posted 4/25/2005 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: PC
Having spent the better part of a week testing the TrackIR on flight sims, I decided it was time to take the TrackIR to the track. I've had racing sims for just about as long as I've had flight sims, and while they don't suffer from the lack of peripheral vision or freedom of view as much as flight sims, there are still times when you want to be able to look to the sides. Recent sims like Nascar SimRacing, F1 Championship, and GTR have a feature that kinda sorta helps with this: you can configure them to turn your virtual head in response to steering wheel inputs. The TrackIR makes this a more natural and predictable movement. While the enhanced realism of having your virtual head follow the movements of your real head is neat, I found that it didn't really improve my racing nearly to the degree that it did my flight simming. It was helpful in looking to the side to see if another car was next to me, which is important, but not essential. While the TrackIR rapidly became an essential and required adjunct to my flight sims, I don't think I would trade in my force feedback steering wheel in favor of the TrackIR for racing sims if I had to choose one or the other. To me, racing sims are more tactile that visual when it comes to precise control. In other words, when it comes right down to it I could race without the TrackIR if I had to, but I will never fly without it again.

In looking at the list of supported games, it's obvious that NaturalPoint's initial targets were flight and racing sims. The next logical step would be to first person shooters like Half-Life 2 or my current favorite: Brothers in Arms - Road to Hill 30. NaturalPoint has a forum on their web site where users can make suggestions, and it's clear that there is a lot of interest in expanding into this realm. Based on some responses from the NaturalPoint developers, it's not as easy as simply enabling the game to detect the device. There apparently are a number of conflicting opinions as to how best to implement the head movements such as whether head movement should aim the weapon, or whether it should be independent of weapon movement. For whatever it's worth, I would choose the latter. That would require some serious development effort on the part of the game developer, though, and it may be difficult to justify the development cost considering the relative minority of TrackIR users in the overall target market. I suspect it is inevitable, though, since the cost of the TrackIR unit should eventually come down, and the FPS market will become increasingly competitive and reward differentiation from the pack.

Bottom line: if you enjoy flight sims, the TrackIR is a must-have device. If you're big into racing, it may or may not be as essential, but it certainly won't hurt. For you FPS mavens, keep an eye open for TrackIR support in the next-gen versions. You won't be disappointed!

Just when you thought there was nothing new under the sun in the gaming industry, NaturalPoint has upgraded the TrackIR head tracking device to allow a full six degrees-of-freedom, making it a must-have for flight sims.

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