Space & Innovation

World's Fastest Virtual Racers Compete for Crown

More than 10,000 drivers, professional and amateur, will square off on laser-scanned digital race tracks. Continue reading →

Thanks to cutting-edge computer simulation technology, drivers who want to compete for a world championship don't need a high-performance race car anymore. In fact, they don't need a car at all.

This summer, more than 10,000 drivers -- both professional and amateur -- will compete to determine the world's fastest virtual race car driver. It's part of an ambitious eSports initiative based on the popular Project CARS racing simulation game for PC and console systems like the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

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Around 200 teams in total have registered for the Logitech G Championship Series and NVIDIA Challenger Series, which function as virtual racing circuits running parallel to real-world racing events. Competitors use the driving simulator, plus their own highly customized race seat rigs, to drive around laser-scanned virtual race tracks.

The tracks, in turn, are modeled on actual venues like the Sonoma Raceway in California or the Monza Grand Prix track in Italy.

Following last year's inaugural season, this season's virtual races are scheduled to coincide with real-world motorsports events around the world. Lap times are recorded for each event and points awarded for position. In October, the world's fastest virtual race car driver will be crowned and awarded a cash prize.

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Racing sims have become enormously sophisticated in recent years, with advances in both hardware and software providing the virtual horsepower to match real-world auto racing. I've played around a bit with the PlayStation 4 version of Project CARS and the verisimilitude really is impressive, even with standard console controllers.

Players who are really serious about the simulation experience, however, take things to a whole ‘nother level. Customized race seat rigs can cost upwards of $20,000 and feature force-feedback steering wheels, gear shifters and pedal mounts.

Project CARS is fully compatible with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, as well. Here's a video that gives a sense of the action, with real-world Formula One driver Max Verstappen trying out the virtual side of things. Verstappen, by the by, is the youngest pro F1 driver in the history of the sport -- he made his debut at age 17.

click to play video

The virtual reality revolution is upon us -- finally. After years of hype and development, three consumer VR headset models are scheduled to hit shelves this spring. Industry watchers are treating it all as a Very Big Deal, indeed. Virtual reality films and educational titles will open up entire new vistas of experience, but the first wave of VR goodness will come in the form of immersive video games. Here we take a look at ten of the most anticipated games en route for the

Oculus Rift

,

PlayStation VR

and the

Vive

headsets. The sci-fi adventure game

Pollen

, pictured above, is one of many multi-platform games designed to manipulate time and space by putting players in a richly detailed, 360-degree virtual world.

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The spaceship dogfight shooter

EVE: Valkyrie

will come bundled with both the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR headsets, and is likely to be most players' first introduction to virtual reality gaming. Advance word on the title, which supports team-based mutliplayer combat, is white hot.

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Created by marquee developer Epic Games ("Gears of War"),

Bullet Train

uses a hand-mirroring design to accommodate two-fisted firing with Rift's motion controllers. Check out the

frenetic demo video

to get a sense of Epic's VR update to the classic first person shooter (FPS) genre.

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In the space game

Adr1ft

, players assume the role of an astronaut in peril, exploring the wreckage of an orbital station in a damaged

EVA suit

. Developers are describing Adr1ft as a First Person Experience (FPX) game, with combat and violence replaced by exploration and puzzle solving.

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Sports simulations are expected to be a popular genre in virtual reality -- it's all the fun, minus the ligament damage.

VR Sports Challenge

will let players participate in hockey, football, basketball and baseball from an immersive first-person perspective. Rather than play through entire games, players will be dropped into short scenarios -- like defending the goal in hockey.

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In terms of daydream scenarios, being a rock star is right up there with sports heroics for armchair gamers. At least, that's what developer Harmonix is hoping. Just last month, the company announced that its popular

Rock Band

franchise will be moving to the realm of virtual reality sometime this year.

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Diablo 3: So You Want To Be A Demon-Slayer: Photos

With

World War Toons

, game designers aim to create a looney, 'tooney alternative to ultra-realistic combat games. Check out the very funny

promotional video

to get a sense of the vibe. These guys know their Bugs Bunny, clearly.

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The highly detailed outdoor adventure game

The Climb

suggests the interesting sideways directions that VR gaming can explore. Players can take on extreme rock-climbing challenges based on actual locations around the world.

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One of the first games to support early iterations of the Oculus Rift code,

Alien Isolation

was released for PC and consoles back in 2014. Sega hasn't confirmed that a full VR version will be released, but that's the rumor, and the game's suspenseful, atmospheric gameplay is a perfect fit for virtual reality terror.

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As the VR game market expands, you can expect some inspired goofiness, as well. The delightfully weird

Surgeon Simulator

line of games will migrate to virtual reality in 2016 with a new title featuring, um, alien autopsies on Mars. Guitar heroics, rock climbing, orbital surgery? This is going to be fun.

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