Lets set a scene
If you didn’t know, Grand Prix 4 is relatively old. Probably the biggest thing that’s kept it alive so long is the fantastic ability to mod it, and the communities that have built up around doing just that. And trust me, people have done great things. I’ve seen mods for motorbikes, Yas Marina complete with animated objects, and overhauls that make the game look way closer to modern releases than I ever expected. It may not sound that all that brilliant, but for a game released in 2002 that’s not bad!
The biggest problem with communities though is they aren’t always organised. Trying to find what you want is like trying to locate your short mother in a crowd, you may stumble across her but there’s also a chance you’ll just get bored and entertain yourself with someone (or something) else. Add in to that the fact there are multiple crowds (communities) and you’ve got a real effort on your hands. So what to do… well the obvious thing of course would be getting a list of sorts.
Some have tried, almost all have failed, although not through lack of trying. Getting that many items together in a list, WITH details is a hell of a job. That’s without trying to add links so that it all can be downloaded straight from the list. And THEN making sure it’s up to date with all new releases. We’re talking 14 years worth of forum posts here. For some stupid reason, probably boredom, the idea of putting that together actually appealed to my love of raw data editing… so I did.
Choosing the battleground
The first issue is how. Well asides from the obvious “why the hell would you want to”. The two ways I’d seen previously were an excel spreadsheet and a forum post. A forum post was never going to work, assuming I did manage to get everything it’d be way to small, and an absolute pain in the ass to maintain. An excel spreadsheet is better, but then you’ve got to have versions, and people will have the wrong version, or they won’t want to download it, or they’ll have a fear of excel because Microsoft stole their first born. I don’t know, users are complicated.
Having done one previous project on Google Sheets, I figured that might be the best route to go down. It’s free, has a “live” version and is fairly easy to edit and maintain. So that’s what I went with, a massive spreadsheet that listed everything, and that could be read by anyone should they need it.
As an aside, I’d have loved to have made a dedicated website but a couple of factors stopped me:
- I figured it wouldn’t be that big a project (oh boy was I wrong…)
- I simply didn’t have enough time to set it up
- Some communities are a little odd about views being “stolen”
I’d still love to make it into a website now, but number 2 is very much at play. At this point the project is settled enough and working well, so any major changes like that would be a a bonus rather than a necessary.
Tackling the beast
My original plan involved doing just full mods, tracks and track-packs. From my point of view these were what most people wanted to find, or the most “exciting” downloads. And with that I started writing down every single download I could come across. There isn’t really much to add to that except to say it was a massive amount of repetitive data entry. Under just those three categories there are just over 750 downloads, all needing links, authors, years and other details. Did I get RSI? Quite possibly.
The biggest issue was finding everything. Obviously there are great partial sites such as GP4DB and GPGames.eu, and previous database attempts by nhorry and gitanes were a massive help. After that it was a simple but arduous case of trawling GPG.org, GP4Forever and my hard drive (I have a massive collection, I’m a track nerd) for every file and post that I could come across. Eventually it reached a point where I felt it was complete, so it got released to the wild.
For the most part it was received pretty well. People chipped in with lost downloads or corrections where possible and honestly all of that was (and still is) much appreciated. Perhaps the thing I didn’t anticipate was the negative reaction to author errors. Constrained to a very few cases, you’d be surprised how annoyed someone can get when they think their work has been attributed to someone else. Unfortunately with the sheer number of entries there are, mistakes happen. If they’re there, I apologise. All you have to do is let me know and it will get fixed.
Making my life harder
For whatever reason, releasing it made me want to make it more complete. Knowing how much typing it took, I’m not sure why. Maybe I had some sort of database addiction… But make it more complete is what I tried to do. 5 more sections were added; Cars, Car Mods, Track Mods, Game Mods, and Tools, with an extra 1 added later on; Tutorials. Those extra categories bumped the number of downloads up to around 2300. Yes, I’ve spent part of my life categorising 2300 downloads.
To be honest these additions opened up a whole new can of worms. Tools were not too bad, everything else? All over the damn place. Finding links to tracks felt like an absolute party compared to tracking links for individual components. To this day the database isn’t completely correct due to the sheer number of forum posts that need to be trawled through, and the amount of users not replying to requests to re-upload their content.
And then there’s the problem of finding anything. Whats the point of a database if it’s so big and messy that finding stuff is impossible. So I had to set about building a search method. Ctrl + F obviously works, but I wanted to make it more built in than that. Luckily a little bit of formula magic combined with some white coloured text and I was able to come up with some dynamic category based drop-downs. Honestly it took me a while to wrangle all the logic together, but if anyone is interested I might look at posting a little run through of how it works at some point.
So that’s it really. That’s happened behind the scenes to make probably the biggest and most complete database for Grand Prix 4 that I know of. There aren’t many plans for it with the future, most revolve around creating backups of file links alongside maintaining and updating links/new downloads as required. As I mentioned I have considered making it a website, but right now that just doesn’t seem possible with the time and other projects I have going.
I have considered going to other games/communities and offering to do the same for them, maybe somewhere else is in desperate need of cataloguing. However I’d have no idea where to start, which game to go for, or even whether it’d be needed. If anyone knows of community that would benefit from this then by all means let me know, but until then I’ll stick with maintaining the GP4 one.
Maybe someone found this interesting, or the process useful. Who knows.
(Credit to Isaint for the Featured Image)