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.
Guest 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.
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.
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.
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.