Virtual racing games: The reality

Virtual racing games: The reality

By Eutechnyx's Ashley Westgate

June 6th 2014 at 9:57AM

Eutechnyx's Ashley Westgate tells us why it's experimenting with VR and how it can enhance the genre

Like a lot of industries, we’re excited by the potential of virtual reality headsets to give players new experiences and even more engagement with the games we make.

The platform is relevant across our business, from the virtual showroom technology in ZeroLight to our free-to-play online racing game Auto Club Revolution. We see the technology as an opportunity to bring the experience to the user or player, and not the other way round.

In ACR, Oculus Rift is helping to give the player a stronger presence within the experience of the game. Ultimately, it creates a greater sense of immersion and speed.

It gives the player the feeling of actually being in the car, being able to look about at the interior. Pair this with a racing seat and it becomes a true experience of the car and the brand – these are exciting for any racing game player.

For the committed or aspiring racer, there are a number of other benefits to the technology as well, and one of the things we are most excited about is the simple mechanics that Oculus offers. Being able to look into a corner or see another player’s position on the track with a simple turn of the head – rather than having to alter your view with the press of a button – is great and helps to push the experience that much further.

It’s a great tool players can use when trying to position themselves against rival racers with much more precision, letting them see things that would normally be in the blind spot created by a screen set-up or lost in clunky HUD view changes.

REALITY CHECK

It’s not all straightforward, though. There are a number of challenges to overcome before it can become a widely accepted platform. It’s absolutely key to have a high and consistent framerate – if not, then the brain isn’t fooled and you’ll experience motion sickness.

There are functional issues to consider as well. For example, when wearing the headset, you can’t see the physical controls that you’re racing the car with, be that a game pad, keyboard or a wheel. This can be a little disorientating for both inexperienced players and pros – we all lose our bearings on the controls every now and then. We’re exploring ways to overcome this with intuitive controls and intelligent design and there will no doubt be a number of solutions to try.

From a design and user experience point of view, there’s also the fairly basic question of when is the user wearing the headset and when are they not? If they are only using the headset for the race itself, how do you manage the time where the player has to essentially switch screens? If they’re using it all the time what impact does this have on user interface, on navigating menus?

These aren’t insurmountable but they are all considerations that have to be taken into account.

Fundamentally, VR has to be a viable market: there has to be enough units sold to create an audience that can support extra development time, costs and content. But we’re well aware that to create that audience the technology needs to be affordable, and that affordability needs to be paired with good quality and compelling content for VR. It’s a chicken and egg situation, but it takes some innovative and forward-thinking companies to create that early content – and this is what we’re doing with Auto Club Revolution.

At a technical level, we know that there is a roadmap to increase the resolution and framerate of the headsets, and we’d like to see that get up to 4K in the long term.

We’ll get there, and with each incremental improvement and with quality content it will become more and more compelling to the public and the audience will be created.