The other day I was browsing through my Facebook feed, crammed full of pictures of pudgy cats, crossfit selfies and burnt toast (need to unfollow some folks), when I came across Newton Liu’s post. He’s an avid Jalopnik reader, creator of RENNWelt and had just posted a clip of hooking up an Oculus Rift to his racing game simulator.
For those of you who might not know what an Oculus Rift is, it’s not an XBox game about alien civilizations, although it would be a great name. The Oculus Rift is actually a virtual reality headset that fully immerses you in a computer-generated world, one that can entirely change how you experience video games. I’ve tried it once before and it was a stunning experience. I could only imagine what it would be like to play a racing game with the headset on, so I had to try this out for myself.
I went over to Newton’s place and he showed me what he had put together. He could see the awestruck look on my face but told me not to be too impressed by his setup because it was a couple of years old and built on a budget. That’s fine. I like cheap stuff and his gaming rig looked perfectly fine to me. Why go for a $1000 bottle of a wine when a generic $5 bottle can do the job just fine? I’ve been wanting something like this for myself so I asked him about the specifics of his setup. Here’s the breakdown.
Racing simulator driving chair and rig from eBay: $315
Logitech G27 racing wheel, pedals and gear-shift from Amazon: $822
Oculus Rift: $560
Build your own gaming PC or buy one that’s already made: $510
There you go. For a grand total of $2207, you can have a great virtual reality (VR) driving simulator for the house. Of course, a TV and an audio system would be an additional expense unless you already own them. But assuming you purchase those during a Black Friday deal by trampling over others, for $3,000 or less, you could have something that can provide consecutive days or weeks of solid entertainment. You may even forget to sleep or eat.
The big deal here is the addition of the Oculus Rift. It changes everything. Playing racing games that imitate reality on a two-dimensional screen can be fun but also frustrating. Unless you know what you’re doing, you’re usually not going fast. With games on a screen the sensation of speed is best when you’re bouncing off walls and other cars like in Need For Speed. Dealing with realistic scenarios that require effort and avoiding crashing into others can get annoying. You might start thinking: “Screw this, I just won’t take the kids to Disneyland and go drive on a real track instead.”
But the mindset transformation takes place as soon as you put on the Oculus Rift. You’re immediately transported into a completely different environment—inside a car on a track in this case. It’s weird how quickly you forget about your true physical surroundings and how your perception totally changes. You can look all around you and feel like you can physically touch things inside the car. Watch Newton in this clip as he explores the Ferrari 458 he is in.
We were playing Asetto Corsa which is one of the best driving simulators made for the PC. With the Oculus Rift experience, you’re inclined to drive the car like you would a normal car and treat it as such. When you’re driving fast and taking hard turns, you’d swear you can feel the G-forces. Obviously it’s all made up in your head but it’s crazy how powerful a truly immersive visual experience can be. I’m sure I was ducking and looking like an idiot squirming around in the seat as I hit wall after wall after wall.
These experiences are so life-like that professional racecar drivers use these games to practice. The cars act and handle the way they do in real life with all the physics and driving dynamics accurately replicated by the game’s software.
I spent a good amount of time in a Ferrari F40 and quickly realized how pathetic I was at driving it fast. The turbo boost kicks in so quickly that if you mash the pedal too quickly the tail kicks out putting you into the wall. There’s lots of learning I’ll need to do before I ever go near an F40 on a track, assuming I ever get the opportunity. It’s far more likely that I’ll get struck by lightning first.
To truly go fast in Asetto Corsa you’ll need to know how to drive and not just fumble around, which is what I was doing. Here’s Newton masterfully tackling the Nurburgring.
He has driven on the actual Nurburgring in Germany and thinks that this game is a pretty good representation of how it really is. I saw him manhandle a maniacal Porsche RUF CTR with entirely too much power in the game. I was jealous of his driving abilities—wish I could do that.
As I was playing Asetto Corsa, with my butt stuck on that racing game chair, I realized that this was the perfect way to become a better driver. I’ve been to a few track days but it’s so infrequent that each time I go it’s like starting over. Without regular practice it’s impossible to get good at this. It’s not like you can play the guitar a few times a year and expect to get a record deal.
But with Asetto Corsa, you can gain and improve driving skills so that when it comes time to hit the track, you can enjoy going fast without crashing. But why even bother with track days anyway? It costs too much to replace brakes, tires and keep fixing up the car. The VR Asetto Corsa is the ideal cheaper and safer alternative to actual racing. The simulation feels so real at times that you’ll forget it’s all fake.
The VR experience also hit me with a depressing notion. This may be the only way for us car people to enjoy driving once self-driving cars start roaming our streets. What happens if human-driven cars are outlawed in the future? Would we only be able to drive in VR? Wow, what a nightmarish thought. Let’s move on.
Until that horrific scenario potentially becomes reality, this Oculus Rift-enhanced gameplay is a great way to have some fun and drive some sweet cars like a McLaren P1, Ferrari 488 or a Zonda. Cars that you may never get the chance to race otherwise. The best part is you could practice for months on end, go to the racetrack and kick some ass with everyone thinking that you’re some sort of racing prodigy. Who knows, you may even get a call from a racing team.