Saturday, January 9, 1999
After writing yesterday's article on Force Feedback I decided that I needed to go back to visit InterACT and Saitek again to make sure I wasn't crazy. I spent quite a while driving with each controller and talking with the technical representatives from each company. Here is what I learned and my revised thoughts on these products:
The Saitek R4 Force Wheel has a sturdy construction with a simple and quick clamping mechanism that makes it easy to set up. The shape of the wheel is based on Michael Schumacher's F1 wheel, which is cool trivia to know and is probably the reason I like the ergonomics of the R4 so much more than other wheels on the market. It has steering column paddles for rapid F1 style shifting and a shift stick so you can pick your favorite mode of operation. The pedals have individually adjustable firmness settings to tailor the feel to suit, but the nicest feature is the one you won't notice: the base for the pedals was designed to grip the floor better as you put your foot down instead of just sliding away from you when used. Best of all the design works pretty well.
Now that I have determined that the R4 is a decent wheel, the question becomes "...is the force feedback accurate?" The answer is a reserved and unentheusiastic "yes." The bottom line is that the forces produced by the Saitek test program are pretty damn good, but the forces in NFS III are still mediocre. This leads me to believe that the R4 is much better than my first impression of the product, but if NFS III is the best force feedback software around, I don't see a compelling reason to drop nearly $200 for a wheel when even the 'best' software is still underdeveloped.
The case of the InterACT V4 Force Feedback Wheel is a little more dubious still as I didn't have the opportunity to use a test program with decently designed forces as a gauge of the quality of the force engine.
However, upon reinspection, the V4 is a decently built wheel and although I perfer the asymmetric shape of the Saitek R4, the InterACT V4 has a good rubberized grip with the obligatory F1 style shift paddles. The V4 has enough tilt to feel like an F1 wheel while clamped to a desk, yet retains the base design of the V3 which allows it to be used on the couch without clamping it to a table. The pedals are not as sophisticated as those of the Saitek (e.g., still suffers from slide problems under heavy use). Even so, the V4 is a decent wheel with a respectable feature set, but the forces are more problematic. Keeping in mind that I am dissapointed with the forces in NFS III, I compared the response of the V4 to the R4 in similar driving situations and the Saitek model is a clear winner. InterACT's force engine (developed in-house) feels more "muddy" than the Microsoft based R4. But the most disturbing thing about the wheel was a lurch on hard cornering which made my Ferrari 550 Maranello feel like it had worn-out shock-absorbers. I'd take the car into the garage to get it fixed, but this is a computer game. Maybe the V4 needs the trip to the garage?
I am thrilled that the industry offerings of force feedback wheel sets are expanding--competition and broader support can only benefit the consumer in the end, even if the road is a bit rocky. (At least with force feedback we'll know that the road is rocky!) Hopefully these new offerings will spur the creative juices of the software developers and we'll see some properly designed, physics based force models in the market soon!
Read Yesterday's Force Feedback Article.
Staff Writer -- Game Zero Magazine
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