A couple of weeks ago I decided to try and use video games to learn how to operate a manual transmission. After several hours behind a fake steering wheel I've determined I need several more hours behind a fake steering wheel.
As I mentioned in the original article, I never learned how to drive stick shift, which while not uncommon here in the States comes off as completely ridiculous to folks from countries where manual transmissions are the norm, i.e. most countries. While having a greater degree of control over the mass of metal and flame and rubber just makes sense elsewhere, here in the automatic-dominated U.S. our favourite gear is called "Drive" and our transmissions do all the thinking for us.
I am fine with "Drive" in the real world, but how could I call myself a racing game fan if I don't know how to drive a real racing vehicle?
And so, armed with a Logitech G920 racing wheel for the Xbox One and PC with optional gear shift and copies of Forza Motorsports 6 and Project Cars, I set off to learn. Aside from tips from our commenters, I would use no outside tutorials. That includes Jalopnik's How To Drive A Stick In Ten Easy Steps, an article I've never read but am growing more and more aware of each moment I'm behind the wheel.
I've not had as much time to virtually drive over the past few weeks as I'd have liked, largely due to the big fall gaming season ramping up. It's hard to find time to get behind a fake steering wheel when your office is filled with fake musical instruments.
I also ran into an issue where one of my Xbox One's (I have one in my office and one in the living room so the family can shout at Kinect while I am trying to work) would not register the steering wheel. It might have something to do with the Xbox One dashboard preview — the office console has it, and the wheel won't register, while the living room console is still on the regular dash and works fine.
Still, I've managed to clock several hours between Project Cars on PC and Forza Motorsports 6, and the going is very slow and jerky.
For starters, despite having a built-in profile for the Logitech G920, Project Cars required a little tweaking to get everything working correctly, which is tough when you don't know what working correctly really is. My first hour of racing were composed of grinding and revving noises, me flailing at a stick without numbers on the cap trying to get used to which gear was which, the car dying because I kept forgetting that third pedal existed and a good 15 minutes staring at a wall trying to figure out how to shift into reverse (apparently it involves pressing down on the stick.)
I fared a bit better in the somewhat more arcade-y Forza 6. I can make it around an entire track, but it's hard to shake 27 years of automatic driving.
The video below represents one of my more recent attempts. Keep in mind I am still only a few hours into this. It begins with me running off the road because I am looking at the stick shift instead of the screen. Then it gets a little painful. Mind the resolution — this was captured using the Xbox One's built-in game DVR, which is not great. Just pay attention to the gear indicator in the lower right. It's pretty hilarious.
I feel like "Yakkity-Sax" should be playing here.
What I Am Doing Wrong
While the outlook of my experiment might look dim at the moment, I've at least identified several key problems I need to address in order to make things better.
Forgetting the clutch exists: I am acutely aware of the third pedal I need to be pressing when a race begins. Give me more than 10 seconds in a single gear however, and my left foot wanders off to do other things. I am going to print out the picture below and tape it over my monitor. Then I'll move it so I can see.
Riding the clutch: That sounds like a term stick driving people might use, so I'm using it to describe my habit of holding it down for far too long when shifting gears. There's a rhythm to it I am sure — I've just not found it yet.
First, second, fifth...no sixth! THIRD!: I am guessing real-world stick shifts aren't quite as loose as the one supplied by Logitech here. I know where the different gears are now, but damn if I don't miss a simple transition 4 times out of 10. Once I overshoot I panic trying to get back into the right gear. Calm down. Relax.
Multitasking: Driving an automatic involves switching the car into "Drive" and hitting the gas. I suppose it also involves avoiding obstacles like living creatures and trying to make sure the speedometer doesn't go past "immediately arrested." Now I've got an extra pedal to worry about, as well as a tachometer, which is a term I just had to look up on Google.
As stuttery as a start as I might be off to, I feel like I am making progress. I'm having trouble finding my rhythm, but I know it's there somewhere.
I think one of my major issues is that for all the shiny graphics and somewhat realistic equipment, I'm still sitting straight up at a desk instead of leaning back in traditional car position.
A solution to that problem is on the way. Stay tuned.