Bus Simulator 18 is one of this summer’s biggest Steam indie hits. Who’d have thought the idea of driving other people around a city would be so addictive? We caught up with the folks behind the game to find out what makes it tick. Check out our chat with Tim Ploeger, Senior Producer at astragon entertainment, Alexander Grenus, Lead Game Designer for Bus Simulator 18 at stillalive studios, and Julian Mauthner, CEO stillalive studios.
GameSpace: Simulation games are often big hits on Steam. Everything from farming to Euro Trucking. What do you think accounts for this?
Tim Ploeger: There are quite a few aspects which make simulation games an interesting genre for players of all ages. The fascination for construction sites, trains, buses and farming equipment often begins at an early age (you just have to observe how children react to seeing an excavator, a tractor or a bus in real life) and continues into adulthood. While not everyone goes on to become a professional bus driver of course, this very first spark of interest often stays with people and it is our games that give players the opportunity to experience interacting with those machines and vehicles at least in a virtual environment.
As for who plays our games: More people than one would think! There are for example lots of parents who like to play together with their kids as our games offer a constructive gameplay experience that is both entertaining and educational. Especially teenagers and young adults enjoy modding our games and adding their own content. This is often the first step into a future career as well – quite a few modders from just a few years ago are now part of the games industry. Seniors mostly enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and unhurried pace that a simulation game has to offer. We also see players who are actually employed in the respective jobs that are being simulated like truck drivers or construction workers.
GameSpace: When making a game about simulating a Bus business, how on earth do you “find the fun” and make it a game that’s worth playing? Most people wouldn’t think of driving set routes as a fun activity, but well… I’ve played it, and it’s just SO ADDICTIVE.
Tim Ploeger: Yes, that feeling is already part of the answer! Creating your own routes, driving around the city picking up passengers, actually managing to be on time no matter if there’s a traffic jam or a road construction site and getting your monetary reward at the end of a successful drive is so, so very satisfying. It is also incredibly relaxing as the game gives you more or less complete freedom on what to do next and how you would like to do it. There is of course also the technical aspect that we know from experience players enjoy: How does that vehicle work? How does it feel driving that particular bus? Can I press all the buttons? Does the machine sound right? How do I make my company profitable? How much do I have to earn to buy the next bus? I really want to try that next bus! J With the multiplayer of “Bus Simulator 18” players can experience all this together with their friends. Discovering the city both by bus and on foot (yes, you actually can get off and move around freely) and keeping your eyes open for hidden easter eggs is just as much fun as working on a joint company.
GameSpace: What sort of games have you all worked on in the past?
Alexander Grenus: Our first title was “Son of Nor”, an action adventure in which you can use terraforming, telekinesis and elemental magic to battle humanoid lizards and save mankind. After that we already started with the development of “Bus Simulator 16”, the direct predecessor of “Bus Simulator 18”. During that time we also came up with the idea for “Drone Swarm”, a space strategy game in which you control thousands of drones. Additionally to these large projects, we also did a few small ones, for example “FriendShip”, a co-op shoot’em up for the online platform Airconsole, or “Funding Table” a VR game for the Bavarian state ministry. Besides “Bus Simulator 18” and “Drone Swarm”, we are currently working on a third, still unannounced game.
GameSpace: What drove you to make Bus Simulator 18?
Alexander Grenus: The success of the previous game! 😀 But seriously, we enjoyed working on “Bus Simulator 16” and also with the team at astragon, so when they approached us with the idea of a sequel we said yes. And we loved the challenge to make the game even bigger and better than the previous one.
GameSpace: Did you do any specific research, or get a job with the RTA or anything like that?
Julian Mautner: Haha, no, although that would have been fun for sure! We did lots of research on the internet, but mostly just looked at real life. Every day checking out the buses in Innsbruck/Vienna. Observing how people behave in detail. Talking to bus drivers and bus passengers alike.