Dark blue skies and beyond

I've been waiting for quite a while for a new Ace Combat game on consoles. The last main version I played was Ace Combat 6 on the Xbox 360 released back in 2007. It's an arcade sim game (or sometimes refereed to as simcade) but It's a fun one. The landscape for these kind of console games have been almost desolate after the days of PS2 and Dreamcast. Ace Combat 7 marks a return of the main series a little over 11-12 years later. There have been portable games but they kind of lack the feel that the console versions had.

In the PS4 version of Ace Combat 7 Skies Unknown has a little bonus VR campaign featuring Mobius 1. The VR campaign is only 3 missions but boy... its a paradigm shift once you play it. The ability to track the target simply by turning your head while in flight even if it isn't in front of you really is a showstopper. Suddenly the need to just follow the arrows to where the plane when isn't needed as much since i can look over left, right, or above to keep track of my target.

Needless to say, it immediately became apparent how constrained I felt playing the normal single player campaign. I did beat the game but not without wishing the feature was available throughout the normal campaign mode of the game. Especially in the tunnel runs, the ability to quickly check wing placement inside the tunnels is kind of important especially with the larger planes.

This particular lack of feature lead me to getting the game on the PC to attempt to emulate the ability of looking around using a VR software called Vorpx. I had originally purchased a license for the software back when the Oculus Rift CV1 was released to use with several non-VR games. One of it's abilities is to map headtracking to a controller which was what I wanted. The Mouse Look options for Ace Combat 7 on PC were pretty dismal at the moment. For whatever reason, they mapped both move AND look to the mouse.

After a bit of tweaking I was able to get it working but not without a few shortcomings. The first problem is it isn't completely natural. There is a deadzone in the headtracking which causes the view to snap to center a bit. I've since found the correction for this with head-tracking deadzone adjustments eventually but it took me a while to realize that would fix that issue. The other problem is it isn't fully natural since it emulates the right stick of the controller. If you tilt your head to the side, your view doesn't tilt with you. This is within tolerance for myself but anyone else might not do so well.

Another major issue is the overall view isn't fully covering the field of view inside the Oculus. This is because the screen is still a 16:9 view just zoomed in with minor attempts at 3D effects to sort of give depth of field. As a result, black borders exist top and bottom if you let your eyes drift to the extreme edges. At the same time because its zoomed in, information such as radar and loadouts are just outside your field of view without zooming out some and making those borders more obvious.

The way that the VR campaign in AC7 handled it was move the radar and loadouts into the left and right Digital Display Indicators (DDI). As a result, the view was more natural. I'm sure someone will find the hack to let you move these or allow the game to render in a more natural VR dimension but its still pretty early. I will most likely finish this campaign in VR on the PC even if its still not completely working.

That being said, because that bug from the little bonus campaign bit me hard already and thanks to an timely steam sale, I got my hand at the DCS F/A-18C Hornet module. Unlike Ace Combat, the F/A-18C module is a full blown simulator. That means everything inside the cockpit is modeled and works. Every switch in the plane has a function and you can flip them and they'll work. This means you can take a plane that's sitting on the ground dark and cold (turned off) and bring it to life using the same real-life procedures.

I've spent at least a good 3-4 hours so far doing power-up procedures, take-offs and not so graceful landings. I also did this entirely in VR with a working HOTAS joystick, something that AC7 on the PC is currently lacking unless you have a specific Thrustmaster supported HOTAS joystick. Sadly I don't have any video of what I see in VR at the moment. DCS shows the view of whats inside the VR headset but only from a single eye. As a result, you're only seeing half of what I'm seeing inside the headset. I'll need to play with this more to see how I can capture this video.

Its really hard to go back to the old way of playing flight sim games or even driving games after experiencing what VR is suppose to be able to do with these style of games. Here's hoping that more simulator style games will support VR going forward. There's a lot of information we gain from being able to look to our left and right or up and down at a given moment in a simulator. Something that is lacking from a fixed view that games have provided before. It's that sudden game of information just from what we see that pulls us much further into the world being present then any other element before.