Currently available on Steam in Early Access, VTOL VR is a very promising combat flight simulator with a focus on ‘near-future’ vertical take-off and landing aircraft, developed from the ground up for VR and motion controllers. Not only does it demonstrate that motion control is viable for this genre, but it also enables a greater sense of immersion when interacting with secondary cockpit controls.

From the initial load onwards, it’s clear that VTOL VR has been developed with careful consideration for the new VR player. Although the menu is a work in progress, with placeholders for extra aircraft, tutorials and missions that are expected in the future, it is fast and functional, with optimised pointing and a practical seat recentering system. The magic happens once you’re in the VTOL itself, with its airy cabin that has just enough buttons and switches to look serious without seeming too intimidating for the beginner.

Image courtesy Boundless Dynamics

Setting the game in the ‘near future’ allowed for some creative freedom with fictional aircraft design. I asked developer Paolo Encarnacion about his approach to the oversized cockpit layout.

“Part of the reason was to make it easy to interact with the different controls, but the main reason is to allow the text to be large enough to be read in current VR headsets without having to move your head too much,” he explained. “The collimated heads-up-display, which is projected at an infinite distance no matter where your head is, needed to be very large since you can’t move your head closer to it at all.”

Effective Motion-controlled Flight Simulation

Image courtesy Boundless Dynamics

The most interesting aspect of VTOL VR is the application of motion controls. Traditionally, flight simulators are played with dedicated HOTAS (throttle and stick) controllers, but such devices are not needed here—HOTAS inputs are managed by HTC Vive or Oculus Touch controllers. Once seated in the cockpit, the controllers represent your hands, just like a first-person VR action game, giving you the freedom to reach out and operate any button or switch. Once you grab the virtual joystick and throttle, the system sensibly manages a ‘soft lock’ that allows you to move your hand to a more comfortable position even if it is longer aligned with the virtual stick. This means you can easily rest the bottom of the Vive or Touch controller on your thigh or knee for support, and to serve as a ‘pivot’. Combined with subtle haptic feedback as you tilt, the feeling of a joystick is surprisingly good, but obviously not as secure as a dedicated controller.

Image courtesy Boundless Dynamics

“I agree that it’s a bit of a trade-off, but I think there are huge advantages to relying only on the motion controls,” says Encarnacion. “It’s much more accessible since you don’t need any extra hardware, and it helps to maintain immersion since your hands are consistently being tracked. I can also create any configuration of a vehicle or virtual cockpit and you wouldn’t need to reconfigure any physical controls to match it.”

In conventional flight sims, the only effective way of interacting with realistically-placed switches is to literally build a physical cockpit based on a specific plane. Multi-purpose cockpits don’t have this luxury, so they prioritise the primary controls, meaning that ‘secondary’ inputs are either performed with button shortcuts or a mouse pointer. The act of physically reaching out to interact with a specific switch is something normally limited to high-end simulators with physical cockpits, but VTOL VR’s control scheme means you can decouple yourself from the main controls and reach out and interact with an array of switches, buttons, and instruments in a very satisfying, immersive manner.

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Considering the complexities of VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) flight mechanics, which require precise manipulation of tilting and twisting the joystick, as well as management of throttle and engine angle, it’s a testament to the motion control optimisation that the aircraft isn’t too much of a handful. The game strikes a sensible balance between accessibility and deep simulation; without the flight assists, some of the complex manoeuvres (such as vertical landing) will be a serious challenge for even the seasoned flight sim enthusiast. Thankfully, a recent update improved the hover and altitude assists to the point where even a rookie like myself can successfully land after following the excellent tutorials.

Progressive, Mission-Based Gameplay

The mission structure is straightforward, with a text briefing beforehand, and an opportunity to configure your aircraft with weapons. Additional challenges and new weapons unlock as you complete each mission, with the difficulty level ramping up quickly. The opening sequence involves flying a group of soldiers a short distance, performing both vertical takeoff and landing. With no real urgency or enemy threat, this is the calm before the storm. As you complete each part of a mission, you’re given new objectives, and your waypoints are updated on your Multi-Function Displays and HUD.

After a couple of transport tasks, you soon find yourself engaging with the enemy, assisted by AI pilots who join in some highly satisfying formation flying. You’re tasked with dealing with the easier static targets at first, but before you can take a breather, you’ll be expected to land on an aircraft carrier, and engage with hostiles while skilfully evading their missile locks. For the experienced pilot, the quick progression to action is probably most welcome, but as a beginner I found the difficulty curve on the missions to be rather steep. Thankfully, the start-up sequence becomes second nature very quickly, so it’s not too much of grind to restart a mission multiple times.

Continued on Page 2: Development Continues Rapidly »

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  • Scott Nebeker

    Maybe we can add that it’s not just Early Access, it’s also $30. I got a bit mislead and tweeted about it: https://twitter.com/scottneb/status/903353253689036800

    I want this game to be what changes my mind about VR flight sims but sinking more money into a (so far) lackluster genre makes me squiky.

    Hope that makes sense. Keep up the good journalism.

    • benz145

      Thanks for the note Scott. Early Access doesn’t always imply “free,” but we’d surely hope that developers are at least offering a discount off the eventual release!

      • Scott Nebeker

        Thanks for the reply.

        I agree about the discount thing and I totally understand that with this being a one man show, there’s gotta be an initial ROI.

        This is a great piece and got me really excited.

      • Usually EA means you pay cheap now but expect bugs and crashes as it is like an open beta, after a few years of EA it often goes gold but you do not have to buy it again.

        • Scott Nebeker

          I understand that. Kerbal Space Program was in Early Access for what? 2 years?

          I still racked up about a thousand hours in it. ☺️

    • Raphael

      Nothing lacklustre about DCS World in VR and from your negative view I can tell you now this game won’t make you positive :)

      Me on the other hand…i’m sure I will buy it at some point.

      • Scott Nebeker

        Argh!!! I want so badly to dispute you on that. :)

        I want to tell you that I totally agree that I’m being overly negative but you tied your statement to a game that frustrates me within ten minutes.

        As for your last statement: “I’m sure I will buy it at some point.”

        That friend, is where you and I completely agree.

        Maybe my main hangup is that it costs more in Early Access than a lot of very good titles that are done, polished and continually developed.

        • Raphael

          Lol. Why does dcs frustrate you in ten minutes? I can go 20 before frustration sets in.

          I agree about the cost of this vtol. I remember when Arma 3 was early access…. Not vr but it’s a big name title. It was price reduced significantly during early access.

          VTOL is a little bland on scenery and content to be priced in this region at this stage of development.

          • Scott Nebeker

            I’ll give that one another go tonight. I should be taking the day off anyway.

  • Jose Ferrer

    Uhm… I can not go back to faceted graphics I use to have 25 years ago.
    IMHO, a HOTAS that you feel and touch is better than the touch controllers.
    I tried UltraWings that used also the Touch and there is a lack a of feeling and control.
    For me, the best Combat Flight Sim VR implementation has been achieved by IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad. Ben, Why did you never mention that game in your RoadtoVR?
    Some pics of IL-2 and others here:
    https://stormbirds.wordpress.com/titles/

    • bschuler

      I got Ultrawings and VTOL, and I can honestly say they are nothing alike. In Ultrawings, you grap a floating stick and the stick actually moves. This causes you to easily pull the stick too far at times, and it just stops controlling the plane. In VTOL, it smartly uses the Vive wand to actually become a fixed place joystick type flight stick. This means, you simply tilt it to go forward, back, left or right.. so there really is no way to over turn it. I do hope VTOL comes out with a demo some day.. because it is night and day over any flight sim ever made. As for the graphics.. yeah.. I hope they improve at some point. But I am willing to trade graphics for more realism any day.

      • Jose Ferrer

        have you tried IL-2 in VR with a proper HOTAS and proper PC?
        If not, How you can write sentences like “any flight sim ever made”?
        Also, how you can achieve “more realism” with a thumb-stick for throttle or for rudder pedals?

  • bschuler

    I’ve been spending many nights in VTOL VR. I do like that he spent time adding things, like an in game mp3 player, spectator camera controls in game, etc.. and less time on the typical developers “4 weeks to make a pilot’s face model”. That’s why the game is so far advanced so quickly. I expect based on his track record, he’ll flesh out this game and make it a real VR classic. Then he’ll probably get someone to upgrade the graphics to state of the art and come out with VTOL VR 2… which I would even pre-order now. lol! I don’t know this guy, but I honestly feel good about the future of VR flight sims just from what he’s done here.

  • Jason Mercieca

    It sounds great, with the dev working fast in it i decided to buy it for mainly 2 reasons, 1st i like flight sims and in vr wow, 2nd this dev deserves support and his way of development ideas are truely great with so good plans for the game like mission editor and so on, excellent.
    And 30$ is not too bad even for an ea game, since when this game is finished it could be sold for say 50$…

  • sabbis

    30$ is too much in my mind for this game as it stands now. Only tried it with the Rift so far, and it’s extremely hard to manage the aircraft with the touch controllers. I guess the vive’s controllers makes it easier to control the amount of push, pull and twist. Maybe I’ll get more used to it after time.