As I’ve said on this site before, I used to live on a boat, but it wasn’t a sailboat. Playing Sailaway, a sailing simulator that came out on Steam early access last week, I’m learning what it could have been like if we’d had sails: bigger waves, the same absurd amount of ropes, and a lot of new challenges.
The coolest part of Sailaway is that it pulls real-time data for weather, waves, and wind, and boats move in real time. According to the website, a trip across its virtual Pacific would take months, just like in real life. That’s months of real-time ropes, pulleys, and sail sizes. Look at all this stuff:
That’s not even all the stuff! The tutorial is somewhat clunky and text-based, so I’ll admit to finding it all a bit much for a sailing noob. There are challenges that function as extended tutorials, as well as a range of difficulty options that influence the detail of the simulation. I’ve tinkered around with one of the lower difficulties and have had fun changing the position and size of the sails to see the effect it has on my speed and direction; the highest difficulties have you controlling every last aspect of your sails. Experienced sailors in the Steam reviews and the game’s global chat have praised the simulation, so if you like minutiae, there’s a lot of it here. I don’t tend to go for the finer points of super-detailed sims (I don’t even bother parking in Euro Truck Simulator) so I’ve stuck to beginner mode, which means all I need to do is steer my boat around like a big boy.
So far the game has three boats, which you can name and customize the colors of. My first boat is named Billy, and she’s a 38-foot ocean cruiser. I set a course from the Hudson Bay to New York by dragging points and pins on the in-game map. You can move your point-of-view around the boat a bit, which for me meant trying to find the best viewpoint to watch the sun set as I waited for the wind to pick up.
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I was playing at night, so it got dark fast. This didn’t make for good sailing, though it did make for some awesome stars; Sailaway can even map out the constellations. Not wanting to sit in the dark, I decided to take my second boat, a 52 foot yacht, around Australia, where it was daylight. Since Kotaku’s Luke Plunkett lives in Australia, I gave my southern boat a fitting name:
That’s Australia in the background. The shoreline is unimpressive; landmasses haven’t been rendered in nearly as much detail as the water. If you aren’t diving into the detailed sailing, things might get a bit dull staring at open water all the time. But I’ve found the quiet and emptiness soothing, along with some nice sound effects of waves lapping and sails flapping. The early access plans include “improved world detail,” as well as plans to add more races and challenges, and I’ve found there to be a lot of folks swapping tips and real-life sailing stories in the global chat. Things can feel a bit empty, but I’ve never been bored.
You can set your boats to pilot a mapped route when you aren’t around, if you don’t actually want to spend months sitting in front of your computer. The game can email you updates, which means every so often I get emails with subject lines like “Hi Luke! passed a waypoint,” “Billy changed course,” and “Billy ran aground!!” These emails are full of navigational data, speed, and distances, and they’re a delight. I got one recently telling me one of my boats had made .1 nautical miles in 12 hours and would reach its destination in 3766 days. Thanks for the update, boat. I believe in you.
With my last boat, a mini-transat I dubbed Johnny Adventure, I decided to live the dream I got the game for: recreating the routes of polar explorers. I went south to see how the weather was in Antarctica. It’s not great. Johnny Adventure is having, well, an adventure:
Damage isn’t simulated in the game, so you can sit in the middle of a wild storm and take in the wind and rain. I’m fascinated by the accurate weather data, and the part of Sailaway I’ve enjoyed most is teleporting my boats around the map to check out what all the seas are like. Sailaway lacks the quaint details of Euro Trucks, but the sky and the waves around the world are something I’ve never experienced before. I’m excited to see the game add more details. I’m also excited for the wind to pick up enough to get Billy out of the Hudson Bay. She’s a long way from New York.
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