Street racing, killing zombies, fighting dragons — you can do just about anything in a video game. Add long-haul trucking to the list.
“American Truck Simulator,” a new game from SCS Software, provides a surprisingly realistic but simpler version of what it’s like to drive a big rig across America.
Players learn to drive a tractor-trailer, get contracts for loads and start hauling. Gamers succeed by making intelligent economic decisions, driving safely to avoid crashes and traffic violations, and by ultimately delivering cargo on time and in good condition.
The Czech game company released its simulation in February for Windows, Mac and Linux. It sells for $19.99. For now, gamers play in solo mode, but a multi-player option is under consideration.
“As you learn the skills of the trade, you can save up to buy your first truck and become an independent owner-operator,” Pavel Sebor, chief executive of SCS Software, told Trucks.com. “Eventually you can go on to purchase a whole fleet of trucks and build a successful transportation business.”
The game is set so that the hauling contracts pay well and players can achieve their rags-to-riches success of building a big transportation company in a matter of hours rather than a more realistic lifetime of toil, Sebor said.
His company specializes in simulations — video games that attempt to reproduce real life. Most are related to truck driving.
“American Truck Simulator” is the company’s second most popular game, slotting just below its European equivalent — “Euro Truck Simulator 2” — according to SteamSpy, which uses distribution data to estimate game sales numbers and player satisfaction.
The company has sold more than 280,000 copies since the game was released.
To make the game realistic, SCS designers worked to replicate the physical forces truckers feel when operating an 18-wheeler, Sebor said. The focus on traffic simulation, realistic graphics, life-like surroundings and detailed 3-D truck models help create an engaging environment for players.
The game “promotes and enforces safe driving and following the rules of the road, but it is more forgiving, encouraging exploration and experimentation,” Sebor said.
There were challenges to such a venture. For now, the game covers only part of the U.S., highlighting roads, landscapes and landmarks in California and Nevada. Arizona will be added next. Eventually, SCS plans to include the U.S. from coast to coast, Canada and possibly Mexico.
Technologies such as Google Street View have made it easier for companies to insert well-known landmarks and references points into their games. That’s important as the expectations of gamers and what they consider to be “good quality” video game graphics grow.
For now, there are only four choices of trucks that players can drive. They are Kenworth and Peterbilt vehicles because of SCS’ license arrangement with Paccar, which owns the brands.
SCS has approached other truck manufacturers in hopes of eventually including all major U.S. Class 8 weight segment vehicles on the market. It is in negotiations with several companies but declined to provide more details.
“American Truck Simulator” is getting good reviews.
Players are able to “feel” the weight of the truck’s cargo, and each type of cargo being hauled feels different, said Samuel Boivin, who analyzed the game for Trucks.com. Boivin is a designer at Ludia, a Canadian video game company.
“It was like I was driving a real truck,” Boivin said. “To slow down, you really had to take your time. And the cargo you’re carrying and the physics of it felt very real. I think that’s what players are looking for.”
Boivin said he liked how the game gives players a sense of how hard it is to plan and make a turn in a fully loaded big rig. Players also learn how to maneuver a tractor and trailer in tight spots.
However, there are moments when art imitates life and the game can get boring, such as driving on a long road with nothing to break up the monotony.
“Driving a truck is spending hours on the same road and making a living out of it,” Boivin said. “ATS is a simulator: It’s trying to reproduce real life. If I wanted to drive a real truck, that’s the closest thing I could get.”
Looking down the road, SCS intends to add complexity to the simulation by offering downloadable add-ons such as custom vehicle paint jobs allowing players to choose the color of their trucks.
The game might have the potential to turn would-be truckers into real-life drivers, helping to a small degree alleviate the industry’s driver shortage.
SCS has already won an award from the Independent European Transport Training Association for “promoting the benefits of training and education among young prospective truck drivers,” Sebor said.
Check out the game in action: