How well does it work?
Overall the thing works quite well. I ran the TrackIR Vector Expansion through several simulations, both those that support six degrees of freedom (6DoF) and a couple that don’t. Those that currently support 6DoF are Microsoft FS2004 (FS9.0), Combat Flight Simulator 3 and Aces High II. I had the opportunity to try the expansion in CFS3 and Aces High II. In addition I tried the expansion in non-6DoF games like IL-2: Sturmovik Forgotten Battles / Pacific Fighters and WW2 Online.
Like the original TrackIR system getting the most out of the 6DoF system takes some time and some getting used to. In games like Aces High you tend to find out that you lean your head from one side to the other. Initially I found that I had a hard time keeping my head centered in the cockpit. I must like to lean to one side because everything seemed to veer off to left in the cockpit.
Once you get used to it though, the expansion really becomes quite handy. Leaning to the side or zooming in to get that shot really takes a lot of thought out of the game. Unlike other games you don’t have to map a series of keys to zoom in or out. Likewise seeing up over the edge of the cockpit is easier with the device. This comes in quite handy when you are lining up an approach on a carrier or on a target.
In addition I have found that I tend to fly the aircraft more and aim the aircraft less. In the past I tended to fly with the gunsite. With the TrackIR I have found that I fly the aircraft more and concentrate on the gunsite less. I actually fly to get into position with the TrackIR and only go to the gunsite when I am ready to take a shot on the enemy. What has happened is, my deflection shooting and my overall kill ratio has improved with the TrackIR system.
This seems to be something that has occurred regardless of the support of 6DoF or not. One thing I have noticed with the Vector Expansion is that games like Pacific Fighters pan more smoothly and it holds its head position a little better. The worst part of the TrackIR 2 was something I called head slur, a phenomena in which your view would cock one direction or the other. This would give you a fish bowl type feeling when flying the plane and would require frequent hits of the F12 key to re-align your view. The effect was diminished with the TrackIR 3 and the Vector Expansion. It’s not completely gone, you have to make sure you have the device centered but I don’t see the problems I have had before.
The big difference I see in games is when you are lining-up that tricky landing or looking for that target. By allowing the player to shift his head from side-to-side and front-to-back. In essence you can move your head into the best position to line up your approach or find that ground target blocked by your engine. In addition you can raise your head position and see over the nose of your aircraft, something very nice when trying to land on an aircraft carrier.
Aces High II is an outstanding demonstration of how the Vector Expansion can work. It is really cool to be able to look to the side, past your engine, when approaching the back end of the carrier. It works smoothly and effortlessly in the game. It does take a little getting used to, but once you figure out some of the quirks (most related to things I do in the game that I never realized I did, like leaning back in my chair and the previously mentioned head lean). One thing to note, keep your keyboard within easy reach. I’ve found the biggest problem I have with the expansion is when I lean in to hit a keystroke. I find myself zoomed in on the bottom of the engine compartment and I never get back to the original center position. It is easily fixed by hitting F12 though.
I really wish that the IL-2 series supported the 6DoF feature. I know Oleg doesn’t want to do much else with the game and I know that there is fear that some cockpits may not look right with different head movements, but the ability to move your head around in the cockpit really does eliminate the need for such cheats like the no-cockpit key. The IL-2 series always prided itself on taking advantage of the cutting edge of technology and to see something ignored that really improves the overall game is a shame. I hope that Oleg plans on 6DoF support in his Battle of Britain based sim. In the next few years I expect the ability to pan around the entire cockpit to be as common as enhanced support is right now.