I can count on one hand the number of things I thought I really, really wanted, right up until the moment I tried my hand at whatever it was. As an example, I had always dreamed of having an open-cockpit biplane. Just imagine the freedom of the wind blowing in your face, the sounds and smells of the engine, the unrestricted visibility—the sheer aerial romance of it all!
Then I tried it. That wind in your face? It’s a veritable blizzard that is doing its very best to blow your eyelids over the top of your head like a ski hat. The sound of the engine? Ha! You can’t hear it with that same blizzard pounding in your ears like a jackhammer. The visibility? It serves only to show how slow you’re going—that engine is burning 14 gallons of fuel per hour to go barely faster than the cars you can see on the roads below. It’s quite a bit of expensive fuel to burn just for that wonderful engine sound that you cannot hear.
You don’t want to get me started on the dream of an oceangoing sailing catamaran. A week-long live-aboard sailing school on a 38’ catamaran told me all I needed to know about serious sailing: it’s hard work, quarters are cramped, and it is oh-so-easy to clog the little seaborne toilet. I didn’t even consider signing up for the second week.
Oddly enough, though, losing interest in the “real thing” does not always equate with losing all interest whatsoever. I still enjoy the idea of open-cockpit biplanes and complex sailboats, as can be seen by my affinity for the Bucker Jungmeister in one of my best flight sims, and the 38’ cruising catamaran brought to me by Sailaway – The Sailing Simulator, a full-on sailing sim developed by Orbcreation. It is the latter than we are here to discuss.
Sailaway offers a variety of boats to use, ranging from a small daysailer to high-end racing boats to world-spanning ocean cruisers. These boats can be sailed just about anywhere on the planet. The planet in question is, of course, Earth, and there is nothing unusual about that, but...the planet is modeled as an online persistent world shared with all of the other virtual sailors using Sailaway. Rather than sailing along all alone in a wide expanse of ocean with nothing to see but the distant horizon, you sail along all alone in a wide expanse of ocean with nothing to see but the distant horizon. Unless, that is, you want to enter a race or host another sailor on your boat. It is the multiplayer aspect that demonstrates the need and utility of a shared planet. With a shared world, everyone around you is experiencing the same time of day, the same weather, and the same winds. That simplifies the racing immensely. A persistent, always-on world also allows for long-range sailing. You probably aren’t going to be able to sit at your desk for the entirety of a cruise from Seattle to Honolulu, but with the Sailaway world running 24/7, you don’t have to. There is a lot of good stuff the persistent world brings, but it can create a number of problems for the dedicated offline player.
Consider, for example, the desire to jump into a smaller boat somewhere near the Hawaiian islands. Your vision is a clear, sunny afternoon with light breeze to give you a smooth, relaxing ride. You teleport your boat to a point just off the Maui coast, and...you are met with pitch black skies and heavy seas. Beyond that, you have no ability to change those things, other than waiting six or seven hours for the weather to (maybe) improve and the sun to arise over the eastern horizon. “Authenticity” is not always synonymous with “playability.” This is very definitely something to be aware of before purchase. To put this in another context, it is very similar to iRacing versus Project Cars 2. iRacing shines as an online multiplayer racing sim, while Project Cars 2 is far more of a single-player type of sim. If you can only choose one, be sure to make an informed decision.
To continue the parallel with iRacing, Sailaway has online sailing races, and just like with iRacing, the formal races are scheduled in advance, meaning you have to wait for the race, show up at the specified time, and hope you do well in the race after waiting so long for it. Also like iRacing, you can practice alone, or you can set up a custom multiplayer race of your own. Sailaway also prides itself on the realism and fidelity of their simulation physics, boldly stating that “Sailaway gives players the most realistic digital sailing experience to date with in-depth simulations of weather, wind and currents while your boat and its sail are modeled to give even the most experienced sailor a workout.” And finally, just as with iRacing, I can only take their word for that—I don’t have the decades of experience that would be required to make a cogent and compelling argument against their claims. All I can say is that it behaved as my limited experience with actual sailing indicated that it should.
This potential complexity does not make Sailaway unapproachable for the novice and/or wannabe sailor, though. There are a number of helpful tutorials included, although they are short and provide just enough information to allow a neophyte to get started. There are also difficulty settings that range from “you had better know what you’re doing” to “I’ll do everything up to and including holding your beer while you steer.” In between those endpoints, there is a “you steer and manage the sheets as you wish, but I’ll whisper hints in your ear as we go” mode. This final mode is the one that I found to be the best fit for my personal skill level; I can get the boats to move and go where I want them to, but not as efficiently as a more experienced skipper. Hints like “take in one reef on the mainsail, furl the Genoa and raise the Jib sail” were welcome, although at times I just chose to ignore them.
In its current form, Sailaway hits the rocky shoals when attempting to provide realism to a PC audience: complexity in a vehicle typically requires complex controls. Racing sims, flying sims, military sims: they all require complex and often expensive peripherals to allow the player to interact with the complexity of the machine. Flight simmers need HOTAS systems and rudder pedals, racing sims only come alive with a good force feedback wheel and an equally good set of pedals, and military sims require decent voice comms with squadmates. Sailaway has none of that. At this point in time, Sailaway is very hard to manage alone. Note that large and/or powerful sailing vessels actually are extremely hard to manage alone, so this is not a surprise, but it is again something to be aware of.
My first attempt at Sailaway was with the mouse alone. While it is possible to interact with the boats with nothing but the mouse, it is very awkward. The sails can be operated by clicking on the rope associated with it (these are called “sheets” because everything on a boat has a name different from the identical objects on land—they don’t even use "left" and "right") by clicking and dragging with the mouse, but doing so requires panning your view (also with the mouse) to get the sheet in sight. The clickpoints were hard to find, and the easing or pulling motion was hard to master. I eventually opted to use the mouse only for looking around and the keyboard for operating the sails. That worked better, but felt clunky. There is also game controller support, but I didn’t want to use that at all. The development roadmap has a “maybe” item on it for adding TrackIR support to make it easier to look around, but I’m not sure it’s going to work—you need to be able to turn all the way around at times and TrackIR is severely limited in its rotational range. It seems to me that VR is a possible solution to all of this, but that isn’t on the roadmap currently.
As a game, there are far better options for the virtual sailor. VR Regatta is an excellent example. As a simulator, well...that’s harder to answer. I feel that it did an adequate job of simulating the movement of the boat through the water and its response to various settings on the sails, but sailing is so much more than that. Provisioning, navigation, anchoring, etc., are major aspects of cruising and are absent from Sailaway. Capsizing in high winds is a constant risk in the real world but it is absent from the sim. As far as racing, I was unable to give it a try—there’s no tutorial for it, and my attempt at a practice race was thwarted by my inability to find the starting line. A huge aspect of sailboat racing comes down to the rules of right-of-way, which are wielded as sharp knives in racing and often require decisions from judges—there do not appear to be any authorities to plead your case to in Sailaway.
All is not lost, though. There is still active development going on, so some of what I consider to be gaps or faults may yet show up in a future update, but for now Sailaway seems to be at least partially lost at sea. Some of the fundamentals are in place and working well, but control is difficult and 6,000-mile cruises are visually boring for 5,998 of those miles. Sailaway will appeal to a select audience, but casual sailors will want to look elsewhere.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.