By Graham Smith on October 24th, 2013 at 11:00 am.
I’ve used the Oculus Rift to fight Half-Life 2′s Combine, to blast through space in EVR, and to stomp around in Hawken’s powerful mechs, but this was the thing I’d really been waiting for. SCS Software just released the Oculus Rift-enabled beta for Euro Truck Simulator 2, and I celebrated by driving from Cardiff to Southampton.
Euro Truck Simulator 2 is a game about simulating trucks in Europe. It’s a game about sitting in a cockpit, and about having strangely evocative experiences. That makes it perfect fodder for strapping two tiny computer monitors to your eyeballs while hoping no one is taking photos of you.
Getting the Rift to work with the game is easy: download the beta via Steam, and add ‘-oculus’ to the launch command line. Beyond that point, it should just work, albeit a bit shonkily.
Here’s a video of me playing, in which you can see why I don’t drive in real life.
Also featured: the noise of me turning my head, because I didn’t realise the microphone in my headset was recording. I’m a pro, by the way.
If you’re the owner of a Rift, but not a developer, you’ll currently spend most of your time trying out tech demos and the few retrofitted games available for it. Most of those retrofitted games, you’ll discover, are poorly adapted to the Rift. That’s either because their menus weren’t designed for its strange aspect ratio, or because their movement depends on taking control of your character’s view (think forward rolls in Mirror’s Edge), and often because modders were only able to change so much of the source game to suit.
Although made by the official developers, in this early beta Euro Truck Simulator 2 suffers from a few of those same problems. The menus, for example, are mostly in 2D and therefore require you to remove the Rift to use. For those menus normally viewed from the cockpit of your big rig, the blurriness of the Rift makes them a little too hard to read or use comfortably.
Worse, the particular nature of ETS means you notice the low resolution of the Rift development kit far more than in some other games. In Half-Life 2, for example, where you’re moving around constantly and your focus is changing, I don’t notice the resolution so keenly. I notice the blurriness when I turn my head. I notice the feelings of nausea. But in Euro Truck Simulator, when I’m focused intently on the vanishing point of the road in front of me, I become distracted by the gaps between the pixels of the screen. Cars appear on the horizon as dots, and it’s hard at first to tell whether they’re heading towards or away from you. At one point I thought there were lots of hot air balloons in the sky, but it could have been anything. Birds? Planes?
These are problems that may be solved when the consumer Rift is released, with its higher resolution display. Or they might be partially fixed after a few updates to the beta, to adapt the menus and generally improve its Rift support. There are still plenty of promising things to consider.
Because, here’s the thing: it was still amazing. I front-weighted the criticism there, because while my complaints are specific, my joy lies in the general experience. For the 30 minute I spent on my first journey with the Rift, a drive across English countryside, I was enthralled by the cockpit of a truck. I finally got to live out my childhood dream of being Anneka Rice.
ETS has always let you turn your character’s head with the mouse, but the concept of “behind you” is completely different when it means moving your head. Checking your wing mirrors means looking over at your wing mirrors. Reversing means sticking your head out the window to check behind you, with actual real-world leaning.
“Actual Real-World Leaning” is a back-of-the-box feature.
In simulation games, any small advancement towards a 1:1 relationship between your physical actions and your in-game actions makes a significant difference. The Rift isn’t the kind of thing I’m going to want to use all the time. Even with better screens, and better support, I don’t always want to entirely shut off the real world and cover my face with a hot, glowing box. Yet using the Rift in Euro Truck Simulator 2 makes me want to go out and buy an expensive steering wheel, to make the experience when I do use it even better still.
If you’re one of the few with a Rift development kit at home, Euro Truck Simulator 2 should be one of the games you try, and one of the first you show your friends. You can read more about what it currently does and doesn’t do at the ETS developer forums.