Few genres seem to fit VR better than racing simulation, letting you jump into the driver’s seat of just about any car without spending millions of dollars. But Missing Digit’s Wrench wants to offer a different kind of car simulator.
Wrench is all about getting under the hood of fast and furious machines. It’s a complement to the types of Gran Turismo and Project Cars players that want to take things further, not just to swap out parts on the fly but get into the real nitty-gritty of vehicle maintenance and tweaking. If you’ve followed the app’s progress over the past year, you’ll know it features stunningly detailed models of everything from engines to the tiny nuts and bolts that piece them together. Motion controller support, meanwhile, allows for realistic handling of those objects and installing them into cars.
It sounds like an incredibly comprehensive tool, but is there really an audience for that?
“Wrench is definitely something that would appeal to many sim racers,” developer Alec Moody explained to me over email. “There are a few games in the car repair genre that have been quite successful but it’s an under developed genre. Gamers are used to seeing high production value racing games but they haven’t seen a similar level of effort in the repair space.”
Moody explained that he’d had a positive reception to the experience in the wider automobile industry, but was still looking to gain traction with gamers ahead of launch. “I think Wrench looking polished and being something other than a racing game is part of why I have had such a positive reaction in the car world,” he said. “I’m also taking a very different approach than existing car repair games. Mostly that difference can be summed up with quality over quantity.”
But how do you gamify something that many people would class as complicated beyond their capability? Well, Wrench makes a career out of your work that you have to sustain. You’ll need to please first-timer customers to turn them into regular visitors, for example.
“Wrench‘s game flow revolves around servicing complete cars, not building cars from a pile of parts,” Moody said. “The videos I have been pushing show building from a pile of parts because that is an easier narrative to drill down into a 1-2 minute format- From a gameplay perspective its substantially different. The approach I am taking is that the total assembly is quite complicated and we don’t expect new players to jump into the most difficult tasks straight away. New players can nibble around the edges of the assembly and then slowly move deeper into the car as they feel more confident. That progression might look something like this: Oil changes, brake pad changes, larger suspension work, replacing engine accessories/timing belt, and then finally moving into rebuilding engines.
There’s also a methodical pace to the gameplay that lets players learn as they go. Take the video above, which features a 47-minute task reduced down into a minute of footage.
“I also think there is an appeal among a broader audience of gamers,” Moddy continued. “Wrench offers people who don’t have experience working on cars a low risk way to get started and build their confidence. I think for a lot of people, cars are this mysterious complicated machine and trying to do their own repairs seems like an impossible task.”
Above all, though, Wrench looks like it could be the latest in a series of games that are breaking new ground in the concept of ‘edutainment’, pairing genuinely engaging mechanics with learning. “Wrench can be a legitimate learning tool and my hope is that players can build the confidence they need do the real thing, or at the very least it will give people a glimpse into what happens when they drop their car off at the mechanic,” Moody concluded. “I’m also working with trade schools to get Wrench into classrooms and eventually get some aspects of the game accredited.”
Wrench will support Oculus Rift and HTC Vive at launch with experimental support for Windows VR headsets. Standard display support will also be included. Pricing hasn’t yet been announced.