Over the course of my long and storied gaming career, I’ve done a lot in service of saving the world. I’ve slain dragons, rescued princesses, and disarmed nuclear weapons (not to mention, detonated a few). I’ve protected the President, assassinated Hitler, and obliterated aliens from other galaxies. I’ve piloted fighter jets, submarines, battle mechs and interstellar space ships, all with the goal of saving humanity from utter destruction. Long story short, I’ve saved the world. A lot.
Frankly, I’m tired of it. Let other gamers save the world: I just want to live in it. Luckily, there are a number of down-to-earth simulation games that will allow me to do just that. Today, I’m looking at a sim called Bus Driver, by SCS Software, that lets me inhabit the presumably uncomplicated guise of a driver of buses.
Previous Experience: In reality, I’ve never driven a bus, but I’ve unhappily ridden on my fair share. In my years of commuting by bus in San Francisco, I’ve learned how it works: you wait for six hours at a bus stop, and no buses come. Then, three buses show up at the same time, the first crammed with several dozen sweaty, angry passengers, the other two completely empty. Then, everyone at the bus stop tries to jam themselves onto the first bus, because FIRST BUS. Who the hell wants to show up at the next stop three seconds later than everyone else?
I have driven buses in video games before, though usually as a hijacker: yanking the driver out of his seat, throwing him to the curb, and peeling away with horrified passengers screaming for their lives. This time, however, the horrified passengers will be screaming for their lives because of a legit bus driver.
The Sim: I’m given a choice of buses (school bus, commuter bus, tour bus, and even a prison bus), an established route to follow, and tasked with picking up and delivering passengers to their destinations in a safe and timely manner. Driving is simple enough, I just use the WASD or the arrow keys, and I can signal, check my mirrors, change the camera view, or honk my horn at the other vehicles I’m about to slam into.
The first real disappointment comes while I’m driving a school bus. I remember my school bus driver opening the door by grabbing and moving a giant lever, almost like the kind mad scientists use to turn on their mad science machines in mad science movies. I only get to press the Enter key, which is a huge letdown. What happened to all the giant levers I was promised as a kid? (See also: voting booths.)
The driving must be done very carefully, as penalties are awarded for even the slightest of transgressions. I’m penalized early and often for braking too hard at my stops: the passengers scream in horror and I lose points. I don’t know why the passengers seem so shocked: in my experience, all buses brake too hard. It’s part of riding a bus, the simple fact that you will routinely and violently be launched forward in your seat every time the bus stops, and thrown off your feet if you happen to be standing. As far as I know, there are only two buttons on a bus: the Brake Too Hard button and the Make Air Smell Like Feet button, and both are constantly in use.
I’m also given a penalty for not signaling turns, for arriving late at a stop, and even for leaving a stop too early, which is the true peril of public transit: you may, occasionally, be on time, but you will never, ever, be early. In Bus Driver, If you reach a stop ahead of time, you have to wait for the clock to expire before you can depart. Luckily for me, if not for my passengers, I’m almost always late.
I also notice the bus I’m driving constantly fades in and out of view, as if were struggling to remain firmly rooted in our dimension. Perhaps it has traveled back in time like Marty McFly and romanced its own mother, thus jeopardizing its very existence! Or, it’s just so you can see through your bus to avoid ramming other cars. (It doesn’t work.)
At least I’m given points for doing things right. A Green Light bonus is applied by simply driving through a green light, which is about the lowest expectation you can have of a bus driver. I discover that signalling properly while turning or changing lanes also gets me awarded points. Naturally, thirty years of gaming instincts leads me to try to exploit the system by making 763 unnecessary lane changes while signaling, hoping to run up my score. The game doesn’t seem to notice unless there’s an actual reason for changing lanes. Stupid crafty game.
In one assignment, while driving passengers from the airport down a long, winding, snowy road, I notice I’ve gotten a Perfect Mile bonus! A bonus for driving an entire mile without veering dangerously out of my lane, running a red light, or braking so hard the passengers’ teeth wind up imbedded in the seat in front of them. I’m so distracted by the notification (as well as the realization that it’s the first time I’ve driven a perfect mile despite playing for hours) that I immediately lose control of the bus and careen into the oncoming lane, thus earning me a penalty before the bonus is even finished being awarded.
A break from boring, careful driving presents itself, when I’m tasked with driving a busload of prisoners to begin their exciting new lives of getting repeatedly buttsexed in jail. I have to drive through the police checkpoints, and try not to hit anything, but otherwise, to hell with traffic lights and turn signals! Free from checking my blind spots and braking six blocks in advance of bus stops, I wind up hitting quite a lot of things. Refreshingly, the prisoners laugh and cheer when I swerve, hit the brakes too hard, or take out a lamppost or fire truck. I’m also pretty sure they’re not worried about arriving late to Cornhole State Prison. When I finally make it to jail after ramming a couple squad cars and driving over a few curbs, I’ve gotten a record low score but the prisoners still applaud, my only happy passengers to date.
Conclusion: I am a bus driver. But, I’m not a great bus driver. To avoid violations and losing points, I have to drive carefully. If I drive carefully, I arrive late and lose points. If I arrive late and lose points, I drive quickly. If I drive quickly, I get violations and lose points. A vicious circle, like the one my bus makes when I slam on the brakes on a snowy road.