After overcoming my relative newness to this game and finding moderate success with the Koliada Kombi in Oppo Automation Challenge #2, I thought I’d share a guide of sorts to foster competition in future challenges and help get others who are new to the game up and running quickly. This guide is by no means comprehensive, as Automation is pretty complicated and I’m still learning a few things myself (especially the wizardry that is turbo design), but it should at least be enough to get a competent design together in relatively short order. Emphasis on the "relatively", because this is gonna be a bit long.
If you just clicked this and are wondering what the hell Automation and our Oppo Challenges are, think of it like D&D for car nerds (h/t @sony1492 for the most apt description of this I've read yet). It’s still technically in early access, but it does have a lot of draw for being one of the only games that will let you fully design an engine AND the car attached to it. You can build your dream car, recreate a favorite from your past, or just go crazy and make that 16-cylinder hyper-pickup that your inner 8 year old always wanted. What really takes this game to the next level though is ... well ... a different game. With BeamNG, you can go enjoy your exported Automation designs in a driving sim with good soft-body physics (read: it has cool crashes).
If you’re on board with this idea, consider grabbing the game(s) and jumping in to one of @Taylor-Martin's Oppo Automation Challenges. As of this writing, Challenge #3 is underway and there is a small, foolish group of us working furiously to pit our cars against one another. Come on and join us! How can you say "no" to this face?
(car by @CivicWagonEngineer, photo by @Taylor-Martin )
Now, on to the actual guide.
Part 1: Tutorials, and by Tutorials, I Mean Challenges
Unfortunately when you click “Tutorials” on the main menu, all you’ll be greeted by is a single YouTube video. It’s maybe worth watching if you know absolutely nothing about the game, but it will only barely give you an idea of what you need to make "an car" (with apologies to Regular Car Reviews). Sure, you can go jump in to the designer and throw some sliders around until you get something that works, but what if you have a specific goal in mind? This is where the in-game Challenges come in. Don’t worry though, the label makes it sound a lot more intimidating than it really is.
In my opinion, the first 15ish Engine Scenarios and 1-2 Car Scenarios will give anyone a solid foundation to get started. It may sound like a lot, and I know you’re probably eager to go design the best alternative-universe El Camino that came to you in your dreams last night, but the first 10 Engine Scenarios go really quick. Quick like moving one slider quick. Just make sure you at least skim the descriptions, because there is a lot of good information there. Aim for gold or platinum on the Engines and any passing score for the Car(s). Don’t be afraid to mess around a little bit after you meet the goals either.
Part 2: Your Ideal Body
Now you can get started! Hop into the Car Designer and kick off a new design. Make use of the Filters on the right to narrow things down to fit your intended build goals. Also note the available scroll bar and right-click drag functionality. There are probably more than a few body styles hanging out past the right edge of the screen.
Once you find a few that catch your eye, go ahead and hover your mouse over them. Keep in mind that certain stats will influence aspects of your build and how it gets scored. For example, Cabin and Cargo Volume can affect stats like practicality, while Track Width and other body dimensions can determine things like tire size limits, weight, and the cost of fitting larger engines. Markets, if relevant, care a great deal about your choice here as well.
Before going much further though, it's worth quickly noting how year settings work. Your engine family, engine variant, car model, and car trim ALL can potentially have different years associated with them. Fortunately, they can be changed (mostly) freely by using the control in the upper left while having the corresponding tabs (on the bottom) open. Newer will generally be better for your stats, but it's up to you to weigh that against the available body aesthetics.
Part 3: Start Cheap, Start Fast
The items at the top of each option list are usually the least expensive in terms of material cost, production units, and/or engineering time. This applies to both the engine and car options. I suggest just slamming through those cheap choices as quickly as possible because in order to see your stats, you first need a “whole” engine or car. Not only that, but it can help avoid the trap of forgetting about and inadvertently over-spending on an expensive part you might not need. Just make sure you fully complete both the engine AND the car before you start tinkering. The reason for this will (hopefully) become apparent later.
This is probably as good of a time as any to introduce an “example” car for this guide, a quick knock-off 240Z with a larger Inline 6 that aims to be at least somewhat sporty and drivable without sacrificing too much in the other categories. It will also be adhering to most of the Oppo Automation Challenge #3 Rules, which I've selectively pared down to the following
- Engine: <=35 Production Units, <=90 Engineering Time, <=60 Loudness, no “race” parts, any Leaded fuel
- Car: <=80 Production Units, <=70 Engineering Time, >=20 Safety, no semi-slicks
- Quality (for both): -4 to +4
(Note: The I6 and lack of adherence to the wheelbase minimum is intentional, so to provide full details without giving away a complete car for this challenge.)
If you don’t know what Production Units and Engineering Time are, they’re the bottom two statistics in the following screenshots. You can think of them as how long something takes to be manufactured and designed.
Part 4: Knock Knock. Who’s There?
You will almost certainly run into Knock, Valve Float, or some other undue stress to various engine components right away. But you know how to fix those from doing the challenges, right? You did those, right?
In the case of the example “Z”, Knock and Valve Float were an immediate concern. Those were fixed by lowering the Compression (8.2:1) and the RPM Limit (4700) respectively. Now we have an engine that won’t immediately explode!
Be sure to also take a peek at your car’s stats at this point as well. The Variant Statistics panel on the left switches to your car's Trim Statistics on any of the red tabs). You'll probably notice several warnings in the screenshot below, and will probably have some of your own at this point. They can be viewed either on the summary tab or by hovering over the red/yellow/blue alert icon in the bottom right. Reds should be prioritized for fixing, yellows should be considered if they align with your goals, and blues are low-impact, mostly inconsequential notes.
If either your engine or car exceed the cost limits of your particular build, consider a different Engine Block configuration or one with fewer cylinders. Also, what I said above about the cheapest things being at the top of the list isn’t true 100% of the time. For instance, Direct Acting OHC and everybody’s favorite Gearbox, Manuel. If you fully cheaped out on all the parts and that still wasn’t enough, try evenly dropping the quality sliders on each page until the car can fit within your cost limits.
Part 5: MORE POWER!
You should hopefully have some breathing room in your budget now, so the only way to go from here is up! There are a lot of decisions to be made, but the popups from hovering over a new option will help you make them.
For the example “Z”, costs are still pretty low, so we can easily afford some engine upgrades, like…
- Conrods - Heavy Duty Forged (a relatively inexpensive way to up your RPM and torque limits)
- Pistons - Forged (same reason as the above)
- Fuel System - Twin 4 Barrel Carbs (more pricey, but will support more power at higher RPMs)
- Intake - Performance (it’s basically a free upgrade unless you really care about loudness)
- Headers - Tubular (for more performance overhead, dude)
- Second Muffler - Baffled (to meet the noise limit, and because Second Muffler is best muffler)
Next, consider increasing the engine capacity. More displacement means more power, but it comes at the cost of internal component stress and car Engineering Time. Someone still has to stuff that thing into your body, after all. If you click the button in the lower left to “Toggle Graph Visibility”, you can see an engine sizing chart to the right. The Fill column and the drivetrain row matching your car is what you want to keep an eye on here. Engineering Time costs will remain consistent up to a point and then start increasing exponentially. Attached parts also play a role in engine size, which is why I suggested having a “complete” engine and car previously.
We’ll play it safe with the “Z” here and opt for an oversquare 3.2L engine for now. With a base Engineering Time cost of 6 for the default 3L capacity, this upgrade was nearly free. If I were to push towards 4L, the cost would ramp up to ~8 and then skyrocket shortly thereafter.
And now, it’s slider time! There are several different ways to approach this, but the main thing here is to pay attention to the Variant Statistics Panel. Be sure to take a moment and hover over the icons to learn what each of them mean. As you change things, values will highlight green or red to indicate the positive or negative effects. If you want to compare multiple changes or create a temporary engine backup, you can make use of the Hold Engine buttons at the bottom of the stat panel.
I personally like to take these first few steps for my engines to develop a healthy baseline and then progress it further from there. Numbers from the “Z” provided for reference.
- RPM - increase until you approach or start to pass Stress limits (5700, Valve Float ~8%)
- Fuel Mixture - adjust for maximum Performance Index (PI) without Knock (13.0)
- Ignition Timing - max PI w/o Knock (100)
- Compression and Cam Profile - increase both to remove Valve Float. If Ignition Timing is really high (like it is here) feel free to reintroduce some Knock while you do this (9.1:1 and 60 respectively)
- Ignition Timing (again) - reduce to remove Knock (92)
- Exhaust Diameter - adjust for max PI (2.25 in.)
After the changes above, things are looking much better for the “Z” and it's still very much under-budget. Don’t worry though, we’ll come back to this in a bit.
It's worth noting here that almost everything above was done mostly with performance in mind, so feel free to tone things down for better fuel economy, reliability, emissions, or other stats. For example, if I wanted better fuel economy, I could try to lean out the fuel mixture, change the fuel delivery part selections, decrease the exhaust diameter, etc.
It never hurts to try mixing some part changes in with your adjustments to see if you can improve your stats or cost efficiency. Don’t worry about getting everything 100% perfect right away though. You’ll still need to see how it generally works with the rest of the car first.
Part 6: Whipping That Body Into Shape
Next up is the cornucopia of car settings. The options here are even more numerous than they were for the engine and they’re even more open to interpretation, so I’ll just be noting the “major players” and less-than-obvious parts in each tab here.
Chassis: Remember that first tab where you could choose some things after the body style? Make sure you don’t forget about it over on the left side of the tabs. Certain changes to Chassis Type and Suspension can have significant impacts to your car’s Trim Statistics … assuming you can afford them. Also, be sure to note that a Quality slider is available here too, which can also influence a wide range of stats.
Trim Body: In addition to choosing your body variation, you can also adjust its quality. This is a decent way to pinch pennies without too severe of a penalty to your stats, other than perhaps safety and prestige.
Drivetrain: Basically everything here will cause substantial changes to drivability and sportiness. Top speed not only affects gearing, but also your car’s Material Costs by requiring higher speed-rated tires. In most cases, a good 0-62 can be achieved by aiming to hit 62-65mph in 2nd gear, or if you're stuck with a lot of drivability-harming wheelspin, 1st. Hovering over the Top Speed or Spacing sliders will give you a lot of helpful information in these regards. Gearing for fuel economy is mostly just trial and error and will frequently need to be re-assessed if you change your engine any further. Removing a point or three of quality here is another good way to lower costs without totally ruining your stats if you're running out of cost-cutting ideas.
Wheels: As we should all hopefully know, the little patches of rubber connecting the car and the road play a huge role in how your car drives, and it's no different in Automation. Nearly everything from drivability to practicality to fuel economy to prestige is in play here. Quality increases can help all of these things but the cost ramps up quickly after the first few ticks. Wider tire limits can be unlocked by changing suspension parts, stretching the fenders (more on this in a moment), increasing Tyre Diameter, and/or decreasing Rim Diameter. For example, compare:
- Body Morphing: If you aren't familiar with this feature, it can be accessed through one of the "routes" pictured below. In addition to the aforementioned fender stretching, you can poke and prod at a number of other body features (like your roofline, hood length, door size, and more). This is a great way to further customize your car to your liking, or even boost some of your stats! As for which morphs influence which stats ... well, it varies wildly from body to body, so you'll just have to experiment.
Brakes: Not much to say here. Just watch your drivability, sportiness, and/or comfort stats as you make your adjustments. This category can be close to the front of the line for dropping quality if you need to lower your costs. Be aware that a statistically “good” brake bias may not translate into a very stable braking experience when exporting to BeamNG if that matters to you.
Aerodynamics: This is one of the easiest places to go to bump up your more "practical" stats (utility, offroad, reliability, fuel economy). If you add a front splitter or rear wing fixture, you will unlock the corresponding Wing Angle setting, which come with their own Engineering Time costs if not zeroed out. Speaking of which, ET costs ramp up exponentially here, so it's a good place to free some of that up if needed or squeeze out some better numbers if you only have some headroom in that stat at the end. That said, changes made here have relatively minor effects overall, so the quality slider here should also be in consideration for a “dump stat” if you need more room in your budget.
Interior: Don’t neglect seating arrangement settings, as they can change up many of your stats, especially practicality and utility. Improve the Interior and Entertainment as much as you can afford if comfort or prestige matter. Otherwise, it’s just another quality dump.
Driver Aids and Safety: Steering options cause pretty big swings between sportiness and drivability. However, you can still improve both of those regardless of that setting by simply adding quality. Safety is barely worth mentioning here because it just is what it is; add it if you need it, dump it if you don't.
Suspension: Presets are a great way to start. Be sure to click through all of them, because the right one for your build might not be the one you expect. If you make any other major changes to the car, click that preset again and it will readjust. Once you feel your entire mechanical build is around 95% complete, you can try messing with the Suspension Tuning and Ride Height to try and further optimize your stats. Quality increases here can be expensive, but have a wide range of benefits.
After a (very) quick run through all of the tabs mentioned above, the example “Z”, now looks like this:
If you want a complete breakdown of what is influencing each stat or you find yourself baffled as to why one of them is so low, the Testing tab in Detail Stats mode is here for you.
Part 7: MORE MORE POWER!
Now we can put the finishing touches on the engine. There are too many interconnected pieces and little nuances to spell out when it comes to fine-tuning the remaining parts, nevermind varying goals, so here are some general tips and suggestions for trying to get the most out of it.
Try a turbo:
Turbos require a lot of trial and error (too much to cover in this already-too-long guide), but are worth considering if the option is available to your build. This is best accomplished by cloning your engine variant so you don't lose your previous work and so you can easily compare against the naturally-aspirated version. Turbos add to cost, reduce reliability, and might lower your car's final drivability score, but can potentially add power and/or improve your fuel economy by a significant amount. Just keep in mind that you will probably need to adjust compression and fueling parameters to get the most out of one.
Engine Quality Sliders:
- Bottom End - If you already upgraded your Piston/Conrod/Crank and still need a little more strength to handle higher RPMs and/or torque, this is where you go. If your engine is under-stressed, you can safely drop this down to lower your costs.
- Top End - This has some of the most positive overall impacts on your engine statistics out of anything you can touch on any of the engine tabs. It can even mitigate Valve Float to some extent. It does get expensive quickly, however.
- Turbo - This is mostly just trading Engineering Time for Reliability or vice versa, with little to no influence in other stats.
- Fuel System - Similar to Top End, this can have a wide range of benefits from power to fuel economy and can mitigate Knocking or raise the knock ceiling for more aggressive compression, timing, or fueling.
- Exhaust - Quality here can potentially help your fuel economy, emissions, power, and loudness, but the effects are relatively small. Fortunately, the costs are small as well, so consider this one more of a fine-tuning parameter for later in your build.
Revisit your displacement:
If you have Bottom End strength to spare, consider increasing Stroke. Same goes for Valve Float and Bore. Just keep in mind the possible effects on your car's Engineering Time from your engine size. Jumping back and forth between tabs to track both engine size and car ET values is a hassle, but it’s worthwhile. It’s almost guaranteed that you can still eke out a few more horses and torques here near the end of your build. Alternatively, you can also try taking them down a few notches if you’re just past one of the Stress limits or you want to afford more ET to develop other parts of your car.
Double-check your other sliders:
Try bumping each of them up or down a few notches. Almost everything is related to several other things, so one of your previous changes might have opened up room for improvement elsewhere or changed the optimal value.
Check the engine’s latest influence on your car:
Your changes will likely affect attributes like smoothness, loudness, fuel efficiency, responsiveness, torque curve … all of which can further influence your chassis statistics. Using the Hold button in the Trim Statistics window can help ease the pain of trying to determine how your changes to multiple engine values translate into multiple car values. Also, just to clarify, your engine Production Units DO NOT affect your car's Production Units.
After adjusting the “Z” engine’s qualities and giving it a quick once-over, this was the result. There’s still a little more room to grow for this one, but this is good enough to at least illustrate the above points for now.
Part 8: Competing Against Yourself
So now you’ve got some numbers, but how good are they really? A good way to find out is to spin off a few more quick builds focused almost entirely on one stat. This will give you an idea of what is possible at the extremes for each relevant category and an easy comparison to refer to while finalizing your build. Make a cheap one, make an expensive one, make a fast/powerful one, make a comfortable/efficient one, make one with a totally different engine or body... This may be time-consuming, but it can potentially be a very helpful step if you want to try and compete “on paper” with anyone else.
If you’re like me and enjoy trying to poke at the limits of various systems and trying to break them in amusing ways, you’ll probably have a good time here. For example, while building for Oppo Automation Challenge #3, I threw together some min-maxed examples focused on things like luxury, sportiness, 0-62, etc. The "PureDrag" one pictured below can (supposedly) pull off a 4.9 second 0-62, which is bonkers for 1965 and street tires ... but it's completely awful in every other regard.
Once you have a few solid “competitors”, head back to your original car, hit that comparison button at the top of the Trim Statistics pane, and see how they stack up. It’s likely that you will have learned something along the way and can apply it to your “main” car. Or maybe you accidentally put together a better "competitor" and want to move forward with it instead. Regardless, you should now have some new ideas to explore.
I don’t have a competitor for the “Z” handy, so here’s it next to my Koliada Kombi from Challenge #2 (“Cheap and Crap”) for fun.
Step 9: Make It Yours
If you made it this far, congrats. You should have a reasonably well-sorted car that you want to hold on to at this point, so go to town on those visual fixtures and keep chasing improvements. Just make sure you take a few breaks to treat yourself to some time in photo mode and/or BeamNG so you can fully enjoy your creation.
I hope this guide was helpful, and feel free to leave any comments, tips, or suggestions of your own. And finally, a quick thanks to @Taylor-Martin for putting on the regular Oppo Automation Challenges which got me started doing this in the first place.