While Ship Simulator 2006 does many things very well, there is one particular flaw that I’m amazed made it into the final product. On many of the vessels (particularly the smaller ones), the rudder does not function correctly during the transition from forward propulsion to reverse propulsion. To understand the flaw, you have to understand how a ship turns. Generally, a ship with a propeller and a rudder needs forward or backwards momentum in order to have “rudder authority”. There are, of course, exceptions (thrusters, props mounted on pods, or the ability to manipulate prop wash) but let’s look at just a normal boat with a single propeller and a rudder. Sitting at a dead stop in the water moving the wheel or tiller will move the rudder back and forth, but obviously the ship won’t actually turn because there is no force acting on the rudder to push the stern one way or the other. Now, increase the ship to full speed; as the ship increases in speed, the force acting on the rudder increases as it moves through the water, resulting in more and more rudder authority. Now, imagine you are at full speed and you’ve commanded the rudder position to give you a maximum rate of turn to the right, the bow swings to the right and you are established in a turn to the right. With the vessel in the steady right turn at full speed, imagine placing the engines into very light reverse. What should happen is that the vessel will continue in the right turn, at about the same rate of turn, while the speed slowly bleeds off. As the speed slows, the rudder authority diminishes and the rudder force diminishes, resulting in an ever slower rate of turn, until you reach zero speed, at which the boat is not turning at all. Once the ship actually begins traveling in reverse through the water, rudder authority builds again and the ship’s bow will start moving in the opposite direction (to the left in our example) than it was moving when the ship was moving forward through the water.
Unfortunately, in Ship Simulator 2006, the rudder action does not replicate real life. On some of the vessels, at the very second you select any amount of reverse power, the rudder authority reverses the bow movement, resulting in frustratingly unrealistic maneuvering that is counter to what you intuitively know to be true. Why is this a problem? Because the very premise of Ship Simulator 2006 is precise maneuvering in close quarters; incorrect ship physics are problematic in that the ships don’t accurately portray their real life counterparts in this very common situation. An example of when you would need to maneuver like this would be approaching a mooring point that requires you to enter with a sharp decelerating turn. Approaching at 7 or 8 knots, you put the rudder hard over to the right, moving the bow to the right. Reaching the point where you want to start slowing, you select reverse power in order to start cutting your speed faster than just zeroing the power. In real life, your ship would continue turning to the right even though power was in reverse, but in Ship Simulator 2006, your bow will immediately start turning to the left, into whatever obstacle you were trying to avoid.
I suspect that the error lies in V-Step programming the turn and rate of turn to be read from the throttle and rudder position instead of the actual velocity of the water over the rudder (which would probably be a far more complex calculation). The result is inadequate and is the largest single problem with this sim. There are surprisingly few posts on the Ship Simulator 2006 forums calling this aberrant behavior to the attention of the developers and community and the response by the developers to the few posts about the problem is something to the effect that “turbulent flow across the rudder in the reverse regime can cause the rudder authority to reverse”. While I understand that a rudder closely mounted to a propeller will suffer from some performance degradation, or even enhanced rudder authority due to prop-wash hitting the rudder, the odd instantaneous turn reversal is definitely inaccurate.
Sound effects in the sim are done to good effect. The ship engines and environment sounds transport you onto the water; in particular I like the “out of synch” effect when you run one engine at a different power level than the other.
Some things I’d like to see in future versions include:
- On the larger ships a rudder position indicator (in degrees) that shows you the selected rudder command and where the actual rudder surface is while it transits to the new commanded position.
- A scale on the map showing what distance you are looking at, perhaps even a plotter of some sort and the ability to freely scroll and zoom the chart without it being slaved (centered) on your vessel.
- The ability to drop and raise an anchor and missions that would include this skill.
- A true replication of a radar and depth finder.
- More accurate navigation aids such as range markers, buoys and lighted buoys that are accurately placed in accordance with their position on the chart. Missions that would require you to use the radar and visually identify the proper buoys (by color, markings, and/or sequence of flashing lights) to navigate.
- More accurate mooring line physics and the ability to use mooring lines as “spring lines” to maneuver the ship.
- More diversity and increased difficulty of missions and scenarios.
- Ships with multiple thrusters (including stern thrusters).
- Greater variability with regards to tide, currents, waves, wakes, and winds, and greater effects of those forces on the ship handling.
- The ability to walk around the vessels to improve the view from the wheelhouse during tight maneuvering.
- Damage effects for vessels such as crushable hulls or damage resulting in sinking.
- Animated crew members and more “life” happening in the ports (animated trucks, people, automobiles, etc.)
- Multiplayer capability that would allow for cooperative missions (such as a tug helping a large container vessel into a tight berth).
- Though I’m reluctant to suggest it, a time compression feature for those with shorter attention spans; although I feel that would ruin the atmosphere of the sim.
- Modeling of different times including dawn, dusk and night.
- More control options and the ability to map functions to joysticks or other controllers.
Despite a fair number of items that could be improved or added, keep in mind that this is the first commercial release of a mainstream product by VSTEP and they have been very receptive to suggestions on their forums. They have hinted around that some new features and enhancements could be included in the next iteration (Ship Simulator 2007) if they indeed go down that road. As it stands, the product is extremely enjoyable to play and the amount of things they got right is a testament to the dedication of the VSTEP team. The detail level of the 3D models and the complexity of the ports and scenery are outstanding. The visual effects such as the reflective water, ship wakes, fog, and rain are some of the best looking effects I’ve seen in a sim. It would be great to see such detailed ports in a combat simulation such as Silent Hunter 4.