Virtually Real - Project Cars and Oculus Rift

UK Motor Shows of last century alternated between Earl’s Court and the Birmingham NEC, both venues filling hall after hall with the latest machinery from global industry titans.

This year’s London Motor Show is decidedly more bijou than those of years past. However, visitors attending over the next three days will find, prominently displayed just inside the entrance to the main hall, a first hand demonstration of the future. And it is amazing.

Project Cars VR Sim

Released in 2015, Project Cars allows PC and console owners the opportunity to race an extensive roster of road and racing cars on circuits across the world. We’re already big fans of the game due in large part to the realistic interpretations of our G40 Junior, G55 GT4 and GT3 cars plus most of the circuits at which Ginetta drivers and staff spend the majority of their summer weekends.

Nothing new there, perhaps. It is when the game is paired with a capable gaming PC, an Oculus Rift VR headset unit and a (admittedly expensive) simulator rig, that the experience is transformed into something so immersive, it is hard to do it justice in words.

Sticking with what we know, we opted to test the system via a short race around the Silverstone GP circuit. Adjust the seat, don the goggles and the Battersea Evolution hall is replaced with a near perfect facsimile of the inside of a G55 GT4, complete with switchgear, mirrors and a virtual representation of your own feet on the pedals.

Look to your right and you can scan the pit wall, look over your left shoulder and you can survey the grandstand behind you. Plant the accelerator and you’re away, complete with simulated wheelspin due to the inclement conditions entirely consistent with Northamptonshire in May.

While the sim rig is undeniably a material part of the experience, your mouth is really left hanging open by what happens when your hands are liberated from the dual responsibilities of steering and looking around your environment, the traditional compromise of racing games forced upon you by 2-dimensional displays.

Braking late into the left at Brooklands, you are able to keep your eyes fixed on the lead placed car as you muscle past with nothing more than a glance to the right. As the now second-placed GT4 car tries to regain position into Luffield you can monitor them via alternating glances in the mirror and through the left window while simultaneously eyeing the apex through your peripheral vision.

It is no exaggeration to describe the experience as ‘like being there’, something confirmed by the slightly uneasy exit from the seat at the end of the race as your adrenaline levels slowly return to normal.

The team behind Project Cars is already justifiably proud that their game has been used extensively by real-world drivers to learn the nuances of various circuits. After several false starts, it appears that compelling virtual reality technology is finally with us and has the potential to transform the in-game experience into something that visitors to Motorshows of the 80’s and 90’s, raised on a diet of Sega’s OutRun and its contemporaries, could scarcely have thought possible.

If you find yourself in the vicinity of Battersea Park over the course of this weekend, we’d urge you to try it for yourselves.  Alternatively, you can find out more here.

May 05, 2016 by Paul Zwicky-Ross
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