Bus Simulator 2016 Review

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Dear Diary…….

Today I founded the ‘Two at Once’ bus company; It had been a lifelong dream to serve the masses with getting from A to B. In this day and age, we have some wonderful technology at our disposal. So, with the limited funds I had, I thought I would hire a bus simulation company, Stillalive Studios, to get me up to speed.

I’d like to document this, so any other potential public transport entrepreneurs can avoid the pitfalls. So, before we begin… Tickets, please!

Bus Simulator 2016 is Stillalive Studio’s first foray into the simulation market, but not the first for their publisher – Astragon Entertainment GmbH. With the rich history of the publisher, I went into Bus Simulator 2016 with merry optimism. Was that optimism returned with a smooth journey? Or, was I going to have to report the driver for reckless abandonment? I had my company on the line here.

Things’ started off good, on the provided tablet, the user interface is simple to navigate, and is clean. The main options for the day-to-day running of the company are on the left-hand side of the screen. From here I could do everything to ensure that my company would become the first name that the public would think of when it came to public transportation. From hiring drivers, setting up the routes that I could best cover, and setting up company branding. We went with pink buses with a red flower decal. I say we, my daughter wasn’t going to leave me alone.

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After watching the video tutorials, setting up the branding, and picking a relatively simple route, it was time to sit behind the wheel of my first simulated bus.

The layout of the dashboard was intimidating at first, kind of like going on a first date. I wasn’t sure how to get the engine going at first, then I noticed I’d left the parking brake on. As I cruised down the road, I familiarised myself with the ticket machine, air-conditioning, and door controls. It was a summer day; I’d not want any of my passengers to go passing out. Court battles wouldn’t do the business any good.

As I was cruising down the road, I took in my surroundings. At this point, I paused the simulation to check I was in the correct program. Yes, I was. This was 2016, not 2012. My business mind kicked in, I knew now that the monies I had paid to partake in this simulation was not going on aesthetics or detail. Though it was still a little saddening to see the world looking so bland, with characters more akin to animated manikins, than say, people. Looking out of my wing mirrors, I noticed the world behind me fading into a white mist that wouldn’t be amiss from horror title, Silent Hill.

I took a deep breath; I was approaching stop #1. I slowed down, aligning myself with the marked area. There were people there, so I swung open the doors of the bus, and greeted them all with a smile. The passengers were polite enough, and understood that I was new to this. On they boarded, and after a few miscalculations on the change given, we were off.

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Stop #2 approached. Great, just the one passenger. I opened the door, and on shuffled a drunk. Now, we’ve all taken the bus home after a few pints. Yet, it was 11:30am, so I notified him that I was unable to provide him carriage today. Sorry, Mr. Rand, but you need to take it easy on the booze, sir.

Now, I never made it to stop #3. The simulation was abruptly halted when I killed a pedestrian.

After several hours of expanding my route, hiring new drivers, and flirting with bankruptcy.  I decided it was time to give up my dream of providing a public service to the masses. Though, not launching this company, could be argued as the best public service I could provide.

The feedback I provided to the simulation company was brief: I felt truly immersed in the bus, never had I sweated so much during a video game. I felt compelled to make sure that I was at each stop within the allotted time, that my buses were on brand, and that I did what was best for my customers. However, the world around me wasn’t what I’d expect from a title published in 2016, and after looking at the 2012 version, there isn’t any progress.

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The handful of experiences that were truly negative were: Passengers’ purchasing unrealistic amounts of tickets. For example, one customer purchased 3 returns. They were the only passenger at that stop. The constant requests for the air-conditioning to be turned up and down, on the same trip; this cost me rather a lot of revenue for my time.

And, finally, there were no teenagers playing their loud music on speaker.

All being said, Bus Simulator 2016 isn’t for me. Maybe I’ll go try myself at farming, or delivering goods around Europe.

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Empire TV Tycoon Review

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Empire TV Tycoon, Developed by Dreamsite Games, a small Indie studio based in Madrid, has recently been released on Steam for £9.99.

In Empire TV Tycoon, it is your job to make your television channel the most popular and successful channel for the failing Empire TV Station. You will create the schedules, select the adverts that play in between each show, and the marketing campaign to advertise your channel.

You will have 30 days to make your channel the best one at the station. This is done by accumulating 300 fame points, with each successful show and awards ceremony win you are awarded points.

At the start of each game, you will select your channel colour (Red, Blue, Green) and name your character. This has no effect on any choices you make in the game, other than the colour of your channel floors and clothing your character wears.

The Empire TV building has 13 floors.

Each channel has 3 floors for them to work with:

The Players Office: Here you will plan your schedule, decide what adverts to play at which times, and work out your marketing schedules.

The Workers Office: Here is where the staff you hire will work from, these include Marketing Managers to organise your marketing campaigns, Production Assistants to assist with the movies that you make, Scriptwriters to write the scripts for your movies and TV shows, Public Relations to help hire bigger stars for your movies & Hackers to help cover your illegal movie broadcasts.

The Players Studio: Here you will produce your own shows and movies. A successful show will need a good script and the best stars you can hire to perform in it, after selecting your actors you will need to distribute points into various sections, want the production to have great special effects? Pump the points into post production. Want better costume design? Put more points in there, and so on.

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As your television show or movie is being made you will be notified of various situations affecting the production. A company may offer some products to use in the shooting, an actor may develop a substance problem and need therapy, your actors may have a falling out and its up to you to fix the problem, or even a group of mafia reviewers who will want a bribe to not give your film a bad review. Your choices in resolving each issue boil down to saying yes or no to a response and the result will have a small effect on the production.

There is also the Technology area where you can purchase your channel upgrades, these include expanding your workers area so you can hire more staff, upgrading your satellite to increase your audience reach, upgrading your studio to have higher production costs and many more. Of course to access the upgrades you will need money and enough fame points.

The Advertising area is where you can take new adverts, each set of adverts has their own viewing requirements before paying out, if you meet the viewing figure requirement you are rewarded. If you do not you will be penalized so you won’t want to take on high paying adverts until you are certain you can meet the requirements.

The Movie library is where you will buy and sell your TV shows and movies. You will want to keep your library fresh as your audience will only tolerate repeats for so long.

At the top of the building is the restaurant, here you will find the loan sharks. If you ever find yourself short of money, these are the guys to visit. Although if you can’t pay them back you better not be too fond of your kneecaps!

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Another slightly shady character hangs out behind the building, the illegal movie seller. You can visit this fellow to “acquire” some of the biggest movies not yet released, the downside being that if you are caught playing an illegal movie you will be fined for it.

The station day runs from 2 pm till 3 am, with the schedule divided into blocks. You will have early morning and late night slots, these are the low audience slots for the day, and your prime time slots between 20:00 – 22:00 this is where you want to place your biggest and best shows.

Half the fun is trying to work out what will appeal to your audience, they consist of men, women, children, the elderly, couples, athletes and geeks.

While kids may love the comedy show you’re planning to schedule, the elderly will probably hate it, and the Westerns they love will put off the women and athletes.. you have to work out what will appeal to the masses at that particular time slot.

Occasionally you will find one of your reporters waiting for you in the building entrance. Sending them out to cover special events, festivals, alien invasion or hostage rescues will produce a special one-off television event show. You have access to this show for a limited time, so again you need to work out the best slot for it to go into.

With its catchy soundtrack and lovely simple graphics, Empire TV Tycoon is a fun little game to play, it is surprisingly in depth for a casual simulation game, and has a habit of kicking your ass if you let yourself get complacent with your schedules.

It is also full of little Easter eggs ranging from the movie seller who looks like Breaking Bad’s Heisenberg, the illegal movie seller who bears a passing resemblance to Clerks Silent Bob.

If you are fond of management simulation games, you will enjoy Empire TV Tycoon.

Score: 7/10

Pros:

Entertaining

Easy to learn

Scratches that management game itch

Cons:

Can get repetitive

Can get confusing at times

Software Inc. – Early Access Preview

 

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Software Inc. by Coredumping is an Early Access Simulation game, starting in the 1980’s, your aim is to build your company from scratch in the hope that one day your business will dominate the software world.

A typical game will start like this.
Name your company
Name your Founder
Customise your founder, are they male or female? How will they look? What will they wear? (This is purely cosmetic and has no impact on the game as far as I can tell)
What sort of personality will they have? Generous? Mean? Optimistic? Snob? This will affect how they interact with the other members of the team and can affect effectiveness and morale.

Choose your game mode (currently there is only Free Play mode available to play, Scenarios are due to be added later)
Decide on a difficulty level, Easy, Medium and Hard (personally I struggled for a bit on easy…)

Select how much cash you start with
Select how many days are in a month (1 for quicker games, 8 for longer more thoughtful ones)
Hit start!

I will say straight off, this does not feel like it’s aimed at casual players, the sheer volume of information thrown at you through the avalanche of tutorials is, at first, rather daunting. There is a lot to learn and it is not as instantly accessible as similar titles, Game Dev Tycoon, for example.

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With that out of the way and now with all the necessary fundamentals in place you will need to design the layout of your headquarters. Your staff will want a pleasant working environment to keep morale and efficiency high. So, you will need to make sure that there are enough heating and ventilation systems in place, you don’t want your staff to freeze in the winter or your PC’s to overheat in the summer.

You are not limited to creating a single floor building, you can build up to 12 stories high and you can even add a basement where your servers can be stored. Although when my servers died a horrible fiery death as nobody would use the lifts to go down and fix them… It was entirely my own fault, I had put a lamp in the way and nobody could walk around it.

The early part of the game will see you taking contracts to keep the money flowing and when you have a suitable stash of cash built up you can think about hiring new staff or training the crew you currently employ. Of course, if you’re a one man studio and you are the only member of staff, popping off to college will have a detrimental effect on your income.

The cleanliness of the office can also have an affect on the team’s capability. After a while you will notice the flooring will start to stain with footprints as the team walks back and forth between their desks and the coffee machine or to the lounge with its big sparkly TV (I treat my staff well). This can be solved by calling out a cleaner for a one-time fee or hiring a cleaning team for a fixed amount each month. The same can be said for the maintenance team who will look after the radiators and ventilation systems. IT support is also available, but only when required, demanding payment each time.

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With enough time and effort you’ll eventually progress to creating your own Operating systems, Visual/Audio tools, Anti-Virus software, Game engines and then Games themselves, but these take a while to develop. You do not want to be aiming for this with only 1 team, so it’s best to have several teams working on several projects at a time.

Coredumping has a Trello page setup HERE to show the upcoming features and bug fixes, which is a really nice way to see what’s coming up and what parts of the game they are currently working on.
I do really like Software Inc., but the sheer amount of information to take in through the tutorials is a little overwhelming and the simple 3D models may put some people off, but if you stick with it, you will find a game that can suck you into its world of team management, staff training, office design, all in the name of designing the best software around.

Pro’s:
Fun to play
Satisfies the Simulation Itch

Con’s:
Could be intimidating to some

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Train Valley Early Access Preview

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I was wondering how to approach this preview and decided to reminisce about my own childhood memories of railways and trains…. I came up with the following three ghastly memories.

    1. Back in the days when state run rail service was coming to an end, a British Rail burger joint, aptly named Casey Jones Burgers, was born. They sold an iced-doughnut, stuffed with thick whipped cream. They were the size of a small baby. I used to walk for miles to random mainline London Railway stations to feast on these abominations. Praise be nationalised doughnuts

 

    1.  Placing dead fish on the InterCity 125 Railway track to watch them splat… Erm… Suddenly I feel all a bit Norman Bates. I used to go fishing with my father and if we caught a Pike I would climb onto the railway tracks and…. SPLAT! This is normal, right?

 

    1. Strange old men staring over at me in the public toilets of Liverpool St station on my many doughnut trips. I was never sure as to why they were staring and what they were looking for, now I’ve grown up I realise they must have been looking for my cream stuffed monstrosities

Why are you inflicting your atrocious childhood on us!?” I hear you wince. Well, in doing so, you may appreciate the childlike and ingenious charm of Train Valley a little more, and hopefully I’ve grabbed your attention (or you’ve made the sane choice and run a mile).

Train Valley is currently available via Early Access on Steam, created by indie studios Flazm Interactive Entertainment and Oroboro Games. They seem to have a bit of a history in the train management gaming world (which can’t be a very big world, but it is a world). You can stalk them HERE.

When I first saw the trailer for Train Valley I knew immediately I had to cover this game. A game akin to SimCity (or the superior Cities Skylines) with a cute appeal and easy on the eye aesthetics. The blurb stated how family friendly the game was and this added to my curiosity. My only worry was that it may be a touch too simple.

What I never expected was the fiendish puzzler that it actually is. Granted it is all I mention above, but Train Valley is beguiling. Behind the captivating façade lies a complex puzzler that will challenge many, and in my case, make you cry like a baby.

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The concept, like most clever puzzle games, is simple. Each scenario/level you play is a different global location with a list of three objectives. You start a level usually with one or two stations, you lay a track to connect the stations; out comes the train from one station to another. There’s a sum of money that appears on the train, the longer a train takes to reach its destination, the more that money goes down. When it reaches the destination, that money goes into your wallet. The interface is streamlined and uncomplicated, comprising of a few straightforward commands.

Childs play, right? NO.

The stations are colour coded and represent Industry, Commercial, Residential areas etc. As you play, more stations will appear on that level, meaning more trains. Each train has a colour attached to it, this colour tells you the destination that the train needs to reach. Still simple, right? Fuck no! Things get splendidly complex rather fast, as you juggle your role as railway manager, train driver, signalman, builder and GOD.

OK….. I may be pushing things with God.

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Trains will bump and crash, causing railroads to break, meaning money depletes fast unless you’re completely on the ball. Top this off with a fierce and fast tax system and your sanity will deplete almost as fast as your funds. Tears were shed and bumps appeared on my forehead as I repeatedly smashed my face into the desk.

As you manage to get your train to the correct town, not only are you rewarded with dosh for the bank, the said town starts to grow and evolve as well. New buildings pop up, you trains become more advanced, as does the cargo (which means bigger rewards).

It is still in the Early Access stage of development, but for all intents and purposes, this is a finished game. My only gripes were the balancing. It throws some hard puzzling at you early on, rather than breaking me in, it nearly broke me (this is from a man that breaks down at puzzles in Resident Evil and has to call his partner in to help).

Another is football stadiums. The game has a timeline that starts in the 1800’s. One of the features of the towns is modern football stadiums and they really look out of place and time. It’s a tiny thing, but it took away from the feel and vibe of the game.

Anyone that enjoys a challenging puzzler should feel at home with this game, the fiendish difficulty curve aside, its beautifully presented and wonderfully charming. It feels like a finished product and after all, who doesn’t like playing with trains?

Cities XXL Review

CitiesXXL-05Cities XXL is a City Builder from Focus Home Interactive, an independent studio from France. Similar in gameplay to the Sim City games, but with the emphasis on creating and maintaining huge sprawling mega-cities.

Graphically the game looks good, from a distance the world looks alive, you can see the cars and trucks moving along the roads, traffic jams growing, and planes travelling overhead.
If you wished to, you could zoom all the way down to the street level where you can see the pedestrians wandering around and the traffic up close and personal, this is where it loses some of its shine, the traffic you see from the sky looks fine, but zoomed in it all looks rather basic. But it is a city building game so the majority of your time will be spent zoomed out and planning where your housing and industry zones should be placed.

CitiesXXL-02When you fire up Cities XXL for the first time you are advised to go through the tutorials, and as a tutorial should be, it is very in-depth. Occasionally some of the instructions were a little confusing “we need to finish the unfinished road” ok.. where is the unfinished road? I found it eventually but some sort of highlighting would have been appreciated.

After learning about Housing, Industry, Commerce, Traffic Management, Industry Satisfaction, & Metro Lines, just to name a few tutorial subjects I felt ready enough to start my first city properly.

When you hit the play button you are taken to a map of the world, here you will select a map on which you hope to start building the perfect city, I counted 67 maps to choose from, each map has its own difficulty level, each with its own stat’s including resource, fertile area’s and holiday levels.

I decided HopelessVille would be located in The Wetlands.

Once the map had loaded we had to set up a main road, a Town Hall, and a Utilities Centre to provide your small town with electricity, water and a few starter jobs to lure people into your city.

CitiesXXL-04Enter the Unskilled Workers.

Your Citizens are divided into 4 categories, Unskilled Workers, Skilled Workers, Executives and Elites. Each category has needs and demands for homes and jobs, and eventually the game becomes a balancing act to cater for everyone and keep morale and satisfaction high.
Too many homes and you end up with mass unemployment and your city starts to resemble a ghost town, due to the empty lots awaiting people to move in. Too many industry/commerce zones and you end up with empty Business/Industrial zones that could end up costing you money whilst waiting for more housing to be built, to attract new businesses.

The Citizens are very vocal with their wants and demands, they will tell you when they want more retail zones, when they are bored and want more leisure activities. As Mayor, you are obligated to fulfil all the demands thrown at you to keep the city desirable to prospective tenants and businesses.

CitiesXXL-03When HopelessVille reached 15,000 citizens they reminded me they had no security or education, it was time to build police & fire stations, with some schools thrown in for good measure.

At 20,000, I was told my roads were too congested, I fixed this by creating the most intricate one-way system known to man. Life was good.

But when it starts going wrong you have to act quickly, I hadn’t noticed exactly when my income had gone into the negative, it was costing me money to run the city instead of earning it. In a panic I destroyed buildings, I raised taxes, I did everything to try and claw back the positive income..

If you need to, you can setup trades between your cities, HopelessVille had no oil reserves to plunder for fuel, but Omnicorp, the AI city that is set up to assist new players, had plenty… however with a negative income no trade could be setup. The situation was indeed hopeless.

Inevitably the citizens left and the industries ground to a halt.. I had successfully run HopelessVille into the ground.

I found the process of building your city and trying to maintain and grow your economies quite fun. When it became obvious that HopelessVille was a lost cause I didn’t think “oh well that’s it for the night” instead I had the desire to start again and try to do better.

CitiesXXL-01Unfortunately, the trend did not improve.. Hopeless City & HopelessTropolis also went the same way; maybe I cursed them with my name choice?
At the end of the day, Cities XXL is a very competent City Building game, if you are a fan of the genre and haven’t played any of the others in the series you should enjoy it.

There are some issues though, some pop ups could be a bit clearer, and when trying to check on your citizens wants and needs the screen gets a tiny bit too cluttered for my liking.
Performance wise on my machine I had a few frame rate issues the larger my cities grew, or as I tried to place roads while zoomed all the way out.
Now I don’t consider my PC a gaming beast but with my specs (16GB Ram, i5 3570K Processor Overclocked to 4.5GHz, with a 660 Ti 2GB card) it should not be as bad as it was.
Poor optimisation? Possibly.
If you have played any of the others in the series, you will have seen most of this before with very minimal changes between this and Cities XL