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Bus & Cable Car Simulator: San Francisco (part 1)

Metal Angel - Wed, 21/09/2011 - 13:13

Welcome to Bus & Cable Car Simulator, where you get to drive buses and cable cars around San Francisco! You also get to drive trolley buses and streetcars too, but the title is already struggling to fit on the box.

This is the menu screen... I wasn't sure if the duplicators had put the right program on the disc or not!

The game itself loads and I appear to be in some sort of crack den. I continue to be unsure this is the correct game. Empty pizza boxes, bottles and trash are piled everywhere. I go outside.

Outside is a trash-filled pickup. There's a number of fast travel points on the map but I'm not allowed to fast travel to them unless I've drive there 'properly' once.

The game suggests you drive all the way to the convention centre to be tormented by all the vehicles you can't use yet (more on that in a moment) all in a row, but I've left that tedious drive out and instead gone straight to the tedious drive to the bus depot. So, off we go.

Once at the depot, I go into the most badly decorated room in existence and speak to its sole occupant, the supervisor, to pick which route I want.

As I only have standard diesel bus, I can only do diesel bus routes for now. These all seem authentic. This bus depot is real, and is very near the hotel I stayed in in real life. We used route 36 (I think) to get back from Ghirardelli Square to the hotel. However, I fancy something a bit longer, and pick route 47.

The bus magically appears outside in the otherwise empty lot, and I go through the lengthy startup sequence.

You have to pump the door open (no air pressure), switch on the battery, start the engine, and while waiting for air pressure to build you can program the route indicator signs. The game encourages you to even put 'not in service' on your signs to avoid disappointing waiting passengers as you make your way to the start of your chosen route. My route starts just outside so I immediately program it to route 47.

The first stop, the passengers are already waiting for me. On the left is the F streetcar line, which loops around a few blocks here at the end of the Embarcadero. It uses vintage streetcars, mostly PCC and Peter Whitt cars that were built for Italy. They're from an age before noise pollution laws, as I found to my cost as they rumbled past the hotel window first thing in the morning. Anyway, let's stop and pick the passengers up!

You even need to dispense tickets! Luckily, it tells you the type, and there's only three fares, so you will remember them all by the end of your first route. A lot of passengers have passes and just get on without needing to be sold a ticket. And yes, a large number of very hot women (many of them redheads!) live in SF.

You get penalized for leaving early, so I have time to look around. Not being an owl, the game lets you see the whole interior of your vehicle, so you can ensure everyone who's getting off via the rear doors has done so.

You can also zoom out for an external view, fun for judging tight corners. Though I don't remember it, it would seem from observing the AI buses that you're meant to turn your 4-ways on when stopped, not just signal towards the curb while stopped and then away when pulling off, European-style.

For some reason, all the buses and trucks in the city are plastered with badly translated ads with pictures of yet more hot women.

I haven't gotten far before I encounter an intersection absolutely jammed with cars. The traffic AI is a bit wonky, and in this case it remained stuck. Luckily, there's a 'reset' button that will delete traffic cars and then move your vehicle if it's become physically jammed. Alas, my little jaunt down Lombard street yesterday was lost when FRAPS decided to change its capture key and didn't grab any of the hilarious pictures I took.

The city is alive, and you'll pass other transit vehicles going about their business too. The cable cars stop correctly in intersections to take on passengers. Incorrectly, the other traffic doesn't seem to wait.

This bus decided to pull across my path to get to a bus stop first.

And then, a moment latter, it vanished into thin air of its own accord. This happens rather more often than it should.

Get this flashy jerk in his expensive Nova bus. Can I fit through that gap?

Yes, yes I can.

I think my first purchase using the credits I'm earning will be the ability to drive one of these trolley buses.

The traffic AI sometimes gets it wrong and crashes. The physics engine itself is supremely wonky, with even gentle taps sometimes sending vehicles bouncing 50 feet into the air.

At the edges of the city the designers have tried to conceal the map boundaries with construction zones. This just means a huge traffic jam which makes you late.

Keep your ears open for the 'bong' of the stop request button, as unlike some city buses, these don't have automatically opening rear doors.

BANG! Even after a crash like this, both vehicles are unscathed and drive off as if nothing happened.

Having successfully finished my route (despite the huge smash) I declined to do the return run, and instead went into the nearby depot. There's mini-jobs to be had too, so I decided to try being the repair man.

You're given the service truck and have to go find the stricken bus.

Upon arrival at the scene, I open the engine cover and have a look inside.

I think I have bigger problems than that right now, game.

The service truck didn't have any belts in its various compartments, so I had to find one. I drove off to look for a fan belt store. I came across this gas station, I wonder if they sell them?

Yes, yes they do. Cakes, fresh fruit, fuses and fan belts. Which I have to pay for out of my own pocket, it seems! Considering I have to buy my own transit vehicles too, I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose.

Fan belt in hand and lighter of pocket, I returned to the bus at a high rate of speed. Get out of the way, I've got my orange lights flashing for a reason!

Yes, this is really what you have to do to install the new fan belt.

Task completed, I returned to the depot to get paid, almost half my earnings lost to the fan belt.

So there we have it.

Some thoughts:
-in spite of the plain looks and sparse traffic, the game engine runs really slowly as you can see from my FRAPS counter in the corner.
-everything feels like it's runnning in slow motion, with the buses and civilian cars all slowly pootling around at the most leisurely of paces.
-having to buy/unlock the majority of the vehicles is rather annoying.
-I had more CTDs than I could count.
-the installer didn't work properly, possibly because setup.exe is over a gig in size. I had to copy the DVD onto my hard drive and then install it from there.
-I'm going to try to set my joypad to work with it, as it's very hard on the fingers playing on the keys.

And now, a wee rant:
The whole 'live a bus driver's life' thing is misguided. Back when I was a kid, I thought the idea of an all-inclusive flight simulator was a great idea, where you had to walk out of your house, get in your car and drive to the airfield first. However, now with less free time, having to drive to the bus depot, talk to the supervisor, walk to the bus, drive to the start of the route etc etc etc wastes hours when I should be able to just pick a route and vehicle from a menu like every other simulator out there, and get on with it. I'd hate to think of someone who only wanted the streetcars or cablecars being forced to mess around driving the crappy starter bus for hours before they're allowed to use what they bought the game for (or indeed, just giving up in disgust). It's not helped that the city, while more authentic looking than the Crazy Taxi-esque SF seen in Drivel: San Francisco, is completely lifeless and boring. I don't really care about buying my avatar sunglasses or new clothes or a better apartment, because there's no point. It doesn't even add 'colour' to the game world.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed our little trip around the City By The Bay. I'll post some more once I've unlocked a new vehicle or two.

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