For quite awhile now, I’ve been telling anyone that would listen (a rapidly dwindling group, as you can imagine) that the only real difference between commonly available 3D games, available on both the venerable PC and the new-fangled consoles, and video arcades such as Dave & Busters is the quality of the input devices. High resolution graphics being pumped to your retinas at substantial frame rates? Got that at home, thanks. Multiple monitors? Well, I don’t have that, but I could if I could find a way to convince the CFO that such capability is both desirable and necessary. Multi-player battles, races, whatever? Yep, no problem. Force feedback steering, three pedal control, six-speed gated shifter? Well, not so much. Until now, that is.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve gone through any number of force feedback (FF) steering wheels on my PC. I’ve worn out the best of them. The closest I ever got to a full driving experience was with the Act Labs Force RS system with the optional pedals and shifter, but it too eventually stopped working, as did Act Labs itself as it ultimately turned out. My most recent wheel was the excellent Logitech Momo Force. Electronically, it held up well; it was a physical failure of the plastic case that sent the Momo to its final resting place atop the mountain of defunct controllers that I’ve created down in my basement.
I was gathering my pennies in hopes of buying a replacement for the Momo when I was offered the opportunity to try out Logitech’s new G25 FF wheel. Was I enthusiastic about that offer? Well, let’s just say that no one had to swing by the house and twist my arm to convince me to give it a spin. In fact, the days spent waiting for the new wheel, shifter, and pedals to arrive were reminiscent of those weeks of counting down the days until Xmas back in my younger days. Or course, with no electricity or indoor plumbing back then, and my 15 mile walk to school everyday (up hill BOTH ways!), I was…. oops, drifted off into old-fart speak there for a second. The (heavy!!) box finally arrived, and I enthusiastically ripped into it.
What greeted me when I finally removed enough packaging material to get a look at the new wheel and accessories was a beautifully designed, aesthetically pleasing, and robust set of controls that would most certainly have been right at home attached to a game at the arcade. The stitched leather on the wheel and shifter knob, the brushed stainless steel of the clutch, brake, and throttle pedals and shifter paddles on the wheel, and the overall heft of the components all indicated a high degree of quality design and construction. Given the street price of nearly $300 for the G25, this was most certainly a gratifying feeling!
Having been without a steering wheel for a number of weeks, I was anxious to get the G25 plugged in and working. Fortunately, it was a simple matter to install the drivers from the included CD-ROM and plug in the components. As with the Momo before it, the pedal unit plugs into the back of the wheel, and the USB cord from the wheel plugs into the PC. There is also a power supply to supplement the little bit of power available from the USB port – the two force feedback motors would surely draw a lot more juice than provided through the USB port! New to the G25 from the Momo is, of course, the addition of a clutch pedal, resulting in a three-pedal floor unit which also plugs into the base of the wheel unit. Once electrically configured, I had to attach the units to physically to my desktop, which in the past has been the cause of quite a bit of consternation. This is the area that caused the massive case failure on my Momo, and I was hoping that the attachment clamping mechanism of the G25 was more suited to my desk that the Momo had been. Happily, the answer is “yes.” The clamps on the G25 look very similar to those of the Momo, but they are different enough in some subtle way that they nicely fit my desk and provide a very solid hold. The clamps on the shifter unit worked equally well, so it was off to the races!
I wanted to get as broad of a test as possible, ranging across the entire spectrum of motor racing (well, at least the portion of the spectrum available on my PC), but since I had to start somewhere I chose the amazingly awesome GTR2. The configuration inside of GTR2 was very simple, and not much different from the previous configuration efforts undergone back in the days of my Momo, with the only new wrinkles being the clutch pedal and the gated shifter. The clutch was easy, but the shifter brought to light one little problem: each of the seven gear positions (first through sixth, plus reverse) have a microswitch inside of the shifter, so they are easily assigned. There is no physical switch related to neutral, however, so there is no way to get it out of gear once it’s in. That’s not a big deal since the racing games I have typically handle the clutch for you during gear changes, and in the event of a stop or spin I’m on the clutch pedal right away anyway.
No, where the clutch became a problem was in the first fast turn I hit, and I do mean hit! I came blazing down the track in full-tilt boogie mode, deftly applied pressure to what my kart racing trained left foot thought was the brake pedal, and made a nice impression on the retaining wall. My left foot, you see, was still on the clutch, not the brake. Had I learned to race in a real car rather than a kart, I would probably be a right-foot braker and wouldn’t have had that problem. As it is, I ended up trying to use my left foot for both clutch and brake, with mixed results. Mixed results aren’t really what you’re after in racing, where consistency is rewarded. Assuming, that is, that you’re consistently good; being consistently bad isn’t rewarded quite as much. The biggest problem with left foot braking was how close the brake pedal is to the throttle pedal on the G25.
In any event, it was clear to me that I would have to re-learn how to brake so as to free my left foot from the responsibility it so clearly coveted, and bring the right foot into play. My choice for this was rFactor. One of my favorite factors in rFactor (sorry, couldn’t resist that, although I clearly should have) is the low-end cars that are most comparable to the entry level open wheel cars in SCCA racing. These cars have gated shifters, little or no aerodynamic devices, and somewhat rational levels of horsepower; they’re a perfect training grounds for a guy just learning how to deal with 50% more pedals and a more complicated shifting pattern. After a few laps, things began to improve and it wasn’t long before I was braking with my right foot while clutching with my left, working my way down through the gears as I slowed for the turn. This, then, must be how busy a driver’s feet are in one of those cars: very busy. As I got used to it, though, it started to feel more natural.
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