Fuel: Final Thoughts

By Shamus
on Oct 7, 2009
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Here is the same pre-fab building, placed in many different locations throughout the world. I notice this one whenever I come across it.  Green tractor, elevated propane tank, windmill, ramp, carport, etc.  Everything in exactly the same arrangement.  Perhaps in the next game they’ll have a system for arranging properties from pieces to avoid this obvious duplication.
Here is the same pre-fab building, placed in many different locations throughout the world. I notice this one whenever I come across it. Green tractor, elevated propane tank, windmill, ramp, carport, etc. Everything in exactly the same arrangement. Perhaps in the next game they’ll have a system for arranging properties from pieces to avoid this obvious duplication.
As I mentioned at the start of this series, I’m not reviewing this as a racing game. I used cheats to unlock the world, and I raced only enough to get a decent variety of vehicles. Other than that, I spent all of my time exploring.

Fuel is the first game I’ve ever played where you can just drive. Even the “gigantic” GTA IV will have you bumping up against the edges of the world in just a few minutes or so, and you can do a lap around the whole city in five or ten minutes. A lap around Fuel would probably take around four or five hours, at least. During that time you’d see a lot of really stunning scenery. Snow-capped mountains. A Grand Canyon type place. Scorched deserts. Lonely brushlands. Thick forests. Rolling grasslands. Burned and burning forests. Abandoned cities. Winding coastlines. Now-baked farmland. Some cool bridges and assorted ruins.

Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out a few flaws: Like, whoever designed the PC controls should be launched into the sun. I know this is always, always a problem with cross-platform games, but I don’t see why we should just roll over and accept this sort of stupidity just because it’s common. This is not a hard problem to solve if you care.

I’m using a USB clone of the PS2 style Dual Shock controller. I was able to set it up to work just like the Xbox 360 controls. Except, the moment you open any menu it ignores all controller input and goes keyboard only. You’re either driving with your controller, or you’re looking a a menu and unable to use the controller in any way. Even if all you want to do is glance at the map: You open the map with the controller, but then close it with the keyboard. You can tell which keyboard buttons should map to which buttons on the controller. A couple of keys navigate horizontally and should be the shoulder buttons. A couple more zoom in and out and should be right analog. Others navigate vertically and should be the d-pad. It’s obvious how it should work, but it doesn’t, and there’s no way to fix it. Boo.

If you choose to drive with the mouse & keyboard, you’ll find it works a lot like the driving in Half-Life 2. You can freely look around with the mouse, and drive entirely with the keyboard. This is actually a really cool setup, although I found it was just too dang hard to get the precision I needed with the keyboard if I was doing a race. Steering is an analog job in my way of thinking. Still, it’s fun to play around with and is probably ideal for tourist driving.

There are other vehicles on the road.  Outside of races, nearly all of them will be trucks of various sorts.
There are other vehicles on the road. Outside of races, nearly all of them will be trucks of various sorts.

Also, the driver models are all male. I know I complained about this already, and the game is about the vehicles and not the drivers, but still: [Insert long boring recitation of the obvious fact that there are in fact lady-type gamers out there and all the reasons it would be nice to have this option etc etc.]

The physics is a little wonky on steep hills in certain cases. I suspect there are a few spots in the game where it says “the player is not allowed to climb this hill”, because there would get to be points where I’d gradually lose all traction and begin sliding backwards. I’ve personally witnessed dirt bikes climb near-vertical surfaces and cling to the face of hills in amazing ways, but once in a while in Fuel you’ll come to something that’s just a forty-five degree incline, and totally impassible. There are mild slopes where your wheels will not grip at all, and you will slide right off into the abyss even if you’re just holding down the brakes. This isn’t a game-killer or anything, but it feels really artificial and I don’t really see a need for it.

Whoops. Once in a long while you’ll encounter little flukes like this water-hill.  I got a kick out of finding them.
Whoops. Once in a long while you’ll encounter little flukes like this water-hill. I got a kick out of finding them.

Still, these flaws are really minor, and I’m just pointing them out to be petty. The game is something unique, an amazing technological achievement, and a fun place to drive. I can’t endorse it as a racing game because I’m not a fan of racing games, but for a game where you explore at will, it was a lot of fun for me. If that sounds like fun to you, check it out.

The game has a full day / night cycle. (I’m thinking 1 day = 24 minutes, but I never actually clocked it.) It’s pretty cool, although ther’es no way to just set the thing to any particular time, so if you don’t want to drive at night your only choice is to <em>wait</em>.
The game has a full day / night cycle. (I’m thinking 1 day = 24 minutes, but I never actually clocked it.) It’s pretty cool, although ther’es no way to just set the thing to any particular time, so if you don’t want to drive at night your only choice is to wait.

I can’t help but think about all the awesome action RPG games you could make on top of this, and about how much I’d love to pay money for something like that. (Dear game developers: Hint-Hint, nudge-nudge.)

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201225 comments. Neato.

From the Archives:

  1. OddlucK says:

    I’m definitely a fan of free-roaming driving games. I had a demo of Motocross Madness I played constantly in college. All I would do (and the reason I only needed the demo) was ride around the huge “open” quarry area while listening to some peaceful music. It’s amazing how fun and relaxing that can be. If I had a system that could play Fuel, I’d definitely give it a go.

  2. toasty says:

    This is the second time I’m the first poster… w00t!

    Anyways, this was a interesting series I think. the graphics were pretty and I really enjoyed reading about this game, even if I’m never gonna buy it. I’m still waiting for another Elder Scrolls type game that has similar features.

    Actually… making good procedural quests could be very interesting.

  3. Drue says:

    A large mostly seamless world really does appeal to me. That was actually a big reason why I played WoW for as long as I did. I loved just running around exploring and I would often try to get into places I wasn’t supposed to be. Also, I liked to find the little glitches in the landscape like that water hill you found. I think exploration is a very underused part of video games.

    Also, typo spotted; “I’ve personally witnessed birt bikes” dirt bikes right?

  4. Dys says:

    All the time playing Fuel I kept thinking of an old game by the name of Hard Truck Apocalypse. I think it was probably east European, a case of low budget and good intentions. Very good game, rpg mad max type trucks-with-guns… well go find it if you want to know.
    Point is, with the addition of a plot, some simple upgrades for vehicles and a ballistics system Fuel would make an awesome drive and shoot type game. What I can’t help wondering is how much cpu time it takes to generate the terrain, and how much there is left over for things like physics and ballistics.
    Incidentally, I doubt you saw it but there’s a dragster which can hit 200+, it’s not allowed in free ride because it moves faster than the game generates the ground.

  5. bbot says:

    A couple of keys navigate horizontally and should be the shoulder buttons. A couple more zoom in and out and should be right analog. Others navigate vertically and should be the d-pad.

    The “right analog” bit is phrased awkwardly. I can see what you were trying to say now, on a second read, but it took a minute of puzzling over it.

    (KARMA EDIT: There was a really obvious typo in the above paragraph. Whoooops.)

    As for Fuel, I half-wrote a blog post complaining about it, but abandoned it, figuring you would hit the same notes. Which you didn’t! Score, one whiny post coming right up.

  6. DmL says:

    I’ve found the game to be a little bit easy. I can win most races on expert in 1-2 tries. I love the challenges, which usually amount to long, forgiving endurance runs (basically exploration with a point) and chasing copters around. Where the racing really shines for me is when they make you take road cars offroad, then you get a real Rally feeling and can use your drifting to good effect. I just wish there was an option to turn up the background detail, and I’m with you, this is a beautiful engine (the colors at times are just wow) and deserves WAY more game.

    Edit: And easy is a good thing.

  7. kikito says:

    “Final thoughts” … hmmm … does that imply that you will not write anything procedurally-generated-related?

    Because I’m going to be really angry if that is the case.

  8. Broc says:

    I tried the Fuel demo and coming from Pure I understood why this game didn’t take off.

    I see how you can find the game to be interesting in a technical kind of way but procedural content is to me what graphics is to you: meaningless if the gameplay isn’t good. In fuel, gameplay is just average. Compare this to Motorstorm or Pure, games with “closed” environnements, and the large procedural content doesn’t help it get above the gameplay in these better games.

    One reason for this is that tracks in the games I mentionned were carefully designed, meter by meter, to be fun to race on. In Fuel, it’s the same blandness everywhere, making it an average game, once you get past the fact that you have such a huge world to race in. Of course I’m ignoring here other important features, like control and physics, but all in all we have to admit that this huge procedurally generated content works against the game, not for it.

  9. Neil says:

    “I can’t help but think about all the awesome action RPG games you could make on top of this, and about how much I’d love to pay money for something like that.”
    Mmmmmmm…deterministic procedurally generated Elder Scrolls 5…*drools a little*

  10. Gothmog says:

    Shamus, I had the same gripes with the PC controls- and used the very powerful freeware Xpadder to overcome them. I heartily suggest it to combat all your mapping keyboard commands to gamepad woes.

  11. Vladius says:

    Hey, man, hills made out of water that doesn’t move are cool.

  12. Lazlo says:

    Hmmmmm…. I’m pretty curious about this game. From your screenshots, it does look absolutely beautiful. And the huge space sounds really enticing. And I actually do like racing games at least a bit.

    but… I would almost certainly buy it for the 360, and I wonder how well it would work with the steering wheel controller? Other than arcade games (where of course the controller design is tightly coordinated with the game), I’ve mostly played forza motorsport, which was designed in concert with the wheel controller, and it shows. I tried playing one other racing (or at least driving) game with the wheel, and it pretty much sucked.

    This may be the perfect niche for a game rental. :)

  13. PAK says:

    @Neil:

    People have quickly seemed to forget that deterministic procedural content was already a significant part of generating the worlds for both Elder Scrolls 4 and Fallout 3…

  14. Neil Polenske says:

    I’m with everyone else. Asobo, you have the technology. You can make it faster. Stronger. Better.

    BRING BACK INTERSTATE ’76!

  15. Ergonomic Cat says:

    Forgive my ignorance here.

    Fuel generates content as you play? So the area you’re about to drive in to doesn’t exist until you drive there?

    Does it generate the same world for every one? So if you and I both go 200 meters N we end up in the same place?

  16. Groundhog says:

    Birt bikes…

    Edit: I’m with Neil. Interstate 76 remade with modern technology would be awesome to behold.

  17. Jared Ex Subway says:

    Toasty’s failure is eternal.

  18. Licaon_Kter says:

    i played the demo a bit:
    -the controls are smart and dumb, smart ’cause the default key bindings are nicer, given that SPACE is used for acceleration and the big thumb is the strongest one, and dumb ’cause, although my keyboard is detected as Dvorak while playing, in the menu it suddenly forgets that and it treats it like a Qwerty ;
    -playing the game in 3D Stereo is a blast, especially going downhill with a bike :D ( for your ATI card get the iZ3D: http://www.iz3d.com/driver 1.10 drivers and a cheap pair of red/cyan carton glasses ) yes the colors are messed up yet the eye candy is great

  19. Jabor says:

    @Ergo Cat:

    From what I understand, it doesn’t store a completed copy of the map anywhere. Since the algorithm is deterministic, it just recreates that area when you go there again, so it doesn’t need to take up your entire hard drive with the uncompressed version.

  20. SatansBestBuddy says:

    If they ever decided to do a modern day version of Daggerfall, they’d likely have to use something like this to make it a reality.

  21. Jon says:

    @Ergo Cat:

    In response to your second question, it does generate the same content. There may be some randomness involved in placing instanced objects like trees/grass, but I’m guessing the vast majority (if not all) of the content is procedural, not random. Generating random stuff is expensive.

  22. Guy says:

    Your comment about laying an RPG over procedurally generated content made me think of the the Infinity Online MMO project ( http://www.infinity-universe.com ). I wonder if that thing will ever see the light of day; seems a small group is still working on it.

  23. toasty says:

    “Toasty’s failure is eternal.”

    I’ll remember to type faster next time. :p

  24. froogger says:

    *points and laughs*

    I love your series on procedural content Shamus, hope to read more about it.

  25. Jazmeister says:

    Guy: Infinity updated just a few days ago. I’m sure there’s a lot of work to do.

    Shamus: Rock Paper Shotgun’s Jim Rossignol actually did that lap around fuel and wrote it up. I’m actually having trouble finding it.

  26. UtopiaV1 says:

    This reminds me so much of just doing orientation and exploration in Operation Flashpoint, just me and my jeep, exploring the whole island of Everon just for fun (except that was made the old fashioned way, of course). Love this new procedural mapping, hopefully it’s a big leap gaming and will lead to some awesome new titles! Imagine how much better Oblivion, Fallout 3, Stalker etc would have been with this technology!

    Although, Interstate would clearly blow these out the water, and not just because of the awesome afro’s and rocket launchers!!! :D

  27. Guy says:

    Jazmeister: Yeah; the developer’s journal in the forum has some interesting stuff relating to procedural content.

  28. Ergonomic Cat says:

    *cue 5 year old mode*

    “but I’m guessing the vast majority (if not all) of the content is procedural, not random. Generating random stuff is expensive.”

    Why?

  29. Cody says:

    @Niel

    Oblivion was largely procedurally generated from what I remember. I think I saw a developer video diary thing when the game was still in development that said they were doing that to save artists time. The result was a really big but bland environment. I remember a mod where various artists got together and each one picked an area to recreate by hand, the result of THAT was breathtaking environments that made you stop and stare for a few minutes. I prefer the second approach.

  30. Falling says:

    That’s what I always feel about racings games- man those graphics are good, but if only you could fight in the world.

One Trackback

  1. By FUEL For Exploration « Tish Tosh Tesh on Fri Oct 9, 2009 at 9:08 am

    […] FUEL:  Final Thoughts […]

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