Simulation games (or sims) let gamers experience real-world situations from a safe, practice area. Since the 1950s, the Department of Defense has trained the military with computerized simulators like flight sims, tank sims, and wargaming sims (missiles launching and combat).
Simulations are exciting and have a real world feeling to them. Most of the real-world applications we are trying to simulate would be extremely dangerous and very expensive outside of the computer. Navigating and reproducing practice scenarios are more practical and easier to set up inside a simulator.
Simulations can be classified as either a “vehicle simulation” or a “managing simulation.” Vehicle sims are trucks, cars (stock, Formula-1, high-performance), airplanes, helicopters, boats, submarines, spaceships, space stations, motorcycles, and so on. Managing sims include managing a nuclear power plant, a brokerage company trying to predict the stock market, being mayor of a city or president of the United States, being owner of a golf club, being manager of the city zoo, being Emperor of the Roman Empire, being owner of an amusement park (rollercoasters and rides), and even managing the lives of families or ant colonies.
Many gamers dream of sitting in a Formula-1 racecar with the engine purring as the green light signals the start of the race, and then driving at high speeds of 200 mph around the track until the checkered flag waves them in as the winner.
What about the car crashes that we often see or the high-speed turns that sometimes slam cars into the wall? How can a driver safely practice against these obstacles? Drivers can’t really practice driving expensive Formula-1s at various tracks in various weather conditions. This is where a good simulation becomes valuable. Even the novice drivers can access racing simulations and live out their dream. Scenarios can be set up for various weather conditions like rain, fog, snow, or hot, dry heat. Various car situations can be set up like various tire, radiator, or engine conditions. The drivers can practice turns and curves at various speeds without the fear of injury to the car or themselves.
The key to vehicle simulation is realism, quick and accurate responses to the gamer’s input and the situation being simulated.
There’s an old, comical story that goes…
Aboard a commercial flight from New York to Miami, the pilot passes out. The flight attendant enters the passenger cabin and announces, “The captain has passed out. Is there any passenger on board who has experience flying a jet? Possibly someone who flew jets in the Air Force?”
No one answers.
The flight attendant again pleads to the passengers, “Does anyone have a pilot’s license, either commercial or private?”
Still no one answers.
Hopelessly, the flight attendant again pleads, “Has any passenger scored above 300 points in Microsoft’s Flight Simulator?”
Yes, simulators have gotten that good. In fact, many flight simulators running on PCs can be used to log flight hours for private licenses. Gamers can learn how to use the airplane’s controls and instruments, lift off and land an airplane, and navigate it in the simulation. They can make mistakes and test normally dangerous situations like stalling, flying upside down, or spiraling downward without the fear of injury and costly damage. Scenarios can be safely tried and retried. Reading from a manual about the “how-tos” and “whys” is fine, but trying an action and failing is a better reinforcement of the concepts. Simulator pilots can crash and live to tell about it.
In a simulation, we can fly anything from a Cessna to an F-18 jet. The first PC F-18 jet simulation was so accurate and realistic that (the story goes) the military advisors forced the developers to reverse the controls.
The Apollo 13 astronauts practiced their procedures using a simulator weeks before the launch. When Apollo 13 experienced trouble, it was the backup team and the onground simulator that solved the problems and advised the crew in space how to get back to Earth.
Managing simulations have gamers acting as the U.S. president, making executive decisions that affect the entire country, reviewing Congressional bills, meeting with senators to vote for bills, interviewing with the press, and chatting with voters.
Some of the recent, most popular sims have the gamer acting as the mayor of a large city. As mayor you decide on issues like building and road construction and public safety like police and fire personnel.
Other sims are more concerned with overseeing a neighborhood and dealing with the daily activities of families and neighbors.
Regardless of the type of simulation you want to design, accurate research, realism, and fun gameplay are the critical issues to address.
Comanche 4, Echelon, Flight Simulator 2002, IL-2 Sturmovik, Independence War 2: Edge of Chaos, Jumpgate: The Reconstruction Initiative, NASCAR Racing 4, Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, Rally Trophy, Rowan’s Battle of Britain, Stronghold: Castle Sim, Sub Command, Train Simulator
MechWarrior 4, Freelancer
Age of Mythology, Earth and Beyond, Star Trek Bridge Commander