Posted in: Other Simulations, Reviews Tags: ,

Country Living… Sim Style!

The world of simMarket, (which in case you didn’t know is the web shop that actually funds simFlight, so it’s kind of important to us), is dominated by add-ons for Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series. That’s certainly not all it sells, by any means – take a look around it – but that’s by far the majority. So imagine our surprise, on both simFlight and simMarket staff areas, when long term best-selling product FSUIPC by Pete Dowson was knocked unceremoniously down to second place by a package that not only wasn’t another FS add-on, but was, in fact, what appeared to be yet another in a never ending stream of ‘sim-everything’ products from publisher Astragon.

This package was called Farming Simulator and, for all we may have joked about it at first, it went on to not only hog the top spot on the weekly sales list, as it did for a long time, but it started troubling the best sellers of all time lists.

Now, OK, most FS add-ons really don’t sell as many copies as you probably think they do. Hundreds at best. Thousands of copies are better, but there are very few add-ons indeed that sell thousands a week or a day. So when Farming Simulator did it, we thought it was a flash in the pan. But no, it happened again with Farming Simulator 2008, again with 2009 and now it’s happening once more with Farming Sim 2011. So what is it that makes so many people so interested in this?

Flight simmers – the majority of simMarket’s customers – tend to be a pretty picky bunch, to be honest, so it was way beyond time that we got copies of this for ourselves and took a look.

Because this is a slightly unusual review, we have a slightly unusual team as well. Some of you may know me – I review FS add-ons and have done for a long time. I’m also a forum administrator around here. Nick Churchill may be slightly less well known to many of you, but you’ll probably know his screenshots – he does a lot of work for a number of developers and publishers to advertise their products. The third person on this reviewing team is Sharon. She’s actually probably the closest thing we have to a qualified reviewer for this package as her mother grew up on a cattle farm, which is still run by her family now. Did we mention that Farm Sim 2011 has cows? No? Well, OK, I have now, so we’d better Moo-ve on to the review proper and Steer you into the next section.

I make no apology for the standard of the jokes. They’re supposed to be this bad and any farming (or particularly bovine) pun we can come up with will be Milked for all it is worth.

 

So what does this package actually do?

Farming Simulator 2011 simulates two types of farming, dairy and arable – either or both of which you can undertake at any time, simultaneously if you wish. The dairy farming element has only been added in this latest version and isn’t as well developed as the arable side of the sim, but trying to do both simultaneously can keep you quite busy.

To enable you to work, there are a number of drivable vehicles from a small number of manufacturers, plus a wide array of equipment you can attach to them. Because of licensing agreements in place with manufacturers, the vehicles look very similar to their real-world equivalents, with virtual cabins and numerous animations.

The farm you have to run is set in an entirely self-contained “community”, which has no links to the outside world beyond a ship which never moves from the harbour. Indeed the sea front and the harbour are the only parts of the map edge which do not comprise impassable mountainous terrain, so when I describe the community as “self-contained”, possibly I should say “isolated” instead?

Most of the terrain inside the map itself comprises your farm. There’s a small village, a pub/brewery and some other small objects, but primarily the entire area comprises fields of various sizes and shapes which you can harvest (some of them start with crops), till and seed as you desire. To aid you in exploring the landscape, some of the tutorial “missions” are actually tours of the island, which require you to visit various points, resulting in the appearance of pop-up boxes that tell you where you are and what you just drove to.

 

 

Oi’ve got a brand noo comboine ‘arvester…
( target=”_blank”>Explanation by YouTube…)

So, as I mentioned previously, there are two types of farming represented here, with equipment to support them. The major one, and thus the one we’ll spend most time discussing, is arable – crop – farming. In this case, giving your four varieties of crop: Wheat, Corn, Barley and Granola.

As you might guess, the different types of crop grow at different speeds and sell for different amounts of money. Beyond that, the only one that is slightly unusual is Corn because that requires a different type of cutter, which is only available for specific vehicles – none of which are ones you start with.

You actually start, not with a brand new combine harvester, but instead two tatty ancient ones (one particularly geriatric!), along with two old, small, tractors and a handful of small tools including a plough, a cultivator, a seeder, a sprayer and a small tipping trailer. These are enough to start you off and to deal with the smaller fields, but soon become too small when you decide to deal with the larger fields across the other side of the road. The old green combine harvester does, however, come in useful for knocking over the utterly pointless and slightly irritating scarecrow in a field next to your farm and pushing him out of the way!

If you just want to grow things quickly, you can sell the plough and the sprayer straight off. It may be more accurate and apparently you should get a higher crop yield if you use the sprayer, but I never noticed any difference. The plough is only used to carve up the grass between fields to make them larger. Clearing mown crops and preparing previously ploughed or unprepared fields is done using the cultivator, after which all you need to do is seed and you’re off.

You might be thinking by this point, if you have looked at screenshots and info for the product, why, in that case, you would want anything more than just those three tools? Well actually, if you want to farm cattle, you will find that you need to feed them as well. For maximum milk output, your bovines need both corn and grass to eat, which requires a mower and a grass collector (forage wagon), plus a harvester capable of cutting corn and a method of collecting the corn stalks. If you can afford it, there’s a rather expensive forage harvester that will do all of that at once. You can use the other equipment if you prefer, but don’t have to use any of it if you don’t want to.

One critical thing here is the word “you”. There is an option to “hire assistance” (AI drivers) to drive tractors and combines, but what they can do is actually very limited. They can cultivate, sow and harvest. That’s it. When they finish a field, or in the case of the combine when it fills up or finishes a field, the AI drivers will stop and do nothing else. That’s not so much of a problem if you are cultivating or seeding, but in the case of harvesting, it then becomes your responsibility to get a tractor and tipper to the combine, collect the grain and transport it to a drop-off point. Anything to do with collection you have to do manually, none of it can be done by the AI, which oddly includes mowing. Although the AI will happily drive a combine, or a tractor with other tools on the back, it won’t drive a tractor with a mower attached. Fortunately, there’s an easy answer to this – you attach the mower to the front of the tractor, the forage trailer to the rear of the tractor and do it all at once! Then you just have to drop it all off at the cattle trough and it’s done. You do need a new tractor for this, though, as neither of your starting vehicles have front tool attachments.

The same does not apply to collecting hay into bales and storing them. To do that, you need to do everything manually, so you need to collect the cut straw into rows, then collect it using the baler,then collect the bales and finally transport them to storage or your cattle. All yourself. I suspect most single player farms only feed their cows mown grass, as this can all be very time consuming to do on your own.

The final thing to mention about the AI is that for us, as flight sim users, the hired help is best described as a WW2 Sperry autopilot, not a modern Flight Management System. If you point it in the right direction (exactly), starting in the right place (exactly) and tell it what to do, it will do (exactly) what you tell it to. Get your starting position wrong, or start at the wrong angle, and you’ll have a right mess on your hands, which you then need to sort out. The hired help will be sitting somewhere totally obscure, having stopped for no apparent reason – presumably chewing on a stalk of virtual straw. You really do need to keep an eye on them, if you hope to achieve any form of effiency, and you need to learn how to use them to their best quite quickly.

 

Whether the weather be hot…

In the real world, weather and season have a huge effect on farms and farmers. Equipment only works in the right conditions, crops only grow properly if planted at the right time of year, in the right conditions and have the right weather to grow. So slightly unsurprisingly, weather changes are shown in Farming Simulator and a weather forecast can be seen on your PDA.

If it rains, or hails, your harvesters will stop working and you will be told that you cannot use them until it stops. That’s it. That’s the only weather or season-related effect you’ll see in the game. If an AI driver is in control of a combine, he will stop when the precipitation starts, then start when the precipitation stops.

This is possibly the one big let down of the “simulator” to me, because I know farmers, I’ve spent a lot of time around the countryside and I know how much of an effect weather and seasons have. Therefore, to have such a trimmed down and, quite frankly, merely irritating, weather system in a package that has the word “simulator” in the title is a bit poor. The seasons aren’t mentioned at all. Days of the week are, but they might as well not be. As a farmer, you can (and probably will) work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Years, the same as months and seasons, are not represented at all.

But what about the crops? I know that in the real world, heavy rain, wind, hail and cold can have a devestating effect on a grain crop such as those represented here. Well, no. And likewise, not tracking the seasons and months means that there are no deadlines to meet, no problems just leaving your crops to stand. They’ll never rot, never die, never go past a point at which they can be harvested.

As I said before, this section is possibly the only real let-down of Farming Simulator 2011 to me.

 

Okay, so, I’ve got my crops. Now what do I do with them?

The answer, obviously, is sell them. Well, you can sell the grain or corn, anyway.

There are three locations on that map where you can drop your wares, these being the Port, the Mill and the Brewery. Each of these will offer different prices for your crop, depending on what you have grown, although the Brewery (“The Twin Cannons”) will only accept wheat or barley and, if you have grown it considering it is such a nuisance for not a lot of income in return, corn can only be sold at the Port.

There are also storage silos on your main farm site where you can store crops before selling them, although apart from when you start and are only farming fields very close by, why you would want to just not sell them immediately is a slight mystery. The only real reason I can think of is if you want to make a tiny bit more money – your PDA shows arrows at the side of each crop’s sale value on the ‘Prices’ page and if the arrow is downwards and red, then you may wish to not sell your crop until that changes.

Around your cattle enclosure are facilities for dropping off grass and corn stalks to feed your cattle, plus collection points for “liquid fertiliser” and milk. The former is used as an organic fertiliser if you wish (thank goodness we don’t have smell-o-vision!) and the latter you need to nothing about but watch the cash come in. Milking your cattle is done by an automated machine (which Sharon’s cousin seriously wishes he had!) and is collected once a day by a tanker, after which you are paid.

 

So… Enough about crops. Important stuff! Cows!

This section is going to be fairly short as I’ve already discussed bovines quite a lot during the previous sections, but suffice it to say that there isn’t much to do anyway.

As previously mentioned, cows can survive on just one kind of food – either silage created from corn stalks or grass – but in order to maximise milk production, they require both silos to contain at least some fodder. Full would be nice, but it gets emptied quite quickly, depending on the number of cows you have in your herd.

The size of the herd is influenced by one factor only, which is, naturally, money. We told a real cattle farmer how much they cost in Farming Simulator 2011 and the reply was that his entire herd wasn’t worth that – although when asked how much one actually cost, this was actually a slight exaggeration. Nevertheless, these cows are darned expensive, at $25,000 an animal. Still, they are apparently “happy cows” and each comes with its own name at time of purchase. Unfortunately these names don’t seem to be persistent in that you can’t look up how much milk Prunella is producing and, given that they are all pretty similar, working out which one is which if you wrote their names down is still next to impossible.

It’s actually quite difficult to interact with your cattle, given that they appear in, live in and never leave a single, completely sealed, enclosure. There aren’t any gates, the feed and milk storage is outside the fence… so precisely how Sharon has got her little green tractor inside the fence is slightly beyond us. We actually don’t know. She does, however, find this highly amusing and keeps driving it around to generally harass her single, very tolerant, bovine. It must have already have had calves, to produce milk, but the sign of a true parent is its ability to put up with Sharon’s decidedly childish tractorial antics!

That’s about it for cattle, really. You put corn stalks and grass in, you get milk and smelly stuff back in return. Oh. There is one thing I had better mention in this section and that is if you want to start the game purely to be a cattle farmer, forget it. Even on easy setting, with full silos you can sell to fund new purchases, you cannot afford the equipment required to run a cattle farm, let alone a herd as well. You need to do at least some arable farming before you buy bovines.

 

It’s a lonely life, on the farm… Or is it?

The one thing that is present in Farming Simulator 2011 which a lot of this type of software is lacking is a multiplater mode. Indeed, if you want to run more than a couple of fields efficiently and properly, you’re going to need help! You can take this to extremes – I found one forum during my research for this review where they had organised and were about to complete a “Twenty Four Hour Farm-a-thon”. No. I’m not kidding. A group of people were going to start a farm from scratch and see how far they could get it in a single, big, 24-hour multiplayer session. Now that’s dedication for you.

Setting up a multiplayer session is easy. You simply select the option from the front page, select a server (there are three to choose from, depending on region), set a few options and tell it to go. You can password protect your session if you want, set the maximum number of players allowed and – very helpfully – are allowed to run it using a game you have already set up and been playing. This means that you can play the same saved game in both single and multiplayer modes. I appreciate that feature, particularly as it means that Sharon and I were able to dive into my sixty-odd hour game, with multiple top-end vehicles already set up, a whole horde in my cattle herd and a fair amount of money in the bank.

Multiplayer plays very similarly to single player mode, with one or two exceptions. The first exception is that you cannot switch (using the tab key) to any vehicle being occupied by another player. A second, and considering the size of the farm we were trying to control slightly more irritating, is that in multiplayer you can only hire a single AI helper… We had seven tractors, two combine harvesters and a forage harvester to deal with. Easy enough when you can send off six of the vehicles using AI drivers, but when you’re only allowed one and there are only two humans playing, it all got a bit messy.

Just in case you are wondering, seeing as you can use your own save games, there are options available that prevent other players from selling all your vehicles or using all your money to buy things as well – there are also “Kick” and “Ban” buttons available to the host.

In general, the multiplayer is pretty straight forward. You can see who is around you because their name appears above the vehicle they are occupying, you can choose to work together and a degree of competition is also available as you can set up individual accounts for each player then donate them as much money as you want to set them going. If this isn’t done, all money earned by the other players goes into the host’s account and only the host can therefore buy or sell vehicles.

 

Cowclusions

Ian:

I’ll be honest, I accepted the challenge of doing this review originally and roped in Sharon and Nick because we thought it would be a bit of fun. Something to look at, poke and prod at, then decide it wasn’t worth the effort.

That was 88 hours of game time ago, according to my saved games, and I’m still going. Nick I think has uninstalled it, Sharon dips in and out, but I’ve spent hour after hour after hour poking, prodding, mass producing crops to be able to afford something else to try and play with… There is actually quite a bit to do here and it certainly isn’t what I orginally expected. This ain’t no Farmville, put it that way.

The graphics are fantastic, as you can see from the screenshots accompanying this text. The physics engine is seriously dodgy. I haven’t really discussed this, but you have to see what happens when you hit another car or jump a tractor trying to get back onto a road to believe it.

So is it going to be a package we’d recommend to everyone? Well… No. It was never going to be really, was it.

I’ve been asked to post this to be as relevant as possible to flight simmers, so I’ll describe Farming Simulator 2011 this way: It’s like flying Alaska in the default Piper Cub, airliner flying in a simplified, but better than default, MD-80 and long haul in real time. All of those at once, but with added cows.

If you’re after the excitement and adrenaline rush of air racing or flying a fast jet onto an aircraft carrier in bad weather, this won’t be for you. Likewise, if you’re after a simulator with the depth of complexity of a LDS B767 or VRS F/A-18, you’ll probably be disappointed by this. If you’re more than happy to live life in the slow lane, looking out the windows at the gorgeous scenery and then looking in spot view at a fantastic model, with no challenging targets to meet, then this might be something that tickles your fancy. Of course it may also be a welcome break from the rat-race for the adrenaline and systems junkies too – that’s for you to decide.

I always try and avoid giving scores when I write reviews – I’d rather people actually read about the product rather than just a number at the end and ignore the text. However as I keep being pressured to, I’ll give Farming Simulator 2011 a score of 7/10. It looks fantastic, it’s perfectly playable, but it’s capable of so much more than it delivers. Nevertheless, it’s fun to at least dip in and out of once in a while.

 

Sharon:

I am the ultimate casual gamer. I like to be able to get up and walk away from my games, sometimes for hours on end, before coming back to them.

This has proved a problem when playing anything that involves combat or any level of serious commitment. In The Sims at least, the worst I could expect was to find one of my characters having a nervous breakdown on the sofa in his pyjamas having found his wife with the next door neighbour. In Farming Simulator 2011, my combine harvesters will probably be full and waiting for me to collect the grain, and any hired workers will have run out of field (potentially, although some of those fields are massive). And when I do sit down to tend to my farm there’s plenty to keep me busy tending to the various fields and carrying out tasks that can’t be done by hired workers such as collecting and selling the grain from my fields and spraying them to increase crop output.

The main thing that intrigued me about this game initially was the addition of cows, coming from a family of dairy farmers. I was slightly disappointed by the cow farming side of the simulation and think it’s something that could potentially be expanded on – as Ian says a bit further up, it would be nice to be able to check on the various cows and how much milk they’re producing and how much income it is creating. As in the rest of the game, the graphics are very nice indeed. The cows stand around, they eat grass, they run away when rammed by a tractor (no animals were harmed in the making of this review) and pretty much behave like most real cows I’ve ever met. The whole world is very nicely modelled, if a little insular.

I think I would agree with Ian’s 7/10 – there’s plenty to keep a player occupied for quite some time, and the scope to create and work towards your own targets which may be as big or small as you like. Maybe you want to be able to afford a new (faster) tractor, or some more mysteriously expensive cattle. There’s even a slightly bizarre side quest that I’ve only just discovered that involves collecting bottles that are scattered randomly around the landscape and depositing them in a bottle bank which means you can then earn more for your used farming equipment when you decide to sell it at the store. It isn’t without flaws, but most of those are aspects that would benefit from further development rather than actually being real problems. Apart from maybe the slightly unusual physics engine in my specific case – what can I say? I’m a woman driver.

Not a screenshot by Nick. I'm sure this would never have happened if he'd been driving!

 

For further details, more screenshots and to purchase Farming Simulator 2011, please visit the product page at simMarket here.

Since the testing for this review was carried out, a DLC (Downloadable Content) pack has been released for additional equipment, details on which can be found here.

Additionally an add-on pack featuring an additonal map and equipment called “Pro farm 1″ has been released by Halcyon Media. This was not included within the review, but details can be found here.

1 comment to Country Living… Sim Style!

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