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donderdag, februari 22, 2007

Suunnistussimulaattori, a threat to CF?

A new 3D orienteering game is being developed in Finland. How does the current demo version of Suunnistussimulaattori compare to Catching Features?

Map

The first step on the way to playing the game is finding out where to download it. This is not as easy as it seems. While it's easy for us Dutch-speaking people to get the general picture of a Norwegian text, understanding Finnish is simply impossible. Unless you want to click through all links in the hope of finding a download location, we can offer you the first cheat.

The latest version at the time of writing is version 0.999. This seems to indicate that the final version is near and indeed, the game already feels quite polished. Don't forget to download the .NET Framework 2.0 from MSFT if you don't already have it. The game won't run without it.

When you start the game, it starts a normal windows application that lets you choose the map, your runner and some other options.

OS game config window

Here, we see a nice option: you can choose to run an Oro-hydro course of any map (Sinikäyräkartta). You can also choose night-O mode, but that's been in CF for ages. Another option for starters is to use a GPS system.

Clicking on Lähtöön starts a new game. Unlike CF, this game uses EMIT as a timing system. One cool feature is that you have to manually punch the controls (spacebar). It took me quite some time to figure that out. You have to check the control number yourself or you could end up "pm" in the results list.

Start

The gameplay is much like CF, except that it's terribly slow. One of the cool things about CF is that you have to decide really fast which route you will take to the control and do orienteering at a high speed. Suunnistussimulaattori takes another approach and you have a lot of time to do the actual orienteering. Another difference is that there is some drift of your runner when just running forward, you have to do a lot more work than in CF to hold your course steady. I liked that.

Catching Features is now almost 5 years old, so it would be reasonable to expect the programmer of Suunnistussimulaattori to use a lot of fancy graphics. He did not fall into that trap and even on my 3 years old laptop, the game is perfectly playable. This is important since there have been quite a lot of orienteers taking laptops to competitions and training camps to do some CF in dead moments. I guess the visuals are better on higher-end machines, but even with the default settings, the graphics are somewhat better than CF, especially the trees (that are non-hitting by default). "Green" areas on maps are also harder to spot. In CF they typically have a green underground. Here, you really have to look at the vegetation to see the difference. Avoiding the green areas still stands, just like avoiding steep edges, where it's impossible to go straight up (or down for that matter).

Models

Since I was playing the demo version, some features are not included. There are rumours of the unavoidable random map generator and map converter. No sign of them in this version. These details might be on the site, but as said above, until an English version appears, there's not much fun around there.

Another thing that's not mentioned in the demo are the networking capabilities. Possibly the largest factor in the success of CF. Will there be a competitions mode, or just a real multiplayer mode? I can't really say, but a game without them is doomed from the start. I still remember the alpha versions of CF. MP was one of the things that really made the "wow"-factor. Competitions were another breakthrough, a few years later.

There is another weak point, the name Suunnistussimulaattori. I did not ever type it once in this article. CTRL-V is your friend when you have to spell "Suunnistussimulaattori" at least once. It is just the translation of "Orienteering Simulator", some orders of magnitudes behind Catching Features, which just rolls off your tongue. The same thing applies to the logo, that looks quite a lot like some WordArt created in five, possibly four, minutes.

So where does all this place Suunnistussimulaattori after our brief experience? Will it go down the Oriantica road, or will there be some healthy competition with CF?

Only time will tell, but the slowness of orienteering spoiled the experience quite a bit, despite the better graphics. The most important factor will be the ability to gather a community around the game. CF has that edge for now, but people's habits change fast. Also biggins, the CF creator, is working on something new, which also involves a 3D engine. Exciting times lie ahead for orienteering fans around the world!

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