I also found it frustratingly difficult to control with the mouse and keyboard. This led me to believe that there must be add-on controls available; no one devoted enough to spending a great deal of time with a ship simulator would be satisfied with this level of control. Again, this is why the market is rich with joysticks and racing wheels. A brief internet search revealed that there is, in fact, just such a peripheral available. And it was only 320 Euros. Unfortunately I'm rather provincial – I'll get back to you and let you know if that's expensive or not if I ever work up enough interest to find out what a “Euro” is. I'm not completely lazy, though. I actually took the time to hook up my twin throttle/joystick Logitech G940 and run through the configuration routines. It really works quite well compared to the mouse/keyboard for the primary functions, and for those functions that can't be mapped to the joystick the mouse works well enough.
I was a little more disappointed that I couldn't figure out how to map the hat switch to control the first-person, in the boat view. I tried my TrackIR but there wasn't a game driver available for the Extremes version yet. There were drivers available for Ship Simulator 2006 and 2008, so the prognosis is favorable that an Extremes version will soon come along. It doesn't matter much since all of the interesting stuff pretty much requires the use of the third-person view anyway.
Once I got the control situation squared away and ship shape, I was able to finally concentrate on learning how to pilot a boat. There are two major game modes available: Campaigns and Free Roaming. Since there was nothing like a training or tutorial mode, I chose Free Roaming. The first decision that I had to make was the selection of the boat I wanted to use. There are quite a few to choose from, ranging from small harbor ferries up through mid-size tug boats, rescue boats, fire boats, all the way up to super tankers and the types of cruise liners that I had been so fascinated with on my cruise. I selected a small harbor ferry. I then selected the location that I wanted to start in. I chose to start in San Francisco Bay, thinking that I'd recreate a ride I had taken a few years ago when I attended a company outing on Angel Island. The open-air marketing meeting was predictably boring, but the ride around the bay was superb!
As I took control of my boat, I was presented with a third-person view of my boat tied to a mooring point in San Francisco pay. A quick point & click operation unmoored my boat and I was off on a wild ride across the bay. There were control overlays on the screen to show my rudder position and the positions of the two throttles. Through trial and error (and at least two sunken boats) I was able to figure out how to start, stop, and steer the boat. With practice I’m sure that I could master the complex interaction between differential throttle settings combined with the position of the rudder, but in the short term is was enough to just be able to get close enough to a pier to tie down the boat. I haven’t the level of experience required to determine if the physics of the boat movement and steering is accurate, but I can say that it was faithful enough to what I had seen the tender boat skippers doing to assume that it is fairly realistic.
I have to say that I was not overly impressed with the quality of the graphics, though. I would not be surprised to find that there had been no notable improvement in their overall quality since the 2006 version. When I made my way into the first-person view I was even less impressed. Having become spoiled by the visual quality of the Far Cry’s and other more recent titles, the look of Ship Simulator comes off as extremely dated. It probably doesn’t matter as much in the third-person view, but I was very disappointed in the first-person view where it was hard to read the instruments. As mentioned previously, the lack of TrackIR support or view control via the hat switch was hugely limiting. Another factor completely missing is the concept of having a crew to handle mooring lines and such. Having to jump out to the third-person view to management trivial tasks like that is an unrealistic distraction.
Having trained myself to some degree in the Free Roaming mode, I took a look at the campaigns. The campaigns fall into three categories: Greenpeace, Core, and Tourist Tales. I decided to avoid the Greenpeace campaigns for various personal reasons (not the least of which being that I have an insatiable taste for tuna-safe dolphin) and concentrate on the Core and Tourist Tales. In a nutshell the Tourist Tales tells the story of an event-filled cruise on an ocean liner, although there is a nice variety in the types of ships the player operates. While in the role of Captain on the ocean liner, I was aghast at my misfortune when a fire broke out on my ship. That said, when I was subsequently tasked with using a rescue/fire boat to put out the fire and rescue the three crew members that foolish enough to jump overboard without life jackets on I found the fire to be a nice diversion. The Core campaign isn’t really a campaign per se in that it is really just a collection of unrelated missions, but it too provided a good mix of disparate ship types and functions.
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