Learn from Flight Simulation communities

3 Simulation Games have sucked tens of thousands of hours from my life:

  1. Flight Simulators
  2. Euro/ American Truck Sim
  3. Cities Skylines

Every simulation game exists on a spectrum between simulation and gameplay. Flight Simulators like Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane are on the extreme-simulation side, the primary goal to make its simulation as realistic as possible, the only unrealistic parts being optional/togglable or due to technical limitations.

Cities Skylines and the Truck Sims are more game than simulation, despite being branded as simulation. A lot of design choices have been made to reduce realism in the name of gameplay:

Euro Truck Simulator 2/ American Truck Simulator:

  • Unrealistic scale.

Instead of simulating a single city or region ~100 miles across, ETS and ATS scales down an entire continent by 1:20 in order to offer players more variety of scenery, and escape from the monotony of long drives. Cities are editorialized from a complex network to a few streets and intersections.

However, this small scale has negative consequences.

  1. By shrinking the map, the game fails to capture the full experience of a long road trip.
  2. No matter how fast the virtual truck’s clock ticks, a minute of real time still feels like a minute. When road signs and GPS says the checkpoint is in hundreds of miles but you arrive in minutes, it throws the player off. Drivers should not be going through an entire day/night cycle in an hour. Again, it does not feel right.
  3. Too much stopping. Freeways were designed so drivers would have to stop as little as possible. You simply cannot capture the feeling of a road trip driving hundreds of miles without stopping if you’re making the player stop every 5 minutes for checkpoints and fuel and “rest”
  4. Delays become costly. Drivers develop an unhealthy impatience because a small wait causes large delays. The developers SCS have implemented some gameplay changes to mitigate this, making time pass more slowly when stopped – however the “slow” pace is still 1:3, and does not appear to apply if the truck is crawling.
  5. Lack of consequences. A few versions earlier I was able to mod the time scale of the map to 1:1 (the method for creating the mod no longer works). Driving the ATS map from end-to-end takes about 2 hours – and the job generator doesn’t pay a lot for 2 hour jobs since it expects you to complete it in less than 10 minutes of gameplay. This means that there are big consequences since a single incident can cost the profits of several deliveries, which is a nice change of pace from the current late game where your army of employees make you immune from financial ruin.
  6. Expansion. Flight simulator has a thriving add-on economy because any developer can make an addon that fits right onto the 1:1 map. Truck Sim’s editorialized 1:20 map creates nice job security for their own developers making DLCs after DLC. The problem is it kills any prospect of organic high quality 3rd party add-ons for the default map, meaning that the American Truck Sim map will not be completed in years. By making their game 1:20 instead of 1:1, SCS has chosen mercantilism over free trade.
  • Intrusive GUI

The interface is intrusive and cannot be fully disabled with in-game settings. If you approach a weigh station, a GUI message pops up telling you to enter it even if you have traffic fines disabled. Situations that do not cause this level of intrusion in real life should not cause this level of intrusion in the game.

Weigh stations are marked active by road signs or apps, not by a holographic message popping up in your vehicle. If you speed past a speed camera there is no one to stop you. If someone does stop you, you will actually have to stop. If the truck is in bad condition this will be reflected in gauge readings. The forced GUI is intrusive and immersion-breaking.

Cities Skylines:

  • Visual Problems

One of the biggest problems of Cities Skylines, visually, is the cartoonish art style and animation. Vehicles don’t even attempt to look realistic, and people and vehicles travel waaaay too fast. Anyone who has ever been out on the street should understand how immersion breaking this is. The default roads are too fat and have slopes too deep, high density buildings and airports are made way too small, freeways merge at sharp angles and visually break at angles below 20°. Even though the map is pretty big, you cannot fit a realistic design in there that you could otherwise fit in real life.

  • Economic Pace

Cities Skylines is a very difficult game. Strategies that work for towns and cities in real life do not work in Cities Skylines, because it is so demanding. Citizens are extremely sensitive to the proximity of services: if someone dies and a hearse isn’t there to remove the body immediately, citizens will abandon that building even though it is a non-emergency and they should be happy as long as the body is removed in a few hours. The same is true for garbage trucks – a service that is only needed daily or weekly. (The problem of scale again comes up since even the unmodded slowest setting goes through a “day” every few seconds and a day-night cycle every hour or so)

This means that if you don’t want your city to be in financial ruin, you either have to optimize your city for 9999% traffic flow and abandon many realistic designs that the game doesn’t consider good enough, or you toggle infinite money and ignore finances completely

  • Mods

Many of these problems can be solved with mods, the problem is mods are not officially supported so stuff breaks with every frequent, unpreventable steam update. The fact that the developers refuse to even sell a realism DLC shows that they are completely sidelining realism in the name of gameplay.

Ok. Now that I know the problems I have with these games, it is time to take to the forums to ask for mods/fixes and offer suggested improvements to the developers! But wait, here comes the cOmMuNiTy!!! Here are the real responses from various forums and boards, paraphrased:

Oh so you want 1:1 scale? Why would you want to drive for x hours, that is boring

The game says its 1 hour so it is 1 hour

If you don’t want to stop, it is because you are unskilled.

Where is the fun in nonstop driving?

You want the traffic to be more realistic? Yet you don’t want realistic city council simulation?

We cannot improve the AI because it will hurt players with weak systems, and console players [response from an official Cities Skylines social media account!]

Now I would argue that zero of these ridiculous responses would be made in the flight simulation community. For one, half of these wouldn’t even be issues because flight sim devs would not make the wrong design decision in the first place. But even if similar questions came up, the flight sim community would not respond the same way, because it is a true simulation community that understands:

The purpose of simulation is to allow the user to pick and choose which aspects are realistic, so the user can achieve their intended purpose. The developer’s job is to maximize realism and then offer the user options for reducing realism when feasible.

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