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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Early Access Preview – Son Of Nor

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Son Of Nor has been around for quite some time. Whilst the successful Kickstarter ended back in May 2013, the game was already picking up awards in 2011. Whilst the awards might not be well known and even Google struggled to find any reference to them, it does show that S-O-N in one form or another has been knocking around for a good few years.

2244 people pledged a combined $151,175, just scraping past the $150,000 target. Development goals were set, with a planned beta due to launch in Q1 2014 and a full release following in Q2 of the same year.  Fast forward to the here and now and as is often the case in game development, plans have changed slightly.

An Early Access version launched on Steam back in July, giving both the Kickstarter backers and also anyone else who wanted to pay for the opportunity the chance to check out the game and contribute to its development.  It was around this time that stillalive studios formed a partnership with a couple of publishers to help distribute the game internationally.  Son Of Nor has had a couple of sizeable updates since then and it was with this latest build that both Chris Purdy and Mr Karlos Morale had some hands on time.

_SON_2014-09-15_16-41-06-72Chris Purdy writes

I’ll be completely honest I’m rather conflicted about Son Of Nor. On the one hand after watching the trailer, I couldn’t wait to dive in and get cracking. It looked like a game that was packing in elements of Jedi powers, terraforming similar to what was seen in Fracture and environments and story that’s clearly nodding and winking at Prince Of Persia.  On the other hand and firmly back in reality, it’s clear that Son Of Nor has got a long way to go to get anywhere near to reaching it’s potential.

Played from a third person perspective and developed in the Unity engine, Son of Nor looks like a classic action adventure game. The unique set of powers that the game gives your character are exciting and fresh, with the ability to use telekinesis to hurl objects in the air, alter the terrain by raising and lowering the sand and also a few good old traditional spells thrown in for good measure.

However at the moment these powers are hugely let down by a poorly implement control system, and animation that quite frankly just isn’t up to the task as of yet. It’s a shame because some of the ideas that the team have come up with are excellent.

The first half hour of SON was a real chore. A few menial tasks for NPC’s and a battle with some lizard men was frustrating, dull and a complete turn off.  The outdoor environments were extremely lacklustre and graphically on a par with the sort of thing you would have expected from early PS3 or xbox 360 stuff.  Whilst that might sound rather harsh, the reality is that people do expect a certain level of graphical sophistication if it’s presented in 3D. Perhaps a completely different art style, like a borderlands-esque cell shaded world, would have smoothed over the rough edges.

_SON_2014-09-15_16-43-45-34The game does pick up somewhat once you move away from those environments into a temple area.  Son Of Nor immediately looked a whole lot better, no doubt helped by the simple geometric designs of the rooms and objects.  These environments were clean, minimalist and stylish, and to be honest it’s a shame that the whole game doesn’t have this aesthetic.

Gone too was the woeful combat and forgettable tasks, instead the temple was full of puzzles and traps that could only be solved by using my telekinetic powers. These powers are still just as fiddly to control as they were in combat but without the threat of getting killed I could take my time and I actually found myself enjoying this aspect of the game.

Maybe Son Of Nor’s problem lies in its ambition.  There are so many elements jumbling around together that even an established AAA studio would struggle to pull it off, let alone a small team of developers, spread around the world who work together over the internet.  Certain elements like the power based puzzles show real promise but virtually everything else detracts from this one stand out element. To add to the burden of development the team are all supporting a slew of Virtual Reality devices which seems a little odd for a game that plays completely in the third person perspective.

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Karlos Morale writes

The trouble with games like this is, that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Currently, Son of Nor is not a delicious rhubarb crumble. Instead, the rhubarb remains resolutely buried in the ground – obstinately refusing to give up its flavours.

Son of Nor might end up being a decent enough title – there’s certainly scope – what the developers say they’d like to achieve sounds ambitious and interesting. However, what we’ve got is a limited 3rd person adventure with underwhelming controls, graphics and AI. At £15 it looks like an expensive gamble until such time as there’s a bit more to see to pass judgement upon.

It’s in such an early state that currently, although you can choose a character, it always defaults back to the generic bloke. That was a little awkward for Lillianna, especially after I’d taken the time to dress her up nice and everything.

Developed by stillalive studios and published by Viva Media

Son Of Nor Is currently available via Steam Early Access and can be found here.