Ship Simulator Extremes


posted 9/17/2010 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
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For as long as I can remember, my wife has wanted me to take her on a cruise. Oddly enough, I resisted. For some reason I didn't mentally or emotionally equate a cruise liner with being a boat; I viewed it more like a hotel laid on its side and set adrift on an ocean. My vision of an acceptable cruise was something like the now defunct Windjammer lines where a small-ish number of passengers embarked on a sailing yacht to spend a week puttering about in warm Caribbean waters, and those that wanted to could take a turn at the helm or hoisting sails. The competing vision, that of my spouse, was comprised of dreams of lazing about in a recliner and being served cold drinks by svelte, attractive Jamaican men. How, I ask you, could I compete with that?

For some reason,probably having to do with my desire to buy an expensive electronic gadget for the airplane, the idea came upon me to finally break down and take her on a cruise for our anniversary. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that those humongous cruise liners are, at the end of the day, really just big boats. While she spent the week soaking in the scenery, luxuriating in the nearly unlimited high quality food, and shopping in the ports of call, I spent my time observing the operation of the very complex ship. One of the highlights of the entire trip was when I happened to see some of the crew members testing one of the lifeboat davits. The lifeboats are pretty complex in their own right and I had been struggling with figuring out how the davits would move the lifeboat outboard of the ship and lower it to the water.

If that's not bad enough, I spent a couple of hours one afternoon drinking cold champagne on our veranda and watching the ship-to-shore tenders approach the ship and get in position to drop off passengers and take on another set. Seeing how they maneuvered with a combination of rudder and throttle inputs to the twin engines was fascinating. After a couple of hours of observing, I could see that different skippers used varying techniques. And, much like landing an airplane, there is no right way or wrong way. Also common to making a good landing in an airplane was the way that the boats had to respond to ever changing (one could almost say “fluid”) conditions.

With this lengthy introduction in mind, you will better understand why I was intrigued with the opportunity to review VSTEP's new Ship Simulator Extremes. In the same way that I appreciate a good flight simulator's ability to help me understand what it's like to fly the types of heavy and/or fast airplanes that I am very unlikely to ever fly for real, I hoped that Ship Simulator would give me a feel for what it's like to drive (Pilot? Skipper? Sail?) a collection of various boats. What I hadn't counted on is that, well, sailing a boat is pretty mundane. That is to say, mostly boring.

In retrospect, I probably should have seen that coming. As I think back on the cruise with a different viewpoint, I realize that there were a whole lot of hours (approximately 23.5 a day) when I was completely unaware that I was even on a ship. It's not that eating, drinking, sleeping, losing quarters in the casino, and watching stand-up comics that weren't even good enough to make it on the open mike tour were such compelling distractions that I temporarily lost focus on the infinitely more interesting operation of the ship, it's that when the ship wasn't in the process of docking or undocking it was doing nothing more exciting than plodding along in a straight line at a speed attainable by a startled milk cow.

That isn't to say that I found Ship Simulator to be boring per se, but even with the relatively short missions in the campaigns there were long periods of abject nothingness to deal with. Let's just stipulate that the “Extremes” in the title refers to the endpoints of a level-of-activity continuum that is inordinately wide. In other words, there is an extreme difference between the interest level of docking a ship and the nearly hypnotic passing of the featureless water landscape while cruising along between activities. You get this in airplanes too, of course, which is why they have autopilots and the sims typically have an accelerated time mode.

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