This is Racing in VR‘s interview series with top performing vloggers who upload VR racing videos to YouTube. We reach out to them and ask what they think about racing/driving in virtual reality.
Name: Marcel Pfister
YouTube channel: Marcel Pfister
Racing in VR: Hi Marcel, thank You for accepting our invitation for this interview. Please introduce yourself and tell us about your driving history. Your videos show that you are an experienced pilot both in simulators and in real life. You even ride motorcycles on track.
Marcel Pfister: Hello, I’m Marcel Pfister from Germany, I live in the beautiful federal state Rheinland-Pfalz. I started playing racing games with NFS2, later NFS Porsche and Mercedes Benz World Racing. After that my first sim title was GTR and later GTR2 where I used to drive in a league for a while, but it was more my thing to drive with friends and have a bit of fun instead off training hard every week to be competitive in league races.
Luckily, we have a very hilly landscape and a big forest that contains a lot of interesting roads that are fun to explore. That was how I started driving in real life, I bought a motorcycle, first a Kawasaki GPX600 with 70hp and soon after that a pretty fast Suzuki GSX-R 750 K8. I drove about 1.5 years until I noticed that I’m driving way too fast and risky which ended in a heavy crash that destroyed the GSX-R and broke in two halves. I had a lot of luck, the bike was dead but I had only minor knee problems for a while. After I got the insurance money, I bought the same GSX-R again, but converted it to drive on race tracks and taking part in a couple of hobby races.
For about 4 years I drove on tracks like Hockenheimring, Nürburgring or Brno and had a lot of fun, that also was the start of my YouTube channel because I uploaded videos of every track day. After a couple of years, it got too expensive, also because of some crashes :-D, I got bored of the nearest racetracks and had to drive too far for others, so I finally quit. Together with a friend, I bought the Westfield SE to fill the gap, now I´m a bit older, still driving fast, but not that risky anymore and enjoying the ride on four wheels more than on two.
RiVR: Mixed Reality is a quite new field, and you are a pioneer of it. You merge in-game recordings with reality (hands and the wheel). Where did the idea come to create your first MR video? Did you have to invest a lot in it?
MP: After I saw some videos, I think one was made by Pablo López, they used green-screen to merge their Logitech Wheel with the game, but still using a normal monitor. After I got my Oculus Rift DK2 and seeing the first HTC Vive mixed reality videos, I was curious if I could produce those kind of videos on my own, using the Rift. It wasn’t that expensive. I received the green-screen from a friend who works for a broadcaster. They changed a studio and had to get rid of a green-screen that became old. He send it to me for free and it’s still good enough for using it. What I had to buy where 4 stands that hold it and a couple of lamps to illuminate the green-screen, later I exchanged them for one big LED spot that generates a more consistent light.
RiVR: You said in your mixed reality green screen tutorial video that since the Oculus Rift DK2 you have never went back to monitors for playing racing games. What are the advantages of racing in VR?
MP: For me the first advantage was the immersion, it’s a big difference of watching a 2D monitor or putting the rift on and actually be in the game. The 3D and scale of things is so accurate that you really have the feeling of sitting in a real car. Every time you jump into a car you have to look around, spot every detail and try touching things because they look so real. That leads to the other advantages: Because of 3D, correct FOV and scale you have a better sensation of the world you are in. The position of the car on the track, the direction it’s driving, how close you are to something like a wall is way easier to understand within Virtual Reality. It´s also easier to guess distances to other cars or the next corner and my sensation of speed improved a lot. You have the advantage of looking around 360 degrees, too, especially on hairpins it´s awesome to look ahead where the road is leading, or when you are drifting you’ve got a way better overview.
RiVR: Is there anything you dislike in VR? What are the disadvantages of the technology?
MP: There are some downsides because it’s still a very new technology that has to improve in some sections. Some people still want so see their real equipment, including expensive wheels and button boxes, but I prefer to be fully immersed in the virtual world and I didn’t have problems to find the buttons on my wheel. The resolution is not perfect, because you can see pixels. Playing on a monitor might give you a sharper image with better quality, but for me the other benefits easily compensate this. The resolution is already good enough to have no disadvantage and after driving for a while, you quickly forget it and doesn’t bother you any more. I think, the biggest issue are price and performance. VR itself is very expensive, but to fully enjoy it you need a high-end PC which is also very expensive.
RiVR: You drive a beautiful yellow Westfield SE in some of your videos. Can you tell more about that car?
MP: Of course I really love this car. In my opinion, it’s the purest driving experience you can get on four wheel. There is no ABS, ESP or even assisted brakes and power steering. It’s just you, the car and the road, it’s driving without any filters. You’re not able to have that experience and full control in modern cars. We bought the Westfield SE 3 years ago after the previous owner imported it from the UK and drove it for five years. It’s build in 1989, originally it had only 90 hp, but the previous owner tuned and changed a lot and got it up to 130hp. That might still sound not that much, but because the car only weights about 525kg, it’s a very fast car. You can reach 100 kph in 6 seconds and driving 200 kph down the “Fuchsröhre” on the Nordschleife feels like breaking the sound barrier.
RiVR: What is the best car you’ve ever driven in real life?
MP: The best car I drove was a Porsche 991 Carrera S at Vallelunga Circuit, I can’t thank Kunos enough that they’ve invited me to their Porsche event, it was a live time experience.
RiVR: And what would be your absolute dream car to drive?
I think it would just be a more powerful Caterham, like the R500. But I’m also a huge Porsche fan and the new GT3 would be definitely my favourite one when it comes to modern cars.
RiVR: What is your daily driver hardware setup? I mean your PC config, cockpit rig type, wheel, VR headset etc.
MP: I build the PC myself like I always do. After I got the DK2, I noticed that my old PC is too weak for VR and to really enjoy the CV1 I had to upgrade. So the main parts I bought are the Intel i7 4790k that I’ve overclocked to 4.4GHz, 16GB ram and first it was a nVidia 980ti that unfortunately bit the dust. Now it’s a 1080 OC that is only a bit faster. Together with the other parts, it cost me about 1500€ 1.5 years ago. For simracing I use the Fanatec Clubsport Wheelbase V2, Clubsport Pedals V2, Clubsport Shifter SQ and the handbrake that are attached to a cheap seat that is called Speedmaster (who would guess) V2. As I already mentioned, most of the time I’m using the Oculus Rift CV1, especially for driving games, but I also have the HTC Vive headset to enjoy some room scale VR experiences from time to time.
RiVR: Project Cars or Assetto Corsa? Or something else? What is the best racing sim for VR?
MP: Assetto Corsa I like the most. To me the most important things of a simulation are physics and force feedback feeling and in my opinion those are by fare the best in AC. It also has a lot of diverse content for a small price and I love to drive around with friends, also on modded tracks. Project Cars lacks the feedback and mod content. I only drove it a very small amount of time and never had much fun with it. Unfortunately, it was often more of a frustrating experience because the game has a lot of potential with it’s beautiful graphics and tons of features. I really hope pcars 2 gets the handling right this time. What I also like to play is iRacing, but for my taste it’s way too expensive. It’s not that easy to just drive around with friends and have some fun. But iRacing obviously has the best online racing experience of all sims. I would like to have such online racing features in Assetto Corsa. Beside Assetto Corsa, I enjoyed Dirt Rally the most, it’s something completely different and it’s a blast in VR. The thrilling speed, the jumps, the fear of hitting a tree is so immersive and believing, a very addictive experience.
RiVR: Favourite car and track combo?
MP: Nordschleife with the Porsche Carrera Cup is absolutely great for having close and intense races and the Nordschleife itself is one of the most challenging tracks. When it comes to just fooling around with friends, I love to drive on mod tracks like Transfagarasan, Tajo or Akina and enjoy street cars like the Caterham, Porsche 911R or the Ferrari 458 Italia.
RiVR: Any particular VR racing memory? (getting sick, falling out of seat, a memorable ride, etc.)
MP: An outstanding experience was to drive the Finland stages in Dirt Rally with lots of jumps. Every time the car jumped, I really thought I´m in mid-air and it fools my brain so much that my body tries to get ready for a hard landing. I have some butt-kickers that add a lot of immersion in this case. You feel a lot of bumps on those gravel roads but for the second you are mid air, they don´t shake, it’s just quiet and as soon as the car hits the track again it kicks your butt. 😀
RiVR: Any non-racing VR games that you like or play regularly?
MP: I like to play fps games like Battlefield or Arma and room scale VR experiences with the HTC Vive headset. Flight simulations like DCS are also a lot of fun in VR. I have a hotas joystick for them, but it’s so difficult to even get a plane flying in those games that I don’t play them that much.
RiVR: If you had a crystal ball, what do you think it would show for the future of VR racing, let’s say in 10 years?
MP: I think we will see VR headsets with full 180 degrees of FOV. Build in eye tracking to get perfect depth of field that also helps to calculate the eye position for a more accurate 3D effect. Very high resolution like 16k or something that you can’t see the pixels any more. There is also a technology they are researching on that not only generates perfect stereoscopic 3D but also doesn’t create the feeling of looking at a screen at a specific distance any more. Now you have the 3D because of two different pictures for each eye, but with this new technology they add that your eyes have to change focus for each distance which adds another layer of 3D effect.