I’m still poking around with Farming Simulator 2013. I’ve imported a few simple Blender-created models, and that’s probably where I’ll draw the line. Reverse-engineering its animation system so I can create an actual vehicle with moving parts looks to be too steep a challenge, so I’m checking out other players’ creations.
Mods have addressed the game’s tedious amounts of equipment-driving. One mod plots out perfect rows for you and keeps you tracking straight lines across your field, overriding the natural slight drift of manual steering. Another makes hired hands skip rows so you can run multiple workers in offset formation on really big fields. There’s a complicated mod that lets you assign arbitrary paths and behavior triggers to AI drivers. Tell your harvester to go to spot X and empty itself into a cart when full; and tell your cart to wait at spot X until it’s full, then go to the silo, unload, and return for more. Or arrange for a backhoe to shift a huge load of silage from point A to point B one shovelful at a time.
The most interesting mod I’ve found simply changes the nighttime light level to a realistical pitch black. It gave the game a spooky, Slender vibe, but more to the point, it added a deep and realistic challenge to the game. Zig-zagging between barns at maximum speed is no longer an option when I can only see what’s in my headlights. Needing to place lights around my property so I could actually do work after nightfall would have added an interesting and organic challenge to the game — an advancement with an immediate, practical, natural benefit (though it would only have added so much to the game, since the bulk of your playtime is tending fields, and fields are much too large for artificial lighting). Alas, unless you install even more mods, there are no lights to buy. They aren’t needed. The default night view is no darker than a cloudy day.
Part of what’s still driving me is the stubborn desire to get somewhere in the game without cheating. The financial pacing of the game isn’t very good. You start with one small field that produces about $4k revenue per harvest and the requisite equipment to sow & reap three of the game’s six crops. As far as expenses go, new fields and new equipment cost $50k–$100k each, plus you start the game with $50k of debt, which accrues interest until you pay it off. So you’re stuck with your initial setup for an annoyingly long time. And since the game’s crops all grow in comparable time with comparable work and sell for comparable profit, branching out into other crops only lets you cover all the bases and ensure you always have the desired good on hand when market demand randomly spikes. You don’t get to do anything new or different with those other seeds.
So if new crops don’t mean new things to do, what about livestock? There, it’s feast or famine. Chickens are dirt simple. Sheep are almost as simple, but force you to transport the wool using a QWOP-ishly unruly forklift. Then cows swing the other direction. You could just feed them hay, but they’ll only make half the milk they could. Getting full production requires growing three different crops, two of which require special equipment, then mixing them in a special blender which you also need to buy.
Is the game educational? Not really. I now know what a windrower and a tedder are, and that farmers compress silage by driving tractors over it (and why), but the game is more a simulation of farm equipment than of farming. Crops grow in a day. There’s no soil quality, no rotation, and no irrigation. There are no pests or pesticide. There are no seasons. There is weather, but its only effect is that you can’t tend fields while it’s inclement — crops are unaffected by temperature or rainfall. Livestock don’t breed and have no health issues, and if you don’t feed them, they simply produce almost nothing rather than dying.
Naturally, I find myself constantly thinking of ways this could be made a more interesting and more widely-accessible game — reduce the tedium, ramp the complexity well, etc. — only to realize it’ll pretty much never be broadly appealing until the gameplay is simplified to FarmVille levels and the 3D and modding are driven out completely.