Sim-plicity: I am captain of a floating hotel

Having retired from world-saving heroics, Christopher Livingston is living the simple life in video games by playing a series of down-to-earth simulations. This week he's captain of a cruise ship the size of a skyscraper, though the sky is just about the only thing won't get scraped.

There were some astounding events last week! A meteor entered our atmosphere and exploded noisily over Russia, and another asteroid passed closer to Earth than many of our own satellites fly. The U.S. media, meanwhile, were going nuts over another incredibly important story: POOP CRUISE. See, a Carnival cruise ship had lost power, and the toilets stopped working, and there were reports of sewage sloshing around the hallways of the luxury liner. Clearly, a boat filling with poop-water was far more important than a couple of mind-blowing once-in-a-lifetime astronomical events, which were mentioned only briefly between showing phone cam footage of stopped-up toilets on a boat.

This all served to remind me to never, ever watch 24-hour news channels, but also made me wonder if there was a simulation game that would let me captain my own enormous floating luxury toilet. And there is! It's called Ship Simulator Extremes .

While I'm keen to immediately jump into the captain's chair of a cruise ship and start ruining the lives of everyone on board, I figure I should first practice on a couple of smaller ships. I start with the tutorial, learning how to throttle up and steer, and how to deploy a couple of other craft, like a motor boat and a lifeboat, which I'm directed to navigate out to an icon on the map. Then, the tutorial suddenly stops instructing me on what to do next, so I sort of just bob around in the water a bit before quitting.

I choose another mission that lets me pilot a motor-assisted sailing yacht for Greenpeace, the environmental organization. My goal: track down a cargo ship that has been spotted dumping barrels of toxic waste into the ocean. There's no time to lose: I know from my studies that toxic waste dumped in the ocean leads to giant fish monsters who eat bikini-clad women at beach parties (I mainly studied low-budget horror movies).

After a good ten minutes of driving the yacht slowly in a straight line, I spot the criminal cargo ship, but I'm apparently too slow to catch it and have to deploy a RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) to continue the chase. Using the smaller, speedier craft, I catch up to the enormous cargo ship and spot a guy in an orange jumpsuit pushing barrels into the water. A-HA! Caught you, dastardly eco-terrorist! Now, it's just a simple matter to... wait, what am I supposed to do now?

The game doesn't tell me. The mission briefing never updates: it's still telling me to catch the boat, which I've done. I try to ram the boat but just pass right through it. I then notice another control stick on my HUD, which lets me aim a water cannon. It's a struggle to control the throttle, steer, and aim the cannon at the same time, but I eventually manage to spray water at the cargo ship.

Unfortunately, spraying the boat with water somehow doesn't cause all of the polluters to put their hands up, surrender, and spend the night in the Greenpeace Prison (built from 100% recycled material from other prisons). Even when I pull alongside and spray water directly on the little jumpsuited man he never stops pushing barrels overboard. I can't think of what else to do, and the game doesn't seem particularly interested in telling me, so I just quit. The important thing is that I scored a moral victory, and the more important thing is that I've spent a few minutes driving two small boats so I'm pretty sure I'm now completely qualified to captain a cruise ship the length of four football fields.

The backstory of the cruise ship portion of the simulation is: the captain of the cruise liner has fallen ill, and I'm filling in for him. Of course, this isn't the type of game to simply drop you into the cockpit (or whatever it's called on a ship) and let you start driving (or whatever it's called when you do it to a ship). First, I have to make my way to the cruise ship via another boat. So, I drive my own little boat for roughly twenty minutes, finally spot the cruise ship, and attempt to dock my boat at the pier.

It does not go well. I cruise in a little too quickly (I'm only going 10 knots, but then again I don't know how much a knot is) and bump the pier, and my boat promptly sinks right in front of the cruise ship, which must fill my employers with a lot of confidence. Since I hadn't saved the game at any point, I'm forced to repeat the twenty-minute trip all over again. This time, I'm much more careful steering (meaning this time I steer) and much more careful with my speed (zero knots seems like a safe bet) which takes considerably more time, but at least I don't sink.

Now, finally, I'm captain of a cruise ship! I cast off the moorings, throttle up, and instantly realize that driving a ship the size of a skyscraper is utterly harrowing.

I mean, it's just so big . Like, huge . And I'm piloting it? This is a terrible idea. Why did I want to do this? I'm a bit worried as I push on the throttle and nothing happens for a while, and then I'm even more worried when, a few minutes later, the ship actually starts to move.

And that's the thing about piloting a ship that's carrying a ten-story hotel on its back. You do things now , like moving the throttle or turning the wheel, but the things you are doing actually take place in the future . For instance, I turned to maneuver away from the spot I was docked, but it's not until a couple minutes later than I actually see that the ship is turning. By the time I notice the ship is turning, I've turned way more than I had intended. Now that the turn I've made in the past is happening in the present, I see that I really need to turn the other way, and I need to turn the other way now , which means I should have started doing it ages ago. But I didn't.

And so...

I somehow manage to not actually damage the ship, and eventually I get the hang of making my speed and directional adjustments in anticipation of when they'll be needed in the future. Things are actually going well! The next issue I'm faced with is that when things are going well, there's really not a whole heck of a lot to do but sit here and watch things going well. I have a very, very long way to go before I even pick up any passengers, it seems. In fact, about an hour goes by with me just sort of sitting here, watching my ship do its thing slowly up the river.

Then, I just suddenly appear off the coast of the Isle of Wight. The game mercifully decides I don't need to sit through the entire trip across the English Channel, but not-so-mercifully deposits me there in the middle of the night.

I chug on in the dark, headed for Southampton. The channel gets shallower, so I chug slower, past Netley, Weston, Woolston and a place charmingly named East Mud. It's been, like, two more hours or so of this, just sort of watching a giant ship slowly move in one direction, and I don't even have passengers yet. Knowing how long it takes to slow down this ship, I throttle back and start creeping through the water. Finally, the game tells me to moor at the designated pier at Southampton harbor. It does not, however, indicate which is the designated pier.

I keep going, expecting the game to tell me, at some point, which dock I'm supposed to use. It doesn't. I cruise past them all until I essentially run out of river. Seems like I'm going to have to somehow turn this giant ship all the way around and make my way back to the piers, and just start trying to dock at them, hoping to pick the right one. I can't even imagine how long that will take.

Then, I come up with a better plan. I click the icon for my life raft, drop it into the water, climb in, and sneak away under cover of night.

Conclusion : It's probably illegal for a captain to just abandon a enormous floating hotel in the middle of nowhere, but I don't care. I'll be in East Mud by morning. I'll start a new life.

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