#1 Posted by cassus (398 posts) -

There has been too much racing wheel talk lately for me not to chime in.

So, racing wheels. Bought my first one around 97 or so. Thrustmaster wheel with suction cups, no clamps.. Rubber band for resistance.. Had to take it back, cause.. suction cups??? Anyways, had a lot of wheels, played a lot of games/sims. Here's how I see it:
There are games where you need a racing wheel, and when I say need I mean need, there's no way to play them with a gamepad, and there are games that are just horrible with a wheel.

Some games that are not good with a wheel:
Ridge Racer and other types of insane physics defying twitch-driving-games
Kart racers

Some simulators that demand a wheel:
iRacing (obviously)
Live for Speed (not to be confused with Need for Speed)
Richard Burns Rally

This is kind of where I think most people make a misjudgment. If you're not going to be racing hardcore ultra realistic simulators there's no reason why you would have to buy a wheel. But, if you want a wheel to further your immersion, there's a third category of games, and this is where most people get their bad racing wheel experiences.

Games ranging from stuff like Need for Speed, Burnout and the likes, these are games you can play with a wheel, but the experience is pretty bad. In games like these you will most likely have a crappy experience and find the wheel to be harder to use than the joypad.
One step up you have games like Grid and Dirt, these games are right smack in the middle and are great no matter what you use (although Dirt is a rally game, so there's a whole lot of steering going on. Force Feedback low and about 280 degree lock is what I use for those games, lest I ruin my arms.)
Next step up is Gran Turismo/Forza etc. These games/sims are playable with a joypad with a few assists on. Even playable with all of them off, but at that point you'll notice that a wheel is going to be a major improvement for controls.
Up from there and you end up in the sim category, and as I noted, just no room for joypads there.

So.. Why do sims blow with controllers and games suck with wheels? It's pretty much all about the fidelity of simulation. A ridge racer style game will have no grooves in the tarmac, no potholes and slippery new patches of asfalt etc. It's basically just a uniform smooth surface. This means the straights are straight, just line your car up with the stripe and give it some gas.

The opposite end of the spectrum, iRacing, the tracks are laser scanned. There are groves and indents and stuff all over the track, you can actually feel the ground give way if you're going really fast over a part of the track that's sunken down a bit. Corners might have a bump in them (iRacing - lime rock park, top of the "hill", go fast over that hilltop there and your ass lifts a bit, sending you flying.) All these things in addition to tyre deformation, realistic suspension travel meaning you'll get realistic weight shifting in turns and during deceleration, inertia out of turns means you'll have to apply throttle slowly, if you don't and you spin a smidge you have to let back on the throttle some and correct ever so slightly.. So much stuff.. All of it means you have to constantly correct and adjust. This is basically undoable with a joypad. You need to correct just tiny amounts all the time, and the travel on the sticks and triggers are not nearly adequate. Same thing holds true the other way around. Ridge Racer is a game where you're basically either not touching the stick or pressing it full left or full right. That game worked sweet without dual shock.. That's a game that won't work all that great with a wheel.

Also, Trackmania.. So, SO not a racing wheel game. Especially considering the binding of axis in that game is horrible. When Jeff used it on unprofessional fridays it was set to either go full left or full right, pretty much.. Analog device giving digital input.. not good.

So... If you don't play racing games that require a racing wheel, then A: You're playing the wrong racing games, and B: Don't start playing games that need a racing wheel, cause that path leads to you also getting into flight sims at some point (It'll happen, trust me.) and that path.. leads to you building your own god damn cockpit. And once you're done with your flight sim cockpit.. You're going to want a racing pit as well, cause you're already so far down the simulation hole, it kinda makes no sense not having one...

Anyways, wheels aren't that expensive and they add more to games than pretty much any other peripheral. Buy one and start practicing your heel-toe down shifts. Racing sims have so much depth most people aren't aware of. Well worth getting into.

Sorry about the length and how messy this is. I could tidy it up but I just don't have it in me.

#2 Posted by mikey87144 (2000 posts) -

I've been using a wheel for GT5 for a while. Sadly I made the mistake of starting with a relatively cheap one. $60 and it didn't have 900 degree turning. Since then I also got the G27 and a second PS3 so I can have my own little set-up for when I want to race.

#3 Posted by Humanity (11845 posts) -

@cassus: Well I'll just blow your mind by saying that back in the day I played a ton of Richard Burns Rally using keyboard controls and managed just fine! It was a rough learning curve and that game is very unforgiving but I don't think you ever "need" a steering wheel as much as it's really preferred.

#4 Edited by Laiv162560asse (488 posts) -

@cassus: While it may be true that the level of fidelity in iRacing is such that skilful control is impossible with a pad, at the moment there is no real way to tell, because the main reason controllers are currently awful in that game is that the level of support for them is terrible. I tried out a gamepad with that game and found that the default settings for pads make the game virtually unplayable. I tinkered with those settings (going as far as to drag all the sliders in the opposite direction to the defaults) and managed to shave about 10-15 seconds off my times, because the steering wasn't completely broken any more, whereas it had been broken under the defaults. I still had great difficulty driving because there are no deadzone settings for the left stick, which makes it virtually impossible to centre the steering on straights. In order to create left stick deadzone settings, you have to use 3rd party gamepad profile software which I couldn't get to work. The reason I stipulate 'left stick' is because, bizarrely, there are adjustable deadzone settings for the right stick.

So, while it may be true that iRacing is such a true and in-depth sim that gamepads will never work well with it, currently that's unverifiable. The main and real reason gamepads suck in iRacing atm is that they are poorly supported.

#5 Posted by rebgav (1442 posts) -

Everyone needs a racing wheel because that's the only way to play Dark Souls properly.

#6 Posted by cassus (398 posts) -

I totally forgot to even mention force feedback. In games with really good support for that, and those include Dirt 3 (probably 1 and 2 as well) which many people have played, it is crazy how accurate those effects are. You can feel when you've aligned your wheels to continue a slide. You can feel when your ass is slipping, and even torque steer in some cars. The iRacing Legends cars have fantastic force feedback as well. Those cars sort of skip along on certain tracks, your traction is super low, and the sensation in the wheel reflects that exactly like you would imagine it would.

If someone is looking for a wheel, the G27 really is the way to go. You can get cheaper and FAR more expensive wheels, but the G27 is up there with the best of them. The Thrustmaster t500 is also a spectacular wheel. Better than G27 in many respects, but also a higher price bracket. Fanatec also make a few decent wheels, but I have never tried one.

#7 Posted by Ravenlight (8057 posts) -

@rebgav said:

Everyone needs a racing wheel because that's the only way to play Dark Souls properly.

Truth. Dark Souls is the best racing sim on the market!