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Better mileage through video games
Posted Thursday, October 20/05 in Driving efficiently
Two very different games are available online that try to teach users how to drive efficiently. One's primarily a marketing tool for a car company, while the other is strictly educational.
Neither is going to give Grand Theft Auto a run for its money.
80 miles per hour in a Mariner hybrid
Up first is a Shockwave game from Ford that you can play in your web browser. It's meant to promote the company's Mariner hybrid SUV (same as the Escape hybrid).
Your goal is to run a series of errands (dropping the kids off at school; stopping at the post office) while learning to optimize use of the hybrid system for maximum efficiency. You quickly learn that - as with other modes of propulsion - it's best to accelerate gently, keep your speed relaxed, conserve momentum, and take it easy on the brakes.
Oddly, there's no fuel economy display for feedback. Instead, we get a far less useful accumulation of "points" earned, and a slowly dipping fuel gauge.
I found after a couple of runs feathering the throttle and progressing through my errands, I got bored. Pretty quickly it turned into a real game - how fast could I get the Mariner going in urban traffic before running into the back of another car! (Answer: about 80 mph.)
I've test-driven a couple of actual hybrids (1st and 2nd generation Priuses). A Shockwave game on the computer just can't compete with the real-life video game consoles these cars have bolted right in the middle of their dashboards (if you've driven one, you know what I mean).
- To play, click "Learn a new way of driving", at:
222.4 mpg with the Dukes of Holland
Next up is a "game" from those crazy Dutch folks.
It's part of their "new driving" campaign (see related post), but it's really more of a simulator than a game. Fortunately, there's an English version, but (regardless of your language choice) you have to download and install it on your local machine to play.
The game play is far more realistic than the Mariner effort. Another difference is you're driving a manual shift car (as Europeans tend to do much more than us lazy and less skilled North Americans).
You also get more useful feedback: instantaneous fuel consumption (in liters/100 km), contextual driving tips at the bottom of the screen, and a disembodied Dutch-accented voice that periodically chimes in with praise or gentle criticism - "You're driving too slowly - did you just come from one of our special coffee shops?"
There are no errands to run. It's freeform - drive wherever you like (though you get "reset" if you drive too far off the roadway ... or through buildings). The object is just to drive as efficiently as possible for 5 minutes.
The competitive part comes at the end. If you're online, you have the option of comparing your score to other players' scores on "the new driving" website. If you're in the top 100, you get listed. Regardless of whether you break the top 100, you find out your position in the total rankings (I'm number 368).
But apparently, the real game (as can be seen in the top 100 scores), is to figure out how to trick the program into getting super incredible fuel economy. Congratulations to Schelte Brandsma, currently number 1 with 1.27 L/100 km (222.4 mpg (imp) / 185.2 mpg (US)).
Update: Added Nov. 19/05
Special mention: Grand Turismo 4 for PS2
You can drive a 2nd generation Prius - complete with fuel consumption feedback - in GT4. My brother-in-law and I have wanted to have a head-to-head "mpg" competition to see who could complete the quickest lap of a circuit entirely in EV mode, but my 3 year-old nephew won't hear of it. Too slow! Too boring! He only wants to watch us race Corvettes and Vipers.
Taking this idea to its logical conclusion, Sony and Toyota teamed up to create a special Japanese-market version of the game called Gran Turismo 4 Prius Trial Version.
According to IGN.com: "In addition to a standard time attack race, the Prius Trial Version enables players to race around a track attempting to conserve fuel at all points. At the end of the race, the game reveals where you wasted gasoline while racing."
darin AT metrompg D-O-T com, or here