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.

Shpadoinkle’s September Situation

Aircraft – Our most exciting acquisition is a new Embraer ERJ 145, a regional jet airliner with capacity for 50 passengers! Getting a “large” jet airliner has always been a goal that I’ve sidelined due to correctly prioritizing FBO acquisitions. The FBO market has been not very good for the past few months so with the help of some personal flights and passive profits (more on that below) I’ve saved up enough to snag one of these puppies. I would have liked an ERJ 170+ series with the under wing engines (I’m a real boy!) but the FSE Board of Director has made its position on larger RJs very clear – allowing ownership was a “mistake” and future large RJs will only be considered for all-in jobs.

Repositioning – We’ve stationed the ERJ at KSJC and moved some other aircraft around: the ATR 42 is now on the KMAF-KHRL route, and the ATR 72 has been repositioned to the ZWWW-ZMBS route, where its 68 passenger capacity has the highest chance of high utilization due to rich amount of system passenger jobs.

Profitability – For the past few months, the DKL network has managed to turn a passive profit, thanks to ground crew fees from high value cargo jobs and the pilots who fly them. This is great news for our shareholders (me), but whether it is good for the fseconomy economy as a whole for FBOs to be so profitable is yet to be determined. My network was not profitable just 7 months ago, but my network is also heavily biased toward large airports located at nation/state capitals, so my experience is not representative of every FBO owner. So with these caveats – FBOs have become better investment vehicles than the money sinks they were in the past, at least for me.

Network Changes – After being on the market for months, the FBO at ZJSY has finally found a buyer. We’ve also expanded the FBO at NZOH to the full 3 lots at great cost. My profits have been reinvested in increasing the fuel reserves at our FBOs, and I’m no longer considering liquidating the Antarctic FBOs. Our current 7 continent, 44 FBO network will stay the way it is for the forseeable future.

The One Map – FSE now has a new feature, The One Map. It’s pretty cool that FSE has moved to an Open Street Map based platform where the map doesn’t have “development purposes only” watermarks. The downside is the old aircraft map link no longer works. The FBO map link still works however.

Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) – is released! It’s pretty cool, and the best features are 1) photorealistic default scenery (of course) and 2) the AI copilot that can complete an entire flight unassisted. It’s a demanding game though, my Ryzen 3900x/ RTX 2080ti can barely handle it – but it appears better optimized than X-Plane. I personally haven’t yet tried to fly MSFS 2020 with FSE.

There has been a massive influx of activity as a result of the MSFS (2020) release, although I do not foresee a proportional increase of profit. The biggest effect of additional sign ups is reduced job availability and increased use of my rental aircraft, the latter of which I’m happy to see. I’m waiting to see if/how the FSE BoD plans to increase FSE’s capacity, both in terms of real life infrastructure and virtual properties/jobs.

The MSFS MSRP is pretty steep so I’m happy to stick with the base version offered by the xbox game pass- an excellent value if you plan to play more than one game from their offering of many AAA titles. I have not tried to mod the game yet, but I know from my attempt to rip the Hearts of Iron soundtrack that the Game Pass installation folder is locked down and difficult to access.

Covid – this virus has bigly delayed my RL development but I’m getting back on track. If nothing else bad happens in the next month or so (lol) I could be getting a shiny new rating

The State of Shpadoinkle

Shpadoinkle Aviation Holdings has been in a period of stagnation/slow decline for a while now.

I’ve achieved almost everything an individual can hope to  achieve in FSE. Some stats:

Aircraft. Shpadoinkle currently owns 12 aircraft, including 2 30+seat turboprop airliners, and 4 aircraft with payware tail numbers.

FBO network. The pride of Shpadoinkle is definitely its expansive FBO network, spanning 49 airports with 3 lot FBOs on ALL 7 continents spaced at sub 3000 mile intervals, with many 3 lot FBOs located at nation/state capitals and other airports with good name recognition. In addition, Shpadoinkle rents passenger terminals at many other major airports to recreate interesting flights.

“Passive” income. Profit-revenue from FBOs pay for about 50% of Shpadoinkle’s monthly operating costs. While this is not top tier by any means, very few FBOs are in the passively profitable top tier.

Active income. From the very beginning, the Shpadoinkle network and various flying procedures were optimized for maximum income per real hour. Over time I have restructured the company for less profitable but more realistic long distance airline-style routes, but a significant portion of the network continues to serve highly profitable flights to this day.

The future. I am definitely considering downsizing and perhaps abandoning some of the rules that shaped the Shpadoinkle network. I have no immediate or specific plans for anything and enough cash reserves to take my time figuring things out. I still make the occasional flight as well.

Internal Memo

Janet,

I can’t figure out how to send this memo I wrote to just the CSAs working in SJC, I’d appreciate if you could send this out for me thanks. Also, get IT to take a look at my computer, my email looks weird today, did we get a system upgrade? I will try out the tag function

Thanks

Bob,

Shpadoinkle West Manager

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Notice to our valued customer service employees:

It has been brought to my attention from complaint forms that we’ve formed the bad habit of boarding passengers on the LAX on demand overbook flight by their airline name, such as “now boarding Uniteds”, “we’re still waiting on 3 Southwests” etc. While this is unprofessional on its own, multiple feedback forms contain expressed disapproval specifically regarding yesterday’s announcement asking “The two Virgins on Overbook Flight 1 to Los Angeles please make your way to Gate 31 immediately.”

It caused serious embarrassment to our customers, please review protocol immediately and stop referring to Virgin’s passengers as “virgins”.

Shpadoinkle Aviation Holdings End of Month Report

For the month of April, Shpadoinkle and its subsidiaries did well.

  1. FlyMAF

FlyMAF reported a company profit of $93k and $884k in assignment throughput as its chief pilot completely disobeyed company policy that bans landing anywhere other than KMAF and KHRL. FBO operations number at 100.

2. KSJC

As a major airport, KSJC has always been one of Shpadoinkle’s focus airports for developing traffic and for this month, we achieved 99 flight operations. On the bright side, our 12 month average is now… 69

3. VHSK

As our hub in east Asia, VHSK reported 86 operations – the highest in 12 months.

4. CYBC

Traffic at our Quebec hub dropped to 54.

5. Transcontinental 3000 mile ferry network

I doubt anyone used it, but its still cool to have and I’m never gonna give it up.

6. FBO sales

Many properties in the US Northeast have been liquidated due to falling into disuse. I am confident a buyer will be found for KWAY, yet RCGM remains difficult to sell without incurring massive losses.

7. Aircraft acquisition

Shpadoinkle has acquired a new DC3 (what is this – our third?). Unlike previous DC3s, we plan to keep this one, & at our Iraq hub, where we have sufficient jobs available to achieve a relatively high load factor.

8. 2 FBO networks

Activity at ETNG-LFQJ was low due to an unreliable aircraft delivery contractor. The Challenger 300 is now stationed there. Activity also dipped at our 3 lot 2 FBO networks of OERYxOEPS, FYWHxFYGB, and OEHRxOEJB.

9. YGEL

We are disappointed that the facility owners at YPPH have decided to change the configuration of their facilities. We will continue to offer flights YGEL to YPPH as I am a big fan of real life airline routes (hence the SJC-RNO/SJC-LAX connections)

10. Misc/small FBOs

They are what they are, I don’t expect them to perform well, they are cute to have.

11. Shpadionkle Aviation Holdings

I did $2.6M worth of jobs for the Shpadoinkle mainline, translating to far less in profits while frequently maxing out hours. Its not the most profitable use of my hours but I like longer flights which are a more realistic use of aircraft anyway (not that we don’t have extremely short routes

12. Performance at our rented facility hosts

Were good enough. No reason to evict us.

13. Performance at our destinations

KLAX had less pax, VMMC remained steady, YPPH activity increased (which explains it)

14. FBO income?

Negligible/loss. Shush.

Peace