AC

Enter the Matrix

1.6 and the Japanese car DLC just hit the floor. Obviously, we have access to some legendary cars now and adjusted under-the-hood stuff, but you can read and experience this everywhere around the web.

The by far most interesting and surprising point is the so called “WIP Pre Alpha” of the Oculus Rift 1.3 runtime. I’m afraid this changes everything.

Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

This is what Morpheus tells Neo while explaining the Matrix – I find no better words to describe Virtual Reality. You need VR to understand, what VR means. I mean, what sensation can you read of a screenshot like this?

rift_shot

If you didn’t get your hands on a Rift or Vive so far, let me give you the two big points.

#1 Head movement and Field of View

Aside from multi-thousand bucks setups simracers are usually caged with either a completely unrealistic field of view, or a tiny small window to the virtual world (see this excellent blog article):

Using a current VR headset gives you a huge chunk of your natural vision field. Additionally your head movement is tracked and translated. It is incredible how much your head actually moves during racing, looking into corners (which is an important driving technique).

That also means you can have a quick look to the side, including both mirrors. But – don’t laugh – you will use it to have a look at your car. Actually (and if room space/wires allow it) you will stand up from your chair, and watch the car from all possible angles in the inside and outside. Hell you could even leave the car and high five your pit guy.

#2 3D

Funnily we are used to talk about 3D in video gaming, although it is not. Walking through a world of Skyrim or Farcry you wouldn’t really notice, but the technique is still simulated 3D on a flat 2D screen. You can tell because your pixels are flat in a square, right in front of you. It is basically the same like Night-Driver (Atari, 1976):

rift_nightdriver

You just can’t explain how it feels to move through a world in 3D. Impossible. If you’ve seen the effect of a recent 3D blockbuster in the cinema you might get the idea, but it’s a different thing if 3D is used for “effects” rather than the default view to a 3D world from inside.

For a race simulator this means you have a much better feeling for your and other cars, but also for the track, curbs, height elevations and distances. But – even more important – 3D is just unbeatable in terms of immersion. You really sit in that car, and nothing can come close.

Of course we had some experiments to give “real” 3D like 3D Vision, but who actually uses that?


 

Experience before “WIP Pre Alpha”

Now to AC 1.6. My last VR experience was underwhelming: First it took hours to bring the virtual screen to the Rift. Messing around with extended display, cheating the system where which screen is displayed and stuff like that. Then my performance was horrible, causing severe motion sickness even on lowest graphic settings.

But worse, you couldn’t see any menu or app displayed. Just the car and you, which is fine for some highly immersive test drives – until you want to leave the session: Not even the Escape-Menu. For the multiplayer community this was a huge problem: No chat, obviously. Clever people added “Rift” to their name, so everybody could tell this driver is living in his own world.

Combined with the horrible resolution the Rift DK2 offers, my actual driving time was more or less reduced to a few minutes. I didn’t really care, but wanted to see what 1.6 actually does different. Well, here we go:

Testing the WIP Pre Alpha

If you had a similar experience before, fasten your seatbelt now. The setup process is gone, just select the Rift as Display and maybe tune down some extreme graphic settings in the launcher. You click “Drive”, and that’s it. Welcome to VR.

Motion sickness is vastly gone for me, probably both because of the significant performance increase of AC (and a new GPU *cough*).

So now I expected a menu for the D-Pad (or Keyboard input), something completely new and rubbish like you’d expect in a Alpha. Nope, you find the Driving/Setup menu wrapped around your head:

rift_menu.jpg

The Screenshot can’t really express how well this is done. Your menu and even all of your apps are bent around your helmet. Combined with the new capability of resizeable Kunos apps, just spend some time to build a nice cockpit and suddenly – mind blown. It works so well it almost hurts.

The menu pane is static, so you can place your apps left and right inside or outside your usual vision and just turn the head to watch bigger and distracting apps like the new chat, RSR or the tyre temps.

Alpha?

So this sounds pretty good, mh? What is missing, why such a defensive name? First it was introduced without Stereo Rendering, that is 3D. But I didn’t even see the first version before the hotfix:

rift_changelog

Like before, the mirrors are flat, which feels really disturbing in a 3D environment. No idea if this can ever be fixed, but it also leads to an interesting insight: Modern (race) cars often are gifted with backwards camera systems instead of mirrors (e.g. the GTE-Vette). Sounds superiour, as you can have a less vibration but much better placement and vision – but in real life, you have the same problem: It suddenly is 2D. Is it really better than a mirror?

Then I have a strange feeling about the scale. The closer object are, the more they look too small. Not much, but still not real. I hope this is on my side and I can fix it.

Last, the launcher is not inside the VR. In a way I appreciate this, for menu and selection I highly prefer my screen, but it also prevents a cool Rift-only setup next to the desk.

Be aware

Still, VR is new in general and AC and has some edges. I had some pain, so please check:

  • The Rift position is centered somewhere on the loading screen, in the same moment you pick up your Rift. Press both “look left + right” in the same time, as this recenters the Rift position
  • Driver-eye-to-wheel position: It MUST match your position, otherwise the immersion is broken and you can get sick. The difference is huge. Make sure you watch your virtual wheel, grab it and have your real wheel in the hands – otherwise adjust your camera position
  • Even if everything is smooth, be careful and start slowly. Your head is most probably not used to visual movements without forces. So start out with slow cars on flat tracks until your brain gets some training. For me, height elevations are worst, like Nordschleife Flugplatz or T1 for BCCshort
  • DK2 – If you don’t own a VR headset, but seek for a cheap one now: Do not buy a DK2. The resolution is horrible, really. You can’t read your RPM values in a normal position, and have to guess or recall corners. CV1 and Vive should be much better, personally I’ll wait one more generation.

 

——

Conclusion: I really wanted to test VR in AC 1.6. Test, like examine it, make notes, return to single screen. Now I have the problem: I don’t want, but my hardware sucks in terms of resolution.

Did I say how much I love the app solution? You can either feel like a jet fighter or even in Elite:Dangerous. Or you hide your apps to the left or right, it is just perfect this way. Now please excuse me, I have important things to work with.

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