Getting Started with Virtual Racing – Part 3: Gamepads and Gaming Wheels

In the previous part of this series, we have tackled on getting started with your gaming system of choice, PC and console sides in particular. By now we have at least one racing game of your choice and a stable gaming system able to run the game. All that’s left do to is to boot up the game and enjoy some racing. Sooner or later though, it will come to a point where you would want to get more out of the racing game in terms of car control. Perhaps because you may be struggling in lap times or finding it difficult to score points in a special race mode, and find that you need to upgrade your control inputs. This is Part 3 on Getting Started with Virtual Racing where we will tackle Gamepads and Gaming Wheels. Gamepads

Gamepads, joysticks, controllers, whatever you prefer to call them, are among the most used input devices on video games. Modern gamepads often come with two analog sticks for steering and camera control, and analog triggers at the back of the device. With today’s racing games, the triggers are used for the brake (left trigger) and accelerator (right trigger) allowing players to make progressive throttle and braking applications as opposed to the on/off digital input of the early days of console gaming. Gaming consoles already have gamepads included with the console package as standard. On the PC side however, controllers are usually sold separately unless one is included in a dealer’s promo package. More often than not, PC gamers would begin playing their racing games on a keyboard. Arcade style racing games are playable and can be fun on a keyboard, but for higher level simulation racing games it would take some finesse to drive the car smoothly on the track. Because the keyboard’s inputs are digital instead of analog, holding down the steering button on a keyboard would often input 100% steering in game unless some speed sensitivity setting is applied, and releasing the button can either snap the steering back to center instantly or slowly depending on the game’s programming. The same applies for throttle and braking applications. Having a gamepad allows progressive control of the car’s inputs resulting in smoother driving, and a smoother driving means faster laptimes and less wear on the tires. As an added bonus, some racing games even have vibration function which can be an indication that the car is at its grip limits. Racing games on consoles have already been developed with the gamepad in mind, so there is little need to make any adjustments on the control settings. For PC however, users may need to adjust the Speed Sensitivity setting to limit the steering input angle at higher speeds (around 50-60% Speed Sensitivity will suffice to match console-like feel). Some racing games on PC can automatically detect the gamepad connected for a more plug-and-play experience. Controllers such as the Logitech F310 (wired) and F710 (wireless) are good budget friendly gamepads for PC and is supported by many racing games in PC with little to no adjustments required.

Console players looking to try out PC sim racing can also make use of their controllers by connecting them to the PC with the correct receivers, drivers and/or cables. While those with PlayStation controllers would have to configure their gamepads to work on PC, Xbox players coming from an Xbox 360, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S consoles can connect their controllers directly on a Windows PC as Microsoft provides native support for Xbox Controllers.

Gaming Wheels

Of course to get the best out of any racing game, a gaming wheel is highly recommended. These give the best precision and responsiveness in car control just like driving a real car. In some racing titles, gamepads suffer at low speed hairpins and chicanes where responsiveness and input angles are important. Using a gaming wheel for racing game allows for better consistency on lap times as more muscle memory is involved with your hands and feet in connection to the wheel and pedals respectively. Additionally, gaming wheels with high rotation angles allow for sufficient input for all corner types.

Unlike gamepads however, not all gaming wheels are made equal for virtual racing. Wheels that are valued at $80 USD or below often have no force feedback and have limited rotation angle which can be bad on very tight corners, not to mention limited support on racing games. Hence it is important to get the right gaming wheel for the optimal experience.

For virtual racing on either PC on console, you would want to have at least 900 degrees of rotation and force feedback features. Logitech’s latest G923 priced at $399 USD supports the latest generation of consoles as well as the PC. The G923 has separate variants for the Xbox (One/Series X/Series S) and PlayStation (PS4 and PS5) line of consoles, both variants are compatible for PC. It features the TRUEFORCE technology which delivers vibrotactile haptic feedback and higher polling rates for a more responsive and precise force feedback. With this you can feel and hear your car’s engine through the wheel base in addition to the car’s interaction with the road surface as it runs on the track. Gran Turismo Sport (which is one of the games in Part 1 of this series) is among the first racing titles to support the TRUEFORCE technology. The G923 however is not the only wheel in Logitech’s offering. The previous generation G29 (PS3, PS4, PS5 and PC) and G920 (Xbox One and PC) provide a very good force feedback quality minus the TRUEFORCE features. As this precedes the G923, prices of the G29 are now lower making it suitable for virtual racers with a slightly limited budget, priced between $299 and $349 depending on the vendor. Furthermore the G29/G920 has a plethora of games on PC readily supporting this wheel with little to no adjustments required. As of April 2021, the G29 is still widely available from many retail and online vendors.

Those with a much tighter budget looking at the second hand market can also look at something like a Logitech G27 which is compatible for the PC and PS3. As an added bonus, the G27 comes with an H shifter included as standard in its package. Expect the G27 to be priced below the G29, but take note this varies on the seller as it is no longer sold brand new in most retail vendors. To this day, the G27 is still supported by modern racing games on the PC making it a great choice for beginners especially those with a very limited budget.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, it’s all about making the most of your available control input. We can all enjoy learning the fundamentals of motorsport through a gamepad or wheel, some even do well on a keyboard and mouse. Each control input eventually reaches its limits. One more thing to note is that some racing games are developed in a way that neither using a wheel a gamepad has an absolute advantage, an example of which is the Forza series. It all boils down to what fits your game or driving style the best. Above everything else though, learning is more effective when you have fun.

-Luis Moreno-

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