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I've been planning for a long time to mix data from OpenStreetMap, some digital elevation model (heightmap), satellite imagery for textures, and cook a racing/cruising game where I could drive around familiar parts of the city.

OpenStreetMap contains very nice and detailed maps of all the locations I've checked, so I imagine it won't be so hard to download data for a specified region, like Boone County, Nebraska and stuff them into the game. I could generate buildings in 3d somewhat, as they have defined contour in OpenStreetMap. Roads would be the easiest thing to do as they are the core part of OSM.

What I'm worried about is the game/"simulator" part. I don't know where particularly to start. I suppose I would have to generate a lot of this world during the loading / on the fly. I don't even know if there is anything racing/vehicular-like out there available to use, except for the XNA Racing Game. I'm employed as C# developer, so I'm skilled in that language, but I'd be willing to venture into Python or something similar, if it would increase productivity in this hobby project.

Can you recommend me some engines worth looking into?

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Personally I don't think there's that much special about racing games that makes them that specific to choose engines for.

I would think that things like cost, language, platforms, art pipeline, etc. are more relevant to the topic at hand. Since there are at least a dozen "what engine should I use for game type X" questions out there I'm not going to rehash the same answers over and over.

A lot of the problems with making a game can be solved by not picking a design that requires advanced features. Don't try to make a racing game with Forza-style ultra realistic physics. Don't try to make a game where there are streaming levels or procedurally generated levels. Solve the "make the game fun" part first, then add the complicated features. Pretty much any engine with some kind of middleware can be used to some success to make a car work. Visibility problems and solutions (occlusion culling, mainly) are going to be similar in pretty much all engines.

All that being said, if you're completely floundering about, the Unity guys put together a sample project with a pair of cars that would get you up and running pretty quickly, and the Unity engine itself is easy to use. See http://blogs.unity3d.com/2010/04/24/car-tutorial/

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yes, I definitely do not want to focus on the car physics or bells and whistles. thanks for a nice answer –  Axarydax Jan 24 '11 at 19:22
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