Watch me on Twitch!

Streaming whenever I can.
(Sorry, that's the reality of working at night. Subscribe to my channel to get notifications!)

January 18, 2021

American Truck Simulator (Part 2)

Alright – we started a trucking business in Part 1 and got the driving and delivery mechanics down. It’s time to focus on the management simulator half of the game.

Yep - you're not just driving around in this game.

But First… Skills

Oh right, I was about to forget them. I mentioned in passing in Part 1 that when you level up thanks to EXP received from a delivery, you gain one Skill Point to spend on your Skills. Most of these skills yield extra rewards in EXP and money. There are six categories:
  • ADR/Hazardous materials: Explosives, gases, flammable liquids, etc., all the way to corrosive substances. Obviously, this means you need to be careful.
  • Long Distance: At first, the longest delivery you can do is 250 miles long. As you add points to this one, the maximum length of deliveries will increase all the way up to 2500 miles. For the record, a delivery this long will take a few days in-game… and three hours in real-time. Yes, really.
  • High-Value Cargo: Self-explanatory. You get more money because the cargo you’re carrying is valuable.
  • Fragile Cargo: The goal here is to carry this safe and sound, meaning you must drive while avoiding all possible accidents and mistakes. In short: Good luck.
  • Just-in-Time Delivery: This one has to be done in a tighter time requirement. Again, extras if you succeed.
  • Eco-Driving: Reduces your fuel consumption at each level. Basically a dump stat to be filled once everything else is maxed.

Expanding the First Garage

As an aside, may I mention that I find it funny
that your profile "avatar" and those of your
employees are the faces of real people?
Okay, so we’ve got the driving mechanics down. What’s next? This is where the management part of the game comes in; it’s vital to take it into account. Growing your garage into a steady business is a tough thing, but you have options. First is the bank, which will gladly loan you some money so you can get started quickly, but you’ll then have to repay them an amount every day with some interests. Loans can be as low as 10,000$ or as high as 400,000$. It’s the only way to have any significant amount of cash early on, seeing as your first deliveries won’t yield much in the way of money (in part since you’re low-level and the more rewarding missions are unlocked by spending skill points) and trucks usually cost over 100,000$.

I'll say, the garage looks pretty nice once
it's been fully upgraded.

As long as you repay those loand in time, it's
all good, right?
By the way, those loans? If you go into a negative amount of money, the bank will gladly give you some credit, as long as you can pay them quickly. This can usually be done in one short mission, depending how much money you need to repay. I feel like the bank is very lenient, to the point where it would be very difficult to actually lose at the game. The bank may threaten to impound your properties if you owe them 100,000$ or more, but you have to screw up in a spectacular fashion to get there.

I might as well slip in a couple of truck-driving
pictures, or this part will be nothing but
boring menus.

Buying online is so much simpler.
Early on, you have to do everything on your own, since you’re not a respected name. If you want to buy a truck, you can’t do it online, you have to go there and then drive back to your garage with the new vehicle (your old one, if any, will be brought back to your business). This is until you’ve purchased three trucks; then, buying a truck online becomes an option.

But before you can buy more than one truck, you must upgrade your garage as the starting one has room for only one truck and one employee: Yourself. Each garage has two upgrades, and both are understandably expensive, but they’re worth it as each upgrade opens two more slots for trucks and employees…

From One-Man Operation To Small Business To Empire

Is it going to be easy, to add employees to the mix? Yes and no. The base idea is simple; but it gets complicated fast.

None of them start out all that great.
They'll get better under your supervision.

Thankfully, you don't have to travel to an
agency after you've found it in order to
hire new people.
To get employees, first you need to find recruiting agencies around the map, hence why exploring is necessary. You get more options for people to hire the more agencies you’ve found. Agencies charge a 1500$ base fee for each driver you hire through their services, too – nothing’s cheap. It gets better: These guys don’t do quick jobs. They’ll only work on freight market missions, so they need their own truck, each and every single one of them.

A fully-upgraded garage will have room for yourself and four employees – take into account the cost of upgrading the garage, then hiring the employees and providing a truck per person. It gets expensive quick. And if an employee isn’t given a truck, boy will they let you know; in-universe, they do this job to be paid, so they can’t lie around and do nothing.

While you own only one garage, this menu is
a bit empty. It'll take some time before it
fills up.
Each employee has a rating (up to 5.0), a wage they request per mission (a base amount + an extra amount per mile driven), and a number of levels in their driving skills, which are the same as yours. Under your employment, on top of bringing cash to the business through contracts, they’ll level up in a manner similar to yours, and you can select what you want them to upgrade – everything equal, or one skill at a time. More money will be made with the Long Distance skill. Also, it is entirely possible that some of these employees will actually cost you money early on, but they’ll get better over time as they grab contracts that bring out more money.

After which you can repay your loans thanks to the money you make, but also the money your employees bring back over time. Once this garage is on a roll, you can get some money and buy another garage – and then lather, rinse, repeat. I imagine that, in order to beat the game, you have to own all of the garages and, if not have them all working at full capacity, have hired every single employee available. I’ve been told that it’s impossible to fill all of the garages, apparently there are too many garages and not enough employees in the game’s code.

So Many DLCs

I guess another thing to do in order to finish the game is to visit 100% of the map. As I was writing this, I was in the process of discovering the handful of towns I hadn’t visited yet. And, of course, I have yet to purchase the DLC States I’m missing. The base American Truck Simulator already has quite a bit of content, but it’s worth buying the DLCs in order to increase the size of the map.

Custom paintjobs do look cool.
I personally don’t care much for customization in this one – I know I can buy a custom paint job for my truck, but… eh, money’s still tight and I have loans to repay, customization will wait till my garage is profitable. Still for those who want them, there are DLCs for bonus custom paint jobs and options for wheel tunings. The exterior’s not enough? You can also purchase packs of decorations for the interior of the cabin, if you love to use the first-person view.

If you think it's tough to drive 100% of the map
on three States, imagine when you have ten.
Some other DLC packs unlock new brands of trucks that you can then purchase in the game. Last but not least, three packs broaden the number of thing you can carry to their destination; one lets you carry forest machinery, one is all about heavy cargo, and the last involves very special objects to carry around (portable houses, submarines, etc.).

If you want to buy all of these DLCs, it’ll be expensive. But, to be fair, some are free. Arizona is one of those, so you can unlock a full State as soon as you start playing. And it’s not like all of them are mandatory – I’ll gladly skip the cosmetic ones. The option’s out there if you love to customize your stuff, though, and more options never hurt. It does annoy me a bit that several achievements cannot be obtained unless you have the required DLCs.

Wanna Visit Canada?

I actually bought this game in May 2020, but no, it wasn’t originally because of the pandemic. It was already bad at the time, but I wasn’t longing for open spaces yet. Nah, the game was actually advertised to me as very mod-friendly, with a very large community of modders adding their own stuff to the base content. Looking around the menu, I did find an option for mods, a place that stores them and lets you enable/disable them at will. I am not a big user of mods; I tend to be satisfied with the stuff I’m given, but I understand the appeal. I know there are very large modding communities for many big games out there.

Although, when it comes to American Truck Simulator, there’s a lot of possibilities. The most obvious one: Modders building the map for the rest of North America. All of the missing States (except Hawaii, obviously), then Canada and Mexico. I haven’t tried them, so I can’t really speak on the quality of those mods. Let’s just say that if you like this game, there’s an entire world of unofficial, fan-made content to discover.

Not sure I want to travel across the entire
continent to see my home town.
Thinking about it… I live in Quebec. Even if I did download the Canada mod, it would take me hours and hours to be able to get there and visit my corner of the world – I would have to drive all the way across the continent. Before I can even begin, I would first need a profitable business, seeing as unless the mod includes missions to deliver cargo all the way over to there, then I wouldn’t be making money for my own company. I also don’t know how accurate the depiction of Quebec would be, or whether it would be worth the trip. I imagine it would be stripped down, like all other places in the game, but how much? Would it contain the famous landmarks? Would it feature my home town? Would it have enough content to make me want to explore around? And what about the rest of Canada, the other states of the U.S., or Mexico? Still, I love that not only all those mods exist, but SCS Software encourages their creation and provides tools to help their implementation.

Speaking of - I was about to forget, but there's also a multiplayer mode in which you can join a server and be one of many truck drivers making deliveries. So if you see other trucks behaving erratically in that mode, chances are they're controlled by other human players out there.

Final Thoughts

American Truck Simulator sated my desire to go out onto the roads and see new places. It’s a bit disappointing that we almost exclusively see highways and roads, but that’s normal for the type of game that it is. And, of course, it won’t ever replace the real deal. Besides, the focus is on delivering cargo; it’s possible to drive freely, but first you need a steady stream of revenue. It’s really more of an “American Trucking Business Simulator”; not that I’m complaining, as both halves are pretty great.

Dammit! A roadblock!
At least that's not where I had to go.
Driving: The map is immense from the get-go and can grow larger with all the DLC States released by the studio (not to mention the modding community’s contributions). Although the towns and cities are stripped down to their bare minimum due to the 1:20 conversion and the world feels barren in places, you can still see some of the most interesting sights. It also means that longer deliveries are a serious time commitment, seeing as they can take upwards of three hours in real time to complete. The physics are great, and there’s a couple elements to make things feel somewhat realistic – your driver needs to fill the tank and sleep, but never has to eat or stop for bathroom breaks. It does also mean having to deal with road signs, speed limits, roadblocks, and the occasional idiot driver. 

I will never not find it funny that the game uses
what I assume to be the photos of real people
for the drivers you can hire.
Management: A lot of details are taken into account, as I’ve covered through this part. Managing your business as a single employee, then expanding the garage, the employee workforce, the squad of trucks, and eventually growing into a large business by buying garages all over the land. That’s pretty cool. I assume it could take a few hundred hours of playtime to become the biggest trucking business of them all. I think it’s neat to hire employees and conduct their own growth; it’s a bit annoying that we must buy 3 trucks and drive them home, before we can just buy them online; or buy 3 garages before you can buy them online. Annoying, but understandable since you start as a small name. Don’t you love when the annoying parts in a game are 100% justified by the gameplay?

If driving around, fulfilling contracts, visiting States virtually and/or growing a business sounds like something you’d like, for extended periods of time, then this game is for you. If you don’t like games that require some time commitment, it might not be for you; fair enough. All I know is, it scratched one itch I’ve had for a few months.

Another itch I’ve had was about going to places to have activities… like, say, amusement parks. Definitely not recommended at the moment, but thankfully video games can simulate that too. See you next week.

January 15, 2021

American Truck Simulator (Part 1)

(vehicle not included in picture)

I already wrote at length at the end of 2020 about how we needed laughter to carry through these trying times, though this pandemic. We do need laughter. We also needed pastimes since a lot of public activities were either closed or not recommended. Among them: Traveling. For a few weeks, in the province of Quebec, traveling between regions was prohibited outside of work or cases of utmost necessity. I did not go to any conventions last year, I did not go to the United States either (I do that for a weekend every summer), I don’t think I even travelled outside of my own region for any reason.

I don’t blame anyone for being fed up of staying at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to go places and feeling angry that they can’t.

(I WILL, however, call out the idiots who have travelled to sunny destinations like Florida or Mexico, where safety precautions around the pandemic are lax, during the Holidays and who came back with a disease as a nice little souvenir from their trip, further spreading that damn thing. But I digress.)

Skyrim isn't the most welcoming place to
travel to, but screw it - at least it feels like
going somewhere.
It was a year in which we needed all the escapism we could get, in part to forget about the situation for a few minutes, in part to have… well, some form of escape. Video games, in particular, offered a fantastic outlet for that. It helps that we had a lot of strong releases in 2020, such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a game that encourages playing for long lengths of time. And Doom Eternal. But what for those who want to explore virtual lands, while they can’t explore real ones? Well, the open-world genre exists for that purpose. I found myself replaying Skyrim every now and then to just… get the impression that I’m going out to see the sights, however fictional they may be.

Today’s game doesn't describe itself as an open world, but it gave me the same impression that I was going freely to places, something I needed. It’s actually a simulator, but a large part of it involves traveling far and wide across a very large world. That world consists of a few States in the Western side of the USA… Only thing is, you’re not just visiting willy-nilly. You have a job to do.

January 1, 2021

2020 Retrospective

I assume we’re all thinking the same thing: “Fuck this year.” And I agree, this year was awful. Well, it wasn’t entirely bad… but the vast majority of it was. The atmosphere was grim all year due to Covid-19, and it led to a whole bunch of problems we did not anticipate from a pandemic. People violently resisting the measures put in place, conspiracy theories abounding about the pandemic, not to mention politics making a huge mess of the whole thing… Oh yeah, the United States dropped the ball on that one, but Canada won’t be doing too well either considering the extreme and ridiculous amounts of money our government spent to deal with the pandemic, which will likely leave the entirety of Canada in debt for at least a decade…

The post-pandemic won’t be great either, but we can at least hope for the situation to improve in 2021. The cultural scene was a mess as well, with theaters closed for most of the year… It still feels weird to me that the last movie I saw in theaters in 2020 was Sonic the Hedgehog, way back in February. Music? Bands couldn’t tour, so they either turned to virtual concerts or found other ways to occupy themselves with their art. Video games? Now this was interesting, as we got some new consoles and a lot of notable titles as well. And hey, video games were one of the best ways to spend time at home this year, waiting in confinement or quarantine or forced vacation or however you may call it.

Yeah, the year sucked. I think I came out lucky, however; I didn’t catch Covid-19 (and I hope I won’t in 2021), had stable employment through the whole year (several people didn’t), and I did not suffer too much from any of the other problems the peculiar situation this year caused. The year sucked for me in most of the ways it sucked for everyone; having to live in the new reality of a pandemic, having to learn to live with wearing masks and having to follow strict rules when going out shopping… Those rules aren’t pleasant, but I do see them as necessary. I am looking forward to the days where I’m no longer treated as a potential vector of disease first and a person second. I hate it, but I get why it’s done.

In spite of a handful of short hiatuses, I’m also quite happy with what I achieved this year on the blog. I wished I could do away with hiatuses, but it’s been difficult to keep a schedule where I post something every week. It’s time to look back on the year.

December 25, 2020

The Henry Stickmin Collection

Merry Christmas!

Mario beating the Heck outta Dracula?
Where do I sign up?
Back in the days of Newgrounds, I played a buttload of Flash games. From fan games of Mario beating up bosses from other games to all the previous installments of the GemCraft series, passing by titles that could be perfectly serviceable indie Steam releases if they had been made for profit. Or, Heck, even if they had been released to Steam for free.

Some websites have moved on to games made on HTML5, while others have made it their duty to catalogue and preserve the Flash games in some way. With the end of Flash at the end of the year – in less than a week – these conservationist sites are much welcome.

This screenshot is taken from a Flash game called
Villainous. I loved it.
It’s not a completely accurate comparison, but much like someone who tries their hand at fanfiction before writing a proper original novel of their own, building a Flash game is a valuable learning experience in game development, and can open the doors to the indie world (or, who knows, all the way to AAA). In fact, there are several games I used to play on Newgrounds that were good on their own, that now have versions on Steam – with price tag, sure, but it’s good to see these creators moving from free games to actually being compensated for their work. It might also have to do with several seeing the writing on the wall for Flash for a few years now, so they remade their game (or created sequels) for a digital gaming distribution platform like Steam.

One of the series that made the jump is Henry Stickmin, whose five games have been entirely remade, with a bonus sixth to make it really worth the price tag. I recall playing “Stealing the Diamond” way back, so I wasn’t entirely stranger to the series. But it was a treat to rediscover it (and play through all the games I had missed) through this collection. Not to mention the moments of hilarity it gave me. For, if there is one thing we needed this year, it was laughter.

December 18, 2020

Punch-Out!! Wii

I can now cross an item off the list of Nintendo franchises I’ve never played.

Punch-Out!! has a special place in the hearts of many Nintendo fans, in spite of being a fairly small franchise. After a modest start with a couple games in arcades, it was eventually ported for Nintendo’s Game & Watch, and then on their home consoles, with its content adjusted for the more child-friendly platforms. We got Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out for the NES, featuring Mike Tyson as the final boss; Super Punch-Out for the SNES; and this game for the Wii, made by Next Level Games and released in North America on May 18th, 2009.

The franchise’s concept has appeal: You are Little Mac, an up-and-coming boxer trained by Doc Louis, an ex-heavyweight champion, and you are going up the ranks of the boxing world. Your adversaries are walking, talking national stereotypes with comical quirks, but they also have their own attacks that you must learn and defend yourself against. It’s not about unleashing a flurry of punches on them without thinking; it’s about studying them, spotting the telegraphing of their attacks, and reacting accordingly with proper timing. Dodge and/or punch back, and if it’s been done correctly, the opposing boxer is left stunned and open for attacks.

Will I fare well on my first experience? Let’s see.