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MLG Meets: SCS Software

April 12th, 2010 by

A few episodes back on the podcast, we mentioned UK Truck Simulator was seeing release, which piqued our curiosity somewhat in exactly how a title such as this might play, and what kind of person might actively seek it out. What better person to talk to regarding the title than one of the leading minds behind it? Read on then for a rare interview from an extremely niche development company, SCS Software.

Xero: Lets get things rolling with the formalities, who are you and what do you do?

Pavel: My name is Pavel Sebor, I am a husband, a father of two pre-school boys and I also happen to be a co-owner in SCS Software, where my role could be described as Managing Director – I do everything from business, to legal and finance, also hiring of people, kick-starting projects, sometimes even tech support and testing. I do most of the boring stuff in the company so that the rest of the guys aren’t bothered by it and can be creative. Well, when a little time is left, I also try to influence game design. I used to be an engine programmer in the mid nineties when SCS Software started as three guys who enjoyed programming 3D graphics, but now I could hardly program a ‘Hello World’ application.

X: Next our customary interview question here at Midlife Gamer, what is your favourite beverage and biscuit?

PS: I used to be a Coke addict ten years ago, must have been something with the programming habits, but got rid of the vice save for an occasional glass here and there. Now I mostly alternate between pure water and orange juice through the day. For somebody coming from a country that prides itself in some of the finest beer in the world, I only drink a few beers a year. I eat tons of chocolate. When it feels like I had too much, I switch to salt sticks for a few days before giving in again.

X: SCS Software’s latest release is of course UK Truck Simulator, can you tell us a bit about this unique title?

PS: Through a series of coincidences several years ago, our company landed a truck sim project when we were looking for a contracting job, and were left out of choices. Fast forward to today, and we are still faithful to the genre, producing trucking games year after year. It is not that great a business, but over the years, we have accumulated fans and business contacts that make it possible for a small team to survive doing such niche genre games. After a long series of trucking games that we developed for the US market primarily, we tried to bet on the European customers with Euro Truck Simulator some two years ago. The game was a success in the UK – it even briefly appeared in the Chart Track Top 20 PC games list. To put this into perspective, for a game close to the bottom of the list, a couple of hundred units per week is all that’s needed to make it there. For the big publishers with their AAA titles, it would be a disaster, but for us, it’s still viable business. So we sat down with our UK publishers Excalibur Publishing, and decided to try to service UK fans even better – with a game that would be placed there, where people would drive on the proper side of the road, and with the steering wheel on the right side. We thought that perhaps people would appreciate that we put the effort into these specifics, that it would make a difference from the big games that inevitably have to be designed so that they appeal to the lowest common denominator of the global audience.

X: The game looks really quite impressive graphically, the engine does a really great job of creating a realistic simulation environment. Is visual accuracy something you strive for?

PS: We definitely need to strive for visual accuracy. Fans are always asking for more – the ultimate that they would like to see is life-like simulated reality. But we need to stay not too far behind the leading edge also because of retail – the screenshots on the box must not look too dated for us to be able to muscle our games on the store shelves. The internal graphics engine that we are using has been in development for over 15 years. There just never seems to be enough time during the development cycle of a game to push enough features into the engine, especially with our fast release cycle.

X: How big is the team behind your titles and what kind of budget does a game like UKTS take to get made?

PS: Pretty much all of the 15+ games that we have developed so far have had core teams of about 4-5 people, and our usual schedule calls for 8-10 months of development time. Sometimes we have to use additional contractors, sometimes just 3 full-timers are enough. UK Truck Sim was one such example – as it was a ‘twin-brother’ title developed in parallel with German Truck Simulator, the core team was very small. The budget was in the low tens of thousands of Pounds. The game was launched in February, now we have our fingers crossed that we break even, hopefully at some point in the Autumn.

X: For most average gamers, very few of them will have come into contact with the title, yet you’ve evidently done very well out of them. How well do these games do in comparison to more ‘mainstream’ titles?

PS: As I explained above, this is a really niche genre. Where the big publishers will not green light projects with sales potential below half a million copies, and lately even a prospect of a million copies sold may not be enough (as could be witnessed when Microsoft axed the Flight Simulator team), for our games the order of magnitude of tens of thousand of copies world-wide for the lifetime of a game is a solid result. Our trick is being efficient about production, and not having to generate profit to investors from the outside. All three co-owners in SCS Software also work in key roles in the company, and we are quite nimble when it comes to burn rate.

X: What kind of community is there surrounding this genre and are they particularly vocal? In addition, are there specific types of player that these titles appeal to? Do the games do particularly well in certain areas of Europe over others?

PS: There is small, but very vocal and dedicated community around this genre. There are incredible mods being created, we are often amazed how far the mod-ers can push our games and our engine, how much detail they manage to get into alternate maps, or extra trucks and trailers that they extend our games with. As they are not limited by time and budget as much as our own team that created the games, many of their creations surpass original assets from our games.

I think our games appeal to two groups of players. One group is kids who just graduated from playing Bob the Builder games, but are not yet ready for Modern Warfare. Usually it helps if somebody in the family like a father or an uncle has to do something within the transportation industry. And then there is a second group, larger and even more important – players who are well past following the current first person shooter of the week trend, and approach this genre as a sandbox, as a toy for the curious adult who wants to have fun mastering the mighty vehicles; at least on the PC if not for real. Our games get quite a lot of flak from all the players in between – the big segment of the ‘core’ market, the kind of players who brag about the number of head shots achieved in the latest mega budget FPS. I perfectly understand that for a trigger happy player looking for adrenaline experience our games are beyond comprehension, our games are honestly too boring for them. Look up any review of our games on the Internet, and the discussion below will be full of wise-guy remarks. Luckily for us, there is also this small group of players who are happy with the slower pace of our games.

Our games seem to mostly do well in the northern parts of Europe, and not so well in the south, and frankly we are not sure why. We seem to be doing really well in Germany, but for some reason our games sell much worse in its comparably sized neighbour country – France. We have lots of fans in Eastern Europe, but due to high piracy in the area, not so many customers. So in the end, after Germany, the UK turned out to be the second most important market for us in Europe.

X: In the past you’ve licensed out engine technology to other companies, most notably for 3D Realms’ Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project, though you’ve not really created titles other than hardcore sims. Are you interested in moving in this direction at all?

PS: The business plan that we started SCS Software with was actually to become a technology company licensing out the engine. Back at the start of the 3D accelerator era (that’s such a long time ago now!), we actually had quite a competitive game engine. We had a really fast software renderer, a solid games engine based on BSP trees with PVS and all the buzzwords of the era, and what we thought was a mature asset pipeline with CSG map editor was comparable in power to the then still unreleased Unreal. But we underestimated the need to prove the tech on a shipped game. In reality we lacked the experience, and we lacked the business clout to become a player on the AAA games engines licensing playing field. When we finally managed to build a well-rounded team to build complete games, all the opportunities that we could nail were hunting games, diving games, and budget driving games. Nobody was ready to sign us to produce the next Quake killer. We got role-cast as a budget game developer by the publishers, so we got to become comfortable with the idea of making small games ‘for a time’ if we wanted to survive. We love building games first and foremost, and there is no shame in building a niche genre driving game like truck sims, so long as we are having fun doing it, and so long as we can find customers willing to sustain us. We actually dropped the part of business that was supposed to handle game engine licensing, and focused fully on the games side. We concentrate on slowly and carefully growing the team with each successful game, getting ready to take on more ambitious challenges.

X: At the moment you release solely on PC, do you feel that there is a market for your type of game on console at all?

PS: I do not think that there is a market for the games that we build on the consoles. The overlap between players who have bought their console because of Halo, Grand Theft Auto or God of War and players interested in truck sims is just too small. If there was a real chance to get any kind of simulators on consoles, flight simulators and train simulators would have been there by now. Compared to planes and trains, trucks are a much smaller niche. Even these more established simulator types are struggling for survival on their home platform, the PC, not to speak about trying to get onto consoles.

X: So what’s next from SCS Software? What should gamers be looking for in the near future from you guys?

PS: After all I have revealed so far, it is not a great surprise that we are working on a new truck simulator game. As with every new game in the genre, we are once again trying to raise the bar – to improve visual fidelity, to make the gameplay deeper, to make the world richer with detail, to make simulation truer to life. We have not been fully successful in the ambition to improve in all these areas with some of our previous games, sometimes we have to take a step back before being able to make two steps forward. A looming deadline, when a game must ship, or budget overrun sometimes caused us to ship a game with more compromises in it than we would like. Our loyal fans who follow our games over the years often gripe when a new game sports three new features but removes two features that they were used to from previous titles. I hope that we have reached a stage now when our games are only going to grow and improve in ways that will make the genre’s loyal fans excited.

To download a free demo of UK Truck Simulator and for more information, visit www.uktrucksimulator.com If you liked this, you’ll probably also like our interview with Waldi of Truck sim community HardTruckSite.

13 Responses to “MLG Meets: SCS Software”
  1. avatar FrostieD says:

    Great interview, really nice to see someone being honest and admitting that their games aren’t the most popular but they value the fans that they have.

  2. avatar zeno-R620 says:

    Make Belgium+Holand map.

  3. avatar JamesG says:

    Reading that interview it was hard not to like Pavel and SCS software. A great modesty not usually heard from companies, and an attitude of, “Well, this might not be where we intended to be when we started, but we’ve found a niche that works, and allows us to continue doing what we love.”

    I admit, I’ll probably never end up buying a truck simulator, but I’m very glad they exist. Not only does it introduce more people to the wide variety of scenarios gaming can offer, but it also shows that games developed for a niche audience can work.

  4. avatar Heliocentric says:

    I would like to suggest to scs that the nintendo ds is a place of massive overlap for their customers. I’m a dad that plays their games with a son who plays their games and the ds is sorely lacking in games which have gentle pacing but also versemelitude of a simulatory experience.

    I would buy an scs made”bus driver ds” at the drop of a hat.

  5. avatar Charlotte says:

    This interview is fantastic, Pavel seems very down to earth and I love how honest the interview is, I greatly appreciate the simulators that they make, and do find it a terrible shame that most gamers in-between the two groups that they cater to, choose to mock them.

  6. avatar Chris says:

    Reading that interview, shed alot of light for me on a few things. I’m one of the loyal fans who has griped and moaned over how they change things for the worse in their games, now I know why they do these things. I’m not really a huge fan of their games, but I’m a big fan of trucks, and modifying their games, and am glad I’ve been making mods for this game for going on 4 years now. Right now I think the only problem SCS software has with the die-hard fans is their lack of communication. We ARE the life of their games, they should be paying more attention to what guys like me have to say, who have made over 25 truck and trailer models, and guys like people I know who have really pushed their games to the extreme and made them to what they should have been right out of the box. Alot of people also don’t buy their games because they lack simulation, when they’re announced as a simulator. Meanwhile if they listened to thier loyal fan’s ideas, they would have pulled themselves ahead instead of just being on the bottom end of things. I understand they have time limits and a small team/budget, but if they don’t try to make their way out of that they’re just never gonna have enough time to make a decent simulator that may interest more people than just people in the truck sim community.

  7. avatar Anthony E. Cann says:

    I am a ex Lorry driver and I am bit surprised that you obviously haven’t done your homework very well you have left out most of the northeast Citys like Hull, Inverness,Peterhead, which for example has direct roads into Aberdeen and not B class roads you have made this dull and boring whats happened to weather conditions like snow, high winds, wilild animals trying to cross the the road you will be surprised to see foxes early in morning I stopped my truck one morning blocking the entire road to let deer cross the main motorway. The Towns are dead no gate foreman to check your load in and out, The coruriers companies have come from the Euro Trucker there doesn’t appear to be any english couriers like Debenhams,Parcel Force,Aldi,Tesco,Sainsbury,Co-op, Iceland Tesco, & Tesco Direct,Argos,Travis Perkins builders all these exist in every town/city, whats the point in taking taking up & down if there no showrooms and people to buy them no schools, or Hospitals are shown unlike the 18 Wheeler the medical supplies in that game are delivered direct to the Hospital, also what Ford Motor Company and finnally Hole Haven Oil Refinery this is near the estuary of the thames. the Graphics could do with a bit colour their are not all green here.

  8. avatar mantgx says:

    what about a online multiplayer by a new version of a truck simulator?

  9. avatar Adam N says:

    It’s really great what these SCS people are doing, and i love the honesty. The main reason i think of the popularity is that it is quite easy to do modding, and the graphics are on par of games of 3x the price.
    Good price too. And a very good engine too, photorealism’s not quite there, but its getting really good now. Shame there is’nt some more roads. Try giving us some proper modding instructions ;-)

  10. avatar Andrew says:

    Very nice and honest review. Ive got my copy of UK Truck sim and its awsome. Its true its not a game for people who want to pew pew stuff. But then its not meant to be that. I love it to bits.

  11. avatar ponus says:

    i really want a multiplayer truck game

  12. avatar migel says:

    uk truk simulater is de kame

  13. avatar seanbean says:

    Multiplayer please.

    Also, anyone reading this, if you want better video FX just google and download: ENB Series GTA SA, copy contents into any SCS game folder, press SHIFT +F12, and voila, betterFX.. sorta.

    Mainly though, MP PLEASE! Although, I’m not sure how that would work.

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