Farming Simulator 2011 is, on the face of it, not a very interesting game - but if you look deeper you'll find that it's actually very badly made too. It's boring, even to those who resign themselves to tedium in advance, as pointless as a chocolate covered cat turd and built on physics so unnatural I genuinely suspect it to be haunted. So, you can imagine my excitement at sitting down to write a modding guide for it. Even after I'd grabbed ten of the weirdest mods I could find, from deployable crates to driveable corpses, it was still drearier than a car-load of wet Mondays and utterly unable to hold my attention. Eventually however, using one of the smaller mods I'd downloaded, I found a mission that imbued the game with much-needed purpose. The mod was called Bottle Finder.
What Bottle Finder does is simple; wherever you are in the world it directs you to the nearest of 100 bottles hidden throughout the (farm)land. Why are the bottles there? Why doesn't the game tell you anything about them? Why would you even want to collect them? These things remain a mystery - but I'm a sucker for a treasure hunt and the idea grabbed me: I swore I would collect every single one.
If this sounds like an easy task, I haven't yet rammed home quite how tedious FS2011 can be. So, for starters, rest assured that the world it's set in is huge. There are thirty fields, a town, several refinery buildings, a port, a lake and a mountain range - all built to scale. There's also a windfarm lining one of the hills, which I'd previously built out of sheer boredom in the hope that the too-close windmill blades would catch and explode the turbines spectacularly. Instead, like everything else in FS2011's broken world, they just clipped benignly through each other.
The size of the world is exacerbated by the available vehicles. There are no cars or fast-travel options in FS2011, just realistically ponderous tractors which can be outrun on foot. It takes agonising minutes just to reach the other side of the crudely modelled (and useless) town.
There's no sense to the placement of the bottles, either. The first fifteen or so are admittedly easy to collect because they're scattered close to where you initially spawn. After that though, they start showing up on top of mountains, under bridges and in such far-off, exotic locations as the dairy farm.
That said though, I did hope this mission wouldn't take too long. I had a bunch of potentially time-saving mods to call on and I was confident these would speed things along, but in fact their stubborn refusal to obey the laws of physics served mainly to slow me down.
Impatient to begin, I installed a mod called WinkelWagon, which adds a driveable shopping trolley to the game which drives as close as FS2011 gets to 'lightning fast'. It goes at about 50MPH, on average. Somehow it still manages to zip up vertical slopes, pivot impossibly on its rear-right wheel at every right turn and bounce off traffic like a greasy, rubber ball.
In this abomination of a vehicle, the stiff-spined driver of which never touched the steering wheel, I set off in search of bottles. Some I found littering beaches, others sat on the back porches of houses that belonged to Farmsimville's mute, dead-eyed inhabitants. One, four, ten - as I spiralled further out into the digital backwaters of this backwater game, I drove more and more nervously, painfully aware that there was no quick way back to the farm's garage. If I crashed, it would be a long walk home.
And then, I crashed.
Without warning, on perfectly flat terrain, I was suddenly thrown up and to the left by a couple of feet, the WinkelWagon catching on top of a wooden fence and stopping, stuck. I got out and tried to knock it down with the help of a nearby combine harvester, but after five minutes of bashing, it was no use. I had a long journey home and, with chin in hand and cocktail sticks pinning down the W and SHIFT keys, resigned myself to long drive in brand new combine harvester I'd got. I hoped the next modded vehicle I was planning to use would be faster.
It wasn't, but it did fly.
Well, kind of. It was more like a mid-air mechanical fit, partly because getting in would cause it to teleport a mile straight up even before the engine could be turned on, but also because the Readme offered no control help. I mashed the keyboard madly as I spiralled downwards, cutting my hand on cocktail sticks that some idiot had left on the board. I grabbed the keys seconds before colliding with a barn and pulled up into a perfect glide, albeit upside-down.
Landing, however, proved problematic. Even with literal acres of land around me, it was impossible to land properly and my first attempt ended with the plane stuck prop-down under a bridge. The boats queued in an expectant traffic jam with bovine stillness and I tried again with another plane, this time ejecting over my target and letting the plane glide away. Somehow, I fell straight through the roof of the building below and stood looking out through invisible walls at the bottle outside. Walking out as effortlessly as a ghost, I swore not to touch a plane again.
Arriving back at Farm HQ, I traded my wings in for a set of wheels - or, feet actually. A mod called FUN FARMER which I'd downloaded expecting it to be a player skin, turned out to instead be a literal shell of a man that you could possess and pilot around like some sort of unanimated, unblinking automaton. FUN FARMER could plough straight through traffic and was speedy to boot, but would randomly somersault into the air or turn onto his head. I forced myself to persevere regardless.
Clink, clink, clink - my pointless mission continued closer to completion and, with just a few more bottles left to collect, it seemed FUN FAMER and I would soon be done.
It was at this point that I discovered the hedge maze - or, as I later came to think of it, the bloody-bastard-piece-of-crap-hedge maze. Bottle Finder told me there were at least two bottles hidden in there and, now frustratingly unable to create a helpful clipping error, I had no choice but to pilot FUN FARMER into the labyrinth. Within moments I was lost and had snagged FF's crude hitbox on a corner, hopping out just in time to watch him sink bizarrely into the floor like a petrified hillbilly caught in quicksand. Within seconds, he was completely gone.
Lost and alone, I roamed the maze for what seemed like hours, but what was probably just minutes, turning randomly until I found the bottles I needed. When I finally stumbled out I glanced happily at my farmer's PDA to see there was just one bottle left. Bottle Finder said it lay more than a kilometer away.
If you asked me now why I did what came next, I'm not sure I could tell you - but making the journey by tractor just seemed like the right thing to do at that point. After three hours of agonising impatience and baffling displays of physics, I felt like I should at least finish as naturally as the game allowed. And, I guess, safely.
The trip was slow and, with my cocktail sticks broken, it was hard on my RSI as well. My fingertips, jammed down so firmly for so long, felt bruised while my eyes stung coldly from hours spent trying to spot transparent tubes against a background of endless corn. Through this all though, I felt a happy sense of peace and progression - a delight that the journey was coming to an end, even if the end was as meaningless as the journey.
I wondered if this wasn't the point that Farming Simulator 2011 was trying to make on some level and that if I, impatient and intolerant to such oddities as a farming simulator, might have misunderstood what I was playing. What was previously pointless seemed suddenly poignant and, as my quest neared conclusion, I could feel my inner nihilist rising to embrace the inanity. There was no point to any of it, but somehow that fact was making it more and more worthwhile.
Reaching a river, I was forced to abandon the tractor like a martyr laying down his weapons, diving into the water and emerging on the far bank calm and complacent, like the silent cows around me. More walking lead me through the town, where five identical cars blocked the road in a line behind my plane, which stood neatly on its rudder. Townies wandered around me, oblivious and unblinking. These things no longer bothered me.
As the Bottle Finder meter ticked down, I wondered if I really wanted to collect the bottles at all - if this wasn't all some comment about the pointlessness of achievements and competition. Wouldn't I be happier in a Zen fugue state, like the townies?
I found the last bottle at the top of a lighthouse and stared at it for what seemed like a long time before eventually deciding to pick it up. When I did the words "ALL BOTTLES FOUND" appeared in what looked like white, Comic Sans MS font. I stared at it for a moment and smiled, wondering what would come next and where the bottle bank was.