Forget flight sims, I want a driving sim
August 30, 2006 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Are there any manual transmission driving simulators for the PC that can do a decent job of allowing me to simulate actually driving stick?

Looking for something preferably free or at least something that I can try before buying... I know you can get racing games that let you drive standard but I want something completely realistic where I can stall out and where it will tell me if Im damaging the clutch with improper shifting technique etc.
posted by GleepGlop to Education (16 answers total)
Not.. really. Most of learning how to drive a manual transmission is the feel and multitasking, then from there getting used to driving by feel/sound rather than by RPMs. I can't think of any way to explain, simulate, or teach this other than hands-on. Try a driving school.
posted by kcm at 6:11 PM on August 30, 2006

Without 'seat of the pants' feel there's no way. You drive a standard by the feel coming through the soles of your feet as much as by a rev counter or engine sound.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 6:13 PM on August 30, 2006

No, not unless they come with a stick, gas pedal and clutch to interact with.
posted by Steve3 at 6:43 PM on August 30, 2006

I can only think of one racing game ever that had a clutch, a Sega arcade game called Ferrari F355 Challenge that came out years ago, it's pretty rare though, never seen it myself. Home versions didn't use a clutch.
posted by bobo123 at 6:55 PM on August 30, 2006

GTR 2 will make you clutch - there's an option for it, anyway.

Seriously though, the clutch isn't the hard part of driving a stick. You need to get a feel for when to shift & the balance of your feet on the pedals, so the car doesn't lurch around. That's something that you can't learn with a simulator or a game (its VERY individual to the car, too - for the first few months you drive a stick, its quite difficult to switch cars).

Basic clutching can be learned in a few hours, if you already know how to drive. Get someone to drive the car to a big empty parking lot, & just spend time circling. Spend a lot of time creeping forward, trying to maintain a steady speed, learning the balance of gas/clutch.
posted by devilsbrigade at 7:24 PM on August 30, 2006

Having driven exclusively manual cars for 20+ years, I can't imagine that any PC simulator would do anything except harm your performance.

It might be better to find a friend with a manual transmission and just sit in the car, with it off, and play with the stick and pedals. The stick might not go into some of the gears with the engine and car not moving, but it's a good place to start.

I still remember the day, learning to drive with my Dad in the passenger seat, when I successfully shifted from 1st to 2nd gear while simultaneously making a left turn through an intersection. Wooooo!

Now I'm amazed at how second-nature it all is ... downshifting in anticipation of a gap in the traffic that I can accelerate through, staying in a lower gear for just a bit because I know I'm going to slow down soon anyway, gently bouncing the hood a little bit for fun, riding the clutch on an uphill stop ... good times, good times.
posted by intermod at 8:04 PM on August 30, 2006

It might be better to find a friend with a manual transmission and just sit in the car, with it off, and play with the stick and pedals.

And, for the benefit of our manual transmission neophyte, with the parking brake on.
posted by mendel at 8:14 PM on August 30, 2006

And don't do what I did when I taught a friend who was really fustrated after our first lesson: make sure you take the parking brake off.
posted by Monday at 9:33 PM on August 30, 2006

I learned to drive manual only a couple of years ago when I bought a Golf with manual transmission. Learning on a PC simulator seems pointless to others have said, it doesn't even remotely resemble the real thing.

Besides, it's a waste of time because it takes a day at the most to learn the basics (assuming you can already drive automatic) unless you simply can't grasp how it works. Many of my friends have used my car to learn and within a few hours can get themselves around quiet streets.

After that, it takes about a month of regular driving to become a safe driver again -- dealing with the distractions and stresses of everyday traffic while shifting correctly. If you're a proud driver, the most nerve-wracking thing can be stalling at an intersection and people honking at you.

It takes a few more months yet to become a smooth and efficient driver -- i.e. instinctively being in the right gear for what you want to do, and being precise with your clutchwork to reduce wear/tear.
posted by randomstriker at 11:00 PM on August 30, 2006

Agreed. The reason nothing like this really exists is because there are no accessories that will simulate the friction point of the clutch. It's different on every car, so figuring out the balance of the gas/clutch pedals will be differnt too. Thus, a driving sim won't really help you all that much.
posted by antifuse at 3:00 AM on August 31, 2006

a Sega arcade game called Ferrari F355 Challenge

i remember that game. played it a few times until i decided it was a worthless waste of money. i mention it because it was nigh-impossible to drive the damned thing. i was always shifting at the wrong time, spinning out, going into corners too hot, etc.

i think this was because SO MUCH of a driver's input comes from things like lateral forces, vibrations, sounds and tactile response from the wheels and pedals. this is especially true when it comes to stuff like "am i thrashing the clutch" (it has a distinct smell) or whatever. anyway, just agreeing with everyone else - best thing to do is just practice on some old junker.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 4:11 AM on August 31, 2006

Didn't Atari's Hard Drivin' have a clutch? It was an arcade unit with for its time pretty good physics, force feedback wheel, and a loudass subwoofer under the seat; all of which made things pretty real feeling.
posted by cps at 5:13 AM on August 31, 2006

Yep, I think Hard Drivin' is about as close as you're gonna get.... the arcade version, that is. I'm a big fan of the driving sim genre. I don't even want to think about how many $ I put into that game in college.

Hard Drivin', though, at this point, is considered a 'classic' and hard to find. If you *do* find one, choose the 'autocross' track, which is all flat (no loop-de-loops, etc). I found the roadster to have better handling at low speeds.

Anyway, as far as the 'sim' part goes, I remember you had to have the clutch pushed in to start the car, and that you could 'chirp' the tires if you had the gas floored when you popped the clutch. The graphics were great for their day, but would be considered primitive now. All that being said, the physics, force-feedback on the steering wheel, and sound effects were the most realistic I've ever seen.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:06 AM on August 31, 2006

Sorry, it turns out I was thinking of Race Drivin', not Hard Drivin'.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:14 AM on August 31, 2006

i remember [F355 Challenge]. played it a few times until i decided it was a worthless waste of money. i mention it because it was nigh-impossible to drive the damned thing. i was always shifting at the wrong time, spinning out, going into corners too hot, etc.

F355 is awesome, but it's a simulator more than an arcade game. Just like real life, you have to find and successfully execute your braking points to get the correct corner entry speed, or you'll find yourself in the gravel 3 out of 4 corners. Of course this means you have to spend plenty of time & tokens learning each track you want to master -- real racing is actually quite formulaic. Braking technique matters, too, as you have to manage the weight transfer to maximize braking effectiveness. In motorsports, like many sports, smoothness is key. (FWIW, I don't like the clutch + shifter in F355 and always opt for the paddle-shifters instead.)

Act Labs does make a shifter (~$100US) and pedal set (w/ clutch) (~$300US) for use with PCs.

This is pointless, however. As mentioned above, practicing in a real car in an empty parking lot is BY FAR the best way to go.

A few ideas that have worked well in the past:

Adjusting the idle to 2000rpm will help you out at first, just to get the feel of the clutch engagement without having to worry about the gas pedal. When you have that down, return the idle to normal and learn how to use the gas pedal in conjunction with the clutch on a flat surface. (This can be VERY FRUSTRATING until you "get it"!) Finally, when you start getting good, practice on an uphill incline, as this will force you to learn to incorporate the brake into your foot-gymnastics.

One more thing: don't get an expensive car with lovely paint for your first manual transmissioned vehicle, as it's likely that you'll be banging up the bumpers (oh noes, I parked on a downhill incline with a brick wall right in front of me!) for the first year or so. My ex- taught me this one.

Good luck!
posted by LordSludge at 10:50 AM on August 31, 2006

Joining the chorus: any PC simulation would be useless & probably hinder you. I've taught several people to drive stick. It's not hard.

For the very least coordinated of people, I have them start out without touching the gas pedal:
a.) Play with the clutch while in first gear... let it out a little until the engine bogs a bit, push it back in, repeat. This will give you a feel for the "friction zone" of the clutch. It's not an on/off switch. (Think of grabbing a rope tow at a ski hill: grab too hard and you're pulled off your feet. Grab too slow and you'll burn your gloves.)
b.) Let it out a little slower next time, etc. until you get the car moving at walking speed.
c.) Don't freak out about stalling the engine.
d.) Repeat the process a few times, then add some gas pedal to the equation. See how much easier it is to get the car rolling with some throttle.
e.) Don't freak out about stalling the engine.
posted by Tubes at 3:38 PM on August 31, 2006

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