Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Under The Hood

Greetings Truckers from all corners of the world! We've been having an internal discussion here at SCS Software and we've decided that we would like to put up, from time to time, some special and dedicated blog-posts for all of you who've ever wondered how things are going behind the scenes of our games. We are not able to promise how often these articles will be released and neither can we tell which topic will be the next one, but we think that they will shed some light into your minds about who we are, how we do things and so on. We all hope that you will like these articles and we are also looking forward to your opinions which you can, as always, leave in comments section below.

Have you ever wanted to know…
Have you ever wondered how our games are made? Where it all begins, which steps are implemented, how things are done, what is connected together and who is doing it? If you have, then this blog section, which we would like to start doing for you, is the right place you want to visit from time to time.

So without any further ado, lets take a look at our first topic of this series: 'Research'. It may not be as technical as some of our later posts but it reveals some of the most important work we do. So you can sit back, relax, and enjoy this piece about how SCS works „Under the Hood“.

What's next?
Imagine the following scenario: you are a member of the SCS Software team and you are just returning from a design meeting where it was decided that the next step in American Truck Simulator's life cycle is going to be the creation and implementation of the state of Arizona.  From that moment on, the research phase begins. And this phase is the first and one of the most vital steps in the process of creating all the content which you can see in our games.

As you have probably guessed, we would like to keep our products somewhere between the well optimized/hardware friendly and fun-to-play computer games, and the based-on-reality truck simulators. And to be able to hit the right spot in this balance, we need to gather as much quality data as we can before we actually start creating any new content in our in-game worlds. So first we need to ask ourselves many questions like what does it look like in the state which we want to implement, which cities are there, how many people live there, which factories have their branches there, which industries are located in this state, what kind of vegetation grows there, which mountains are located in this zone, which rivers are crossing this country, in which areas and so on. The answers for these questions are the fundamental building blocks of our work. And everything is quite connected together.  As you can imagine, for example, when we need to create the rest areas in Arizona, we need to know what do they look like. Do they generally have any vegetation, like trees? How many parking spots are there on average? Do they exist in isolation or are they usually part of some bigger complex that includes shops, hotels or gas stations? In which ways the trucks enter these places from the highways? Are there any different speed limits, and if so, are they enforced by law, and if they are, what law is it? Are there any state-specific traffic signs? And simply nearly everything else that could help us to enhance and correctly capture the resemblance of the things and situations we want to implement into our games. And that is not always an easy task. In fact, sometimes it is fairly tough challenge for our game designers. And sometimes parts of their work are gone because something has changed during the process of creation. For example, we recently encountered situation, in which we gathered some data about traffic rules in one state and when nearly everything seemed to be prepared for release, we found out that some of these traffic rules just have changed. And as you probably can imagine, unexpected situations like this can always do some damage to our plans and visions. And it is the good research with quality sources of information, that make us be able to face and overcome this threats.

It‘s still all about the highways… or not?
What is the first step of the research phase then? Some could say it‘s all about studying the road networks and to a certain extent, they would be right. But that is not really surprising, is it? We are doing truck games, of course that it is going to be about roads and highways. They are, after all, the backbone of traffic infrastructures. But it‘s still quite different look in this case. It truly is about the highways, but not only.

We primary focus on roads which are connecting the cities and industrial areas that we are going to create for our games. Secondarily, we focus our work on road networks connected with the points of interests, which are some special places that you, our beloved truckers, will recognize and appreciate when you will be driving among or along them. These places are for example unique landscapes, mountains, atypical parts of the countryside, special bridges, buildings and things that make some places unusual and highly memorable. To design these elements right, we use any possible and obtainable data and material like our own experiences with these places, information from our international colleagues and co-workers, photos, videos, articles and other multimedia channels. Also the big help comes from any satellite images or the 360 degrees apps which let us actually see that place like as we would be standing right there. And of course, another big help in this case is all the good and highly appreciated feedback that we are gathering from you ! ( Big thanks to all of you ! )

So for good research, we are gathering as much of these information as we can. Sometimes, when we are preparing a new state into our games, we find out that the countryside and other things are quite same as they were in the previous part of the map, so we can use some of our already created material. But sometimes we find out that we are going to need a lot of new stuff. And that is not always easy. As we here in Czech Republic say, different region, different manners. But I guess you will better know this proverb as „So many countries, so many customs“. So often we are going to need new type of vegetation, new textures for terrain, new traffic signs, new rules for speed limits, new looks for the buildings, bridges, landmarks and so on. And that‘s why we need as much accurate data as we can obtain. We don‘t want to create flat land with a coastal city named Paris and call it Arizona, right? Even deciding which cities we are going to put in the game is really affected by the quality of the research phase. And you can trust us that to decide what city is going to be created, is nothing to be easily said. These cities have to meet our requirements as are the location, size, agglomeration, industry, points of interest that are surrounding it and many many more. It is quite hard to make decisions like that, but we are doing our best to pass this challenges over and over again.

As the next step in this phase, all these gathered data are further divided to smaller teams of designers, or to individual map designer and then they are going to start creating the actual state in our map. If you want better example, I can give you some information that one of our map designers for American Truck Simulator has provided to me. His name is Patrik (the guy on the left in the photo below), he is 21 years old and he is behind the US 101 part of the ATS map, which starts in Oxnard and ends in the crossing with CA 58 road.

Some first hand testimony…

A quote from Patrik:
„When I was working on this part of our map, I relied on data and images captured by the satellites and the 360 degrees apps that we are using. I‘ve also got some hints from our great fans and international co-workers, who know these places well. Digital map gives me information about elevation profiles, satellite images show what is visible from the ground or road and classic photos or apps similar to the „streetview“ give me the right touch of how it looks like there in reality. Then I‘ve further identified particular places, which I found interesting and which I was able to put in. Let‘s call them ‚Points of Interests‘. So for a small example, outside the city of Oxnard was an unusual railway bridge, or in the location of Shell Beach it was atypical exit from the highway which leads right next to this small town.

The feedback that we are getting from you is highly valued source too. It was your feedback that leads me to the making of the city of Santa Maria which is located in Santa Barbara County. Or the tunnel pass which is going trough the mountains in this part of the US 101 was also based your on suggestions and feedback. I hope that one day we will be able to put all of your wishes and suggestions into our games. But as you should know, we are quite limited by the scale of the map, issues that come with it and other similar restrictions. So we are not able to put everything into the game for the time being, nor in the actual/real size, even though we would really like to.

After the including of these points of interests, we continue our work by filling the grounds, countryside, cities and whole locations with textures and models that fit well in those places. But that is rather a topic for an article about map design or model creation, so I will save that for later“

Factories, imports, exports…
Different look into the phase of research is the look to the economy part of the new state creation. It‘s still about gathering as much good information as we can, but this time, the material is based on the macroeconomics of the state and each city that we are going to put in. We need to know what is produced in that country or state, what is located in which city, what they import, export and things like that. Based on these data we are further making our balanced in-game economy. So for another quick example, if there is some huge chemical factory in one of our prepared cities, we need to know it so we would be able to put the imitations of these factories and industry into the game. You know, it‘s always good to haul some cargo which perfectly fits into the scenery and destination. When you are unaware of a huge agriculture zone around some city, you probably won‘t appreciate its presence in the game. But for players who actually were in these zones, it's really good to imitate this area according to the reality. It is always another bit of a challenge for us, but as was mentioned already, we are always doing our best to overcome them all.

It is not internet browsing, it‘s research!
Someone might say that the phase of research is just about browsing the internet and copy/paste some info, and so because of that it‘s a deficient activity. But that is not true. Research is extremely important. It is a fundamental pillar and backbone of everything we put in our games. Without good information and their sources, like were mentioned above, we would not be able to create states even a little similar to reality. We know that maybe every single one of you would like to see something a little different in our games, because as you know, we all are unique individuals with different tastes. But please keep in mind, that we are working hard to create content that you, our beloved truckers, would like to explore and drive thru with your mighty and heavy metal beasts. And so every single day, we are racking our brains on how to hit the right spot in the balance of what we are able to create, what visions are in our hearts and what you would like to see in our games.

Finally, we would like to thank you for your time and attention, for staying with us this far. We hope you find this article both illuminating and as interesting to read as it was fun for us to write. Please, let us know your opinions, suggestion and feedback in the comments below. What topic would you like to read next ? Let us know.
To our great fans, see you next time and remember….


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