Due to the imminent release of MotoGP 08 on PS3 and Xbox 360, I thought it would be a good time to look at the technique required in the more simulation-oriented motorcycle racers.
I must preface this by saying that there are many different methods that will help you accomplish the goal of being a faster motorcycle racer -- this strategy will only be one of them. Also, while nothing beats practicing and refining your technique, this upcoming method may help some newer riders learn how to get up to speed with the thought process required while racing.
The first thing to come to grips with is the fact that in most current motorcycle sims, the rider and the bike are modeled independently, which leads many newer players to feel a slight disconnect. When you come up to a corner in a car, for example, you simply turn the wheel and your car goes around the corner, simple enough.
On a motorcycle, it’s a very different process. You have to set up for the corner well ahead of time, and when you first move the stick over on your controller, you can think of it as the rider actually shifting his weight to one side of the bike. Once that shift happens, then the motorcycle can begin its lean into the corner and the actual cornering process begins.
What this feels like is a slight delay in what you do on the controller and the actual change of direction on the track. It’s of the utmost importance that you know about this ahead of time if you plan to succeed as a motorcycle racer.
The second thing that takes some getting accustomed to is separate brakes for the front and rear tires. It’s one thing to have a gas and brake trigger in a game, but suddenly you have your triggers as front and rear brake, with the R-stick controlling your throttle. Combine that with the fact that you’re still moving the left stick around for rider positioning and steering, and you have quite a display of finger dexterity going on.
Most games (including MotoGP 08) include an "old school" method of gas and brake triggers, but you will never be as fast as a rider who has mastered front and rear braking technique. The reason is simple -- stopping power and the ability to shift the line in a corner simply by using the front brake.
If you have separated brakes and enter a corner a bit too hot, you can continue to apply a minor amount of braking force to the front tire, which gets the weight shifted forward while applying more bite on the tire that’s controlling the steering. That allows you to push the vehicle deeper into a corner while maintaining much finer control.
You can apply the same thought to the rear tire: You can chirp it with a quick lock up and kick out the rear tire for a power slide (much like a handbrake in a car), although in most cycle games you simply gun the throttle and lean. Visions of Wile E. Coyote strapped to an ACME rocket come to mind when you’re doing this at 180 mph.
If you have the brakes mapped to a single trigger, you lose a lot of that fine control. There are even more detailed things you can do with separated brakes, like subtle shifts of the bike weight during deceleration or cornering. You can always choose to apply more front or rear brake, allowing you to control exactly how you want your weight balance to be throughout the corner. A single trigger won’t let you do that.
But in the end, the biggest benefit for the "dual braker" is the fact that he or she will be able to push it into a corner much deeper than a single-brake racer. And when you can beat your opponents to the corner, you’ve already won most of the battle.
Once you figure out that you have to plan a bit ahead due to the rider positioning technique, and manage the weight balance with the dual brakes, you start to discover the fact that you can get into a flow on circuits with sections of esses or sweeper corners, even more so than with car racing games.
With a motorcycle game, you’re constantly planning ahead, so when you hit a section of winding S-corners, you’ll find that you’re actually beginning to set up for the next corner while still in the middle of the current turn. This means that you’ll actually be starting to lean over to the left for a smooth entry into the next turn while the bike is still hard over to the right side.
It really takes a lot of practice, because you can (again, referring to separate braking here) simply use a tap of the front brake to "snap" the bike around to where you want it to; a quick weight shift at lower speeds through technical sections can get you through them in a hurry. However, you can also just be very efficient with your cornering and set up and make it through via the next topic, which is throttle management.
Much like any other racing game, high-performance MotoGP bikes require precise control of the throttle. Unlike other racing games, however, spinning a MotoGP bike’s rear wheel on corner exit due to being a little overzealous with the throttle application can lead to disastrous results. A four-wheeled car might drift into a nice slide, but only the very experienced bike racer can really control drifts like that at high speed.
Most racers will end up low-siding the bike, which means you lose traction and the bike slides out from under you. Even worse, you could chirp the tire, get nervous and try to recollect it, and then you end up high-siding, which is much, MUCH worse. In that situation, the bike catches traction, but it’s heading the wrong way from your momentum -- so it snaps sideways and sends the rider flying over the top, usually landing in a lump of broken bones and bruised body parts (or worse). Sometimes that snap-rolling motorcycle lands on top of him as well.
Given the alternatives, it’s always better to exhibit patience when exiting a corner on a bike. One reckless moment can lead to a totaled bike and a lost race, so wait until you are almost straight after a corner exit to be at full throttle; smoothly apply throttle, and don’t mash it like a digital on/off switch. If you learn proper throttle management and combine it with the planning and dual-braking, you will be in racing nirvana.
The reason for this is because at that point, you end up being proficient in first-person mode (a motorcycle racing game’s equivalent of a cockpit mode), so you're able to predict what the bike is going to do and not rely on the visual cues that a zoomed-out third-person camera gives you.
There’s nothing better than knowing that you’re riding around a track on the razor’s edge, right at the limit of the bike’s traction on a corner exit, and close to losing the front end every time you push it deeper into a corner. Yet somehow, lap after lap, you find that perfect groove of planning, weight shifting, braking, and throttle application that lets you break your lap records and leave your competitors in the dust.
In MotoGP racing, that’s what it’s all about. Push the envelope a little further than the other guy can, because unlike in a car racing game, a bobble or run off-track won’t lose you two or three seconds. In MotoGP, a bobble or off-track excursion can easily result in losing 30 seconds. Learning to ride that edge requires a lot of practice, and even more guts.