Car Mechanic Simulator 2018 [official site], the curiously zen-like, genre-defying game of hypnotic vehicular repair, is very much back on the road these days, but it was not ever thus. CMS18 launched in a rather troubled state, rife with bugs and interface peculiarities, but to the credit of both developers and players, it was rapidly and repeatedly patched, backlash was restrained and the result is an excellent game that's rarely far from the upper reaches of the Steam best-sellers chart.
But what, exactly happened - and are the developers now confident that CMS is ship-shape? Also: what is it about this superficially car-nerds-only game that makes it so compelling to almost anyone willing to pick up a virtual wrench?
Note: quotes have been edited slightly for translation-based clarity.
"Honestly we didn't expect so many problems," Kuba Trzebiński of devs Red Dot Games and publisher PlayWay tells me. "The launch version was way too bugged and it never should have gone on sale. It was our great mistake." But it was also a surprise: "On release day, thousands of players started to play, at the same moment, and find all those bugs, we were a little shocked."
The root of the problem was having eyes bigger than their stomach. "We put many extra modules, content, functionalities (like Barnfind or Junkyard) into CMS 18, going after our fanbase's voice. At some point we were started to lose ground under our feet. There was too much of that content, and too little time to release."
On top of that, internal testing didn't turn up many of the problems, but, by their own admission, the creators "tested mostly modules separately, not [as] a whole game." A certain excess of confidence didn't help the situation. "We had in mind that our previous CMS editions received great reviews from gamers. That blurred a little our clarity of vision," confesses Trzebiński.
But, if CMS stumbled out of the gates, it's in good shape now - not without a lot of work, however. "At this moment we are on patch number 36. Which shows how many of them appeared in the last 2 months." By this point, Red Dot are happy to say that the game is in "a release state", but the patches will continue nonetheless.
Car Mechanic Simulator 2018 has been a success despite this, but not every game could have survived that kind of launch. What is it about this one - or this series - that meant it enjoyed a patient and loyal community?
"We have quite a large fanbase, players of CMS 14 and CMS 15," claims Trzebiński. We think that they appreciate size and richness of the game, and they felt that the game is in general, despite of all the bugs, very well made, that it is a high quality product, way bigger and better then CMS 15. And they simply, humanly felt that the right thing to do, is to help us, not destroy us. They supported us, helped in finding bugs, even cheering us up. They were really great. And we will be grateful for that till rest of our lives."
Of course, it's not only existing CMS fans who wound up gravitating to this latest installment. Like Euro and American Truck Simulator, what from the outside might appear to be the driest of ultra-realistic niche games is, in practice, a deeply compelling escape to another world - a chance to tune out of reality and then tune into an extreme, almost hypnotised focus that is by turns relaxing and triumphant. In real life, I know how to change a tyre and top up the oil, but that's it - and nor do I feel much compulsion to do anything more to my old Peugot 207. Yet I've lost many happy hours to dismantling, repairing and rebuilding pretend cars in this game. Why do the dev think it ultimately appeals to folk far beyond the original target audience?
"We think that CMS combines many attributes, like: puzzle, detective "investigation", logical," reasons Trzebiński. "It is always nice and satisfying to put something together, make it work. And maybe there is something hypnotising in screwing?"
Car Mechanic Simulator 2018's out now and, yeah, it's pretty decent shape now.