For the longest time, force feedback controllers were really more of a marketing gimmick that anything even remotely useful. Little motors causing vibrations in controllers is response to game events was certainly an innovation, but to call them "force feedback" was an egregious overstatement. True force feedback can be as simple as a slightly increased resistance to control movement, although one would certainly also expect a tactile feedback for more abrupt situations; the force of hitting a concrete wall while doing 180 mph in a race car would most definitely qualify as something you should be able to feel transmitted through the steering wheel. There's a reason drivers take their hands off of the wheel a split second before impacting with a large, immovable object after all.
Interestingly, steering wheel controllers were the first home gaming devices to see force feedback in a useful way. The reason for that is partially because the uses of a steering wheel are fairly limited, thus giving designers a fairly closed-ended set of forces that they would need to be able to respond to, but also because wheels are most commonly attached to a solid surface with clamps. Because the controller isn't expected to be hand held, it can be made much larger and heavier than a hand controller could ever feasibly be. This in turn allows for a base large enough to house the electric motors used to provide the force.
I went though a number of different force feedback wheels, all of which eventually were worn out through hours and hours of use. The addition of force feedback to racing games made such an amazing difference to the quality of the racing simulations that it quickly became obvious that I would never again be able to enjoy a racing game without it. As I worked my way up through the quality chain, I eventually ended up with a Logitech G25. The G25 is so robustly built that it has survived two and a half years of intense racing without any problems. The G25 is so good, in fact, that I have always wished that Logitech would apply the technology in the area of flight controllers.
Flight simulations are another area that has been under served by standard controllers. Whether it be a stick or a yoke, the "feel" of the control movements is critical to attaining a realistic level of flight control. Typically, joysticks provide resistance through some type of spring arrangement that centers the stick. Resistance is critical, of course, because without any resistance to control movement it is nearly impossible to control an airplane without over controlling and/or getting into a PIO (Pilot Induced Oscillations) situation. That said, if the resistance is too strong, it is hard to make the small corrections needed to perform flight operations such as holding a helicopter in a hover. The solution to that problem was for designers to configure the spring arrangement such that there was a small zone in the center of the joystick's travel that had minimal resistance, then a spring-based resistance as the player moved the stick out of the center range. That worked well enough, but it suffered with a couple of issues: the initial resistance (the "break out" force) of spring force was too strong and abrupt, and the center was always the center. In other words, the null force zone could not be moved. While subtle, that latter problem meant that it did not feel natural when using elevator or aileron trim to remove the control forces in flight. What was required was force feedback technology.
Any number of force feedback joysticks have been on the market for a few years. As with the steering wheel controllers, there are low-dollar units in the $100 range and high-end units costing thousands. And, just as with steering wheels, Logitech has found a niche in the $300 range. The new Logitech force feedback flight stick, the G940, is targeted at the dedicated flight simmer that is willing and able to pony up the extra dollars for a higher quality simming experience. It is a large and robust design, just like the G25 racing wheel, with plenty of power available to provide realistic control forces.
It does the G940 a grave disservice to call it just a flight stick, though, as it is more accurately described as a flight control system. The G940 system provides three components: the force feedback joystick, a separate two-handle throttle quadrant, and a set of rudder pedals that include pivoting pedals to control brakes. All three components are sturdily built and obviously designed to last. The bases of the throttle quadrant and joystick are large enough to make them stay put fairly well on your desk, but if you choose to make a more permanent installation they include recessed bolt holes in the bottom flange of the case. The rudder pedals have retractable spikes to hold them in place on carpet. Details such as these simply exude a perception of high quality,
Because the control system needs to be flexible in its design in order to provide control for any number of diverse simulations, both the throttle and joystick are peppered with dozens of button, sliders, and hat switches. While it will take diligent effort on the part of the player to set just the right configuration to suit their tastes, it should be possible to configure the system to allow for a nearly hands-off flight system. Well, "hands-off" is not really the correct term; rather, the term to use is HOTAS, an acronym provided by the masters of acronym invention, the US Military. HOTAS stands for ‘Hands On Throttle And Stick’, and implies that the sim flier should rarely have to resort to the use of the keyboard to operate the simulated aircraft. This is beneficial in that it should reduce the number of times that the pilot needs to look away from the screen, and ever valuable feature when fighting for your life in a dogfight.
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