Racing with the Rift

Today I spent some more time trying to get the Oculus Rift dev kit to work with netKar pro. It seems to be a fairly untrodden area as the only resource I could find was this youtube video, showing that you can use Tridef Ignition in combination with Opentrack to get it up and running. It took a bit of fiddling with Opentrack to get it stop switching the axes around, but after a while I was good to go. Fired up netKar Pro with the Osella on the Nordschleife and drove away.

It didn't go well. At all. Since netKar Pro doesn't support the Rift natively, any 3d effect is added on after-the-fact by the Tridef middleware. Tridef does a great job of splitting up the image and warping it so that even the peripheral vision looks quite decent, but the 3d effect in netKar is practically useless. With the 3d effect set to zero you're looking at what is essentially a 2D image, which makes it extremely easy for your eyes to suddenly unfocus from the track and focus on the pixels instead, confusing the crap out of you. The alternative is increasing the 3d effect using the Tridef OSD, but this doesn't seem to work very well for netKar Pro. All it does is make you see things double.

The other thing that makes netKar pro unplayable with the Rift is the head tracking. Opentrack just doesn't quite cut it, for several reasons. First of all, netKar Pro doesn't really do freelook when you're in the cockpit. It snaps to certain edges and also appears to have different acceleration for different viewing angles, all of which make it feel extremely unnatural and nauseating. Then again, we have no right to expect anything from the sim since it was supposed to support TrackIR-like devices, not VR headsets. I'm not sure if it's Opentrack's fault or netKar's, but there's also a noticeable lag between physical and in-game head movement. Lastly, there's no tilt support, so if you tilt your head sideways nothing happens in-game. That turned out to be only a minor nuisance compared to the other problems I listed though.

I'm quite sad about the game not being playable. netKar Pro is by far my favorite racing simulation, but none of the other sims I play (LFS, rFactor) have native Rift support yet, so they tend to suffer from the same issues. The only racing game I know of that does support the Rift natively is iRacing. I have to give props to the iRacing devs for supporting the Rift so quickly, and the support is very well done. iRacing compensates for the dev kit's low resolution by showing you the in-game screens 'in 3D', increasing the size of the screens so you can read the text easily, while using your head to look in various directions to see the rest of the screen. The 3D effect in iRacing is just right, and how all racing games should look like on the Rift if they implemented it properly. Unfortunately that's where the fun ended for me, as I found myself very unimpressed by iRacing as a game. I don't like any of the default cars and I don't like most of the default tracks. Since iRacing is a subscription model you have to pay for extra content, but I don't feel it's worth it at all. I took several of the free cars around Laguna Seca and some other tracks, but none of them felt right. It felt more like Gran Turismo than like a proper racing simulation. What a shame. Oculus Rift support does not outweigh quality of physics and force feedback, so I'm sticking to netKar Pro. I have high hopes for Assetto Corsa though.

The resolution of the production model Rift seriously worries me. When playing racing games you tend to look towards the horizon a lot, focusing only on a very small portion of the screen. I found that the effect of a low resolution screen was much more pronounced when playing iRacing or netKar compared to when I was playing Half Life 2. I'm now convinced that 1920 horizontal pixels will definitely not be enough for a consumer version of the Rift. The horizontal resolution per eye is just too damn low! It needs to be at least 2560 pixels, but what it really needs is 1920 pixels per eye. Even if that makes the device twice as expensive, I'd gladly pay extra for it, because resolution is set to become the Rift's one major flaw.

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