Simteract, the studio behind Train Life: A Railway Simulator, have announced their next project: a taxi tycoon sim called Urban Venture. In it, you'll be taking to the streets of Barcelona as a professional driver, picking up customers and obeying traffic laws to get them from A to B. That's the taxi bit. The tycoon bit comes a bit later, letting players build up their own business until they've got enough cars and staff to do the driving for them. It's coming to early access on Steam toward the end of 2022, so let's hail down an announcement trailer, shall we?
When I spoke to studio lead Marcin Jaśkiewicz about the game ahead of today's reveal, he described it to me as a bit like a "peaceful GTA", although whether the traffic cops will still come after you for running red lights remains to be seen. Assuming you're the law-abiding type, though (this is a simulation game, after all), Simteract's big focus has been making sure players "feel like you're actually there," says Jaśkiewicz.
"You're venturing into the living environments of this beautiful city, feeling the local driving style, meeting people who tell you stories about themselves, and building a reputation. You need to be a skillful but effective driver for your customers."
To help them achieve their goal of total immersion, Simteract's clever City Generator technology uses open source data to give players a 1:1 recreation of Spain's second largest city to drive about in, with a playable area of at least 20km squared and over 200 of its most famous landmarks, historical buildings, parks and all-important Gaudi sculptures to drive past. The studio's Traffic AI technology will also be on hand to recreate the city's famously busy traffic conditions, filling the streets with cars and pedestrians when there's a football match on, for example, and emptying them when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Together, the two technologies have already been used to train and test autonomous cars in real-life, Jaśkiewicz tells me, so the simualation in Urban Venture should be pretty "robust", he says
Why Barcelona, you might ask? According to Jaśkiewicz, it's all about the city's variety. "You've got a medieval district, and it has completely different gridlock than a more modern district, which is great for our gameplay. You also need to expect the unexpected. So it's not only the beautiful side of the city, but from time to time the construction side, crowded squares on Friday nights, or the Les Corts quarter, which is almost impossible because of the football matches in Barcelona."
No matter how tough conditions get, though, you still need to be a good driver, as passengers will rate you from 1-5 stars after each journey, a bit like you can currently rate real-life Uber and Lyft drivers. Passengers will have their own patience levels, too, and some will be chattier than others. If you ignore their attempts to make conversation, they may take offence and give you a bad score. "There are other factors, too," says Jaśkiewicz, "including cleanliness, and even a lack of bottled water, for example, just like in real life."
There will be a garage menu to help players upgrade their current car, including refuelling it and fixing flat tires. More importantly, it's here where you'll be able to buy new cars - and once you start having multiple vehicles to your name, that's when you can start putting your taxi tycoon hat on and switch over to business mode, hiring AI drivers based on their skills and driving style, and watch your company blossom.
This tycoon element will be an equally "huge" part of the game, says Jaśkiewicz. "Being a boss will come with different challenges. You'll need to deal with problematic drivers, company finances, real estate management, and if you don't pay attention, you may end up with cars breaking more often or lose passengers because of sloppy employees and a poor reputation, just like in the real world."
If all that sounds like your slice of simulated reality, Urban Venture will be motoring into Steam's early access lane sometime between October 2022 and March 2023. Jaśkiewicz says he expects the game to remain in early access for about one year, with new garage features, events, cars, jobs and community-driven additions arriving before its final launch. New cities will also be coming in "2023 and beyond", so if you want your hometown represented, you can start making your case over on the game's Discord channel.