I started playing with VR in 2013 when the Oculus Rift DK1 came out. It didn’t take long to want more so I turned to motion simulators to feel the bumps in the road, the turn of the aircraft, etc. While I love to tinker and build things, I didn’t want to spend the time learning everything from welding to complex math equations. So the search began for a fully built or DIY kit for a reasonable price and oh yeah, it needed to work with Elite Dangerous – the best Virtual Reality game since 2014! Long story short, I narrowed the software down to SimTools which is FREE but the few kits or pre-built systems I found were either ridiculously priced (USD $7,000 and up), required propriety software, or had too many question marks. these included the Atomic V3, Blue Tiger, and Eleetus.
Consequently, most people will not be buying a ready built or even a full DIY kit. Virtual Reality (or not) Motion Simulators can be made on the cheap and many have fully functioning rigs for less than $500 using surprisingly strong windshield wiper motors available at any junkyard or ebay. The $500 price tag can be a bit deceiving though and it assumes you can find a seat, wiper motors, and controls on the cheap from ebay, Craigslist, etc. In most cases, this also assumes you have access to a welder. Welding is not difficult but it does require a welder and protective gear ($150+), can be dangerous, and takes practice. This is a very good example of a 2 Direction of force (2DOF) wiper based motion simulator on a welded steel platform over at xsimulator.net:
You can see all the important pieces of the motion simulator in this picture. The frame, the seat, steering wheel, pedals, 2 motors, 1 or 2 used computer server power supplies, and a control unit (typically Arduino or JRK boards with cooling fans). One of the simplest and yet not so simple components is a potentiometer attached to each motor. The potentiometers tell the control board what position each motor is in. Calibrating the potentiometers is a critical piece of any motion simulator.
In retrospect, I wish I had attempted a simple build like this. But no, I needed to make it more complicated, bigger, and ultimately not so better. So much to my dismay, I ordered a welder, steel tubes and a crazy assortment of bits and bobs which might answer the mail. 3 months later, lots of help from members of xsimulator.net, countless Amazon orders and runs to Home Depot, I had a working motion simulator. I learned a lot but my ignorance led to a heavy and under powered motion simulator which had a bit of a loose wobble. Over the past year, I became increasingly unhappy with my simulator and a quick search on xsimulator.net led me to dynkit.com. Dynkit had exactly want I wanted from the beginning and the price was spot on with a basic kit costing $900 and the premium kit costing $1500. I’ll cover the Dynkit in another post but I’m very happy with the outcome.
Regardless of what type of motion simulator you build or buy, you’ll probably find you need a few more items.
With a basic simulator seat, you can have a great time riding roller coasters or even flying driving with an Xbox controller. But for the hardcore Virtual Pilots and Virtual Racers out there, you’ll need a few more items to truly level up your total immersion. First and foremost, Virtual Reality is an absolute must. If you don’t have a VR headset, don’t even think about motion simulators yet. Nothing will increase the level of immersion like a VR headset.
VR Pilots will need a Hands On Throttle-And-Stick (aka HOTAS or H.O.T.A.S) which is essentially a throttle and joystick with lots of buttons. A good starter HOTAS is the Thrustmaster T-Flight HOTAS for $49. Other options include the Saitek X52 ($159), Saitek X-56 ($249) and my personal favorite, the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Joystick ($338 which is a steal as of today). You can also buy a set of foot pedals to give you left and right yaw. There are several dedicated flying pedal options (e.g. Saitek Pro Flight Combat Rudder Pedals) but I would suggest buying a Racing wheel\pedal combo if you think you’ll ever drive as most racing pedals can be used with flying games.
Speaking of racing, there are many options for the steering wheels, shifters, and pedals. The most popular include the Logitech G29, Logitech G920, and the Thrustmaster T80 ($99), and my favorite, the Thrustmaster T500RS Racing wheel ($599). Note the T500RS wheel is marketed as a Playstation PS3/PS4 wheel but it works with Windows 10 (and I assume previous versions). For deeper pockets ($1000+), check out the Fanatec line.
So now you’ve got a kick ass VR motion simulator with an Oculus Rift CV1 or HTC Vive, cool seat, awesome joystick, pedals, and buttons galore. What else could you possibly need? That spaceship your piloting is missing the constant hum of the hyperdrive and the McLaren race car has no rumble of a V12 engine. This too can be easily addressed with a tactile transducer which is a fancy way of saying bass shaker or buttkicker. Tactile transducers \ bass shakers are small subwoofer like devices which attach to your chairs, couches, or wherever your place your butt to give you a little rumble using the audio output from your PC. If I had to pick, I would go with bass shakers over motion and they are certainly cheaper and easier! There is nothing like feeling the ship come alive as you throttle up or feeling every bump in the road as you fly around the speedway. Simple installations involve 1 or more bass shakers attached to your seat (typically reduced to a mono channel of audio). The next level involves placing 1 or more bass shakers at each corner of your VR motion simulator. When connected properly, you will feel the shake\rumble as it relates to your spaceship or car. If your left front wheel hits a bump, you only feel the “bump” of bass in the left front portion of your motion simulator. There is a tactile transducer for every budget: I’ve used the AuraSound Pro Bass Shaker ($50), Buttkicker LFE and mini ($99-500), and several of the Clark Synthesis tactile transducers ($99-600). I’ve found the Clarks to be the best balance of output and weight for a motion simulator. The large Buttkicker LFEs have the most punch but far too heavy for a motion rig.
For the VR racers, consider buying Simexperience Simvibe software ($89). Simvibe uses a dedicated soundcard to output bass to each channel and is far more accurate than general 4 channel audio. Simvibe uses the actual telemetry from games to produce bass as appropriate to the environment. I absolutely loved it with Live for Speed but unfortunately, Simvibe only supports a limited number of games. It does not support Elite Dangerous.