Two weeks ago, we took a look at the world of sim racing and their fanatical followers. We spoke to Fanatec about their racing wheels and how they enhance the sim racing experience.
This week, we continue this two-parter with a look at the proper racing cockpit setup. What’s a good racing wheel without a proper cockpit setup? Take it from me; a racing wheel is nice, but if you’re forced to sit in an office chair with the wheel clamped to a 2 x 4 attached to a rudimentary stand, you’re not getting the full experience. In fact, it’s an incredibly uncomfortable experience. A cockpit setup is necessary because it places the wheel and pedals at the correct distance so that you can focus on your driving and not how uncomfortable you are.
No one knows the importance of a proper cockpit more than VisionRacer CEO David Harvey, a sim racing enthusiast and one of the biggest car nuts I know. Not only does Mr. Harvey create some extremely high quality cockpit setups, he also has been restoring and building race cars from scratch for years. If anyone can tell you why a cockpit/wheel setup is necessary to play a sim racer, then he can.
GAMING EXAMINER: Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way first: obviously you’re aware of Playseat and the popularity of their cockpits. What makes yours different from theirs, and why should gamers consider a VisionRacer as opposed to a considerably more affordable Playseat?
DAVID HARVEY: We feel Playseat have filled an important role to date. The more people into virtual driving and racing the better.
The VisionRacer VR3 product will stand on its own merit. As sim and real race car builder/drivers we had a set of criteria we desired in a rig to meet. Like cable management, I hate messy cabling. The wheel and pedals require power, usb normally and connection to the shifter via cables. I personally like the my race gear to be a statement in style, form and practical function.
We would suggest the actual differential is made up of the a few element. Quality of the materials go hand in hand with style, fit and finish. Secondly, we have gone past just the VR3 product with SimRoom. Our clients are asking us for parts right up to complete “ready to drive” solutions. So as opposed to saying whats the difference between the rigs we would suggest what the difference between our solutions today and going forward?
Without getting too far ahead of ourselves we have stated our mission is to provide 2D/3D full stereoscopic motion based simulators at an affordable price. That has every component compatible and integrated. Our clients typically do not see themselves as “gamers”. They uses technology daily, love driving cool cars, likes quality and longevity. Client service and support is important. Style, design and build quality is a must. Price is not a prime consideration but value for money is calculated.
Playseat sell mainly direct which has not built an agent service base. Their clients don’t consider value added services such as builds and installation are important. We feel with the complexity of the technology clients prefer service and support readily at hand.
The next step is a new approach to involving our community in the design of the products and when they are produced. Watch this space.
GE: Please tell us a little more about the features that make a VisionRacer cockpit unique.
DH: To us style and attention to detail. We spend 100′s of hours going over every detail from the product design to photography. We design our own websites and sophisticated CRM workflow systems behind the scenes to deliver clients service .
We talk through and evaluate every client interaction because we are interested. We care. Our philosophy is we are servicing a growing user base and clients demands and desires for a virtually real experience.
Due to this client interaction we made 20+changes and improvements to our last version. Most not seen but important to our clients so vital to us.
We see the VR3 base as a platform to add accessories to, which make the experience and ownership of our product better.
GE: What are the main differences between the four setups that are available?
DH: Our philosophy is value. Clients can;
1) Buy parts to custom make their own unit. Hence we have launched SimRoom.com. This is for sim racing and soon flying, another passion of ours.
2) Buy a validated solution in parts to have fun and the challenge of building at home or;
3) Have a professional build, install and integrate with the clients existing or new AV gear.
Will a choice of the mild steel VR3 “Black Label” or polished stainless steel called “Chrome”. Add what you like up to a turnkey solution delivered before Christmas day without disappointment.
Add motion. It’s expensive but eye boggling, jaw dropping good. Add the new visual devices to your base unit as they are released knowing you investment is protected.
NVIDIA have been using 25 VR3′s as shown in this video.
GE: I can go on all day about why wheel/cockpit based racing is the only true way to play a sim racing game as opposed to a controller. Can you offer some thoughts to our readers why a racing game is a completely different beast with a wheel/cockpit setup?
DH: When learning to fly a 747 a simulator seems obvious. When learning to drive a 600hp car it seems people feel that simulated experience is unnecessary.
Not many people have actually driven a car to the limits in a position to evaluate the outcomes. The male ego feels it’s natural to drive, but would not consider taking a 747 for a “fang”.
More is possible with more natural analogue inputs. I drive a car with focus on entry point and exit point. During the corner I am evaluating a patch of traction about the size of your hand for mechanical grip.
That relies on sound, the back of my thighs, every part of my arse, most of my feet, lateral forces on my sides, the loading of the wheel on my finger tips and oh yes, my eyes are thrown in.
Simulation VS Arcade gives more input; such as the infinite positions of a wheel and pedals. Controllers can no longer transfer the fidelity of the software used by either PC or Console.
In the GT Academy in NZ the one “pad” guy who made it to the finals was hopelessly outclassed when it came to using a G27 and pedals. 2+ seconds off the pace.
The objective depending on what camp you are in is to have the most convincing experience possible.
There will always be fast console pad drivers but until the wheel and pedals are replaced a controller is an attempt at the real thing. It does not make sense. I have told 15 year olds they are gaming dinosaurs.
We can convince anyone that the correct seating position and all the little nuances make a huge and fundamental difference. The choice of the level of fidelity will define where people feel comfortable and so it should do.
I get stressed out trying to relate my training dumbed down to a console pad. I’m less than average.
GE: Are there any plans to release a lower tier cockpit that’s more in line with the pricing model of a Playseat?
DH: Not at this point. The VR3 Black was designed as the entry level so starts at the US$780. Funnily enough the Black Edition with the Carbon seat has been in demand. It’s the James Bond black look versus the traditional polished furniture look. It’s a matter of taste and decor.
GE: For those with a smaller playing space, how convenient is the VisionRacer to fold up, if it does at all?
DH: Our response is you will never want to put it away. The VR3 is 1.6m long and requires 750mm of width. It does not fold as this compromises the seat integrity. We have had one suggestion we will implement and that’s a joint in the LCD stand so it can be swiveled 90 degrees. This allows the unit to be put up against the wall with the TV facing into the room and then turned back towards the seat.
This quote came from a valued Asian client. “My wife turned down the budget for the VR3 sorry, but I buy anyway and take bolt out of LCD holder can swivel. Now holds our Samsung 32″ LED. Wife now approves of most beautiful TV holder in world and we both happy Regards, Chan, Hong Kong”
GE: Let’s talk a little about the accessories that Vision Racer provides. What is, and how does the D-BOX work?
DH: D-BOX is a USB based controller and up to 4 electromechanical actuators. The driving code is synchronized with motion signals. The D-BOX developers have got the vibration, rumble and motion queue very tight. Some motion simulators have a lag or disconnection in the motion. The motion is around 1.5″ per actuator. This may not seem much but given 1G+ of force this translates well with the HD visuals available. You can spend hours in the VR3 going hard with motion. It does wear you out but I have been in a number of professional driving rigs at studios and they don’t offer the same fidelity for the price.
The VR3 is the platform for a range of accessories. It’s a platform to build onto and around. We used to call it middleware in IT terms.
GE: What’s the difference between the 3-actuator and 4-actuator systems?
DH: The three actuator system has two at the back and one in the centre. This gives pitch and roll. The four actuator system are two rear and two front. The 4 gives a yaw sensation in addition.
GE: is turning out to be a pretty strong year for racing games. Have you worked hand in hand with any developers, such as Codemasters or Turn 10?
DH: Over the years since 2005 we have worked with a few titles. Geoff Turton the original designer of the early Vision Racers dealt with Sony Evolution Evolved – Rally, Sega Rally who gave us our own car in appreciation. We have worked with PlayStation on GT5 in NZ, Codemasters on F1 2010/2011 for instance and most recently Ignite Technologies who have just been funded to build a title around Simraceway and online racing. We are under NDA with hardware suppliers like Thrustmaster.
GE: I noticed a lot of testimonials from professional racers. Were they enlisted to help develop the VisionRacer and to help make it as realistic as possible?
DH: Our philosophy is we embrace interaction with race drivers. We don’t pay them and only exchange product for continued feedback. The current drivers are mixed of traditional and new age “virtual to real drivers” like Lucas Ordonez, a first in his generation.
We believe the new ageless, genderless location-less online “Racer” will evolve as the premier league. Real racers will also, if talented enough, be great virtual drivers. Green issues and economics will define what motor-sport is going forward. There is room for both. It may take another 5 years but its inevitable motor-sport will change.
We rely on our experience as a builder and driver to then listen to our clients and racers for feedback. It’s a community thing versus anyone expert or strain of expertise in our books.
And there you have it! Thank you to David Harvey, CEO of VisionRacer for his time and his eye opening look at sim racers. I think for most people, this is an expensive endeavor, but for those truly passionate about cars and motorsports, sim racing can often be a way of life. I think Mr. Harvey’s answers reflect the amount of time, effort, money, and passion that hardcore sim racer are willing to devote to their favorite hobby. Until next time, see you on the track!