[Over at sister 'online worlds' site Worlds In Motion, Mathew Kumar continues to expand the Worlds In Motion Atlas, and I really like the way he goes off the beaten track to cover online games that, well, other folks don't. This time - the browser-based trucking game (yes, really!) Trukz.]

Here's an overview of Trukz, a persistent browser-based trucking simulation.

2008_11_14_truckz.jpgName: Trukz

Developer: Trukz

Established: May 2007

How it Works: Trukz is entirely browser-based and runs in HTML. Navigation and gameplay are accomplished via mouse and keyboard input.

2008_11_14_truckz1.jpgOverview: Trukz is a largely text based game where players create a driver, buy a truck and earn money by hauling loads from real-life cities around the world. Cities have distinct supplies and demands, and with cash earned players can buy upgrade and new trucks. Players have to deal with issues such as fatigue, gas prices and weather, and players can cooperate with other drivers by joining "companies" and talk to other players via "CB Radio."

Payment Method: Trukz is free to play; players can make a donation (starting at $5.00) to receive in-game cash bonuses.

Key Features:
- Real-world set trucking simulation
- Active community with player-run "companies"

Trukz: In-Depth Tour

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Trukz! What on earth to make of this unusual trucking simulation? Well, rather than get straight to answering that question, I've decided to digress and talk about what made this game uniquely attractive to me.

You see, this week I was lucky enough to meet David Braben, one of the co-creators of the seminal space trading game Elite. Elite was one of the first games that I had for my first computer—an Amstrad CPC 6128 (with color monitor!), if you can believe that—and it's (at that point) unique "buy low here, travel there and sell high" gameplay fascinated me, even if my six-year-old hands were completely unable to successfully dock with space stations nine times out of ten.

I've always wished to play something that recreated that experience—and I soldered on playing Frontier: First Encounters way longer than I should have, for example—but nothing ever has (admittedly, I have yet to play Eve Online.)

I'll say straight away that in its own modest way, Trukz fills a hole that Elite made. After making my driver—which I should have named Commander Jameson, now that I think about it—I bought him the cheapest truck (assuming that would allow me to raise money to buy a decent truck sooner) and set him off from his home base in Toronto to the nearest city which required what it could offer.

Like most other browser-based MMO titles (indeed, nearly all) Trukz requires players to use up a limited resource—in this case, fatigue points—which are then replenished over time by being away from the game. Trukz juices this up, however, by making your "expected arrival time" in another city a point in real time. So if you set off on a trip from North Carolina to New York but forget to log in for a week, you'll lose almost all of your profit to late fees (something I've done myself.)

The game isn't entirely single-player, however, and has, honestly, the most active community of any browser-based game I've played yet. I'm not sure why that is—it's entirely possible that the online trucking community follows the pattern of the reputedly tight-knit real-world trucking community—but literally within minutes of logging in I received invites to join tens of different companies, all offering wildly differing benefits, such as reduced costs for repairs, fuel costs, tickets all for a cut of the profits.

I'm not entirely sure there's much more depth to go into—almost all of Trukz is going from one location to another, talking on "CB radio" and buying new items or trucks, and so there's little left to do but conclude if that is enough or not—which you'll find out in our conclusion.

Trukz: Conclusion

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Yes, I've been playing Trukz for a while and (finally) worked out that the game is actually called "Trukz" and not any variant of that. But what to make of it?

Well, I think Trukz is fascinating. It's got a (frankly) very obscure and specific theme, one which only a certain subset of gamers/internet users are going to be interested in, and yet (or perhaps because of that) it has a strong, vibrant community. If the concept of long-haul trucking thrills you, you probably could not have more fun than playing this game and interacting with the other players.

Though the game is graphically very simple—by which I mean there are almost no graphics at all—it's quite evocative, because once you've purchased a GPS unit, you can view your truck moving across the real world map.

If there is a problem, it's how strict it is in comparison to other browser-based games which "tick" to give you action points. In the game you have to wait regularly in order to regain the fatigue points which allow you to continue on your journeys, however, if you remain logged out for too long, you will tend to suffer late penalties.

As a result, the game, rather than being the kind of game where you can log in every few days, is quite demanding when you're on a journey, and after a few big failures—especially if you've had your truck break down a once or twice—you can be faced with what feels like insurmountable odds.

But what is there to learn from Trukz? Well, I'd consider the game educational in the way that going to your local board game store is for the average video game or MMO developer, because it makes it clear that not everything needs to be festooned in triple-A graphics and mechanics as long as it has a concrete theme.

Though few gamers might be interested in long haul trucking, there is nothing wrong with concentrating on a small group of gamers and offering them the best experience they can get within their limited requirements.

In fact, the more MMO developers who realize this—that a small group of loyal players is better than a huge group of disinterested players—the better, honestly.

Useful Links:
Official Forum
New Player Guide