Building Driving Simulators
(image credit: goodwood.com)

As an avid gamer, a professional driver or just someone who enjoys beautiful cars investing in a proper driving simulator can change your world. The immersive experience provided by the fantastic games available can be drastically enhanced with real-feel steering wheel feedback, windshield mounted monitor or a proper racing seat.

What You Need to Get Started

When you are first starting to design a driving simulator there are many ways to get discouraged. Because of the sheer availability and high price of many options, it is difficult to be sure that everything you choose will work together. As the popularity of sim racing has grown so have the amount of options and prices. But not to fear, with just a little forethought and ingenuity creating the ideal simulator rig is painless.

Before getting into anything else, it is important to know the compatibility of your hardware. If you game already you probably have a device. If you’re planning on purchasing one for this project, then there are slightly more options because of compatibility. Sim rigs can be built utilizing console or PC, but the distinction is important. This determines which games that can be played and the types of wheels and monitors that are compatible. Furthermore, the type of wheel you choose may also have selective compatibility with games. Be sure to fully research all components of your driving simulator before making a purchase.

Monitors

Monitors act as a window into the game’s universe, literally opening up new worlds in front of us. Without a proper monitor, visibility, immersion and even racing capabilities may be compromised. There are tons of options available and many different ways to set them up. The console or computer’s capabilities will determine the appropriate maximum refresh rate and resolution of a monitor. For example, if a console’s maximum frame rate is 60 Hz, the maximum refresh rate on the monitor should also be 60 Hz. A more powerful monitor will not provide a higher frame rate if the console cannot produce frames at that speed.

Steering Wheels

As an aspect of a driving simulator, the steering wheel is maybe the most important part. There are several different types so let’s break them down.

  1. Basic Wheels without force feedback – These are basic wheels that allow use of a steering wheel for input. They are made from lower quality parts and lack a realistic feeling. These are generally best as an introduction to steering wheel gaming or for children because they are inexpensive and easy to use.
  2. Wheels with force feedback – These wheels are the most popular for driving simulator rigs because of their quality, reliability and compatibility. There is a wide price and quality range that suit most budgets. The customization options can include shifting pedals, gear shift, hand brake or even paddle shifters on the steering wheel. These wheels are highly applicable to many games, allow the driver to “feel” the road, and work with many accessories to give a full simulator experience.
  3. Direct Drive Wheels – These wheels are the most serious steering wheels available. They are mounted directly on a housed motor which provides realistic communication from the road directly to the hands. They are a totally different league than force feedback wheels and the price reflects that. Direct drive wheels are commonly used by professionals on and off the screen. The communication and realistic feeling take the experience to a different level.

Seat

The chair is a very important part of the experience. Instead of lounging on the couch or an uncomfortable office chair one can experience the thrill of speeding around a track while seated in a chair they might actually find in a racing vehicle. Choosing a seat is all about what feels comfortable per individual. It’s important to enjoy the seat because one plans to spend considerable time utilizing it.

It Is All Coming Together

Aside from comfortability, the most important aspect is the ability to arrange the components of the simulator in a convincingly realistic manner. It is very important to keep in mind that the seat, monitor, steering wheel, pedals and whatever else must be stable and easy to manipulate. Of course, one can make their own rig but that will require considerable time and skills to complete. While some amazing rigs are created this way, it is not the most common, there are many items on the market that work excellently and don’t require nearly the time input.

A second option would be a piecemeal set up made with mounts. This may work depending on space needs of the location or the components chosen. A setup utilizing mounts shouldn’t be used for wheels with powerful force feedback or direct drive wheels. The power of the wheels will shake and rattle the mounts, distracting from the immersive experience. It is difficult to focus on driving if the steering wheel is moving or bouncing.

Finally, a racing simulator cockpit can house a racing chair, steering wheel, pedals and other accessories. Selby carries a line of racing cockpits that are affordable and top notch.This eliminates the issue of properly mounting the chair and steering wheel vibration because they are both mounted together. The vibrations are conducted through the rig making it feel as if the rig is a vibrating car. This is the best option for powerful steering wheels, most budgets, and those who would rather enjoy a set up with minimal labor involved. They are also compatible with many accessories that improve gameplay like windshield mounted monitors and gear shift mounts.

Get To It!

So most importantly, all the hardwear (Console/PC, monitor, steering wheel, and games) must be compatible with each other. The wheel must be securely mounted so it doesn’t move or rattle and distract from the experience. Finally, the chair must be situated in an advantageous position for the driver. If all of these components come together with a sturdy steering wheel and a realistic seat position, the simulator will be immersive and unlike any other gaming experience.

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