Free Wheelin' With The HKT-7430

The Dreamcast has a stunning number of peripherals for a system that lived in the limelight for such a short time. When you really look at the list of different controllers and things you can plug into the console in order to add a new dimension to your gameplay experience, the array is pretty bewildering. Some of these peripherals literally only have a handful of games that make use of them, while others are pretty much redundant today as they were designed for use with an internet connection (or in the case of the mysterious DreamWire HKT-4400 ISDN cable, an internet connection was it's only reason for existing). Twin Sticks for use with Virtual On, the MIDI cable for plugging in a keyboard, the DreamEye for web chat...the list is as long as a long armed person's arm. Recently though, a fairly common Dreamcast accessory came into my possession - the official Dreamcast racing wheel.
A DreamWire. Yesterday.
I actually paid £1 for this item in an eBay auction and bid on it more out of curiosity than anything. I did own an unofficial V3 steering wheel peripheral for the Dreamcast years ago, but I left it in my brother's house for some reason...and he threw it away when he moved. So for the last 10 years or so I have been wheel-less...but no more! I'm sure many people reading this have experienced the official Sega wheel already, but for me this was the first time using it.

There's no denying it looks good.
The first thing I noticed was that it doesn't actually come with any foot pedals, which is odd considering that most third party wheels for the Dreamcast do. Even stranger is that the NTSC-J version of the official wheel (HKT-7400) has an extra port on the back that was meant to allow for third party pedals to be fitted, but as far as I can tell there are no sets of pedals that the unit will recognise. Why this was removed from the PAL version I'm not sure, but the little area where the connector should be has been filled in and the wiring totally removed (although the connection on the internal board is still there, just empty). Further to this, the official wheel was never released by Sega in the US, it was rebranded and sold by Agetec as the 'Rally Wheel.' Whether this variation also features the little connector on the back is not something I can confirm, but maybe somebody reading this can let us know.
Odd they called it the 'Rally Wheel' with only two rally games on the DC
A very low quality image of the NTSC-J unit's phantom pedal port and internal wiring
Elsewhere, the unit harbours an aperture where a VMU can be placed. This is quite a nice feature, as it allows you to see your VMU screen while playing a game and also negates the need for a second pad to be plugged into the console at the same time as the wheel...but it also removes any facility for a gear lever that some 3rd party wheels feature. So no pedals and no gear lever...but at least you can look at the dot matrix screen of your VMU as you power slide around a corner! To be honest, I feel that this is a bit of a missed opportunity - how cool would it have been to have a little digital speedometer displayed on the screen whenever it was plugged in to the race wheel? Or even one of those Daytona-style 'maps' showing if there where other vehicles around you? Or perhaps a fuel gauge? Actually, on second thoughts it probably wouldn't be much use as all of those things can generally be found on-screen anyway; and all this would do is turn your steering wheel into a less functional Wii U tablet.
A resting VMU
On the face of the wheel, you will find several buttons but strangely there is no D-pad or, for that matter the regular buttons from the standard pad. What you get are '+' and a '-' buttons for navigating menus and changing gears; A and B buttons for selecting and cancelling in menus/changing views in-game; a start button; and two analogue 'paddles' attached to the steering column for accelerating and braking. At first, this set up seems like a total nightmare but after a bit of play in most games (I mainly played Sega Rally 2, Le Mans 24hrs, F355 and F1 World Grand Prix 2 to test it out), using the wheel actually feels better than using a pad. Granted, you really have to use the first person views in most games to actually get a real sense that you're using a wheel and not a joypad - and get the benefits of the peripheral - but it really does add something to the experience. The real star attraction of the official wheel though, has got to be the tensioning effect whereby the wheel offers some basic resistance to turning by means of a rather simplistic yet clever band of elastic that runs inside the base of the wheel. True, there's no built-in force feedback or anything like that, but this feeling that the wheel is pulling back in the opposite direction as you turn is a stroke of genius and not something I've noticed in other wheels for the Dreamcast.
The advanced elastic technology is illustrated here
The racing wheel isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination - the base feels very light and it constantly moves around when you quickly have to turn the wheel left and right (if negotiating a chicane, for example); and the lack of pedals makes the control system seem a little odd at first. However, the lovely tension on the wheel and the great analogue paddles mean it does have some impressive redeeming features. The most important thing though, is that it really does enhance the experience of playing some of the Dreamcast's finest racers. It takes a little time to get up to speed (sorry) with how it changes the way you're probably used to playing your favourite racers, but it adds a whole new dimension too. Am I happy with my £1 outlay for the racing wheel? Thoroughly. I would recommend this peripheral to anyone who has even a passing interest in racers.


BlueSwirl said...

I quite like the official wheel, I've never tried any of the others though. My PAL wheel has the little port you mentioned for the pedals, I wonder if it was filled in on later models/releases?

Tom Charnock said...

That's quite interesting. Maybe they were. All of the fittings suggest a port should be there, but it's just blanked off. Very curious...

pcwzrd13 said...

I have the Pelican Rally 2 wheel and it works great. It has built-in vibration, a VMU slot, d-pad, and a really cool speed gauge at the top. Unfortunately the Pelican wheel doesn't have any pedals either. That's really the only negative though.

Here's a video I made on it a long time ago (sorry for the terrible video quality and commentary. I was new to Youtube lol):

doceggfan said...

I have an official one, but it's been modified to the JVS arcade standard so that I can use it on my Naomi 2, Triforce and Lindbergh. Haven't actually had a chance to test it out yet though. I bought it from a guy selling them on Yahoo Auctions Japan earlier this year.

Tom Charnock said...

pcwzrd13 - that wheel looks pretty cool, I like the lights/speedo thing on it. Also, the suction cups would have been a nice addition to the official wheel to stop it sliding around!

doceggfan - that sounds very cool, would like to see some pictures of that once you've got it up and running!

Dave said...

You'll guys should try out the Madcatz MC2 Racing Wheel

CD ageS said...

I own the US version of the Official Wheel. It indeed has the port intact.
Also, Agetec simply handled distribution of Sega's main control accessories for the system at launch. This would also include the Fishing Rod and the Arcade Stick. It doesn't make them any less official than the ones released in JPN and UK markets. SEGA USA had ALOT on their plate with regards to the launch of the Dreamcast on their territory as the success of the systems release out here was a HUGE priority to SEGA as a whole. Companies like Agetec and Activision made deals to release 1st Party products to the states. Agetec would continue this with SNK after their US branch closed for business. As a result the US continued to receive SNK titles thanks to Agetec.

mistamontiel said...

I was thinking about having one of these "paddle shifters!!!" ..nope >.<