Ocean Trader - A 1995 shipping simulator game

Where can I find it
Starting a new game
     Game goal  Difficulty
Income sources
     The stock market  Put the money in the bank  Buying warehouses and rent them out  Buy up goods in one port and sell in another  Freight contract  Forward freight contracForward freight contractt
Game mechanics
     Goods markeds  Distance, speed and fuel usage  Other


Not sure if I could call this game a classic. Ports of Call is probably better known as a shipping simulator, breaking new ground in 1987 as a PC game. Ocean Trader is a newer installment of a shipping simulator from 1995, featuring better graphics and no annoying minigame for entering and leaving ports.

Ocean Trader is of course also dated. The 2D SVGA (640x480) graphics with shipping still images and a world map still looks fine to me, and the midi music and the few sound effects is sufficient for its purpose. The controls are intuitive mouse usage. There's lots of ports, wares and ship types, and interesting aspects as being able to design and build own ships. The game falls a bit short though, for instance the following feels lacking.

Anyhow, the game has some charm, and I've come back to it to try and have some fun a couple of times. As there seems to be little to none information about this game online I thought I'd stuff something out there.

Where can I find it

As an old MSDOS game it is now available for free on the internet, like here from myabandonware.com. (I had it from old days, so I haven't verified the site above).

Starting a new game

When starting a new game you will likely want to press Settings and not Start new game. Otherwise you start the game with default settings, default player names and the like. I'm assuming default options are what is set in the settings menu by default, which is normal start for all players, first to 500.000 status and normal game level, and otherwise equal to image above. At least that's not the settings I want to play with.

Game goal

In the settings menu you can pick what the goal of the game is. When that goal is met you automatically leave the game, and possibly enter the high score list. It's nice to be able to have a goal and be able to get on the high score list, but it's sad that you have to decide in front whether you want to stop the game at that point or not. You can use continuous play to play as long as you want, but then you can never get on the highscore list.

There are various different type of goals, but all but one are pretty stupid.

Get some money, buy up some small and damaged ships and now you've won the game. Congratulations.
Same as ships, but you now have to buy heavier and/or more ships. They can still be in bad condition, and you still need not have money to be able to use them, so you still can buy them fairly cheap. When you have enough money you basically screw over the company by selling of good ships and buying a lot of cheap junk.
Status of what? This is some unexplained in game figure. How do you optimize something you have no idea how is calculated? I'm guessing it's a mix of the other goals. But anyhow, lets pick a known sensible goal instead.
Annual result
Now we're getting somewhere. If we get a year with a given decent result the company is at least in good shape. But why save up the goods with the highest profits and have to maximize start and end of year as to get the maximum earnings within that specific year? Lets look at assets instead.
Get your company worth a given amount of dollars. Finally we have a goal that makes sense. And it's the only goal that makes sense, so use this one if you want the game to ever end.

Playing for a set period of time and pick greatest assets to see if you win over the AIs is also a possibility, but achieving greatness sounds like a better goal than managing to work for a given time period without getting tired of what you're doing. All my games will be to played to achieve an asset limit.

NB: You can enter anything from 1 to 5000 million dollars to be the limit, but in game, anything above 2147 million is shown as a signed 32 bit integer in game, so 2148 becomes around -2148 million dollars, ~4296 mill becomes around zero, and 5000 around ~700 million. I'm not sure if it's just the game goal listing that is screwed or the actual implementation triggering end of game, but I'll stay below 2148 just to be sure.


Once the game goal is set, we can adjust player and company name, set difficulty and start. Each player can be set to be anything from Beginner to Professional. This decide how much resources you have to begin with. Professional starts with the smallest ship and $1.5 million while beginners start with a large freighter and quite a bit of cash. Setting this to the easier levels is thus more like making the game shorter rather than more difficult, though if you set the AIs to a simpler level than yourself it will of course be harder to match their assets in game.

The game level at the bottom of the screen sets the actual difficulty by basically cutting the profit margin of all the shipping routes. Normal might be more fun than professional if you're not going to invest in figuring out what routes are best. I'm playing at professional level now to check how easy that is to beat. Game details within this document will typically assume you're playing professional difficulty with professional start.

The home port is where you start with your first ship and where all your newly acquired ships also will start. There's no reason why you need to stick close to it, so it doesn't have that big of an impact. AIs also affect the price/availability of goods in ports they visit though, so it is nice to start another place than the AIs to avoid them affecting your starting game.

Income sources

So, we're trying to get our company worth as much as possible as fast as possible. How do we make an income? Lets look at the various income sources in the game.

The stock market

Lets start with this underdeveloped part of the game. You can buy and sell stock, which can give you a profit, however, the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. You get very little information about what would be good investments or not, so it is a very random experience. You can hire an expert to give you tips, but that likely still leaves it random, and severly cuts in your profit margin unless you invest a lot.

The data available in game here is severly lacking. Graphs doesn't even show a time axis. Without knowing if this development is within an hour or a thousand years, the graph is totally useless. By testing I've found that the time axis is around 4 months of time. Above we see the share index (the average growth of all the shares), and we see that in 4 months time it has gone from 991 to approximately 1075. The actual figure is sadly hard to tell due to lack of a grid here. That represent a ~8.5% increase in 4 months. If the same happens all other 4 month periods, we will yearly increase our investment by 27.7%. That's not a lot. I haven't tested the stock market that much, but looking in a few times, it sees you will be hard pressed to find a stock of a single company rising 5% within a month. You lose 1% of your investment when you sell or buy, so if you switch stocks every month after a 5% gain, you will only have a 3% gain. That's a 42.5% yearly increase, which is starting to look like something, but it seems very unlikely that you'll manage to get monthly 5% increase on average, even if you save/load to go forwards in time, and that the development doesn't change if you load the game back.

Thus, the stock market seems kind of useless, as you have no way to find out what to buy, and even if you magically manage to get the best stock, the profit still isn't great compared to other sources of income in the game.

Put the money in the bank

Another option is to merely put your money in the bank and let interest rate grow it. The interest late is typically just 5-10% yearly, so this give very little return value. It could possibly be useful to temporarily hold some funds while you're saving up for a new ship or something, but you have to decide when to withdraw all your money to begin with, and the interest rate depends on how long you lock it down, so it's not really that flexible either. The interest rate is typically so low that this option can be ignored.

Buying warehouses and rent them out

While handling a ship in port, you are able to buy warehouses in that port. Each port has a listed warehouse price, and a daily rental cost. This rental cost is actual what you get from others when they rent the warehouse capacity you have that you're not using yourself. This initially looks pretty great. Within a year, rental prices should have paid your investment back, and after that it's free income.

There are a few gotchas though. First of all, the income numbers doesn't seem to add up correctly. I'm guessing you're not able to rent out all your warehouse capacity, so you only get paid for a portion of your warehouses. Also, warehouses burn down occationally, so you want insurance, which decrease your profit. To buy warehouses you need to have a ship in port, so you need to float around from port to port to manage it too. You can have up to 500.000 tons of warehouse capacity per port, which could be a high income if you get that in all 100 ports.

Income from warehouses does not compete with income from shipping on normal and easier difficulties at least. I have not tested on professional difficulty yet. Using warehouses as a main source of income is at least not viable early game. As you don't have much money to invest in warehouses, the income will not cover your basic expenses. Could be interesting to test it out once you get some cash to invest though.

Buy up goods in one port and sell in another

This is what is intended as the primary income in the game, and from what I've seen, that holds true. You need to have a bank reserve to buy goods at one port and sell in another, and run calculations on what trips to make to optimize your profit. This will be discussed in more detail later, but lets just complete the list of possible incomes.

Freight contract

Sometimes the game offers you a contract to move a given amount of wares from the port you're currently in to some other port. The big bonus here is that you don't have to buy the wares yourself, so you freeze less assets while underway. Also, the profit margin is listed in front and may be better than you can achieve by buying and selling yourself. It all sounds great, but it doesn't always work out that great. Firstly, you're not offered a contract that often, so you can't run contracts all the time. Secondly, if you're too late delivering the goods you get fined, and many of the time limits are short or not possible at all. Contract available might not fit the ship in port either. Maybe it can't carry that type of good, can't carry enough of it, or can't travel fast enough to make it in time. All in all, look out for freight contracts to see if you can earn those extra dollars, but it won't be the mainstay of your economy.

Forward freight contract

You can check if anyone have a contract to get a given amount of a type of ware delivered to some port. If you do get enough into your warehouses in that port within the time limit, you will get a set price per ton, which could be well above what you're used to getting. The downside is that you will need quite a bit of assets to invest in goods until you get them sold, and you need to get them all to the port in time to fulfill the deal. Many contracts offered will likely not be possible for you to fulfill. In my experience, they are less likely to fit you than the pure freight contracts, and will not be a big part of your income.

Game mechanics

Goods markeds

Distance, speed and fuel usage

Taking a profit example on professional level with professional start, I manage to run my first trip from Sydney to Melbourne with 2999t machines, for a total profit of $405.830. (Including port/berthing charges and operation costs, but not including that ship is being used and will need repair some time later, and that I need to pay interest on money loaned from bank). That trip might be slightly better than the average trip I'll be making, given that prices will skew as I use the best routes, and that this looks like a good one, but I expect to get close to this later.

Speed Fuel consumption Days used travelling Total profits Profit/day
6.5 kn (50%) 12 t 6 399.642 66.607
7.8 kn (60%) 14 t 5 403.461 80.692
9.4 kn (72%) 17 t 4 407.135 101.783
13 kn (100%) 26 t 4 405.830 101.457

The game goal being getting assets up, profit/day is the value to maximize. We thus see that the most important thing by far is to not use any more days to transfer the cargo than needed. While we waste more fuel at max speed, than at the optimal 9.4kn, we see that the lower fuel usage doesn't add much to the profits. We also see that running at 7.8 kn, using a day extra, the operation costs for that day outweigh the fuel difference so the total profits are still lower before dividing by day.

These numbers could change a bit with other ships on other locations, but for it to be good to use bigger ships, profit margins should be the same or better, so I don't expect them to. But I can see if I remember to rerun a similar test with a bigger ship later in game. These numbers are from professional difficulty. On easier difficulties, hauling goods will be much more profitable, and the price of fuel will thus matter even less.

Conclusion: Always travel at max speed everywhere. You can earn some pocket change extra by using a slightly lower speed when you can get there in the same amount of days anyhow. (This assumes going at high speed doesn't have side effects such as wearing out the ship fast)

Ship Design

Ship Type Max speed Max load Max range Cost to create plans Days for plans to be finalized Cost of ship Time to build ship 1000 * Tons * knots / investment
Coastal Freighter 13 kn 3015 t 3632 na na $10.000.000 4 months 3.92
Coastal Freighter 16 kn 3000 t 5000 (7289) $208.520 19 $10.426.000 4 months 4.00
Freighter 17 kn 8130 t 6204 na na $25.000.000 6 months 5.53
Freighter 12 kn 10000 t 12000 (12215) $553.440 32 $27.672.000 7 months 4.00
Freighter 20 kn 10000 t 5000 (5089) $553.440 32 $31.120.000 8 months 6.43
Freighter 20 kn 10000 t 12000 (12215) $553.440 32 $31.120.000 8 months 6.43
Large Freighter 12 kn 12000 t 5000 (5587) $553.440 32 $31.211.000 8 months 4.61
Large Freighter 12 kn 20000 t 15000 (15582) $553.440 32 $48.582.000 11 months 4.00
Large Freighter 16 kn 12540 t 10907 na na $34.000.000 8 months 5.90
Large Freighter 20 kn 20000 t 5000 (5193) $971.640 42 $52.637.000 12 months 7.60
Large Freighter 20 kn 20000 t 15000 (15581) $971.640 42 $52.637.000 12 months 7.60
Refridgerator Ship 28 kn 15000 t 14000 (14745) $ 44 $58.746.000 14 months 7.00
Bulk Goods Freighter 18 kn 80000 t 15000 (14980) $1.522.200 50 $76.110.000 12 months 18.92
Container Ship 25 kn 50000 t 15000 (14938) $2.417.200 63 $120.891.320 20 months 10.34

From a profit point of view, what matters is how many tons of goods a ship can carry per day over a given distance, compared to the investment needed to use it, which is what the last figure tries to state. However, the figure is not perfect for several reasons:

One important thing to notice, is that the distance you can provide in plans, sets max fuel tank size, does not impact the cost of the ship at all. Always go for max range.




First professional runthrough
How hard is professional, if you try to optimize what you're doing? Lets have a run and see how it goes.