Players of a very popular computer trucking simulator now have the opportunity to conduct a virtual visit of Idabel and Beavers Bend State Park thanks to the inclusion of those areas in a recently released add-on. The game American Truck Simulator focuses on driving tractor-trailers throughout the United States.
The game was initially released in 2016 with only California, Arizona and Nevada available to players. Since then, however, the game’s publisher, SCS Software – headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic — has released numerous “DLC” packs – an abbreviation for downloadable content, which are additional features that are added on to a previously released game.
Initial DLC packs filled out the West Coast portion of the map, and the developers at SCS have been slowly working their way across the country, with Oklahoma the most recent purchasable addition to the game’s scaled-down map of the United States.
“Obviously, a 1:1 scale would be impossible at least for our company of a few hundred employees,” said David Němec, SCS Software’s project lead for the Oklahoma DLC project. “It would just take too much time to make one station, even more so the entire USA.”
“(The game’s scale) is currently 1:20…I believe it’s a healthy compromise between fun gameplay and acceptable design so that we can reliably capture interesting, recognizable places, but at the same time it remains a game that is not too demanding on a computer’s hardware or a player’s time.”
The “stars” of American Truck Simulator are, of course, the trucks themselves and SCS has partnered with many real world truck manufacturers to allow players to drive realistic virtual Peterbilts, Kenworths, Macks, Volvos and other 18-wheelers across the country. But the cities, towns, landmarks and highways are also a large part of the game, which leads to the question of, with an entire state to pick and choose from, why did the team select Beavers Bend and Idabel to include on the game’s map?
“Due to the mentioned scale, we always try to cover the area of the given state equally. The capital is a must of course. Then we focus on the interesting businesses and industries of the given state from the point of view of truck transport and logistics, on the attractiveness of cities, whether the city is located near an important highway, and so on,” Němec explained. “Idabel has been chosen specifically to give the player a reason to travel to the southeast corner of Oklahoma and as a gateway to Beavers Bend State Park, which we also wanted to get into the game.”
“I think we are no longer just a truck simulator where we transport cargo from point A to point B. We also try to offer people the beauty of a given state and Beaver Bend State Park is very beautiful and diverse. It’s an ideal combination of a forest landscape, a lake with a dam and an economic game element in the form of the Broken Bow Hydroelectric Plant, which we have recreated and the player has the opportunity to deliver cargo there.”
“Since our game is a simulation game, we always take care to preserve the identity and bring the best possible representation of reality, so whether it is cities or landscapes, we always try to stick to places that are somehow special and easy to remember,” Němec continued. “In Idabel, for example, we decided to create the Museum of the Red River, which is a futuristic building and is different from the rest of the architecture in the city. Furthermore, players have the opportunity to see some local landmarks such as the police station or the Baptist church, but also the city center with interesting murals, or even the nearby Gasquatch truck stop which offers an interactive element in the form of refueling or the possibility to take a mandatory break for the driver.”
It should be noted that when SCS puts a business into the game, it doesn’t typically use the business’ actual name for legal reasons. As rendered in the game, Gasquatch is referred to as “Bigfuel”, though the fact that the fictitious name is still placed on an enormous Bigfoot means it’s obvious what it’s intended to represent.
Němec added that Broken Bow is also present in the game, but in much less detail than Idabel. ATS includes what fans call “scenery towns,” which are communities included on the map but which are not rendered as fully as some others.
“Players can also see part of Broken Bow,” he explained. “But it’s basically one main junction with a few landmarks like the local bank or fire station. Unfortunately, due to the scale, we couldn’t fit anything else into the game from this area.”
Němec’s 10-person design team (he noted that dozens of other SCS employees also assist with DLC production in other ways) did not physically visit the Idabel area in order to re-create it in ATS. He noted that when the DLC was being developed, COVID-19 restrictions were in full force, which made travel difficult. Instead, he said that the team relied on satellite imagery and internet applications such as Google Street View.
“Sometimes it happens that some sections cannot be found or are insufficiently covered,” he said. “But for these reasons, we have a research department in the company that helps us find the missing imagery and other important data.”
Physical visits will again be part of future DLC development, he said. Such visits are usually conducted by key employees who visit and travel around the state being modeled to “get to know the differences there.”
Capturing what each state and community has to offer is an important part of the development process for SCS, and Němec said that each state offers its own challenges to the production team. Oklahoma was no different.
“Oklahoma is a smaller state compared to previous larger DLCs like Texas or Montana,” he said. “It was really difficult to combine all the requirements from research, the economy and Oklahoma’s industries, the important junctions and landmarks and at the same time not affecting the gameplay in any way.”
He said that while Oklahoma does not feature the huge cities of Texas or the National Parks of Montana and Wyoming, he feels that each state SCS has recreated offers something different.
“We really love the agricultural areas and the vast farms and plains. It brings a nice addition to the whole ATS collection. I have been working (at) SCS for seven years and during this time we have always come up with something sufficiently representative. The more we get to know the country, the more we find out how much the USA can officer. And there is always something interesting, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first sight.”
Other cities and towns featured in the Oklahoma DLC are Oklahoma City, Tulsa, McAlester, Enid and others, with many smaller “scenery towns” included in some way. The DLC released in August, and the team is already working on multiple other states, including Kansas and Nebraska.
To date, American Truck Simulator has sold over four million copies. Its European-focused predecessor, Euro Truck Simulator 2 which debuted in 2012, has sold over 15 million with DLC still being developed. In fact, the majority of games developed by the SCS (they have also produced some hunting simulators) have simulated driving some kind of cargo or passenger vehicle, a very different sort of video game than titles like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto.
Němec believes that the games produced by the company have different aims than the more stereotypical type of video game experience.
“Our games are aimed at a completely different target group of people. Today popular games are usually action-packed, dynamic, set in fictional worlds, often full of violence,” he said. “Against this stands our game, which is realistic and relaxed. It is much more about gaining knowledge, both geographically and technically. Our game world is full of detail and very accurate so people have a chance to get to know many corners of the globe that they would not be able to see in real life. Trucks and semi-trailers are also very well developed because we work directly with brand manufacturers. They are basically 1:1 recreations.”
“We are lucky that trucks and being a truck driver is something of a cult, both in the US and in Europe. ATS attracts a lot of people, including children and women, who want to combine the themes of traveling and being a truck driver. And our games can give them the best experience.”