Of Racing Wheels and Airborne Ads – from the Sublime to the Ridiculous
By Jim Bray
Technology. Love it or hate it, technology itself is benign. It's how it's used that makes it either good or bad, and of course good and bad can be in the eye of the beholder.
Take Logitech's Driving Force GT racing wheel, and something called "Flogos" as two examples. One is basically a toy, but one that can bring much enjoyment to your time at the game console (known to some as "wasting time", though I prefer to think of it as "research"); the other is, depending on your bent, either a marvelous new marketing tool or yet another assault on our senses.
Let's deal with the good (in the eye of this beholder, at least) first. I mentioned Logitech's Driving Force GT in my column about Gran Turismo 5 Prologue last week, mostly in passing. But it's such a great enhancement to the joy of "pretend driving" that, since it's billed as "The Official Wheel of Gran Turismo," I thought it would be interesting to try it with some games that aren't GT 5 to see if it's as good there.
It is, mostly. I broke down and spent some of my own money to rent Formula 1: Championship Edition from my local Blockbuster and once again the Driving Force GT changed the game action completely. It elevates what's really just an interesting and fun toy to a much, much more realistic experience, making it more of a simulator than a mere game.
Ditto for a demo of Need for Speed Pro Street I downloaded from the PlayStation 3 site. I'd been a hazard to drivers and spectators alike when using the game pad, but with the Driving Force GT I became competent enough to not embarrass myself unduly. And it even helped when playing Gran Turismo's online components, where the other people tend to be, well, nuts. I learned to avoid them better, though you can never be completely safe when some wacko's tooling along at ramming speed.
For some reason, the PS button you use to bail out of the game and/or system didn't work with a couple of the other games, though it works fine with GT-5.
I even tried using the wheel as a yoke on a flying game and it worked, though it wasn't nearly as effective as it is with more earthbound piloting.
The problem with the flying game (a demo of "Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of WWII" I downloaded to my PlayStation 3 via its online store), was that, while the wheel works just fine for controlling your plane's ailerons, the steering column doesn't telescope and that means you can't control your virtual plane's elevators with it, for climbing and diving.
The pedals work the elevators well but, darn it, they really should control the rudder, for real left/right yaw axis action. I checked out the demo's control configuration and there was no way to change it. Perhaps other flying games, or even the full Blazing Angels game, will be different.
Oh, well; if your virtual bent is to fly, there are flight yokes and pedals available that can do for aviation what the Driving Force GT (which doesn't claim to be for flying anyway) does for two dimensional piloting.
The two piece Driving Force GT consists of the racing wheel itself (which has about a million buttons that duplicate the PS3 game controller's as well as adding stuff like an adjustment dial with which you can set some of your car's parameters on the fly) and the gas/brake pedal module which has a handy, retractable spiky bar thing so it doesn't slide across your carpet when you tromp on the pedals.
The whole shebang hooks into the PS3 via the console's USB ports and plugs into a wall socket so it can give you the force feedback that contributes so much to the authenticity of the experience. Force feedback lets you feel bumps, curbs and collisions when they happen, jerking the wheel appropriately and also adding a good measure of effort to regular driving.
The wheel itself feels comfortable and solid, and it has clamps that hold it onto a flat surface. A sequential stick shift adds to the fun, though I prefer using the rear-mounted buttons as paddle shifters (thanks to my limited coordination, things go better when I keep my hands on the wheel at all times).
It all feels quite realistic, though of course nothing can substitute for the real thing. But after a few hours of pretending I'm Helio Castroneves (sans the dancing!), or Danica Patrick (sans, well, you know!) I'm ready for a shower!
The $150 Driving Force GT isn't the only such wheel, of course. Heck, it isn't even the only one from Logitech. But I love using it and in my never humble opinion think that if you're serious about driving games, you owe it to yourself to shell out for a wheel like this.
Then there's Flogos.
Is there nowhere we can go any more to get away from being bombarded by ads?
I know advertising makes the world go 'round, and I don't mind accepting a certain amount of advertising if it means my favorite TV and radio programs don't cost me an arm and a leg. But I object to ads when I'm paying for a product – such as the commercials they make you sit through at the movie theatres I no longer frequent and the DVD's and Blu-ray discs I still frequent because the overall experience is better than a movie theater's and I have to watch them because I review them.
And now it's getting to the point where you can't even walk outside on a sunny day without ads rearing their ugly heads at you.
One of the latest ideas for capturing the retinas of an unsuspecting public is called Flogos, which is short for Flying Logos. Invented by a couple of special effects whizzes, the system consists of a little cloud generating machine that creates flying logos up to about four feet in size.
Flogos are made from foam and lighter than air gases and can be configured to last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or so – though atmospheric conditions could change that, as well as undoubtedly moving the Flogo from where it's meant to be displayed to somewhere it could even be a tad less than appropriate.
Heck, if someone in my neck of the woods used a Flogo during one of our famous Chinooks, the advertiser's hard spent dollars could be going to a display over the heads of people a thousand miles away!
But I digress….
Even without a Chinook, Flogos are designed to travel up to about thirty miles at altitudes of up to 20,000 feet – where I'm sure airline pilots will be thrilled to find them. Hey, that gives me an idea: one airline could target a Flogo at an competing airline's plane, putting their logo in front of the other passengers and crew, not only causing potential buyer's remorse in the other passengers, but much angst among the flight crew and airline operators.
I can see the lawsuits already.
The Flogos website shows a few designs such as a mouse cloud that looks like it would be at home in Orlando or Anaheim, a peace symbol I can imagine some peacenik would just love to fly over a cenotaph somewhere, and a flogo I think is supposed to be an Atlanta Braves tomahawk but which looks suspiciously like male private parts.
Maybe they were advertising a performance of the Puppetry of the Penis...
Flogo says their generators can spit out a Flogo every 15 seconds, so maybe you could use them to not only get your advertising message out, but to create your own mini-solar eclipse.
I can hardly wait.
Ain't technology great?
Copyright 2008 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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