Use the Force (feedback) – Haptic Driving

For christmas I got the wonderful new Mad Catz Force feedback steering wheel and pedals for the xbox 360. You have to be careful buying steering wheels as many of them just regular controllers, i.e. the haptic feedback from them is merely a rumble.
Mad catz FFB wheel
This wheel (like the discontinued microsoft one before it and along with the very expensive other ones exploits the fact that the physics models in games are accurate enough to generate forces back out to devices. When you drive a real car different surfaces and different speeds generate a different load and feel on your control of the car. A force feedback wheel emulate some of that. The subtlety of such control may not be important for many gamers but for sheer enjoyment of car racing of any sort it really is a must.
Dirt 3 generates some amazing violent ruts and bumps as you hammer through the rally terrain, F1 2011 generates load on the corners and vibration in the dirty air of the cars in front and Forza 4 becomes an even more sublime experience.
Force feedback wheel
Another key element is the separation of control of speed and braking (with your feet), which pedals allow a more obvious analogue travel, but even more important is the gear changing. Whilst I love driving games I can never really be bothered with manual gear changes on the joypads. This wheel has both flappy paddle and an interchangeable left or right gearstick. The gears are sequential, something most of us don’t have in cars but that works great in games.
This separation of control allows you to leave a car in higher (or lower) gear to control traction with the accelerator. In the higher end cars that spin out at moments notice driving with the gears can help find the balance.
Whilst sat on a sofa is not a recaro seat, and other things rare missing, actual speed and danger, lateral and vertical movement, it still elevates the experience.
I found my lap times dropped initially, but as I switched on my mental map of the joypad and patched in my driving brain they started to increase. I shaved seconds already from the excellent “star in a reasonably priced car” rivals challenge on Forza 4.
Now I have driven various fast car experiences, a bit of rally too and of course the higher end simulators like Pure Tech that we visited in series 2 of Cool Stuff Collective and I can say that this generation of console and force feedback wheel are pretty stunning, exciting and enjoyable.
We have of course had this sort of tech for ages, the PC fraternity have a dirty of controls. I had a sidewinder stick in the 90’s. However if tech gets more accessible and the games designers take account of it, or the engines do that for them, then some of our gaming experiences will be elevated even further.
The more the digital becomes physical and breaks that plane of the screen, distributes into real life the better.

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