Not many simulation games from the 80s earn their genre’s moniker like Big Rig. The creator, Bill Pogue, must have had a thing for freight trucking when he set out to recreate an accurate cross-country cargo trip. For goodness’s sake, this is a text-based driving sim that keeps track of the weight of your fuel. To the game’s detriment, all that engaging detail reminds you how monotonous the subject matter is.
As the name implies, Big Rig is a realistic freight trucker simulation. Players have to get from Los Angeles to New York with a truck full of cargo while staying within the boundaries of laws and safety. The game offers a few options for your trip, letting you choose your type of cargo (expensive goods need to make it to their destination more quickly) and your route. Each of the three paths others a different combination of challenges, including the length of the trip, the fees from toll booths, and the risk of danger. As long as you end up with $1,000 in profits, you win.
The game throws in an impressive level of detail, even if most of it happens behind-the-scenes. Unlike a game like Gran Turismo that tracks a billion little variables, Big Rig looks at the parts of the big picture that often get overlooked, such as accurate gas mileage based on your truck’s weight. Your character tires out and occasionally needs sleep, which can be interrupted by noise if they take naps earlier in the day. Road construction reduces the speed limit. Your speedometer will vary by a few MPH and might mislead you into a speeding ticket. The list goes on. Pogue’s attention to minutiae pays off, and the journey feels authentic.
This also means the simulation is kinda boring. That’s an extension of the game’s commitment to realism. The player’s input boils down to deciding how fast to drive each hour. Rest stops will occasionally pop up, giving you a chance to buy fuel or take a nap. Apart from that, the game handles everything. If a storm is coming, for instance, a little text blurb will alert you and encourage you to slow down. But you don’t really have to do anything else. Being a trucker is boring. Big Rig admits this: after a few hundred miles, the driver’s status will change to “b o r e d.” When you’re alone on the road for a week, there are no activities to liven things up.
Still, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the trip. Much of the game is driven by circumstance and freak occurrence, so of course you can’t resist pressing your luck. When you’re pushing the limits of the law, even the weigh-in checkpoints are oddly exciting. During the opening stretch, Big Rig offers some of the fun and adventure of driving a convoy, but the novelty wears out towards the halfway point of any given trip. You can imagine that many real truck drivers feel the same way.
Big Rig is a souped-up version of Trucker, a BASIC game by Hughes Glantzberg. Pogue modified Glantzberg’s game at about age 14; he fixed bugs, added minor randomization, and put his own spin on the game’s presentation.