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| Project Gotham Racing 3 Enlivened with the Xbox360 Wireless Racing Wheel (21 comments )|
by: OldFriend (178) | Posted in cluster Editors Challenge Sponsored by Intel Round 2
Posted 75 months ago ( edited 75 months ago ) in category DEFAULT
In my mind’s eye…I see myself hurtling down the Rahal Straight at Laguna Seca raceway. The gas is thoroughly floored; through the floor if I could’ve managed it. The revs climb through fourth gear, screaming in hate-filled anger at me for missing the apex in turn six, but I have to put that behind me. In split seconds the corkscrew will be upon me, and if I miss my braking point I’ll be eating sand, or worse, the wall behind the sand trap. The crest of the hill; quick right jerk on the wheel aaaaand… Brakebrakebrakebrakebrake – slam the wheel full left even as the rear end wants to fly off the track down the hill. Another quick slam right followed by a boot full of gas, and the tires scream joyously as I navigate one of the most famous turns in racing.
|» MEDIA (6)|
Laguna Seca Raceway - from lagunaseca.com
F1 style race setup
Forza Motorsport 2 on 4 monitors oh my! firingsquad.com
Force Feedback in action
For years thrills such as those have infected the minds of race fans the world over. They sat at their PCs or consoles poorly assuaging their hunger for speed that they could never fully sate. In Project Gotham Racing 3 race fans were given their most tantalizingly realistic visual/aural experience yet. Before its release, internet forums raged over whether images of the game were screenshots or actually photographs. Could a mere game engine model a Ferrari F50 right down to the prancing pony on the grill? As it turns out, yes, and even the streets of some of the world’s biggest cities almost as convincingly. And the sound was there to match; from the sweetly deafening scream of the Enzo to the masculine growl of the Ford GT, PGR3 was a car lover’s dream.
Sadly, the driving physics of this decidedly arcade-y racer did not match its meticulously detailed looks. Only the entertaining online mode could hold the attention of true race fans for very long, but even that grew stale in time. What fun was to be had in constantly being hammered in corners by poorer drivers who suffered no ill effects from an absent damage model? Where was the challenge when everyone and their mother could powerslide at 150 mph and emerge unscathed? Most of all, it suffered the same deficiency as every other racing game; that lack of driving feel.
Whether driving the bumper cars at the amusement park, racing on the go-kart track, or even speeding a little excessively on the freeway, it becomes apparent that the feel of driving a car is so much more than visual or aural. There are the bumps in the road, felt through the suspension and the seat and the vibration of the wheel. There is the wheel’s tendency to straighten out in normal conditions; its tendency to wander when the rear tires lose traction. All these things dance in a tactile ballet that makes the car an extension of its driver’s senses, and the sum total is a metal beast, bred to instinctively carve up the road. Or at least, that’s the armchair racer’s dream anyway. Without that power-at-your-fingertips feel however, even PGR3 must fail to live up to that dream. So this race lover moved on in search of the truer racing experience.
The Tangible Dream
Microsoft’s answer to this problem is the Xbox360’s Wireless Racing Wheel, which has been a long time coming for xbox racing fans as the original xbox did not support force feedback. The first noticeable thing about the package is its heft; usually a sign of quality, and happily so in this case. Bundled in the package are: the wheel itself, foot pedals, quickstart guide, a desk clamp, Project Gotham Racing 3 Force Feedback edition with the drivers for the wheel on the disc, and most notably, an RJ-11 cable that connects the pedals to the wheel and an AC adapter. For something labeled ‘wireless’ the inclusion of, well, wires is something of a glaring inclusion, particularly since without the AC adapter, force feedback functionality is disabled. False advertising notwithstanding, the cables weren’t much of a problem in the setup pictured however.
Setup is allegedly a breeze, although in practice there was a bit of a mystery. Upon pressing connect on the xbox, and then on the wheel, nothing happened. After moving the wheel away from the monitor the magic finally happened, and there’s been no interference since. All in all, installation was a painless, if a bit mystifying experience.
As for the hardware itself, one word is most fitting: solid. When holding the wheel, there is no give or lightness to any of the plastic. The buttons on the face and D-pad don’t feel cheap and the shifter paddles behind the wheel feel sturdy enough that the electronics would probably fail before the plastic does. The wheel itself is covered in a rubberized grip that works well to prevent slippage in aggressive turning. At first the rubber tended to rub off on the hands after heavy use, but lately this seems to have ceased. Chalk that up to new product break-in with any luck. The foot pedals are also sturdily built and have thus far not shown any wear from some fairly heavy stomping. The entire package is styled in the grey/black on white scheme of the xbox360 and matches the overall look and feel of the system well.
Engineering-wise however, a bit more thought into the design would have done the package well. Most immediately noticeable was how much the foot pedals tended to slide, at least on carpet. A rougher surface on the bottom, or some kind anchoring device would have easily fixed this, as in the Logitech MOMO FF wheel for PCs. Eventually the optimal configuration was found by placing the pedal assembly on top of the box the wheel came in, placed to rest against the back of the desk. Ironically, this F1/Indycar style setup was also the most comfortable angle for stepping on the pedals.
The wheel itself has the lapboard screwed into its bottom. The board has rubber treads ingrained into its surface so as to prevent sliding while being driven from the lap. In practice however, this wheel just wasn’t meant to be driven from one’s lap. The angle of the wheel is shallow enough that its base tends to touch one’s lap even at rest. In heavy turning the driver’s hands will hit and be impeded by his/her own lap. The obvious solution is, of course, hand over hand driving. However, letting go of the wheel amounts to a loss of control as well as possibly causing the driver to miss a shift with the hand being away from the shift paddle.
The desk clamp, as with the rest of the package, is sturdily built in the same grey on white style. It attaches to the wheel at no less than five anchor points, making for a very secure connection. The clamp mechanism itself has a screw type vice with a gimballing head that allows for flush attachment to a surface. The entire device locks and unlocks easily with a quick-release lever on the front of the unit. The attachment to the desk wasn’t as secure as it could have been however. While the top attachment was a flat surface, the bottom was the aforementioned gimballed head. This single point on the bottom in effect provided a pivot with which the driver tended to yank the wheel slightly off the desk surface in heavy turning. A second or larger anchoring point on the bottom would have been ideal for preventing this. Lastly, a rubberized grip on the anchoring head would have been nice to prevent damage to the bottom of a desk.
With Your Powers Combined...
Imagine the surprise then, as the quest for that untamed rush of speed leads back to… PGR3. This time however, there is cautious optimism; an unspoken promise that it will finally deliver that instinctive driving experience. The console boots up and the game loads. The wheel auto-centers itself… about 20 degrees to the right. Not a good sign, but hopefully not a portent of things to come. The computer runs the car up to rolling start speed. Hands grip tightly at 2:00 and 10:00, just like they drum into young novices’ minds. Test the pedals – the brake is slightly stiffer than the gas. The brake apparently has an extra spring to simulate hydraulic resistance whereas the gas is as loose and controllable as a real car.
The start/finish line passes in a flash, and the force feedback engages. Immediately there’s resistance to the left and that beautiful red Ford GT is drifting off the road towards the tire barrier. Immediately I recenter the wheel 20 degrees right and the car straightens out. No big deal – yet. My real car has the same Democratic idiosyncrasy – a tendency towards the left.
The first turn is a hairpin right. Off a 200 mph straightaway, that’s absolutely brutal for testing new equipment. The wheel begins to shudder as the brakes engage and the tires threaten to lose grip. The threat is delivered upon as the brakes lock up and the back end slides out. Pity they still don’t seem to have invented force feedback pedals yet or one could have felt the brake pedal stiffen as it approached locking up, but that’s another matter. The hairpin fills my windscreen… and just as quickly subsides into the distance as the car slides off the track and into the sand trap. The wheel shakes with the rumble feature in addition to the feedback with every bounce of the car, and then a final jerk to the left as the car slams into the retaining wall.
Rusty driving skills notwithstanding, I’m hooked. Immediately I continue bouncing and careening down the track as my brain and muscles familiarize with the nuances of driving with a wheel that fights back rather than a controller. It takes a lot of getting used to. The strength of the feedback is noticeable without being overwhelming, although an adjustment utility would have been nice. The wheel just can’t be jerked back and forth as quickly as the little sticks on the 360 controller. Conversely, fine control with the wheel beats the little grey sticks any day. This is also true of using the pedals vs. the triggers; more quickly accessible on the controller, much better fine control with the pedal assembly.
Once the adjustment is made however, the entire experience rivals a thrill ride to match most rollercoasters, especially using PGR3’s in-cockpit view. My canary yellow Enzo Ferrari is hurtling down Las Vegas Boulevard with the delightfully garish city lights reflecting off the hood. The in-game wheel matches every control I exert; every nudge of the wheel and every shift I command. Once again I come into a right turn too fast. This time however, I pull the wheel hard right, fighting against the car’s inertia and the wheel’s desire to straighten out. I pull harder, searching for the moment – there it is! – when the wheel suddenly slackens indicating over steer and loss of traction. Immediately I counter-left turn and gun the accelerator. I’ve entered a drift – that delicate balance of throttle and wheel control so counterintuitive to normal driving instincts. The wheel must be controlled carefully and firmly against its desire to lock fully left, or the car will spin out. As I pass the apex I ease off the gas, allowing the car to straighten out, and the force on the wheel subsides. As the tires regain traction I gun the throttle, hoping not to miss the next turn so badly.
Overall the implementation is just short of fantastic. The feedback effect could be a bit stronger, but its fidelity to what I imagine driving 200mph is like is very convincing. Combine that with PGR3's still unmatched visual and aural experience and the fusion is undoubtedly the most authentic, compelling and exhilarating experience anywhere short of 500 horsepower.
In the End
With the advent of force feedback, gamers are one step closer to reliving impossible and dangerous realities in their own living rooms. Microsoft’s entry into this arena brings a fresh and exhilarating nuance to one of the Xbox360’s launch titles; Project Gotham Racing 3. Although the game wasn’t created to be the most realistic racer, the addition of the wheel adds a significant sense of speed and realism to even this granddaddy of next-gen games. The wheel itself isn’t the most brilliantly designed unit, but what it lacks in ingenuity it more than makes up for in rock solid workmanship.
It must also be pointed out that the wheel was designed in conjunction with the upcoming Forza Motorsport 2, its predecessor being arguably one of the most realistic console racers ever made. With the top-notch physics of Forza and the game’s ability to display on multiple screens, the xbox racing fanatics can’t help but salivate at the possibilities.
|21 User Comment(s) • 10 root comment(s)|
| thundastorm (1) Nov 19, 2007 - 11:23 pm|
|Hey there, I've been doing some research on the web and I wasn't really getting any success. I am currently trying to see if an xbox 360 is compatable with four monitors, so if there was a four player game being played each person would have their own monitor. However I noticed your picture entitled "Forza Motorsport 2 on 4 monitors oh my! firingsquad.com" and this looks familiar to what I'm trying to set up. Would you have any idea on what I would have to do to achieve this? |
P.S. I have the steering wheel and I think it is phenominal as well!
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| firstname.lastname@example.org (1) Mar 17, 2007 - 11:47 pm|
|» Great Review!|
As a kid I used to love those race-simulators found at arcades, ESPN Zones, etc. My childhood dream of becoming a race-car driver, however, was never realized; I blame it on the steep price arcades charged for a ride -- a couple bucks is truly a small fortune to a youth of 14.
Your article reminds me of those days gone past. Your words leap from the screen and dance across my keyboard, conjuring pictures of those racing-simulators as I once knew them. I am reminded of what it's like to be back in the driver's seat of a great simulator. And in a rush those dreams-past flood my consciousness. Reading your article, I feel like once again I can dream like I'm 14 again. And not because I remember what it was like to hold those dreams, but because I hold them once again.
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