Euro Truck Simulator 2 has been around for several years now, providing players the ability to simply drive a few of trucks around stunning vistas in a specific depiction of Europe. You won’t find bombastic car chases or any kind of thrilling action set pieces in developer SCS Software’s calm simulator. The crux of Euro Truck and, more recently, American Truck Simulator, is to let players experience what it’s like to be a truck driver. It’s a grueling but adventurous job in which you can’t see your family for months on end. But still, the beautiful sights sometimes make it all worth it.
Euro Truck Simulator 2 is an authentic depiction of this job, putting you in control of highly detailed vehicles. But SCS Software is using virtual reality to take things up a notch. Now you can feel like you’re sitting in the cockpit of a prodigious truck while taking on stressful tasks, and basking in the glorious locales.
Porting Isn’t So Simple
“We were interested in trying the new technology and in improving the driving experience, as a cockpit-based simulator seemed to be a natural fit for stationary VR,” said Jiří Dvořák, senior programmer at SCS Software. “In the case of Euro Truck, VR introduces a feeling of being really present inside the truck – sometimes to a degree that the player would like to touch the wheel or dashboard. It also significantly improves the player’s immersion as looking into the mirror or through the side window becomes a natural movement.”
SCS started porting Euro Truck over to the Oculus Rift back in 2013. The studio is one of the earliest supporters of VR, and understandably so. Euro Truck thrives off of authenticity, and what better way to make players feel like they’re inside a truck without actually driving one in real life. SCS did not need to make any drastic changes to gameplay or level design since Euro Truck is already a stationary experience. But since Euro Truck is a port, and not a game built from the ground up for VR, SCS did encounter a slew of obstacles.
“Our desire to give the player the ability to look around freely might create additional complexities for design, art and optimization,” said Dvořák. “In our case the player’s ability to move their head in a big area means that s/he might be able to look at objects that could be culled otherwise.
“We still have a lot of situations where the player can see things which they shouldn’t be able to. For example, by physically moving their head far from the window they can see a side of the truck which we originally didn’t need to render before VR. Or s/he can clip through the seat as there are no real collisions, and we can not change the movement of the camera without inviting sickness.”
Latency, framerate, and motion sickness are other points of concern for SCS, just like they would be for most early VR titles. Reports of people getting severely nauseous and dizzy a few minutes into playing REVII are bold warnings to any VR devs in these early days. This is worrying as VR can, and will be, hurt by a few poor VR games hitting store shelves. First impressions are important, and the technology needs a strong start during the early adoption phase. SCS Software is well aware of the risks, with its focus falling away from achieving better visuals in order to focus on nailing aspects like framerate.
Entirely getting rid of motion sickness is looking more and more unlikely, but SCS is dealing with the problem as best it can without taking away from what makes Euro Truck enjoyable to play in the first place, but it’s a slippery slope. Its devoted fan base demands authenticity and realism in its truck simulators.
“We had people which were able to drive no problem for hours, and people which were feeling queasy unless the truck was standing still,” said Dvořák. “Unfortunately in our case we are limited in what we can do to mitigate this problem as the movement and acceleration of the truck needs to remain as realistic as possible.”
Some of the issues started to rise once the Oculus Rift changed its application program interface (API for short), and its operating system moved over to the DX10.
“The most complex part of the entire port is the UI because our UI framework was never designed for this kind of use, and the UI itself was designed to be used with a mouse on a high resolution display,” said Dvořák. “Another thing which complicated the development even further was the evolution of the Oculus API, which sometimes changed in radical ways. As we are still a DX9 game it even looked at one point like we would be unable to continue when the Oculus API started to require DX10+. Fortunately we were able to work around that.”
Just Relax And Drive
Hopefully the issues that continually plague early VR games and headsets will slowly dissipate as game makers become more acquainted with this tech. But there is plenty of early ambition in VR development. From competitive online mech shooters, to being able to put on Batman’s cowl, people already have quite a few interesting VR games to look forward to. There doesn’t seem to be a lack of creativity, which is obviously a healthy sign. While there are bigger VR spectacles for people to play, SCS hopes that Euro Truck’s slow pace will help differentiate it — fans online seem to agree.
“Our games are unique in that they offer low pressure entertainment rather than fast pacing, frantic action and violence,” said Dvořák. “We are doing our best to bring entertainment to a wide audience of all ages.”
Currently SCS doesn’t plan on making a dedicated VR-only project just yet, but it is checking if the demand is there for VR driving simulators. Improving VR support for the studio’s existing games is its way of contributing to this tech. But having different VR games to play, especially ones that don’t require fast reflexes or the hunger for fast-paced action will help with VR going mainstream. Variety is key.
“There is a zen-like feeling in the hum of your truck’s engine, a hot road stretching to the horizon, your favorite piece playing on the in-game radio, something to drink and having a chat with your friends and family,” said Dvořák. “It’s not just driving, it’s trucking. To some extent, VR can sever your last ties to the real world and immerse you even deeper into that fantasy.”
Euro Truck Simulator 2 can be purchased on Steam for $22.99, with an overall and recent rating of ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ and features support for both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, although getting it running in either headset can be a bit complicated.
What are some of your favorite VR driving games that encourage a relaxing pace and atmosphere?
Alex Gilyadov is a freelance writer with work appearing in multiple publications, such as GameSpot, VICE, Playboy, Polygon, and more. You can follow him on Twitter: @rparampampam.