The American Truck Simulator landmass rescale transforms a great game into a sublime one

It has been quite the year, politically and personally. I bend no truth when I say that, were it possible to spend 16 hours a day pretending to be a lorry driver in a computer game, I would seize that opportunity gladly. The simplicity of having to get from point A to point B, the slow-motion pressure-and-release of needing to refuel, a view of the world that is landscape-led, not people-centric. American Truck Simulator [official site] is not, first and foremost, a motorised vehicle simulation game. It is pure escape, genuine freedom via a screen, as close as it comes to a real roadtrip without the expense and discomfort.

Unfortunately, ATS’ initial vision of America, as well as being thus far limited to California, Arizona and Nevada, was hyper-compressed. Journeys were measured in minutes, not hours, day/night flew by like nature documentary montages, and open land was but a quickly-drawn breath between suburbs and cities. I loved it, but it felt bite-size; America: The Trailer, not America: The Movie.

Things have changed, and beautifully so.

The facts are these: for some time now, the developers, aware of grumbles that they seemed to have made usa rather than USA, have been diligently re-scaling the in-game landmass. This is not simply a matter of making roads longer and plains wider, but of manually adding more roads, more intersections, more gas stations and even more towns and cities. It’s not simply blown up: the new space has been diligently filled-in too. The effect is revelatory.

It’s still the same game, of course. That is to say, a game about being hired to drive cargo from point A to point B and, if you so wish, spend your earnings on gradually amassing a fleet of your own trucks and drivers (I have never much cared for that side of the game myself).

If you want to get relatively deep into the mechanics of trucks and how they handle then you can, but this can all be sidestepped entirely if, as is the case for me, your preference is simply to get out on the road. Controls can be anything from, essentially, arcade to frighteningly involved, but it is all a matter of preference, not of playing it ‘right.’

The difference, as of the 1.5 update now available as a public beta (just opt-in via the betas tab on Steam), is to the sense of journey as well as simply scale. That sense was there already, but undercut with a clear sense of compromise. I took it, believing this would be the best we’d get, so to find that ATS has now evolved from a sort of greatest hits of America and into America is glorious. (Again, with the proviso that it only has three states so far – we should be seeing more later on).

Some vital maths: where previously driving most of the length of the map (South-East Arizona to North-West California) took somewhere in the region of half an hour, now it’s two hours, pushing three. Far, far more than that if you want to take the long way round.

This is the difference between feeling a mild sense of relief and pride when you arrive at your destination and feeling real fatigue, even desperation, during the journey. Between thinking “cool, let’s do another job” and having to stand up, stretch, walk around, maybe go have a meal or a lie down. Between being someone who played a truck sim for a while and someone who just finished a long, exhausting drive across America.

We had a chat in the RPS treehouse about other travel games we enjoy or would like to see. Elite Dangerous came up, which though its multiplayer aspects are not for me, does a fine job of being a space travel game – long flights, grand scenery, submline docking procedures, perfect sound effects. Graham expressed a wish for a Cowboy Bebop game. Alice is in walking simulator heaven but also wants “wacky, tacky Americana” sights. Adam thirsts for the perfect driving-horror game.

Me? I think I’ve got it already. I can’t think of any travel/road trip/sightseeing game I want more than American Truck Simulator on a vast scale.

Sure, I’d like more graphical improvements, particularly to vegetation. (There are some already here – the lighting and the skies seems improved). I hope and pray that, one day, it will be possible to exit my truck, slip into a worn red leather diner seat and refuel with coffee and pie. To solemnly urinate by the side of the road, or to lay down on a lumpen mattress in a flea-bitten roadside motel. Like Alice, to go get a close-up view of bizarre and beautiful Americana, be it the iconic scenery or the forlorn roadside attractions. To get lost in the woods.

Perhaps silly things all (and yet nonetheless a tall order for a game that currently specialises in vehicles, not humans), but all part of dreaming that I am someone else, somewhere else, away from all of this. Just point A and point B, and soaking up/surviving the space in between them.

ATS feels enormous now. The sweep of the land, the size of the sky, the long wait between cities, the even longer wait to escape a city’s lights and junctions and speed limits and grid-bound maze of roads.

The slow loss of light, the pinks of sunset, the alien feel of dusk and headlights, the endlessness of the night and the unsettling silhouettes of distant mountains, the lonely click of your indicators on an empty road, the exhalation that comes when the sun finally rises.

Tension and boredom and exhaustion and freedom and bliss and sweet, sweet relief when the GPS’ time remaining counter drops to single-digit hours.

The mingled joy and sadness when the journey ends and purpose is removed. Standing up, shaking the leaden feeling from my legs, getting a drink, feeling awful reality creep back in, cracking my knuckles, sitting down to it all again.

In its original form, ATS only wove in and out of its fantasy, only hinted at the sweet monotony it could have been capable of, never quite made me feel small. Now, I am an insect in a giant world that turns oh-so-slowly. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

It would be remiss of me not to restate the importance of the right soundtrack here. Initially ATS automatically included a roster of appropriate radio station streams, but now it seems these must be added manually (or locate someone’s older copy of live_streams.sii, for instance mine, and place it into My Documents - American Truck Simulator). Find something that fits your fantasy America – maybe it’s country, maybe it’s spit’n’sawdust rock, maybe it’s hip-hop, maybe it’s Elvis, maybe it’s 60s pop, whatever – and you will have yourself a road trip.

An added benefit of the expanded ATS is that a journey is now long enough for a full album, or several, or an audiobook, or a podcast – or the entirety of a local station’s breakfast show, complete with news and ads and idents that are so America it hurts.

And something else. Something very timely. Hearing local radio stations, with their focus on community and local folks, their ‘news’ bulletins about local bake sales, and, heartbreakingly, their adverts asking for food bank donations “to help your neighbours”, gave me a certain insight that my main contact with America – liberals tweeting from the globally-minded SF, NYC and Austin games scenes – simply does not. And, frankly, nor do UK news reports about the alt-right or snarling rally-goers.

I know the facts and the theories behind what led to the election result, of course I do. Actually hearing what those communities sound like, voices rather than headlines, is something very different indeed.

I drove across America (or a section of it), and where before it was a megamix of iconic scenes, this time it was vast landmass and lonely gas stations. I felt bored sometimes, and I liked that boredom. I listened to some of what the people who live in small places I blew right through listen to every day. It was not hateful, but it was not interested in the world either. Perhaps I understand America a little more, just a little. I am still so very scared of what’s going to happen. But I feel, once again, that it can be the place of my escapism – if only in games, for now.

American Truck Simulator is my game of the year. Again. If we get more states in 2017, it almost certainly will be my game of the year then, too.

From this site

47 Comments

  1. Abacus says:

    I WANT THIS IN MY LIFE

    So glad SCS listened to the community on this one. Really looking forward to listening to community radio stations like simulatorradio.com or truckers.fm while I cruise through the multiplayer mod.

    I’m really desperate for them to add more trucks and states though. I guess the licensing process for the trucks is quite lengthy, but I hope they announce their plans for the next state they add after the release of the ETS2 France DLC and the rescale.

    • Abacus says:

      Also does anyone have a recommendation for a decent steering wheel and pedals? I’ve put so many hours into ETS2 and ATS and I feel like it’s time I up the ante.

      • celticdr says:

        I use a Logitech G27 – it’s expensive but it’s got all the bells & whistles (aka H-shifter and clutch pedal) and it’s pretty easy to set-up as it’s the most popular PC wheel.

        Edit: OMG an edit button!

        • foop says:

          I too use a G27, and love it. It is eye-wateringly expensive for something I only use with one game, though.

          Looking at the web, it seems to no longer be available, however. The G920 seems to be the successor, which seems to be a bizarre wheel/XBox controller hybrid. It also comes without the gear stick – now an optional extra.

      • Blackcompany says:

        Logitech g27. It now works on Windows 10. And the degree of immersion, and the enhancement to enjoyment it brings using it to “play” these “games” cannot be stated in words. Get one; its worth it. Just…prepare to drive. A lot.

      • tuoret says:

        If you feel like the G27 is a tad too hardcore for you, check out Logitech Driving Force GT.

        It’s cheaper (and simpler), and it has certainly been good enough for me, but then again I’m not a huge truck/car enthusiast.

        • LennyLeonardUK says:

          I’ve also got a Logitech G27 but I’ve had a really annoying problem with it. The wheel itself works perfectly fine 100% of the time, but I have a really curious problem in regards to the pedals. I set the pedals up in the Logitech client and they seem to work OK, but then I go into any game and they don’t respond. When I then go back to the Logitech client it tells me that I’m using a different steering wheel (an older model that’s name escapes me right now).

          This happened for a few months and eventually I kind of gave up and boxed up the G27. Reading this thread has just now reminded me of this occurrence. Could this be a Windows 10 problem??. I’m trying to remember when I actually upgraded to Windows 10 and whether it worked OK before that.

          Anyone else have this problem??. I hadn’t even thought about it, but it was why I stopped playing ATS in the first place.

          • Chaz says:

            Yeah there was a problem where it would keep getting installed as the wrong wheel when you plugged it in, I think it installed as the new one. Certainly in Win 10 it would do that.

            There was some bat file you could download from Logitech that cleaned the drivers off after which it was supposed to install correctly. It think mine did but I still had some weirdness trying to calibrate it properly. I haven’t used it for a little while so I don’t know if that’s all been fixed yet.

          • Curve says:

            Your G27 is probably showing up as a Logitech Driving Force GT. It’s a driver issue with Windows 10. There’s a couple of YouTube videos out there with easy explanations on how to fix it. It’ll take you less than 5 minutes to fix.

          • LennyLeonardUK says:

            Aha. Thanks for that. I just dusted down my G27 and did a quick YouTube search and yes there is a simple solution. Well don’t I feel stupid!!!.

      • tonyboard says:

        bom cara eu não sei escrever em ingles , então use o tradutor do google . mas gostaria de lhe ajudar a tomar uma decisão . quanto ao volante voce deve pegar o G29 ou o trustmaster (não pegue o G920 pois ele é mais compativel com consoles e não com pcs) porque o G27 ja saiu de linha e seu software não tem mais atualizações faz anos . este é o porque das incompatibilidades com o W.10 , e o software do G29 é mais facil e melhor para configurar os jogos .sendo assim eu mudei para um G29 e estou gostando muito . so tenha em mente que se quiser fazer alguma mudança no volante como alguns gostam de fazer . colocar por ex: volantes de carros reais e outras coisas não sera possivel . e nenhum mod para G27 da certo nele . so mesmo o G27 pode ser mudado em tudo . mas o trustmaster mesmo o mais simples dele pode ser colocado outro tipo de volante . porem fique ciente que é muito mais caro e tem se não me engano so dois pedais . e o g27 e o g29 tem trez .eu se fosse voce pegaria o trustmaster . pois ai onde voce mora é muito mais barato que aqui no BRASIL , onde ele custa muito caro ; e o volante é mais resistente e mais real que os da logitech. esta é minha opinião . desculpe por não escrever em sua lingua . espero que possa entender . até mais ver . fui .

  2. Fry says:

    I mean… the California-Arizona border to NW California is more like a 12 hour drive at truck speeds in reality, but any expansion helps. I suppose no sane person is going to sit through a trip up I5 in real time.

    • Baf says:

      And for the insane people, there’s Desert Bus.

    • Baines says:

      This is the kind of game that really cries out for a user-adjustable map scale, so you could pick your poison ranging all the way between break time (extremely compressed) through commitment (a few hours for a trip) and to reality.

  3. GrumpyCatFace says:

    I’m interested in trying this game out. But not until they expand into a WHOLE lot more states.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Skabooga says:

    I have a great fondness for American Truck Simulator, not because I’ve played it, but because it inspired this piece and others like it on this site.

    • cannedpeaches says:

      Likewise. I love hearing what English people think of what driving through America can tell you about America. Sometimes they get so overwhelmed they sound like Kerouac.

  5. MrMetlHed says:

    It has been quite the year, politically and personally. I bend no truth when I say that, were it possible to spend 16 hours a day pretending to be a lorry driver in a computer game, I would seize that opportunity gladly.

    This seems like some future dystopia way that the working class mine for bitcoins. Be careful what you wish for.

  6. Person of Interest says:

    Some vital maths: where previously driving most of the length of the map (South-East Arizona to North-West California) took somewhere in the region of half an hour, now it’s two hours, pushing three.

    I thought they scaled it up 75% (source), so shouldn’t a half hour trip now take about 53 minutes?

    • Executor32 says:

      That they did. They changed the scale outside cities from 1:35 to 1:20 (matching the scale of ETS2), so an in-game ‘country mile’ has gone from about 151 feet to 264 feet.

  7. Jabberwock says:

    I know that there is no right way of playing this game, but my way is gonna be awesome. I have a Logitech driving wheel with the pedals replaced by a custom controller – digital pot hooked up to a training bike pedals. So yes, to push the throttle in the game I have to actually pedal and quite fast. Driving across Europe in ETS2 is already a pretty good workout… America will make me fit in no time! :)

    (While ETS2 is good, the real fun is Spintires – I dial the bike resistance to max and I feel I have to actually drag those logs out of the mud myself ;) ).

    • polarnomad says:

      You’re insane! :D

    • rekedens says:

      Dude, that’s insane. You have to share how you set this up!!!

      • Jabberwock says:

        The bike has magnets on the chaingear, they are sensed by a Hall sensor connected to an Arduino. Arduino controls a digital potentiometer that feeds proper resistance to the wheel connector, so the wheel itself (and the computer) sees it as regular pedals. Pretty simple, really…

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I’d like to know what game you play for arms/chest day.

      • Jabberwock says:

        Funny you should ask! I have long searched for a way to use a PC Gametrak (I am a sucker for strange controllers!). Die by the Sword was fun, but somehow lacking.

        Two days ago I have found it: One Finger Death Punch. I have set it up so that to punch in the game I have to punch in real life. „Insane” does not even come close to describe it…

        But the problem is the same as with any workout method: I have to move my lazy ass and get going… At least playing games while doing it makes it more attractive!

  8. polarnomad says:

    Thanks for posting this awesome bit of news, Alec. I will definitely be picking up ATS now!

    • ephesus64 says:

      I enjoyed the article too, and I’m looking forward to getting this game now. I thought ETS2 would have to be sufficient, but this has pushed me well over the edge of wanting ATS.

  9. Commander Gun says:

    Just want to tune in and say this is one of the best, most involved, most reflective pieces on a game i have seen this year on RPS. Nice!

  10. rekedens says:

    I’ve been playing these games since I was a kid. I’m extremely happy they decided to stop releasing a new game every year and focus improving the ones they have out now. You did an excellent job of describing my feelings towards the game and the recent update. This game has physically put me to sleep more than once driving the long highway roads, but getting to my destination were always worth it.

  11. kfound says:

    I spent far too much time on Saturday night getting all my local radio stations set up in my live_streams file (especially those close to the edges of the broadcast range, if you know what I mean). It made for a qualitatively different experience to drive with the same radio stations I have in my actual car (which bit the dust this week – so long A2, I’ll never have another first car again ;( ).

    An ATS game feature which would be wonderfully immersive (IMHO) would be a set of radio stations that belonged to an area – so you had to retune as you drove from state to state. Fallout 3 used this idea – some areas you couldn’t get Radio Free Wasteland (at first) and it faded out when you reached the boundary.

  12. WladTapas says:

    This article, and the fact that the rescaled world is now in open beta, just sold me a copy of ATS. Maybe I will dig my wheel out of storage tomorrow…

  13. CartonofMilk says:

    I might check it out now. I’d tried the last euro truck and had come away very disappointed. Map felt claustrophobic, cities and roads didn’t feel close enough to realistic to be immersive. So i wasn’t excited about ATS. But now that they’ve improved the size of it considerably, maybe.

    The feeling you describe playing this game, the only time i can remember getting that from a game was X-plane 9. I’d made a flight itinerary from Montreal (where i live) to hawaii with strategic stops at airports of major cities along the way (can’t remember them all but i had philly, indianapolis, salt lake, etc). They were 1 to 2 hours flights each. It was that feeling. i’m just there flying this plane, nothing is really happening. And it’s chill and i love it. I skipped x-plane 10 cause my computer couldn’t run it when it came out but now that xplane 11 has been announced, i might get that when it’s out. AND a new hard drive….. x plane 9’s world map was over a 100gb. Im assuming x plane 11 will be like 400 or something.

  14. Urthman says:

    Americans think 100 years is a long time. Europeans think 100 miles (160 km) is a long drive.

  15. aircool says:

    The UFO’s were my favourite part. Might dig this out again now that the journey time has increased. Previously, when heading north/south in Cali (can’t remember the road number), the towns and cities just kind of merged into one another, kind of like the M62, but not as depressing.

  16. drewski says:

    This is how I feel about Farming Simulator, although it doesn’t seem to have the sense of place that you’re getting from ATS.

    Great read.

  17. fco says:

    this talk of crossing america in minutes reminded me of my favourite racing game ever (with also the greatest title):
    link to youtube.com
    now how do I ask activision to remake The Great American Cross Country Road Race?

  18. VFRHawk says:

    How’s the VR in ATS? I remember enjoying ETS2 in VR, but finding it hard to read the speedo and satnav etc. Does the pixel-per-display-pixel (needs a shorter name!) workaround work in ATS?

  19. LennyLeonardUK says:

    OK, thanks for that. I’ll look into sorting the issue. It wasn’t really the case that I’d tried thousands of things and nothing worked, more that I just forgot that I had the problem.

  20. bill says:

    When I drove from LA to Las Vegas I was forced to listen to the local radio stations all day… 10 channels that all seemed to be wall to wall country music. Argh.

    Is there any plan to do something similar for ETS2? I watched a video of someone driving from Plymouth to Bristol and it took about 3 minutes I think.

  21. Bum Candy says:

    American Truck Simulator in VR is one of my favourite experiences.

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