of my neighbors. Since we're all on the same "plant", the signal level that was right for my neighbors was too weak for me. A Motorola Signal Booster Drop Amp ($80 from Best Buy) cured the problem.
David Noonan's Track Converter allows you to use tracks from CART and NASCAR (see below) in your GPL. If you're in the US, it will cost about $20 from Dave at his GPL Converter site. More details are on my Add-Ons page.
You'll also need some sims by Sierra/Papyrus to convert tracks from. I recommend NASCAR Racing 1999 Edition, NASCAR Racing 3, and NASCAR Legends, also Sierra CART Racing. Availability these days may be tricky; try Dragon or Sierra or these links:
If you order NASCAR stuff from Dragon, make sure you don't get the older EA Sports NASCAR games, including NASCAR 99, NASCAR Revolution, and NASCAR 2000. They are not convertible (and they are terrible, in my opinion). Also make sure you don't get any game console versions; you want PC games.
Because it models real cars very realistically, GPL can be very challenging. You may find GPL to be frustrating at first, partly because you may not have relevant experience in real cars. Very few people have driven wingless 400 hp, 1200 pound cars on hard, treaded tires.
Even experienced professional race drivers have a learning curve with GPL, because driving a simulator requires adapting to driving without the kind of kinesthetic ("seat of the pants") feedback that real cars give. However, most people can adapt to this within a few hours.
It can take quite a bit more time to learn to handle to cars with the power to weight ratio of GPL's F1 cars. Unless you have real-world experience with cars of similar performance, I suggest you start with the Trainers.
The "Basic Trainers" are actually virtually identical in power and weight to modern Formula Ford cars, and their tires approximate the radials used by modern racing schools. Just as real race drivers often start their careers in FF's, I recommend you drive a Basic Trainer until you've achieved a degree of mastery, and then move up to the Advanced Trainers.
The Advanced Trainers approximate Formula 2 cars of the era, and are fantastic fun to drive. They are excellent training for the Grand Prix cars, but many experienced GPL drivers prefer them to the GP cars. Racing is often very close and exciting.
Read the Trainer section of my General FAQ for information about how you can race the trainers against the computer-controlled cars (known as "the AI"). Join the VROC F2 Club to race with other people - including beginners and experts - online.
Car setup is very important in GPL. The cars and the tires are for the most part modeled very realistically, which means that the car needs to be set up at least as well as a real race car - and a bad setup can make the car just as undriveable as a poorly set up real car.
There are also some subtleties in GPL's tire and suspension models that make the cars even more sensitive to certain setup errors.
There are many Web sites with setups you can download for GPL, and eventually you may want to try setups used by the "aliens" (the sim racing term for drivers who exhibit unearthly speed).
However, to start with, you want setups that are stable and friendly. I've gotten very positive feedback from hundreds of GPLers who have used my setups to get started. A good many have told me that my setups are what kept GPL on their hard drive.
Please see my Setup page and download some of my setups.
The AI drivers in GPL have the peculiar and frustrating habit of getting faster by the race, at a rate faster than most real drivers' learning curve. You can, however, control the speed of the AI with a utility called AI Tweaker or with information I've included in the AI section of my FAQ.
If you choose to save replays of your practice laps or races, you can later analyse this data in a manner very similar to that used by top-level real-world racers.
GPL's superb replay mechanism saves extremely accurate and detailed information about the laps you do. GPL Replay Analyser is a superb tool allows you to analyse this information in great detail. You can also compare your laps to laps done by other drivers. Various GPL sites make world-record laps available, and you can download these and compare your best laps to them. GPL Replay Analyser will allow you to see where you can gain the most time.
I often save online races and later compare my best lap with those of faster drivers. Even though the remote cars suffer from some "noise" introduced by the latency inherent in racing over the Internet, I almost always learn something useful.
GPL and GPL Replay Analyser together provide one of the most cost-effective training tools available in the racing world.
Although some might consider it a bit long-winded, this page barely scratches the surface of the vast amount of information and enhancements available for GPL. For more, see The Essential GPL Sites.
An excellent site of particular interest to beginners is the GPL Beginner's Guide by Phil Lee.