Tips on VR gaming using peripherals

Image © Stanley Skarshaug

Image © Stanley Skarshaug

VR is a godsend for sim enthusiasts. Playing a simulator where you actually feel that you are sitting inside the thing you are trying to control is amazing. But after some years of VR experience, I have found a couple of rules that I try to live by to make the experience as good as possible.

In this article, I will describe how I approach playing a new sim game in VR using peripherals.

Know the game

Is it playable? Does it support blind controlling?

Not all games that support VR, are playable in VR. One of my favorite games, Overload supports VR natively. But I would rather call the experience a vomit inducer. The rapid movement inside VR, while your physical body is sitting still, is the recipe for VR sickness. Trust me. This is just as bad as getting motion sickness inside a car while reading the newspaper. Just like motion sickness, some people are immune to it, and others become sick after 1 second. You do not know how your brain reacts to it before you have tried it.

One way to reduce the chance of VR sickness is to have a sim-pit that is placed on a system that makes it tilt and rotate slightly to give the body a sensation of movement. I have never tried this in VR, but I hear it reduces the chance of VR sickness in driving simulators a lot.

Many sim games are complex in nature. If you have to learn the mechanics of the game while being in VR you will have a hard time. A lot of times, like with Elite Dangerous and MechWarrior there is a lot of stuff happening. And often I personally have to google how certain things work while playing.

Because of this, I find it useful to learn the game in flatscreen mode, then later mature into VR gameplay when I feel confident enough. That way you can focus on the game while playing it.

Another downside of playing in VR is that the pixels of the screens are so close to your eyes you will have a windscreen effect on older or budget-friendly HMDs. This will make it harder to read the text on some surfaces and see what smaller gauges display. In practice, this means that it could be beneficial to know what you are looking at, without actually seeing it. This problem can be solved in some way by supersampling, which I will cover in the graphical optimization chapter later in this article.

Learn and optimize keybindings

Remember, you will play blindly

You should be familiar with the keybindings on your dual stick or HOTAS (hands-on throttle and stick) setup. In practice, you should know it so well that you can use the sticks blindly. Remember, In VR you will actually have to use them blindly!

To be able to map the buttons on the sticks and the throttle in a good way you should have a good understanding of what functions you will be using in what scenario. In order to do so, you should have a good understanding of how the game is controlled and what will be an optimal binding. I learned this the hard way by trying to learn to play Elite Dangerous in VR. It was not fun and made me give up on the game for a while. Putting the headset on and off kills the immersion, and with some headsets like those from Pimax, it's even a hassle...

When the VR mod for MechWarrior 5 got released I was fortunate to know how the game was played and controlled well in advance. This preparation allowed me to focus on the gameplay, and not the controls. That way I could truly enjoy the VR experience from the first day the VR mod was available.

Button boxes

...suck in VR...

It's easy to forget that you will play VR games blindly, and with a dual-stick and HOTAS setup, you will not be able to look at your buttons. Because of this you will rarely if ever be able to use button-boxes or other fun peripherals that you might truly enjoy using on flat screens while playing in VR.

This makes it very attractive to use joysticks with a lot of on-stick and on-throttle buttons, dials, hats, and analog sticks that you can use without letting go of the stick or throttle. I would highly recommend the peripherals from VKB, and Virpil Controls because of the number of bindings available on their products. They are premium products and sport a premium price, but I think nothing really compares when playing "blind" in VR.

Graphics optimization

Graphical fidelity, framerate and hardware.

Before immersing yourself in a VR simulator game you must spend time optimizing the graphical settings for the game. This can actually be a real bummer if you just want to pick up a game and play. For many, this part of VR gaming is so offputting that they rather not play VR games.

I have learned to enjoy the process of tuning the game. After the graphics are tuned you can achieve the steady desired minimum framerate you can truly enjoy the game without any more optimization needed.

VR is heavy on resource usage for any gaming rig. Start out with all settings on lowest, then in small increments increase the settings while monitoring the framerate. I would recommend dedicating at least a couple of hours to fine-tuning games you really enjoy playing in VR to really find the sweet spot on graphical fidelity and framerate. DLSS is a godsend for VR gaming. It really makes a lot of the difference because it allows me to use DLSSv2 for supersampling, making text and details a lot nicer in the HMD.

More and more VR games support the use of OpenXR in addition to Steam VR. OpenXR and the OpenXR toolkit make it possible to utilize eye-tracking for foveated rendering. This will in many cases at least double the framerate in your HMD because the graphics card will render the area of the HMD screens you are looking at in a much higher resolution and texture quality than the rest of the screens.

For flat-screen gaming, I prefer a framerate of at least 120FPS, but my Varjo Aero only supports a framerate of 90fps, and with demanding games like Microsoft Flight simulator I can only Squeeze out 45FPS while using an RTX 4090 graphics card, OpenXR toolkit, and foveated rendering. Flight sims are very slow in nature, and even though 45FPS is not something to celebrate, it is fully playable.

Less demanding games will float around the 90FPS mark which is good enough to avoid VR sickness in most relatively slow-moving games like Elite Dangerous and MechWarrior and flight sims. For non-peripheral games like typical VR games, 90PFS is more than enough.