Are we too dismissive of simulation games?

Simulation games don’t get the press and glory that AAA games do. But they are popular: Farming Simulator 2012 sold 500,000 copies in France and Germany, according to a press release from Astragon Publishing. Robert Rath voices his frustrations with the bug-ridden simulations, and wonders at their loving maximalism.

While Garbage Truck Simulator seemed like government training software gone wrong, Mining Simulator resembled playing with trucks in a sandbox. I still didn’t find it fun, and bugs plagued the experience, but at least I had no trouble figuring out where to go and what to do. According to Dirk Ohler, head of Product Management, Astragon tailors the level of detail to the platform and the vehicles represented: “Our main goal, especially for PC simulations, is to provide as much detail in a game as possible. Our Bus Simulator, for example, is a very highly detailed simulation, where you can control nearly everything up to the position of the seats.”

In fact, the level of detail makes me worry that I – and most American game journalists – aren’t fully objective when it comes to simulators. Yes, Garbage Truck was a buggy, unintuitive mess with zero momentum and dull gameplay, but its strokes of detail undermined my assumption that it was a cynical cash grab. There was a button for the windshield wipers. The headlights had a hi-beam setting. In the first person view, the dashboard of the truck was exquisitely rendered, from the steering wheel to the odometer and included working sun visors. This wasn’t shovelware – there was love in this game, and that filled me with doubt.