DCS World is one of the few remaining hardcore PC flight simulators with a major emphasis on attention to detail. I remember when a friend of mine announced excitedly that he had mastered the aircraft start-up procedure for the A10 Warthog—it took him about a week! DCS World recently received some big improvements for Rift support.


raphaelGuest Article by Raphael Baker

Raphael is flight-simulator junkie, a proponent of virtual reality, and a frequent flyer between various star systems in Elite Dangerous. When not lost in VR, he is currently completing training as a specialist care assistant and is an abstract artist in his spare time (specialising in complex 3d geometry using Maxon Cinema 4D). 


In the relatively short time since I’ve owned my Oculus Rift DK2, I have tried just about every VR game and demo out there. My number one genre, however, is flight simulation, so DCS World was high on my list of things to try. Sadly, at the time it turned out to be a very frustrating experience due to the fact that it was using an older Oculu runtime that didn’t support ‘direct mode’, a feature which makes configuring the game to play with the Rift much easier.

At the time the game only worked in ‘extended mode’, and the main menu didn’t actually work properly inside the headset; I’d have to close one eye and drag the window around, then use the other eye to navigate menu options. With some degree of luck I would eventually arrive in the cockpit with the flight briefing menu floating in front of me. This was a beautiful sight to behold: sitting in a life-size 3D cockpit and being able to look around at all the instruments; no longer sitting in front of a two-dimensional compressed representation of the 3D world, but actually being there.

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Peering out through the glass canopy, seeing the enormous outstretched wings of my jet… the sheer scale of the landscape, and the feeling of speed at low level. And yet getting here was frustrating due to the difficulty of navigating menus that weren’t functional in VR.

Imagine my surprise when a few months later (having decided to give it another try), I discover that as of DCS World 1.5, Eagle Dynamics have updated to be compatible with the latest Oculus 0.8 runtime. The developers say VR support for the game is “still very much work-in-progress,” but have taken a first stab at making menus fully functional in VR.

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See Also: The ‘Birdly’ Experience: Earning My Wings in Virtual Reality

With the improvements for the Rift, initially made available late last year in a beta release, the main menu now displays correctly in VR (along with all of the other menus and sections). Upon reaching the aircraft cockpit, it’s immediately apparent that graphics performance has increased (judder is now non-existent, so long as I don’t ramp up the graphic detail too much on my GTX 970).

The have made DSC World much more enjoyable for the VR user, but there’s still improvements to be made.

For one, if I press escape in-flight to change settings, the pop-up menu is attached to (and moves with) my head, and the text is too small to read on the Rift DK2. It would be more sensible to have the stationary 3D menus we see in Elite Dangerous, a menu that allows you to lean in to look at it more closely.

Another issue relates to the in-flight training text messages or comms, which is displayed up and beyond the ‘sweet spot’ of the Rift’s lenses (I can read part of the text but the rest is too blurry). It would be better to have this text appear closer-in to the sharpest area of the lenses.

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The third issue also relates to character legibility, and concerns the aircraft HUD; while some aircraft (SU27 Flanker), HUD symbology is easy to read, the A10 Warthog HUD displays significantly more information and most of that is just not legible on a DK2.

A big question right now is whether or not the improved resolution of the Oculus Rift CV1 will have enough clarity for the A10’s detailed instruments. If the answer to that is ‘no’ then Eagle Dynamics may have to make further adjustments.

Fortunately, the developers are eyeing the release of the headset and seem committed to making DCS World work in VR. Even now, I must say overall that the game is an incredible experience for VR users with the 1.5 patch and beyond.

VR vs. Conventional Display

It all depends how much you love virtual reality. A number of folks in the simulator space are very cautious about VR or simply prefer to stay with their battle-tested multi-monitor set-ups. Having used VR, for the most part I no longer want to play games or simulations without it. This view is beginning to creep into the PC gaming world as well from the early adopters of VR technology.

Personally, I began to feel disillusioned with conventional monitor setups even before Palmer Luckey came along with his duct-tape Rift prototype. VR has given me a fresh interest in PC gaming/simulation. I also realise that not everyone in the simulator space are on-board with the VR explosion and some are positively hostile towards it. I believe it should be optional rather than mandatory. Those who want to play on conventional displays can do so, but I will certainly stay with VR.

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  • List

    Why are folks in the simulator community hostile toward VR? Isn’t the ultimate goal of having a sim pit or extensive monitor setup to obtain greater immersion?

    • Sky Castle

      The only people I know who hates VR are the ones that never tried it.

    • AuxPlumes

      Because they bought expensive pieces of control panels, cadrans, IR tracker, 3 monitors and aesthetics features that will be useless in VR : 3
      I can’t see other relevant reason.

    • yag

      Maybe because first gen headsets are too low res for most flight sims ?

      • AuxPlumes

        Yes, this is a good argument, and maybe a buy-holder for some people. But even if the resolution is not that great and doesn’t meet picky Simmers’s expectation, the difference between a triple screen with Track IR and a simple DK2 is like day and night. All reviews of people playing DCS or some other flying games are blown away by the VR potential, and cannot go back to the screen, it is adding so much more fun, and fun is what matters.

        • yag

          Believe me, resolution is what matters for simmers (especially if you fly WW1/WW2 planes), no point of a great immersion if you can’t spot bandits.

          • victor

            I’m a simmer and still fully enjoy VR even with the lower res. That is still to say that I still look forward with better hmd’s in the future of course.

          • yag

            I didn’t say it’s not enjoyable, I said it’s not seriously playable yet for hardcore simmers (especially those who fly in old planes, no radar and no visual aids to spot bandits).

  • Chris

    @disqus_pzcsqRnkv1:disqus I don’t think that people are genuinely hostile towards VR. But the simheads that I know from forum interaction do not really care for feeling ‘present’ or immersed, but what they want is flipping lots of switches, having realistic flight models and so on. For instance, they can get into madly furious debates about whether or not the climb rate if a particular aircraft is modelled off by a few feet/second at a particular altitude with a particular engine, and will dig through hundreds of pages of scanned WWII pilot manuals, intelligence flight tests and so on to prove their point. These people have more a historical, or perhaps a collector’s approach – for them the emphasis in simulation goes along the lines of historical/scientific/factual accuracy. And then there’s the people who sim because they want technical mastery of the act of flying. They might have build entire cockpits from photographs and take pride in mastering startup routines, radio communication, navigation and so on. For neither group, VR would be a great help, perhaps it might even be detrimental (can’t see switches, can’t alt-tab out to see logs etc.). For that reason they might respond with irritation when one keeps preaching to them about the glories of VR, because they feel as though something useless is being pushed into their faces.

    I’m really looking forward to the CV1. I have the DK2 and played it with War Thunder and Elite, and I found it extremely impressive, close to the most awesome thing I’ve experienced in gaming. I think that VR has the potential of rejuvenating sim gaming among more mainstream people, and Eve: Valkyrie is exactly the sort of title that OR should have in their release line-up.

    • Raphael

      Yes, there are simheads who build authentic cockpits and as you say… VR isn’t really something they can make use of. Hard to see your $10,000 “real” cockpit when you’re wearing a HMD. For simheads who can’t afford to build a real cockpit or don’t have the space — I would say VR would be an option especially when you consider that at some point, we will have tactile feedback of hand position; which means we’ll be able to activate virtual switches with real hands.

      • Median N. Mean

        I think there’s still room for simpits in VR, but they will be more limited in function — things like trim wheels and levers (throttle, mix, prop pitch, landing gear, flaps) can be reached blindly. I’m building a little flight control box for myself now, but I’ll probably have to do a complete redesign when the rift gets here.

      • yag

        I think hardcore simmers should wait a few years, current headset are too low res. An apparent res of 1080p is not too much to be able to spot bandits before they spot you.

        • Raphael

          On the other and a monitor gives you a miniature, compressed view of the world. With VR I can look all around and have good field of view. Everything is life-size with depth.

          • yag

            Simmers are already using Track IR to look around.

    • List

      Thanks, this helps put it into perspective for me. I’ve dealt with a few of these kinds of people playing world of tanks and it always boggled my mind why they’d prefer historical accuracy to fun gameplay.

  • Casey W

    If you’re going to use VR, then eliminate the need for the blurry comms text in the corner of the screen altogether, using VoiceAttack.
    There are already profiles for a few of the planes in DCS world so you can do all your comms by voice. It even has logic for stringing together commands. So you can use a prefix like a Wingman number, then RTB, and they chain nicely.
    I use Voice Attack in Elite and it’s probably one of the best gaming investments I’ve made. And it’s only 8 bucks.
    (no affiliation to VA. just love it.)

    • Raphael

      That’s a great suggestion Mr Cannibal. I have looked at voice attack for use with Elite Dangerous asking with the HCS voice packs but I haven’t actually set it up. I hadn’t considered using it with DCS but I certainly will in future.

  • Hi Raphael and thanks for the article. We feel that VR is an important aspect of DCS World moving forward, and it brings a new dimension to the simulation experience. I think you’ll find the readability of the cockpits MUCH better in the CV. We are also working on improvements to the UI and how the user interacts with the cockpit in VR.

    Thanks,
    Matt Wagner
    Producer, Eagle Dynamics

    • Raphael

      Hi Matt,

      That’s great news about HUD legibility with CV1. Thanks for bringing us an amazing flight-sim.

      Raphael

    • Tony T.

      Can I just say how cool it is to have someone from ED actually comment on this!? I’ve been on the fence about Rift and DCS, but I think I’m going to take the plunge and pre-order the CV1 (Consumer Version 1?). I was about to drop a lot of money into trying to build a cockpit and what not, but this seems like a much more sensible alternative. If I truly had cash to burn, I’d buy a 360 degree style sim pod (like the ones they have at the Museum of Flight in Washington) AND have a rift. That would be amazing!

      • Raphael

        I think you’ll love the CV1 experience, especially with DCS and ED. I’m all for authentic controls for whatever type of sim (racing or flying) so a real cockpit would be amazing. I don’t have the space for one or the finances to build. I use HOTAS, HMD VR and body vibration (which can be homemade with bass speaker fitted to chair, low pass speaker crossover filter and amplifier). A 360 rotation pod would be the ultimate dream for me also.

        I should tell you a little story about ED… I purchased it on sale last September via steam. I’d been thinking about buying it for a year but was unsure if space games were still viable? An arsetechnica review was what finally helped me decide. I purchased Oculus DK2 from a friend a few months later and he brought it over to set it up for me. He’d never tried Elite Dangerous before and we got it running with Ouclus. My friend was blown away (I was too). He said it was the most amazing VR experience he’d had and he bought a HOTAS and a copy of ED. He hasn’t experienced DCS yet and I think he will be equally blown-away.

        • gothicvillas

          Guys, I think you want to check this one out… https://youtu.be/qSWGAmBLOys

          • Raphael

            Looks like a bathtub. I guess it’s just a concept, right? :)

          • gothicvillas

            They are about to launch their Kickstarter campaign. The whole concept is quiet smart and inexpensive (watch some other material they have showing off the internal bits and bobs). This is the only project out there with the potential of 360 degree rotation. Just add the missing top part of the orb and you can have a sphere which can rotate on its axis. But having said that, I havent seen much development lately…

  • RK

    I want to touch some virtual switches.

    • Hollywood_315

      That to me seems the missing piece. Getting my head into the Rift with DCS must be the ultimate immersion, but how will your hands interact with all the virtual buttons and switches (apart from my physical HOTAS of course, we have that covered)? Is there already a workable pilot-style touch glove on the market that enables a pair of virtual hands in VR? To me that would definitely tip the scale towards a VR-only future for DCS flying.

      • Raphael

        For the moment it’s HOTAS. With an X52 pro I can setup all of the most important functions. Utilizing it fully I can use the three postition mode switch to have three different sets of programming for the sim. Thus when I’m setting up to land I set the mode wheel to third position I’ve setup for landing controls. After takeoff I set the mode to first position to give me all of the normal in flight controls.

  • Mahmoud

    Why there is no app for Google cardboard?

    • Raphael

      DCS World is a very complex sim. It would have to be simplified like the mobile X-Plane.

  • Christian Hægstad

    Just in case anyone still doesnt know this nifty feature in DCS; you can map the ui functions through the control mappings (the category is called “ui” something). You can map left and right mouse buttons, and also the mousewheel, to joystick buttons. I use a free hat on my CH pro throttle. You can then move your mouse, putting the cursor into a central spot. The cursor disappears after a while, but will pop right up whenever you hit a “mouse button” with your hotas, and in my experience its really easy to point with your head and flip switches in this way. Using the Abris in the Ka-50 feels really natural this way.

    Oh and one more thing, there also is a very useful “zoom vr” mapping in the same category, which is very useful for quickly checking out instruments or mfd’s with good clarity. Nifty, aye? ;) I actually figured out this by myself, having seen nothing about these excellent features anywhere.

    • Michel RAHAL

      Hello Christian, what’s your zoom vr command??

      • Christian Hægstad

        Hi Michel. If you are asking what I am using to trigger the zoom, I’m personally using the hat forward movement on my joystick. If you are asking what command this is, it should be in the key mapping settings somewhere. Once again I am away at work for several days, so I cant check exactly where for you. You can however just search for the command, in the topmost section of the key mapping interface. Try searching for “vr” or “zoom”. Make sure you are seeing all the available commands.

        • Michel RAHAL

          Couldn’t find it with the search bar but it was in UI page. Pretty helpfull in fact, like the mouse click on the stick. Thank you :-D.

          • Christian Hægstad

            No problem. Good to see that someone benefited from my post. :)

  • You can try real flight simulator if you’re in Dublin at http://www.simotion.ie – cockipts are like real!