Hard Driving Hardware

Trucking is costing me money… A small fortune in fact. I laid the blame for buying TrackIR at the door of Truck Simulator although it’s also good to have for Elite and Train sim. It’s also going to be good for Bus sim’s like OMSI when I pluck up the courage to get one of them, although the eagerly awaited Fernbus (expected release 25th August) does not currently support TrackIR.

My latest purchase however is of no use except in driving games / simulations. I got fed up with struggling to control my truck on long corners with the joystick (also with keyboard controls). So, I have bought a steering wheel. Now that’s definitely no good for flying spaceships!
Wheels for computer games are not cheap. Normally the Scots part in me would have railed against the expense of this hardware. It was opportune then that there was a good offer lowering the price significantly or I might not have upgraded from using the joystick just yet.

The wheel I have is the Logitech G920 which comprises of a steering wheel and driving pedals and is aimed at X-Box and PC users. For racing cars this is just what you need as it has paddle keys for changing gears just like in Formula 1. For truck driving you ideally want to add the Driving Force gear shift which is sold separately – so I added one of those too. It all arrived a week ago and I’ve been enjoying getting the hang of it in-game on Euro and American Truck Simulator. You can check it out here.

The wheel is finished with stitched leather on the rim. This gives it a really good feel – better than my car’s steering wheel! At around 2 inches smaller diameter than the one in my car it’s probably a good representation of an F1 wheel. However, it doesn’t have the gear change indicator LED’s that are provided on the G29 wheel for PlayStation users. The paddle levers are made of brushed steel which gives them a good feel too. The wheel has a full 900 degree turning range. It has force feedback which requires some effort to turn and gives a real feel of the road beneath the vehicle. My upper arm muscles need the workout!

The pedals are mounted on a very solid base. This has a slight tendency to slide forwards under heavy braking on my wooden floor but has stabilised at what is probably the optimum distance. The pedals are really well finished in brushed steel too. Once again, they feel better than the ones in my car. The pedal faces can be adjusted for a better width set-up with the aid of an Allen-key but I didn’t find it necessary. The gas pedal has a lighter feel than the clutch pedal and mirrors real life in this respect. The brake pedal has limited travel, coming to a slightly spongy stop after a small distance along its stroke. This is an attempt to mimic a real world pressure system pedal and is quite good though a little more give would enhance the realism. I’ll cover this in more detail when I discuss the joys of truck driving further on.

The gear lever is a six-speed with reverse. The stick is quite short so the throw distance is not as far as needed for full realism when driving a road car or a truck (we can’t have everything can we) but it is about right for sports/racing cars. Selecting reverse requires the lever to be depressed which is a good approximation to real life levers. So, how well does all this hardware work in the trucking simulation? Perhaps the best way to tackle this is to write about the issues, perceived and real when driving in-game.

Firstly, the wheel. Its size is rather small for a truck which means that a gung-ho approach to corners at road junctions is likely to result in issues. Hand–over–hand steering in tight turning situations is difficult and can result in accidentally grabbing the paddles. This not a bad thing. Driving in a circumspect manner is probably the professional approach, after all – It’s a Peterbilt, not a Ferrari! Many of the switches that you need to drive the truck can be mapped to the gaming buttons on the wheel. This works well although I’m still moving some of the mappings around to optimise the experience.

The pedals and the gear lever have a couple of interesting in-game issues that deserve a mention. The gas pedal is fine. The clutch has something that needs bearing in mind – although it acts like a real clutch when easing it in gently on pull away (it will stall the engine if you let it in too quick), the actual change of gear relies on full depression of the pedal to operate the switch at the bottom. This can result in missing a gear change or finding neutral if you get the timing wrong or don’t fully depress the pedal. This is slightly unreal as a mechanical clutch usually has an area of travel between full depression and the bite-point in which gear change is possible. The upshot of this is that you can drive your truck like it has a pre-select gearbox – select the gear you want, wait for the speed/revs to be right, then blip the clutch! That will come in handy if someone develops a simulation of a London RT Bus 😉 As for the gears themselves, you need to choose how they are emulated in the game options since your truck will have 10, 13 or 18 speeds and a six speed lever without the associated switches found on a real truck lever can’t work correctly. So you will have to compromise the realism here. There is now a small US company CSIO supplying real Eaton Fuller changers for the PC but that’s another ‘arm and leg’ job cost wise once postage is taken into account… Maybe in the future!

Brakes… Now here’s a real fun thing. You really have to get used to these and to look at the in-game settings. When you first drive the truck and apply the brakes you will be wondering when they are going to start working. Pressing really hard on the pedal might get you close to a third scale deflection in the settings of Truck Simulator. The upshot of this is that you will probably have some collisions and run some stop lights if you don’t set them up for your required driving style and don’t treat the truck for what it is – 40 tons of moving mass. At this point you will be addressing how realistic you want your driving experience to be. I’ve read a lot of gamer comments on putting the sensitivity to the highest or lowest level. At the lowest setting the tractor unit sails on like a super tanker when you try to stop whilst at the highest setting it stops in a distance that my car would be proud of. To me neither is authentic. I found a couple of comments from a trucker though that demonstrated braking in a real truck and then suggested setting the sensitivity to around 1/3rd up from the lowest level. That does seem to work convincingly for me.

So that’s the issues. Given the level of immersion from using a steering wheel, I can put up with those! Driving my truck now requires a defensive driving approach, especially with the kamikaze ai in the game. And that has to be good for realism. It also means that each job completed without scratching the paint work really feels like a job well done!   If you are thinking about getting a wheel for your games, I think this one should be on your shortlist.

Pulling in to Eloy Truck Stop with a 27t load from San Simon to Barstow – that takes a lot of horses to get moving and a helluvalot of stopping…
Eloy Truck Stop

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