Another neat graphics feature is head movement. If set to zero, the driver’s virtual head will be stock still. As the head movement value is increased, the driver’s head will bounce around in reaction to various forces like bumps in the track or G forces resulting from acceleration or braking. This movement acts as sort of a poor man’s force feedback in that it provides an indication of the forces being felt by the car and driver. Prior to the advent of this level of graphical feedback, one would think that the tracks these cars race on are billiards table smooth. This is certainly not the case, and it is not an inconsequential difference. Bumps in the track have a very real effect on the drivability of the car. Very stiff suspension settings will result in a different bump behavior than softer settings, for example. Being able to visually determine where the bump spots on the track are is a great addition to the realism of the sim.
While at least tangentially on the topic of force feedback, it’s time to point out one of the weaknesses of SimRacing. The force feedback is almost useless. At its highest setting, all I can feel through the wheel is centering force. This is an important thing to have, of course, but does not impart the feeling of actual driving as well as the force feedback in something like Simbin’s GTR Racing. In that sim you can feel the rumble strips in the apex of the corners, the bumps in the braking zones before some of the slower turns, and generally have a far superior feel for the road than that provided in SimRacing. This is a bit of a disappointment since good force feedback makes a tremendous difference in being able to manage the complex physics model provided in these modern sims.
There are three important aspects to the amount of realism that can be ‘felt’ by the driver: graphics, force feedback, and sound. Since the vast majority of us will never actually drive a real NASCAR race car, we have to learn to control the car using different sense than those used by a real driver. We have to be able to determine what the car is doing at any given instant using only our senses of touch, sight, and hearing. The benefits from touch and sight are obvious, and have already been discussed. This leaves sound. What does sound have to do with control of the car? Well, there are limits to what can be communicated through sight and touch, especially without high fidelity force feedback controls. Through sound we determine shift points, braking pressure, how close to the edge of adhesion the tires are in the turns, and how much throttle can be applied. Most of what we need to hear has been provided to some degree in older sims. We’ve always been able to hear the engine – this is what we use to know when to shift. We’ve been able to hear the scuffing and squealing of the tires for quite awhile to – this is how we know if we’re skidding or sliding. New to this mix, however, is transmission whine. More than just being a coolly realistic sound that adds to the awesome feeling that we’re actually driving a car, transmission whine is very useful in determining just how much throttle we need. Consider the case of a true oval where the turns go through 180 degrees, on a track that is essentially flat like the Milwaukee Mile. Once established in the turn, there is a period during which you want to keep a steady amount of power. Too much acceleration and you will either push to the wall or break loose the back tires and spin. Not enough acceleration and weight will transfer to the front of the car, lightening up the back and causing a spin. If you can hear the transmission, it is much easier to hold a constant acceleration through the turn.
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