It has been about a year since the first version of my on-line bike touring game, Armchair Bike Touring, was released. In that time, it has been downloaded over 10,000 times and over 650 scores have been submitted. As far as I know, it is still the only bike touring game available on the internet.

Ideas of added features have been suggested via comments submitted and discussions on various bike touring boards. I created the next version of the game by incorporating two of these ideas: stealth camping and interesting side trips.

Stealth Camping


Stealth (or wild or free) camping means setting up a hidden campsite somewhere off the road. I had never done this, so I didn’t see any reason to put it into the game. What’s more, since stealth camping can be anywhere, I wasn’t sure how such a feature could be added. But, after a bit of design and coding, I was able to add a Stealth Camping option.

When players “ride” in the game, they do so from one “service stop” to the next. These stops contain some combination of places to eat and sleep. In Version 2, a Stealth Camping option has been added to every service stop. If the service stop includes a place to sleep, then Stealth Camping is added to the list of places to spend the night. If there are no “sleep services,” at a stop, a button appears asking if the player would like to “Stealth Camp Here.”

Nothing in the game is “free.” There are always costs to the benefits. The same had to be true of stealth camping. The benefits are that it can be done at any stop and is free. The costs are that

  1. a suitable place to camp can only be found 50% of the time.

  2. 20% of the time when a stealth campsite is found, the player gets a “poor night’s sleep” and has the next day’s maximum mileage reduced 20 miles.

  3. 10% of the time when a stealth campsite is found, the player is “rousted” during the night and has to stay in a nearby motel at a cost between $40 and $80 dollars. Getting “rousted” also invokes a 1000 point penalty.


For a discussion about these ideas and the feedback I got check out this thread at crazyguyonabike.com.

Side Trips


Many times during my own bike tours, I have come across local attractions. Usually, these places were a few miles out of my way and not all of them turned out to be interesting. Also, depending on the time of day or day of the week, they weren’t open.

I’ve added this idea to Armchair Bike Touring as a “Side Trip.” Randomly, a player will be presented with a sign like this:



At this point, the only thing players know is how far they will have to ride to get there. Note that the total distance will be twice that amount in order to return to the route after visiting. After opting to take the side trip, players will be told of the terrain and wind conditions they had to ride to get to this attraction.

What does taking such a side trip get a player? There are two benefits. First, a player gets “bonus” points for visiting an attraction. Second, all the calories expended on a side trip get added to a player’s point total.

But, there are costs, as well. The attraction is closed 20% of the time and no bonus points are awarded (the other 80% of the time, the bonus points run from 0 to 500). Also, each side trip results in the daily maximum being reduced by 10 miles to account for the time spent riding to and from the site and visiting it.

There are some additional potential costs to taking a side trip. Since a side trip reduces a player’s daily maximum 10 miles, it is possible to trigger the “riding too far” penalty (1000 points) by taking a side trip toward the end of a day’s riding. Also, because there are no services at a side trip’s attraction, running out of energy due to lack of food can also happen. Both of these penalties will outweigh whatever bonus points are earned by taking a side trip.

What about the high scores?


It seems to me that free places to sleep and side trip bonus points should make the potential high scores from Version 2 to be higher than Version 1. As a result, I have added another column to the reported scores table to reflect which version of the game the score came from. However, in my own playing of the game, I found it hard to avoid penalties when stealth camping and taking side trips. Thus, I will have to wait and see if anyone is able to use these new features to break into the game’s top ten.

Ideas for the future


I have some additional ideas for changes to the game that will have to wait for a future version.

Fun Meter

I would like to keep track of the things players do on a tour and then evaluate how much “fun” they had. If they had a lot of fun, award some bonus points. If it is too low, dock them points. My current thoughts on the things to track are

  • lack of showers

  • quality of food eaten

  • rain and winds

  • long days in the saddle

  • side trips taken

  • interactions with people along the way


I’m not sure how to construct a “fun quotient” for a bike tour,, so this feature will have to wait. I’d be interested in any suggestions you have for doing this.

Changing Routes

Some people have requested more decision-requiring interactions in the game. One idea I had was to (randomly) announce that part of the current route is closed and a new one has to be chosen. I’d display 2 different routes and ask the player to select one. I figured I’d offer a shorter one with fewer services and steeper terrain and a longer one with more services but less severe terrain. At present, the route generation code isn’t designed to do this and will require significant modification to both generate new routes and then install them into a current game.

Riding Time Limit

Currently, the only daily limit is on mileage. But, mileage is a poor proxy for time spent not riding. Several things in the game reduce a player’s maximum daily mileage, getting a free meal from strangers, taking a side trip, and rain. Several people suggested that a better idea would be to add “possible riding time” as an additional constraint, sort of like sunlight. This way, time spent eating a meal, taking a photo, resting, or making a side trip would be subtracted from total available riding time. Running out of riding time or going over a day’s maximum mileage would force a player to stop riding for the day.

I really like this idea and find it a better way to represent various non-riding activities (taking photos, eating, side trips, etc) then mileage reduction. The game already tracks how much time it takes to ride the various segments. To that, I would add 30 minutes for ordering and eating food from a store and 45 minutes for eating in a restaurant; 10 minutes to stop and take a photo; an hour to visit a side trip’s attraction. Note that by resting, players might extend their maximum daily mileage.

I didn't add this to the current version as it has to be woven into an intricate fabric of code and was more changes than I wanted to make after getting stealth camping and side trips implemented. So it too will have to wait for a future date.

Showers

Not all sleeping places offer a shower. Neither does stealth camping. Since not showering takes a toll on a human body, especially one riding 50 miles every day on a bicycle, the game should track how often a player takes a shower. If no shower is taken two nights in a row, the stealth camping and primitive campground (one’s without showers) options would go away, forcing the player to spend the night in a place with a shower. This shouldn't be hard to do but, again, I didn't want to add too many new things at a time, so it will have to wait for the next version.

Let me know what you think


It is my hope that Armchair Bike Touring can get more and more realistic through the addition o more features and subtlety. If something about the games strikes you as wrong or naïve or if you have some other idea on ways to make the game more realistic or fun, please let me know by sending me an email or commenting on this article.
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Copyright © 2007 by Ray Swartz