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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Crane Simulator 2009

Weapon of mass construction.

Not 20 yards from my house is a penned-off area which the council, judging by the logo-festooned barriers, has clearly commissioned a contractor to work on. It's basically a big hole in the road, and has gone untended for some four or five days now. Every time I walk past on my way to work, two emotions resume their daily struggle.

The first is a tutting sense of gentle outrage that a slice of my council tax is trundling slowly, inexorably, into the contractor's purse as he juggles his teams around various jobs for maximum profit. Standard stuff; we all know it happens. And maybe this makes me a bad citizen, but my civic concern is soon shoved gleefully aside by the second: a kind of boyish wonder at the very innards of infrastructure. There's a number of coloured pipes down there, that are obviously pumping vital services into houses like mine. What substance does the blue plastic pipe transport? And that huge yellow one next to it? If I was a little more Victorian in my principles, I'd roll up to the nearest workman, and inquire as to the nature of these services, just to know more about how it all works. If only I could find a workman to ask, obviously.

Crane Simulator 2009 caters to the second of these emotions. It seeks to engage the fascination men have with artifice and construction, and the skilled control of precision equipment. Building stuff to further the cause is in our blood, and that's evident in so many forms of gaming. From the swiftly crafted series of passes and crosses culminating in the perfect goal, to upgrading a barracks so it can knock out stick-men with rocket launchers, it's all about the build. How can Crane Simulator 2009 fail?

It's a question of pace. Or in the unique case of Crane Simulator 2009, the desolate lack of it. The first 'mission' sees you in command of a Lieber mobile crane, tasked with the construction of a prefabricated house. Before you lies an empty plot where the wall-sections need to be placed; to your left sits a pair of trucks laden with prefab wall-sections. And so the scene is set. Go build!

It's like a flight simulator. For a plane with no engine.

But do it very, very slowly. Care and precision are the watchwords here, as your hands settle awkwardly on the cursor and page-up/page-down keys. Construction is a matter of slowly swinging the crane above the truck, slowly lowering and hooking the wall-section, slowly raising it off the truck-bed, slowly rotating the crane and extending it into the right position, and, yes, slowly lowering the piece into its allotted slot.

45 agonising minutes pass. The ground floor of the house begins to take shape, as you box the preset floor-plan into recognisable rooms. Time is measured by the chiming of a nearby church clock, the plaintive mooing of unseen cattle, the now-deafening chirp of a skylark, and the brain-porridging drone of the crane's ceaseless motor. And then, incredibly, you find you've finished the ground floor! "You've earned a break," the mission briefing tells you. "Yes, I do believe I have," you think to yourself, satisfied with a job well done. And it really felt like work, didn't it?