Force Feedback: How Important is It?

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Sim Racing is one of the most immersive virtual hobbies around, giving us the opportunity to connect our steering wheel and pedals to our computers and drive virtual cars as we please. However, immersion can only go so far. I’d be willing to estimate 1-2 percent of sim racers own motion sims, and those only simulate a fraction of the forces we feel driving a car.

The main way racers are connected to their car in sim racing is via Force Feedback. Force Feedback, also known as “FFB”, in a rough explanation, are forces that are sent through the steering wheel to replicate the feeling of driving a real car. Forces are created by situations such as going over bumps and curbs, impacts, and load of going through turns. FFB can generally be tweaked to suit drivers’ preferences, to be as strong and responsive as desired.

I feel that Force Feedback is a very crucial aspect of sim racing, and can either make or break a title. Even though a physics model can be top notch in a racing simulator, if you aren’t feeling what you need to through the wheel, that can be a major red flag. One blatant example would be Need for Speed: Shift.

For those of you who don’t know, Need for Speed: Shift (and its successor) was built on the ISIMotor2 engine (which is behind rFactor, GTR 2, Game Stock Car, and various other titles). If the title had the same physics as those titles, which were touted for having great physics, then why was the feel in Shift regarded to as “Floaty”? I feel it is because the Force Feedback was not dialed in. Third party mods updated elements to improve the FFB dramatically, bringing the feel closer to other ISI-based simulations.

I feel the “best” Force Feedback is when it feels “natural”. If the Force Feedback works well, I can find it easy to drive a car, and be in control if the car steps out from under me. My personal favorite when it comes to FFB is rFactor 2, where I have a good feel of the “alive” nature of the cars. While it can be downright brutal at times, I can get a solid sense of where I’m putting the car and how close I’m at to the limit.

Force Feedback Graph

One other element of importance that I want to briefly touch on is in regards to “clipping”. Force Feedback can only go so far in regards to what can be communicated clearly, and there is a limit. Clipping is when forces are so strong, definition is lost as a result. If you look at the image above, the orange line shows Force Feedback strength. If you set the force too high, you see it “caps off”, giving you max strength, but no clarity.

It is similar to how a volume control is on a stereo system. If you turn the volume up to too high a level, sounds will become distorted, and sounds will not be communicated as intended. Likewise, if FFB levels are too high, forces will not be effectively communicated to the wheel.

I will say that, if Force Feedback is paramount to creating the most authentic Sim Racing experience possible. Sure, you can race without FFB (and heck, you could possibly be faster), but that is a realism compromise, where you’re taking away the “feeling” sense of driving the car, in exchange for faster lap times. What are your thoughts on Force Feedback in racing sims? Let me know in the comments!