Wot I Think: Woodcutter Simulator

By Tim Stone on June 6th, 2010 at 11:55 am.

The days when small unadventurous devs would glance out of their windows and use the first thing they saw as the basis for a second-rate tycoon game, are thankfully long gone. Now small unadventurous devs glance out of their windows and use the first thing they see as the basis for second-rate simulation games. Tow Truck Sim, Dustcart Sim, Hearse Sim… who buys these things? Me, apparently. A few days ago I dropped nine guineas on Woodcutter Sim. I couldn’t help myself – I had to find out how it compared to a forestry game I knew and loved back in the Nineties.

Husqvarna Sunrise wasn’t like other games. In it you wore the kevlar-lined boots of a British cutter working for either the state forestry company (The Forestry Commission) or a private contractor. Whoever the employer and whatever the mission, the brief was usually very simple: fell, sned, and convert (cut into lengths) softwoods as quickly as humanly possible.

In Woodcutter Simulator things are a bit more complicated. You play a Slovenian forestry worker who not only has to fell the trees, he has to drive the skidder that drags them to the sawmill, operate the crane that lifts them onto the conveyor, collect the resulting logs, carry them over to another crane, before, finally, loading a waiting lorry and collapsing in a sweaty heap.

Except you can’t collapse in a sweaty heap because the scenario people at ActaLogic are slave-driving bastages. The first of the eleven missions took me over three hours to complete. Instead of starting gently with a sensible ‘The village of Lesny Szgyd needs a new May pole’-style tutorial, WS begins by asking you to cut and process five trees – a task that involves at least sixty separate vehicle journeys plus an eternity of crane-based arsing-around.

Subsequent scenarios add nothing but hills and time limits to the gruelling formula. A fire-damaged school needs lumber for repairs, a door factory has nothing to screw its knobs to, a ski resort intends to build a ski-jump. The customers are plausible enough, it’s their intolerance of delivery delays of even a few seconds, that grates. A wiser, more imaginative dev would have punished tardiness with revenue penalties rather than a crushing ‘Mission Failed. Try Again’ message, That’s the way Husqvarna Sunrise worked. After converting a tree the player recorded the logs with the help of a belt-mounted clicker. At the end of the week these scores were delivered to the forester/contractor who dished-out dosh accordingly. Earnings could either be used to upgrade equipment, or, and this was more usual, lavished on luxuries like bread, potatoes, Guinness and rent.

Woodcutter Simulator’s arduous missions would be less of an issue if the game lived-up to its box strap and truly let you “Cut down trees like a pro!”. A big part of the reason I found HS so compelling, was that the repetition was only bark-deep. Each spruce, pine or fir, though superficially similar, was in fact a unique randomly-generated physics puzzle. Wind strength and direction, crown shape and lean angle, it all influenced trajectory and varied from tree to tree. Misjudging a factor or messing-up a cut could be costly, sometimes even perilous.

Some of the most memorable moments in the sim came after you’d accidentally ‘hung-up’ a tree in another. If the offending trunk couldn’t be brought down to earth with the help of a cant hook or makeshift lever, you were faced with an intriguing multiple choice. You could a) Try and scare the thing down by swearing at it (rarely successful). b) Free the tree with a hand-operated winch (sure but slow). c) Attempt to dislodge it by felling something onto it (not always practical) or d) Stick your neck out by cutting the supporting tree (tempting yet dicey).

WS fails to model any of these pulse-propelling subtleties. It doesn’t even include that touchstone of 20th Century forestry/zombie dismemberment, the chainsaw. Instead of striding towards trees with a chugging Stihl or Husqvarna in your fist, you reverse up to them in a painfully slow tractor, position a PTO-driven circular saw, tap ‘t’ (handbrake) then SPACEBAR (cut) and you’re done. There’s no hand-eye challenge, no snedding (that’s done automatically), no unpleasant surprises. It makes cutting seem cold, clinical and massively dull.

One small benefit of Woodcutter Simulator’s simplified approach to arboricultural amputation, is the player never has to worry about sharpening. Even Husqvarna Sunrise’s biggest fans will admit the minigame in which you periodically dropped to your knees and used a needle-file to put the edge back on your chain, was both fiddly and tiresome. Personally I much preferred the price negotiation one. Occasionally the forester/contractor would descend on a work site to grumble about high stumps, untidy stacks, or messy thoroughfares. If your Anger Meter and Energy Level were sufficiently high at the time of one of these visits, an automatic pecuniary negotiation dialogue was triggered. Winning such word battles boosted log prices and morale.

NPCs, welcome or unwelcome, never interrupt Woodcutter Simulator sessions. ActaLogic’s forests are bleak, deserted places where motionless trees cast motionless shadows upon grassless, needleless earth. Where are the delicate ferns, the buzzing insects, the disgruntled squirrels? Where’s the dungeon-like gloom of an unthinned hemlock plantation, the airy brightness of a mature larch stand? HS captured all of these things perfectly and provided plenty of quirkier scenes to boot. When I think of the game now it’s the weirder imagery that springs to mind. Cutting in the midst of swirling clouds of yellow pine pollen, watching some fluke impact flip a hefty log high into the air, seeing the sun glint off the resin that welled like Golden Syrup from freshly cut stumps….

Woodcutter Simulator can do weirdness, but not the good organic kind. The PhysX engine is robust enough to ensure craning a trunk onto a moving conveyor is an engaging and intuitive business, but things can get a tad supernatural at the other end of the mill. Try to save time by grabbing two small logs rather than one large one and there’s a good chance the woody cylinders will ghost through the steel jaws of your loader before pinging off into the surrounding countryside. Another trick involves the sawmill eating trunks but not disgorging logs. After feeding half a dozen trees in on one occasion and getting nothing in return, I was at the point of throwing in the towel when I noticed a piece of wood jammed in the outlet. Wiggling this almost unreachable log loose released an impossible torrent of timber from the constipated shed.

The Pro version of HS shipped with scent sachets for Saitek’s short-lived Nasus JX olfactory peripheral. Stamping around in the herbage/fungiage, or sawing through pockets of rot, the suitably equipped player would be assailed by an amazing range of authentic odours. Whiffs of tangerine, roast chicken, coffee and honey were not unheard of. WS, of course, doesn’t offer this level of realism. If it smells at all, it smells of desperation.

But then so do most of the cheap Euro sims. To be fair to WS it’s a masterpiece compared to the likes of Digger Simulator and Tow Truck Sim. There’s far more to do, far more chance to bend the rules through experimentation. Mid-way through the third mission, I abandoned the unwieldy double-articulated skidder with its butter-fingered grapple, and started using the felling tractor to push trunks to the sawmill. A few hours later I’d ditched the second crane, and was filling the truck directly by driving the loader into it at speed. Oddly, these undocumented shortcuts turn out to be the most resonant and simmy aspects of the game. Give a human-being a repetitive manual task and he will always find ways to streamline it. Maybe WS is ahead of its time, the first of a new breed of emergent ergonomics games.

Or maybe it’s just another ropey sim that doesn’t try hard enough to understand and emulate the thing it claims to mimic.

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67 Comments »

  1. Steve says:

    The catchphrase on the box sums it all up: “Cut down trees…. like a pro!”

  2. Daniel Rivas says:

    Well, now I know what snedding is. Thanks!

  3. Arsewisely says:

    “Saitek’s short-lived Nasus JX olfactory peripheral”

    Am I an idiot for googling this?

  4. Mil says:

    I thought all small unadventurous devs did these days was crank out tower defence games as quick as they could.

  5. Bullwinkle says:

    I’ve always been curious about games like these, and many a time has my mouse pointer hovered over the ‘buy’ button, just to give it a chance. I never do, because in the end I figure they’re all like this. Tim, maybe you could tell us which ones are actually entertaining?

    • OctaneHugo says:

      Husqvarna Sunrise sounds like quite the game.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Sail Simulator 2010 is a cut above most of the non-combat stuff on GamersGate. It’s made by a Dutch team – Stentec – who’ve been making serious sailing simulator for years. Genuinely educational.

      Of the Astragon titles I’ve probably wrung the most pleasure out of Farming Simulator. It mixes a nice dash of tycoonery in with its simming. In the campaign you’re basically given a run-down farm and left to get on with it. Plant what you like, where you like, spend crop revenues on new kit…

    • Flint says:

      The demo for Bus Driver, and probably the rest of the game too, was scarily enjoyable.

  6. Stu says:

    I can see there being a lot of interest in this now that wood-cutting has gone mainstream.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-alkwiGYy8

  7. T-Bone says:

    I liked woodcutting before it was mainstream. Posers.

  8. Brumisator says:

    Hahahaha, WTF is it with all these simulators?
    I have to say, forklift, train, truck simulators are all good fun…for 10 minutes.
    What’s the deal? what am I missing?

    • Brumisator says:

      (after actually reading the article…)
      I’ve worked a few times in the foresting industry in Finland, a country with a very high level of expertise and technology in this field (not actually doing the forestry stuff, although I’ve chainsawed a few trees in my time, more on the commercial side).
      I know all about skidders, grapple heads, stump pulling, yadda yadda yadda.

      This simulator, with the slow moving tractors and whatnot, seem woefully 1980s.
      Maybe the technology increases with the levels, who knows…

    • Tim Stone says:

      “Maybe the technology increases with the levels, who knows…”

      That would have made sense, but no it’s tractors and skidders all the way.

    • Divebomb says:

      yeah, that’s right- it’s a period piece. here’s the arma style moderntreewarfare class version http://www.komatsuforest.com/Media%5CImages%5CPressImages%5CSimulator2~__H.jpg

  9. Will Tomas says:

    No snedding? That’s me out, then…

  10. Supertonic says:

    You’re a sick sick man for actually playing this.

  11. mod the world says:

    Does it have an online multiplayer mode? Nothing better than pwning noobs at woodcutting!

  12. Jimbo says:

    “It doesn’t even include that touchstone of 20th Century forestry/zombie dismemberment, the chainsaw.”

    You have to turn around at the start to get the chainsaw.

  13. leeder_krenon says:

    where can i get hearse sim?

  14. Marshall Vandegrift says:

    I don’t think I usually have a problem with subtle or tongue-in-cheek humor, but I don’t think I’m quite following here. Was there really a game called Husqvarna Sunrise? The only plausible reference Google can find is this very post. If Husqvarna Sunrise doesn’t exist, does Woodcutter Simulator exist? I feel like I missed some sort of notice that April Fool’s Day was moved to June 6th…

    • leeder_krenon says:

      i think the bit about the Saitek peripheral is the tap of the nose regarding the authenticity of Husqvarna Sunrise.

  15. leeder_krenon says:

    Anyone ever seen timber sports on EuroSport? It’s quite something.

  16. Marshall Vandegrift says:

    Ah! I somehow skipped that bit at the end there. Next-to-last paragraphs — who needs ‘em? So the gist is comparing the actual Woodcutter Simulator with a fictional game which has the same underlying concept, but would actually be interesting to play, highlighting WS‘s deficiencies.

    Plus — jokes are totally funnier when you explain them!

    • Stenl says:

      @Marshall Vandegrift
      I think it is actually comparing Woodcutter Simulator to actually being a woodcutter.

    • Gnarl says:

      @Stenl

      The problem with sims is that telling if Mr. Stone meant an ideal game or reality is quite difficult, as they would be fairly similar.

    • Tacroy says:

      You know, if you could somehow get access to the Red Faction: Guerrilla engine on the cheap (or really any game with a decent physics engine, but it seems like RF:G already has the hooks for destructible environments and vehicles), you could probably make something very much like Husqvarna Sunrise.

    • Dr. Derek Doctors, DFA says:

      @Marshall: I believe that Tim Stone is talking about the kind of simulation that requires you to receive training, travel on-site, and place your life in danger hauling tonnes of aggregated pencil shavings around in exchange for a ludicrously low paycheck. (Actually, I seem to recall him discussing this part of his life previously, but no citation, I fear.)

  17. John Peat says:

    There are an amazing number of simulators for things I can’t imagine anyone would care about

    “Heavy Transport” or “Roadworks” – I mean ROADWORKS!!!

    “Loading…..”

    “Loading…..”

    “Loading…..”

    “Loading…..”

    Would cover it surely?

    More reviews of these things please.

  18. Pod says:

    How much sim could a sim sim sim if a sim sim Tim Stone sim?

  19. Wisq says:

    I had a lot of spare time a week or two ago, so I played it then. (I’m always up for any new simulator experience, even if I might not actually play it very long.)

    I liked each section of the game well enough, though I agree the lifter was rather tedious due to having to move every log one or two at a time. But when I tried to push bunches of logs over to the last crane with the puller’s bulldozer front, I usually just ended up running over them.

    The final crane is actually not bad, since you can actually use it to lift anywhere from three to five logs at a time, although I only discovered this after a while. So I never bothered trying to find a way to get logs into the truck using the lifter directly.

    The game would be a lot better if you had AI handling the parts you don’t want to do. so that you could do the parts you like best. Multiplayer would work, too — although unless there’s AI to supplement things, someone would inevitably get stuck with the crap jobs.

    Either way, it would make the operation feel more like a well-oiled machine. Right now, it feels more like “strikebreaker simulator” where a lone untrained scab gets to see just how much work it really is to operate the entire facility by himself.

    Anyway, I completed the fourth mission, “deliver 42 logs”, in 3h20m, saw that the fifth was “deliver 19 logs in 1 hour”, and gave up. Enough is enough.

  20. EthZee says:

    …Dangit. Now I want to play Husqvarna Sunrise.

  21. Starky says:

    As a guy who recently got laid off by Husqvarna |(making flymo’s) I never want to play it.

  22. Kazang says:

    Me thinks Tim has maybe felled a few trees in his time.

    Also that’s retardly un-realistic, only a sucidal maniac would use a circular saw like that to fell trees.
    This is the real thing.

  23. Grot Punter says:

    Tim, I’d like it to be known that this very article, written by you, is the first, and most accurate, result (and only accurate result as far as I can tell) that appears after a Google search for “Husqvarna Sunrise game”.

  24. Dreamhacker says:

    Two words: V12 Chainsaw.

    Look that up on Youtube :)

  25. hahaha, oktoberfest! says:

    I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay
    I sleep all night and I work all day

    I cut down trees, I eat my lunch
    I go to the lavat’ry
    On Wednesdays I go shopping
    And have buttered scones for tea

    I cut down trees, I skip and jump
    I love to press wild flow’rs
    I put on women’s clothing
    And hang around in bars

    I cut down trees, I wear high heels
    Suspendies and a bra
    I wish I’d been a girlie
    Just like my dear papa

  26. clive dunn says:

    “Wiggling this almost unreachable log loose released an impossible torrent of timber from the constipated shed”
    That’s the most evocative thing i’ve read in a long time. Thanks Tim

  27. /V/endetta says:

    GOTY !!

  28. Renzatic says:

    This is one of those games I’ll openly mock and deride in public. Turning my nose up and scoffing at the mere mention of its name, calling it jejune and insipidly casual detritus meant for the braindead masses. But when the lights go out, I’ll secretly fire it up and spend hours driving around a bunch of kickass trucks, tractors, and Caterpillars, all sawing down trees with the best of them. I’ll even go HONK HOOOONNNKKK BEEP BEEP BEEP as long as I’m absolutely sure no one is looking.

    Cuz you know what this game is? This game is TONKA TRUCKS BUT FOR REALZ! And we all love Tonka trucks.

  29. Tim Stone says:

    @Wisq

    “The game would be a lot better if you had AI handling the parts you don’t want to do”

    Agreed. Farming Simulator did this and it worked a treat. All a forestry sim really needs to satisfy both weird ex-cutters and the Tonka set is chainsaw operators and forwarders (rugged off-road log collection vehicles). Creating plausible AIs for either shouldn’t be hard.

    Bot cutters and forwarder drivers would open the fascinating possibility of competitive missions (Cut and convert 10 Douglas and 10 Norway before Blackhat Forestry’s ace cutter ‘Sawtooth’ Samson does the same!), co-op, even deathmatch.

    “Anyway, I completed the fourth mission, “deliver 42 logs”, in 3h20m, saw that the fifth was “deliver 19 logs in 1 hour”, and gave up. Enough is enough”

    That one took me a couple of attempts and confirmed my hatred for the time-limit system. First attempt: with the help of the shortcuts described in the piece, I had the final truck loaded and ready to roll with around 4 minutes left on the clock. It then drove off ridiculously slowly, dissappeared round the corner, and must have been literally a stone’s throw from the unseen ‘victory’ zone when ‘Mission Failed’ message appeared. Maddening.

  30. Dawngreeter says:

    I thought Desert Bus already covered everything this genre had to offer.

  31. Ashley K. says:

    I think the tagline should have read, “Cut down trees… like a boss!” I would be more inclined to play, then.

  32. Brian Manahan says:

    You wood-cutting hipster.

  33. starclaws says:

    I think the article gave me more entertainment than the game ever will…

  34. noddy1234 says:

    That husqvarna sunrise or whatever game you were talking about, where would i be able to get a copy of that???

  35. DoesITMatter says:

    Hi Tim,,’

    i must admit your review had me in stitches, and it has been quite a long while since i have come across such a damn good review that gave me pause to laugh my arse off …:) well done mate..

    it is quite a pity that the trend lately is for these trivial & mundane pile’s of crap ( under the banner of SIMULATOR ) pour forth from the european continent.. surely there talents could be better spent on creating something Truly worthwhile …i am sure a great many folks would be only to happy to DLC or obtain legit boxed versions of simulator games, if only they were of a much higher caliber than the like’s of this pathetic example of the current spate of pure shite leaking onto websites and even worse ” being sold in box’s at shops….

    all i can say regarding woodcutter sim is THANK GOD this was a poor gift ( a joke present ) because truly that is ALL it could ever be classed as .. approx 5 mins of entertainment value ..before the endless mind numbing repetition of boredom and expletives set in …. i will admit however just for giggles i did try cramming the woodcutting shed with EVERY tree i was able to fell …just in the hopes of seeing the bloody thing Explode from the sheer volume of trapped logs …

    alas my fun was not to be :( even though i did manage to get the place so choked up with logs that after what seemed an age of swearing and wiggling a trapped log ….armageddon final ensued ..with the shed spitting out logs similar to a machinegun firing of a full magazine …anyway while that was fun for a few seconds to see logs spewing out at high velocity …the attempts to replicate the fun were pretty much in vain …..dammit….at least the fun factor would have been something …even using the cranes to try and pickup the saw tractor ,,in the hopes of flinging the damn thing into the river for laughs was not to be …

    anyway again thankfully this ” game ” if you could really call it one ….was a gift …..personally a nice pair of socks would have been much more use :) …

    OH yes before i forget folks ….for those Possibly considering “SNOWCAT SIMULATOR ” rest assured it’s even WORSE than woddcutter sim …. it only has 2 machines that are pretty much the same thing …the lighting is designed to give ANYONE a migrane in short order ….and welllll the less said about THAT crap the better …rating 2 outta 10 … 1 for the ATTEMPT at a sim ….and 1 cos the machine DO look like snowcats …

    cheerrs
    Gaz

  36. emertonom says:

    Reminds me of the Onion’s article about “Stacker,” a first-person cardboard box stacking simulator. http://www.theonion.com/articles/new-video-game-designed-to-have-no-influence-on-ki,1857/

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