Thursday, August 29, 2013

Standing Up for the Simple Simulator

Much like hard-core gamers are in the real world, simulators are seen as the social outcasts of the gaming world. While other games are shooting people’s faces off, beating up prostitutes and travelling through fantasy lands; simulators are all about getting from where you are to where you want to go as realistically and efficiently as possible. In short, simulators (and in particular transport simulators) are considered the ‘boring’ side of gaming, and therefore the most unimaginative. That being said, the market is thriving at the moment with a shedload of (mostly rubbish) simulators flooding the shelves of every high-street gaming shop in Ireland, and indeed the rest of the continent, already adding to the established Flight and Train simulator titles from Microsoft. So what’s the draw?

In all bloody fairness!
Before I answer that question I must first refer to these new ‘simulators’, who aim is now to imitate every mundane facet of our day-to-day existance. You can’t look through a selection of games without finding some half-rate game with ‘simulator’ slapped onto the end of the title, Garbage Trucks, Street Cleaners, Tow Trucks (now with even more verbal abuse!), you name it there’s a simulator for it. This complete over-saturation of the market has taken away from whatever respectability the genre had. At least the old titles, while niche in their nature, were made to be as realistic as possible, while offering a level of detail that made the player feel like he actually was flying a 747, or at the head of a Japanese Bullet Train.

One exception to this trend is that of the Truck Simulator series, developed by SCS Software, a tiny game development company in the Czech Republic who started with just four employees. First they created 3D engines for games like ‘Deer Hunter’ (A massively successful arcade game) and the ‘Duke Nukem’ series. From there they set their sights on making full games of their own, and with a team than less than 20 they created the first in the 18 Wheels of Steel series in 2002, which received an average score of 7.5 on IGN, between review and user evaluations. Fast-forward a few titles and 16 years to the birth of Euro Truck Simulator, which has really brought the series to the forefront and shop shelves. Over 300,000 copies of the game were sold in Europe, while the graphics in its sequel ETS2 would be worthy of a developing giant like EA, given SCS’s stature it’s a phenomenal achievement.

Isn't She Lovely?
Going back to my original question we must now talk about the most popular simulation series of them all, a game that I’m sure you all have tried at one stage in your life, I’m talking of course of the Microsoft Flight Simulator series. Admittedly the game has a much steeper learning curve than other simulators, and breaking into Fort Knox would be easier than trying to land a jumbo jet with keyboard buttons. But casual gamers who get frustrated about the user unfriendly nature of Flight Sim have only scratched the surface of a game which offers so much. Okay, a bit of googling is required, but the sense of achievement of knowing exactly how to fly such a complicated piece of equipment, as well as putting it back on the ground from 36,000 feet matches any cup or league I’ve won in FIFA or Madden I can assure you.

Might as well be real life!
Moreover, flight simulator has a massive online community, both in terms of multiplayer flying, and added content. Scenery can be found for nearly every single town, city, and airport in the world, totally free and easily installed. Airplanes from every era, use, type and airline can be downloaded in a single click. There’s even a full time radio station that hooks up with the game to keep the near 45,000 active pilots entertained while flying! There are virtual airlines which track your progress, offer community forums, and allow you the chance to recreate what the real world pilots are doing up in the sky. It really is as close as you can get to being an airline pilot without the €60,000 journey to get a commercial pilot’s licence. And if you like you can be playing your xbox or browsing the web while your autopilot does most of the work!

While other games try to drag us away from our everyday lives by creating new worlds, simulators show us the extraordinary ones lived within our own. In one day you can fly a plane from Cork to Paris, take the tube to Leicester Square, deliver important cargo by truck from London to Berlin, and still have time to manage a few games with Manchester United whilst never leaving your living room. Truly well-developed simulators give us an understanding and appreciation of everyday things which no other genre can provide, and for that they’re as valid and justifiable as any other type of game being produced.

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