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alazose

Forgive Me - A Lengthy and Unsolicited Review of City Bus

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The premise of City Bus Simulator, as everyone knows, is that you take on the role of “Carlos”, a newly trained New York City bus driver, who drives a Metro bus across the east-west route of Manhattan’s 42nd Street. Without question, the graphics and animation are superb, to say the least.

I can’t say for certain, even after checking with Google Earth, if all of the buildings along the route are authentic, that is, if they are accurate graphic representations of the originals. Many of them certainly are, including the Main Library (minus the lions), and certain other buildings. In any event, the graphics artists have obviously gone to great lengths to re-create the look and feel of Manhattan’s 42nd Street. The buildings certainly look authentic and in fact are visually and graphically stunning, crafted with meticulous detail. For example, the Chrysler Building and the Metlife building look very much like the real thing. The same can be said for the sidewalk storefronts, as well as some of the incredible neon lighted signs and colossal photos along this fabled artery, especially in the area in and near Times Square. On close inspection, however, it can be seen that these signs, again, just have the “look and feel” of the originals because the brand names are not exactly the same. The style is the same, the placement of the sign is the same, but the brand-name wording is slightly off – I assume to avoid legal entanglements. Other successful attempts at emulating reality are the ubiquitous construction scaffoldings with their temporary sidewalks, along with the general traffic noise and the constant wail of police sirens.

After several attempts, I wasn’t too enthused about driving a bus through Manhattan traffic, even though that is the point of the game. 42nd Street happens to be very narrow, with a lot of traffic impediments, such as barricades and other busses and trucks. But the simulation allows Carlos to enter this virtual world on foot and walk on the sidewalks, which is a saving grace as far as I’m concerned. Walking requires pressing the W key, and pointing the direction with the mouse. I soon discovered that I had to assign a special key in order to “jump” the curb and continue walking. All pedestrians are frozen in place (except when they get on and off the bus), which diminishes the overall feel somewhat, but I’m certain that we wouldn’t be able to afford the PC that could handle thousands of continually moving pedestrians. On the other hand, flags flutter in the breeze, the neon signs sparkle, and the traffic moves, with a great variety of vehicles involved. Busses and trucks are especially well done from a graphic standpoint. However, even at the “very high traffic” setting there is still very little traffic in the simulation, compared to reality. In the real world, 42nd Street traffic is always jammed.

The box set included a map of the driveable/walkable route down 42nd Street, which depicted some accessible side streets, with some extra maneuvering room at Times Square, which is a visual treat. The travel boundaries of the side streets are delineated by a group of large yellowish circles with horizontal bars through them, which depict a “Do Not Enter” zone. The simulation is, after all, limited to 42nd Street, and I guess the side streets, even with their limited boundaries, are a bonus.

Let me say here that it is an absolute delight to be able to immerse myself in this environment. The graphic recreations of the streets, buildings, and storefronts are remarkable – as long as you don’t look too closely at the windows or signage. As mentioned, it has the look and feel of actually being there, but you are not expected to linger and inspect the handiwork too closely. After all, there is a limit of what detail and fidelity to reality you can expect in a simulation. The temptation is great to enter Grand Central Terminal, or the Library, or any of the hundreds of stores depicted here – but you are not allowed entry. When viewed from a distance, from across the street for example, the storefronts look real and viable, but up close they become a generalized blur, and it is impossible to discern the detail of what is being sold or advertised. And the doors do not open. But who cares? The overall feeling is what’s important, and that feeling is sheer delight.

The Manual and the Website for City Bus Simulator promise that there will be a “Route Editor” in the 4th quarter. In fact, there is a contest which closes in April of 2010 providing a vacation in New York for the best created route. The available details concerning this Route Editor claim that it will be possible to create very detailed streets, stores, and buildings for use in the simulation, and that they can be exchanged online and freely downloaded and installed in the game. This is certainly good news, and I am very much looking forward to obtaining it. However, I fear it means that the realism maintained in the initial simulation – that is, where the simulated buildings reflect the actual placement and look of the actual building – cannot be duplicated via a generic Route Editor. (If we were fortunate enough to have all of Manhattan re-created the way that they have re-created 42nd Street, what a wonderful and overwhelming delight that would be.) But if we are now expected to create our own additional streets, such realism will be lost even if they do maintain the look and feel of generic Manhattan city streets. For example, what will happen to other landmarks in Manhattan, such as the Empire State Building, if we all just create our own renditions of city streets? There is no word on how large such new routes can be, nor how they would be connected to each other, nor a specific date as to when the editor will actually become available. I guess we’ll just have to be patient.

Bottom Line: This is a fabulous simulation, with its incredible features far outweighing its few flaws. Is it too early to hope for a similar simulation for Paris?

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