Fantastic Free Google Earth Game: Ships has released the first version of a fantastic free simulation game which leverages the browser-based Google Earth plugin as the primary graphics engine. The game is called “Ships” and lets you take the helm on ships – barges, cargo ships, container ships, and even a cruise ship (the QM 2). Everything is in 3D, you can drive the ships anywhere in the world, there are sound effects, physical modeling, and realistic visual effects that makes this a wonder to behold. Not only that, but the author – Paul van Dinther – has created some great camera tools to make it easier for people to follow the action and see the sights. This is the best example of the Google Earth API I’ve seen to date.
I was fortunate enough to work with Paul over the past few weeks providing some beta testing before he released Ships. Once you see the application, you’ll understand why I was thrilled to get involved. There are some technical notes on the application below the fold. But, watch this video review to see what I’m excited about:

You can try Ships right now – make sure you read the keyboard shortcuts. Everything else is pretty straightforward, although watching the video above may help you learn some tricks – especially with the cameras.
Ships uses the Google Earth API, Flash 8.0, and Javascript. He also used Soundmanager 2 for sound effects, and SketchUp for the 3D models. Not everything is physically modeled (the anchor doesn’t stop the boat). Paul wasn’t able to implement collision detection (for this release), so the ship doesn’t go “aground” when you hit the shore – maybe it will in the “Pro” version. Paul had this to say about working with the Google Earth graphics engine:

“Google Earth proves extremely capable to handle many overlays with
alpha transparencies which enables developers to create intricate and
graphically rich instruments. Proof of that can be seen in the
Compass/rudder instrument which consists of 5 layers of bitmaps.
(compass rose, rudder dial, rudder position needle, rudder target
needle and instrument bevel). Each layered image uses alpha
transparency to create a sense of depth and shadows. There really is
no limit what can be achieved in the hands of an experienced graphics

I’m hoping other developers will take a look at Ships and realize the GE platform has a lot to offer. This game really shows what is possible if you take advantage of what the Google Earth platform can do.
There were a couple of other GE plugins before Ships which gave a glimpse at what was possible. See the Paragliding Simulator and Satellite Debris plugin applications. But, today, my hat is off to Paul van Dinther for his Ships simulator/game. Great work Paul!

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. in GEarth, you can move your head by pressing control while dragging the left button =)

  2. This is unreal! Great work!

  3. I can’t get the ship to steer 🙁 using the cursor keys makes the view pan. what am i doing wrong?

  4. Very nice, good job with the game and nice overview with the video.

  5. Is anyone else having trouble downloading the plugin? Maybe it’s just me, but reagardless I want to play!

  6. Looks like a fascinating simulator. But realistically “drive anywhere in the world” must mean navigation around a suitable port or coastline (or river/canal for the barge?), as the real time speed shown on the video would make crossing any significant distance of open water a long drawn out affair. Presumably the ships scale correctly to any part of GE.

  7. GE fan 500 says

    Very cool:) I like the realism! What next? A racing game with GE plugin?

  8. @Chris: There’s a feature in the Ships sim a lot of folks seem to be missing. You can double-click the left mouse button and move your current ship to any location on the planet. So, you can easily “skip” to a new location and not wait to drive yourself the entire way.

  9. Very cool. I saw it running in browser, but is it possible to run it inside Google earth app itself? How?

  10. RightPaddock says

    Very nice, but it wont catch on ’til there’s pirates

  11. if the arrow keys are panning rather than steering, try clicking on the engine lever near the bottom left (this will switch where the focus is & fixes it for me)

  12. Frank Taylor says

    @Bogdan No, you can’t run the Ships simulator in Google Earth by itself. This is a Google Earth API application that requires the browser plugin.

  13. How realistic is it? Can you beach your cruiseship? What happens if you hit a glacier? are there storms, or is it a sunny day everyday?

  14. gamingdave says

    Very nice. I started building a racing game using Flash, JavaScript, and the GE browser plugin. I had some fairly basic collision detection in to keep the cars on the road, but unfortunately this technique wont work online.
    I was analysing the map data goming from google into flash, but due to securitry issues within the flash player, it will only run from a local file source.
    Hope to resolve it and get it online one day though, but need to wait for google to put a cross-domain policy file on their servers so the image data can be manipulated.

  15. Getting collision detection to work properly is the hard part in my opinion.

  16. argentinian says

    how install google earth ships????
    i don´t now how to do??????
    please send me a e-mail because i need google earth ships .(IT´S VERY FUN!!!!!!!)

  17. Terry Warner says

    I get no picture of the action when trying to play, only the controls and a blank screen.
    Any ideas?

  18. When I press the Horn I hear only a low, distant sound, not the rich distinctive horn as is evident from the Frank Taylor demonstration video on YouTube. Grateful for any assistance (so that my 5-year old son gets the thrill of sounding the horn as he pilots his ship!).

  19. Frank Taylor says

    @Robert: The horn you get depends on which ship you are using. Select a different ship for a different sound. Also, the sound is dependent on how close you are to the ship (Paul wanted to simulate spatial sounds). So, if your camera position is closer to the bridge of the ship, the sound will be louder.

  20. Will google earth use other cruiseships from royal carribean carnival etc, it would be awesome thanks

  21. Sean Blackfield says

    can You add a naval battle ship into the game please

  22. I have had trouble getting this to work. Can see the potential though. thnx

  23. I have had trouble getting this to work. Can see the potential though. thnx

  24. This looks like a fun game, it reminds me of the graphics in the old microsoft flight sim games. I will check it out, hope it works, thanks.

  25. Its a cool game, but is unreal if you control your ship badly:P

  26. the game isn’t working for me i have the controls and the sound but i can’t see anything its only a black screen i need help plese help me thx

  27. great lakes says

    Please i wish there could be a great lakes ship or
    two. One be a 1000 footer and the other around 730
    feet. This is the only simulation i can use on the
    great lakes.

  28. can i use bow and/or stern thrusters?

  29. there’s games on

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.