Shenmue's forklift truck sequence was effectively my first job. I was 15 when Sega's open-world adventure came out and truly captivated by the game. After two discs of mystery, adventure and capsule toys, I can still remember dropping disc three into my Dreamcast, full of anticipation. Infamously, the third and final disc of Shenmue involves the protagonist, Ryo, getting a job at the docks as a forklift truck driver. After the first day of moving crates around, I expected we'd soon be uncovering information about the gang Ryo was tracking down. Instead... I went back to work the next day. And the next. And the next. Moving crates was just part of life now. The story does unfold along the way, and you're eventually treated to perhaps the game's best fight sequence.
Jumping forward some 16 years, while at Gamescom I spotted a strange machine in the corner of one of the business centers. It was Sanlab's SimPro 3, a hydraulic platform with controls of several real-world construction vehicles including... a forklift. I had to try it. With only my Shenmue experience and some brief explanations on how the controls work from a Sanlab representative, I donned an HTC Vive and got started.
In my VR view, the wheel, levers and buttons were all mapped perfectly to their real-world counterparts. After a little driving around, I set about performing the requested task. There were three crates on pallets that needed moving from the floor in front of me to the shelves on the other side of the virtual construction yard. I carefully approached the first crate and promptly knocked it over. My forks were too high and had toppled it over.
Take two, and once again I meticulously lined up the forklift with the crate in front of me. Then I accidentally lifted the forks too early and knocked it over again. On the third time of asking, everything went perfectly. It's not an exaggeration to say that I was truly excited as I gently placed the crate on the shelf. You can laugh, but this was absolutely the most exciting thing I did all week -- even if it proved that Shenmue didn't quite prepare me for the "real" thing.
Although I treated Sanlab's machine like a modernized, motorized Dreamcast, it's really not a toy. It's used in the real world by training companies to teach people how to control dangerous equipment in a safe environment. From the perspective of a gamer, though, what I'm always looking for is "presence": those moments when you lose track of the fact that you're in a VR headset and feel like you're actually there. This achieved that perfectly.
Many of its models come with screens rather than VR headsets, but I feel like VR makes a huge difference to the overall experience. Many have effectively argued that driver's ed should take place in a simulator, and I wholeheartedly agree. Combine a rock-solid simulator with VR, though, and you might save even more lives.
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