AeroSoft and TML-Studios have been in the driving simulation genre for a very long time. They’ve overseen the launch of a number of previous titles bringing the calming, yet busy world of commercial bus driving to players in various experiences spanning regions across the world. Now, they’re getting ready to launch another title, an ambitious step up in the form of The Bus, which features a 1:1 ratio build of Berlin, Germany and its bus lines for the game’s playground.
The Bus is easily AeroSoft and TML-Studios’ largest scale effort to date in their overall creative partnership. It’s heading into early access on Steam as of March 25, 2021, and with it comes a robust solo experience, ticketing, multiple bus lines, weather, day, and night cycles, and so much more both now and on the way. With that in mind, we caught up to the developers at TML-Studios to talk about the game, what it was like to recreate Berlin at scale in the game, and what content players can expect as the game rolls through early access. Product Manager Gil Salvado was more than happy to oblige our questions.
Shacknews: Let’s start about the most prominent feature of The Bus. This is billed as your “next generation of city bus driving simulation” featuring a 1:1 scale recreation of Berlin, Germany as its gameplay ground. Having worked on previous sim games referencing real-life locations, how would you say The Bus goes beyond projects that TML-Studios and AeroSoft have previously worked on?
Gil Salvado: The detailed recreation of Germany’s capital city of Berlin in The Bus is similar to what we - TML-Studios and AeroSoft - have worked on together in City Bus Simulator New York and City Bus Simulator Munich, although this time we cover a significantly larger area, more sights, districts and especially more bus lines. The total expansion of the game world of The Bus is by about 5 times larger than the map we covered in Bus & Cable Car Simulator San Francisco.
Shacknews: How did the team go about setting out to create The Bus’s recreation of Berlin? What kind of reference material is the game’s state of the city based on?
Salvado: The team at TML-Studios sent a small group to Berlin back in 2016 to take a lot of pictures along all the bus lines available in The Bus which took a couple of days. However, Berlin is always changing and under constant construction. Also, the BVG (Berlin’s public transportation services) changes the routes of their bus network from time to time during the year. So, we decided to depict Berlin as it was in 2018. Thus, the bus line TXL and the airport Berlin Tegel are still operating in the game. However, The Bus will hopefully become a timeless sandbox thanks to its upcoming modding tools.
Shacknews: Were there any particular challenges in collecting references to the more difficult-to-capture nooks and crannies of Berlin? Was there anything in particular that the team had to fill in compared to what could be realistically portrayed?
Salvado: When we set out to take photos most of the statues were being renovated and covered in boxes, or they were too high, e.g. the Quadriga on the Brandenburg Gate or the Angel statue on the Victory Column. Also, we weren’t allowed to use drones due to a new no-fly zone in central Berlin. It’s also hard to take good photos from underneath bridges that span the river Spree. So, you have to get creative or lookout for photos online. Online map services are a great help for these kinds of things.
Shacknews: In early access, The Bus is set to feature the city, an editor for lines and routes, basic passenger interaction and ticketing, traffic, pedestrians, stoplights, and weather effects, to name a few. What did you feel absolutely had to be in the early access launch versus what you would focus on after?
Salvado: We definitely wanted to have an articulated and solo bus models in the game for the start of the early access, but also traffic, pedestrians, stoplights, weather to breath life into the city. Ticketing and stop announcements were very important to us. Ticketing in particular sounds so simple, but in Germany it’s still quite common to be able to buy a ticket with hard cash and the bus driver has to print the ticket correctly using the board computer and may give change with the cashier.
Shacknews: Some of the features you’re talking about down the line include economy sim features. Are there any plans for improvement or renovation over any sort of similar modes that have appeared in previous games?
Salvado: Developing the economy features for the Fernbus Simulator DLC Football Team Bus and in Tourist Bus Simulator helped us a lot to understand how to implement these features. The feedback from the community about these features was also helpful to plan the new economy sim content for The Bus which will fit right in between the examples above. It will be a bit of both management and economy, not too complicated and not too simple.
Shacknews: Multiplayer is also in the works. Can you go into specifics about what kind of goals you’d like to pursue with multiplayer in The Bus?
Salvado: We recently shifted the multiplayer into an earlier phase of the early access because we know the users are awaiting this feature the most and wanting to see how it will differ from other multiplayer modes in other games. From the start, we agreed that the multiplayer sessions should be persistent, so users can hop in and hop out at any time as long as the server or host is running the session. Players will be able to board other players’ vehicles and change seats at any time, this will enable shift changes and co-piloting for new players by more experienced friends, just like in a driving school. And you don’t need to drive the same line or tour, every player can choose which of the 4 bus lines they want to drive.
Shacknews: Modding in simulators like these is quite popular as well, and looking back, TML has served modding communities in the past on games like Tourist Bus Simulator and Fernbus Simulator. It looks like modding support is also planned here. Has the team worked with the modding community much to zero in on what it would like Workshop support to look like for The Bus?
Salvado: Very early on we got in touch with the modding community and even invited some modders to our studio back in 2018. We gathered feedback on our modding tools back then and are still fine-tuning the tools thanks to the continuous feedback. Most importantly, the team here at TML-Studios is using these modding tools themselves in order to create the content for The Bus too. The modding tools for The Bus will arrive in phase 2 of the early access and we’re really looking forward to receiving even more feedback and see user-created content by the modding community.
Shacknews: In the ever-growing genre of travel simulators, what do you want people to most see as the standout factor of The Bus both now and as you develop towards full release?
Salvado: The unique combination of a real-world city on a scale of 1:1 with a large game world and interconnected public transport lines and a wide variety of vehicles, supported by both single- and multiplayer, an easy-to-learn but hard-to-master economy management, and a community able to create and share their own content within the ever-expanding sandbox of The Bus. Berlin and Germany are only the beginning.
The Bus launches in Early Access on March 25, 2021 and is expected to remain as such until at least early 2022. Stay tuned as we continue to cover additions and improvements to the game. You can also learn more about The Bus via the game’s Facebook page or via TML-Studios on Twitter.