Communication Cord: A Train Sim 2012 Q&A

By Tim Stone on August 12th, 2011 at 5:49 pm.

A couple of weeks back I had a rant at RS.com for over-monikering their upcoming RailWorks sequel. Quite naturally they responded by turning up at my house armed with wheeltapping hammers and ballast-filled socks. I only escaped with my life by distracting them with questions. The answers to those questions are scattered like free newspapers on the shabby 2nd class seats beyond the jump.

RPS: Was there ever any internal debate about TS2012 (aka RW3) being free to RW2 users?

RW: There was a lot of debate, yes. It’s a very serious thing for a company to put so much effort into developing a product then to provide it to existing customers for free. But the free upgrade philosophy is key to the way we want to treat our customers. I think the “annual cash grab” business model is not a credible way forward any more. Our customers are incredibly loyal and I’m very keen to upgrade, and upgrade and upgrade them for as long as it makes sense to.

RPS: Are any of TS2012′s graphical enhancements – rainier rain, richer shadows, improved headlights etc. – likely to impact the way we drive?

RW: For sure. But I am not sure that’s the right way to think about it. We are making a Simulator, a simulator for something that exists in the real-world. Hard core simmers like ourselves have grown used to crappy graphics that the rest of our industry and consumers quite rightly sneer at. Frankly it’s not good enough! People don’t want decade old graphics. In the early days of the videogames industry simulators were cutting edge and hugely successful, now they aren’t and they’re not… we are changing that! TS2012 is beautiful. But more importantly it’s a simulator so it’s vital it looks real! Driving at night, in hard rain or facing the sun makes a big difference in the real world, and it now makes a big difference in our sim. With TS2012 we are starting to make real inroads on “True” simulation – not just fiddling around with subjective details.

RPS: Moving to a new graphics engine sounds disruptive. Has it been?

RW: Good grief, it’s been hard work! But we need to continue to push the genre forwards. It would have been simpler to stay with what we had, but if you don’t move forwards graphically you stagnate, look tired and ultimately lose customers. We know in this business that kind of thinking doesn’t cut the mustard with consumers, nor should it. TS2012 involved an enormous amount of work and testing, but frankly I have been stunned by what the team has delivered.

RPS: What’s been the most labour intensive aspect of the project?

RW: Engineering and then testing the backwards compatibility with all of our RailWorks 2 add-ons has been a huge task. It is important that users with substantial collections of our DLC can continue to enjoy their investment and know that they continue to enjoy RailSimulator.com’s full support. In total, there are thousands of scenario hours (missions) to be tested from end to end! Luckily, our QA team are eagle-eyed and tireless, provided they get a limitless supply of tea and biscuits.

RPS: Assuming you’re not going to tell me what the new British loco is, will you at least drop some hints? Era? Wheel arrangement? Coupling code?

RW: Hmmm. Look, the fantastic thing about simulation is that we can explore the way real world trains are developing. There is a lot of excitement about future rail-systems going forwards and we think we are going to be able to explore that really well. We should be announcing something soon!

RPS: Why did you pick the EMD F7 as the new US loco? Surely we had one of those already.

RW: We wanted to have the classic Warbonnet livery in the core sim, and we wanted to improve on the current model so it ended up being a no-brainer really.

RPS: The cab sway improvements sound promising. Is the degree of sway influenced by speed only or are there other factors at work?

RW: Like many aspects of the TS2012 technology, the devil is in the detail! What at first looks simple is the result of scrupulous programming. Numerous factors and settings are incorporated in the generation of cab sway to reflect different equipment and situations: driving a US ES44AC at 40mph near Barstow will generate more noticeable sway than driving a British high-speed train at 40mph through Reading. Loco type, track type, train speed and braking/cornering forces all influence the sway factor and fine adjustments are still being made to the relevant scripts. Of course at the heart of all this is the underlying reality of simulation. It wasn’t until I was waiting for the “bump” when slowly buffering up to a freight train that I realised how important the reality of real world physics is.

RPS: In the ‘Editing & Building’ section of the feature list there’s mention of AI changes. Is the average user likely to notice these?

RW: Yes, the improvements in AI train operation will introduce a subtle but much more convincing aspect to the driving experience. Firstly, AI locomotives can now couple to other rail vehicles, meaning that there will be much more realistic operations going on around you as you play. Secondly, we have introduced the concept of exact stopping points.  Previously in RailWorks 2, the instructions for a player or AI train have been to stop on certain markers – like a platform or siding – which have been pretty relaxed and easy to hit without that much concentration or precision.  With the new stopping point feature we can specify exactly where on this marker (which could be miles long) we want the player or AI to stop and actually score the accuracy of stopping using the Career System.  This has the effect of producing a greater player score spread and allows greater storytelling possibilities; for example, instead of telling the player to stop in Siding 1, we can now be more specific and tell him to stop next to Fred who is waiting at a location in Siding 1 and then score the player accordingly.  Oh! And then Fred can tell the driver what to do next, that might seem like a small thing, but think about it…. In terms of simulating the real world this is a game changer!

RPS: DLC has obviously played a big part in the RW success story. What locos and routes have been your biggest sellers?

RW: DLC is indeed a part of the unique appeal of RailWorks: it is by no means essential in order to enjoy the sim, but it allows users to grow it almost endlessly to suit their own preferences. Oddly enough, glamour and fame do not necessarily equate to more popular DLC – for example, our Flying Scotsman add-on (officially licensed from the National Railway Museum) was very popular, but not (for example) as popular as the Class 08 diesel shunter . In terms of routes, our recent modern-image routes such as Edinburgh-Glasgow and the Portsmouth Direct Line have proved extremely popular. I think many users are more excited riding something familiar and our future localized line-up will reflect this.

RPS: How important is Steam to the RW business model?

RW: Isn’t Steam important for all PC games? Steam is an incredibly stable and effective system that is continuously evolving. One obvious way Steam is important to our business model is it makes our free upgrade from RW2 to Train Simulator 2012 possible. The Team there get our business and have been incredibly helpful from the start. Bottom line is that unless you have a back end as powerful as this going forwards your software is just a dinosaur and going nowhere!

RPS: The Phorum Peninsula add-on with its different gauges, unusual stock, and varied vistas remains one of my favourite RW routes. Do you have plans for more charity event creations?

RW: I’m glad you like it, it really is quite unique and in a way sums up the spirit of the sim – there’s something for everybody, simply because you will enjoy it! We do have plans for further involvement with user-generated ‘community’ content, but all I can say at this time is ‘watch this space’.

RPS: Having publicly grumbled about the new name I do have to bring up the subject of nomenclature. Why did you decide to call the next version Train Simulator 2012? Are you planning to abandon the RailWorks name?

RW: I appreciate the point you were making. The bottom line is that our projections (which we are currently beating, I might add) have us growing to well over a million active users in the next few years. The vast majority of them aren’t interested in the nomenclature discussion we are having, they just want to drive trains! And Train Simulator is the name for that… it does what it says on the tin! RailWorks 3: Train Simulator 2012 is a perfectly clear indication of what you will find inside the box. My focus isn’t on names, it’s on delivering great technology. We are only two years into improvements and we are accelerating all the time, even I am just starting to grasp what we might achieve over the next few years!

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45 Comments »

  1. Orija says:

    Anyone on RPS who’s into this stuff?

    • TimA says:

      Yep. Looking forward to this update.

    • Archonsod says:

      Me too.

    • leeder krenon says:

      Yep, if you like trains it’s a lot of fun. I tend not to really want to drive for more an hour at a time as it is a tad repetitive but it’s got trains. MOTHER FUCKING TRAINS!

    • SavageD says:

      Yes. A shock I know (man looks forward to PC sim after reading a PC gaming site!).

      I’m quite looking forward to my free upgrade from version 2. And that’s after my free upgrade from version 1 (which I acquired during a ridiculous steam sale). These guys know how to build rapport.

      O/T: ‘Unstoppable’ with Mr. Denzel Washington is worth a watch. “This ain’t training. In training they just give you an ‘F’. Out here you get Killed.”

      Also, MOTHER FUCKING TRAINS!!

    • MartinNr5 says:

      Unstoppable is only worth watching if you are a train enthusiast.

      If you instead of trains enjoy “movies that doesn’t insult your intelligence and are watchable without you screaming at the screen” then you’d do well to stay clear of Unstoppable.

  2. thesisko says:

    But a niche game can’t have nice graphics. It must be indie and look like it’s from 1989 because “the rising cost of game development” can only support multiplatform shooters.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Well, that rain isn’t really very good. Real rain moves and forms rivulets. I’m sure if AAA titles focused on windscreen wiping action they’d blow it away.

      (This is the most British thing to make a whole trailer about. Rain. A trailer about rain and windscreen wipers. Seriously.)

  3. IDtenT says:

    “[...] limitless supply of tea and biscuits.”

    I want to work in their QA department. :<

  4. Teddy Leach says:

    Choo choo.

  5. abremms says:

    I don’t mean to slight someone’s hobby, but I really don’t get this. trains follow tracks in one of two directions, where’s the fun? I’m not trying to be smart or insulting, i genuinely don’t get the appeal, anyone who can enlighten me as to why a train sim is interesting?

    • leeder krenon says:

      TRAINS.

      it’s like asking someone who plays football manager: why do you play football manager?

      because it’s about football.

    • IDtenT says:

      Leeder, I’m going to slightly disagree there. I play football manager because it is football, yeah, but more importantly because it’s a genre masterpiece – you just don’t get a better management game.

      The same can be said about this too, probably. It’s not because it’s purely about trains, but because of the simulation of the engineering underneath the train.

    • leeder krenon says:

      fair point, but i have no idea how a train works, nor how to manage a football team. so i don’t know how realistic a representation of their respective subjects they are. they both are good games though (if you have some affinity with what is being simulated), and they make you feel like you are having a crack at the actual job in question. so yes, i think that means we are probably on the same track (GEDDIT?).

    • ascagnel says:

      Because it’s completely unlike anything else. A train can’t start or stop on a dime, and takes some trickery to reach it’s top speed, all while the scenarios hold you to some stringent standards.

      That said, this new version looks good, and may convince me to buy some of the expensive DLC. And while its expensive, it’s far cheaper than a model train setup.

    • abremms says:

      ok, thanks for the info, that does sound kinda interesting.

    • feda says:

      I don’t mean to slight someone’s hobby, but I really don’t get this. Formula 1 cars follow circular tracks in one direction, where’s the fun? I’m not trying to be smart or insulting, i genuinely don’t get the appeal, anyone who can enlighten me as to why a driving sim is interesting?

    • Vinraith says:

      @feda

      You’re thinking of NASCAR. There certainly are some oval F1 tracks, but many formula one races are on far more interesting courses.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%C3%BCrburgring

    • feda says:

      It’s still driving on a round track in one direction over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and

    • skurmedel says:

      I’d rather play this sim than watch F1 to be honest.

    • I4C says:

      @feda
      That goes for almost every game
      In a platform game u jump over and over and over and over again
      In a shooter u shoot things over and over and over again
      In a rpg you role play over and over and over again
      In a fighting game u fight over and over and over again

      :)

  6. Smannesman says:

    Is it realistic that you can barely see the cab move in the exterior view, but when you go to the interior view it’s like you’re in a tumble dryer?
    It does look quite nice for a train sim though, but will you finally see people boarding the train?
    That’s always really annoyed me with simulators, that you’re apparently the driver for a bunch of ghosts.

    • leeder krenon says:

      i am fairly sure i recall reading that the in-cab movement in the above video is exaggerated and it won’t be quite so crazy in the final version.

      you do get people boarding the train in railworks 2, but not smoothly. they walk up to the door and vanish, rather than taking a specific seat. that would be pretty neat if they cracked that, but i don’t know how easy it would be to do with the wide variety of trains in the game.

  7. ivan_dolvich says:

    just take a look at that: http://store.steampowered.com/app/24010/
    the price with all the dlc is about 1k

    so what i dont understand is why do ppl buy & play that stuff.
    i can understand having trains as a hobby, but i do not get playing it as a game.

    so is any of you willing to post your steam id with the hrs clocked in this, or just post a screenshot.
    and if you are very nice just write a little something why you love it so much to give doubters like me a idea.

    cause i know the simple fact that so many dlc exist means somebody plays this.

    • leeder krenon says:

      i’ve played about 30 hours. like all things on steam, that stuff gets dicounted. it was 75% off during the summer sale. plus no-one makes you buy it anyway. if you’re interested in a particular class of train, then you buy it. if you’re not, then you don’t.

      not entirely sure why you want folk to justify why they like some horrifically geeky pursuit like playing a train simulator, but personally i find it pretty relaxing, i like pretending to drive trains that i have been on in my youth or recently, and i guess also for escapism, to do something i won’t likely ever do for real. anyways. why does anyone play any game? next you’ll be asking “how many times have people like that like train simulators had sex?”.

    • metalangel says:

      I’ve got 49 hours logged on Steam for Railworks 2, and untold hours for BVE and MS Train Sim.

      I always loved trains since I was a kid, but the almost total absence of proper simulators (while planes and cars got all the love) was frustrating. MS Train Sim, a good, proper commercial sim with commercial production values was something I’d been waiting for since a very young age.

      Anyway, since then I’ve found myself working in the rail industry itself, but the ignorance (and that’s not meant in a bad way) among the general public as to what operating the railway and trains actually involves. The short answer is that it’s a hell of a lot more complex than pushing a lever one way to go and pulling it back to stop. A slightly longer answer is the various challenges driving (as is the case in these sims) presents. A fast express train requires you to pay close attention given how long it takes to stop, while a commuter train requires hard acceleration and perfectly timed and controlled braking to ensure you stop at the right point and keep to the schedule. A steam engine requires you to stay on top of keeping your boiler running happily and drive efficiently to avoid wasting steam. A heavy freight train (about the only thing there’s not enough of in Railworks… Barstow isn’t as challenging or interesting as Marias Pass was in MS Train Sim) requires considerable skill both to maintain momentum up hills and then to control the colossal weight behind you back down the other side without losing control.

      As for the DLC… well, frankly, I think the Railworks DLC thing is obscene. Individual trains costing that much is bad enough, were it not for the fact that the vast majority do not have a route that they run along in real life available for the game (remember, rail fans are obsessed with accuracy and realism). Some of the add-on routes are also absurdly overpriced (Glasgow Airport especially, at £24.99 that’s over a pound per minute for how long it takes to run from end to end!) and a huge number of the add-on trains don’t come with many or any of the preset scenarios that give you a task or schedule. Leaving what, driving aimlessly around an empty route?

      Don’t pay too much attention to the DLC (some of the route-addons aside, most of it is a huge ripoff) but the main game itself is well worth a try.

    • Kittim says:

      HI,

      I suppose if your not into trains it’s kind of hard not to go “Huh?” :)

      When I was a kid, I loved trains. My parents had to take me into London once a week for treatment for an illness. This went one for over three years, every time we took the train, waiting on the platform, I saw all kinds of trains thundering by.

      Roll on *cough* several decades *cough* and I still have a fondness for them. But I’ve never had the room or the money to create a model railway. Plus, watching model trains going round and round does not appeal to me in the same way as trying to drive one.

      The challenge, while maybe not as hard as flying a plane is still there though, finishing a commuter run while staying on time for all your stops and not exceeding speed limits and comfort levels can be harder than you think.

      I’m surprised the article did not make any mention of the editors that come with it. The learning curve is quite steep, but it’s possible to build your own routes out of the box, as well as create your own scenarios (missions). It’s also possible to create your own locos or rolling stock if you want, but it does require that you know your way around a 3D modeller such as 3DS Max, or if your not loaded 3D Crafter (used to be called 3D Canvas). Alternatively, there’s Blender for free, one very talented person has created the Python scripts to convert models into RW format. You can also create models for anything else that goes on a route, such as buildings, stations, signs and signals. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy, but it’s possible. There’s a hell of a lot of free stuff around too, made by fans. Some of the free routes are of remarkably high quality.

      The amount of DLC you see on Steam is not all of it either, there are a few companies that make content for RW that sell directly from their web sites. But your not forced into buying anything from Steam or anywhere else, you just go for the stuff that interests you. The prices may seem a bit steep, but there can be a lot of time invested in creating a loco or a route. 700 man hours for making a loco is not unheard of. Routes, depending on their size and the amount of custom assets can take even longer.

      I fully understand people not finding it appealing and I respect their opinion. Playing computer games is ultimately about having fun. If it don’t float your boat, fair enough.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      120 hours here and I’m not even that into trains, its just nice and compelling! Seriously, coolness of subject will always be in the eye of the beholder, starcraft just makes me cringe like watching a budget mid morning sci fi on some channel like Viva

    • ivan_dolvich says:

      thanks for sharing a little.
      i did not mean to expose anybody or make you justify to me in any way that you play it and enjoy it.
      i was just curious and thankfully i got some very good answers, metalangel and Kittim thank you for explaining it in such detail.

      i play stuff like minecraft that doesn’t look appealing to me at all in the first place, and i can’t really tell you why i have so much fun, but i do.
      as for dlc. now i get it, you usually don’t buy all of them like mappacks or newunitspacks; more like new characters in a rpg

      the purpose of a game is to enjoy it, that much i know. and now i know a little bit more. thanks! and have fun!

    • Tim Stone says:

      I had a bash at explaining my motivation earlier this year:

      http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-03-30-why-i-love-train-simulators-opinion

      Like Metalangel and Kittim I enjoy the unique challenges, and loved trains long before I loved train simulators.

      In my case there’s also a nostalgia thing going on. When I see a blue-liveried BR Class 47 trundle past in RailWorks, I’m making contact (albeit faint contact) with the vanished world of my youth. Thatcher, CND, Grange Hill, Dexys, Ford Granadas… I’m time travelling.

    • metalangel says:

      Tim, you might consider taking a day to ride Gerald (aka 1W91) from Cardiff to Holyhead and back, if Class 47s are your thing:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitmasterbloke/5731294223/

    • Tim Stone says:

      No Sulzer purr, but, yes, very tempting.

  8. ArcaneSaint says:

    And after this we can expect Railworks 4: Train Simulator 2012: Track Cleaner Simulator: Rail Edition

    • Dozer says:

      Railworks 4: Train Simulator 2012: Track Cleaner Simulator: Rail Edition 2013. Get it right.

  9. Dozer says:

    When I read my RSS feeds tonight I was wondering which of the RPS Four Three knew what a communication cord was. Seemed improbable any would know, but is it really improbable or am I exaggerating my tendency to know insignificant dead terms?

  10. Reikon says:

    I want to play this, but the game is too Western-focused. I want Asian routes and trains.

    • johnpeat says:

      Because there’s not a metric tonne of those available already (admittedly you need to speak/read Japanese for most of them – but…)

  11. kuran says:

    Huge fan of Densha de Go! on PS1, PS2 and PSP… so yeah, I love train games. I will definitely look into this… looks stunning.

  12. metalangel says:

    Should I even ask why the F7A+B on the cover is only pulling two cars, or why it’s on the wrong side of the double tracks?

    Nah, instead I’ll commend them on evading the question being asked about it so badly. You hardly got to use the F7 in RW2 as it is, with one of the two career scenarios for it on the San Bernadino route being entirely a matter of getting the dynamic brake set to around 20% and then just tapping the throttle buttons up and down to toggle between one setting which allows a gradual increase in speed, and another which causes a gradually loss of speed. The very definition of a ‘screensaver’ route!

  13. terry says:

    I misread the title and thought this was an update of the old Artdink game A-train. Curse you, English language!

  14. povu says:

    ‘I think the “annual cash grab” business model is not a credible way forward any more.’

    Indeed. Overcharging for DLC is the future!

  15. step21 says:

    The best train sim afaik was still MS Train Simulator. If only because of the vast amount of Expansions for it (both user made and commercial). Did I mention there was a lot of free, user-made additional content like locos, tracks etc?

    • metalangel says:

      Oh my yes. There was an excellent update for the NEC that added a huge freight subdivision, a small section of the Washington D.C. Metro and all the missing commuter stations along the line. There was also the absolutely legendary LGVMed route, which let you drive TGVs from Marseille to Nimes, Avignon and Valance.

      The most astonishing, however, was the rivet-perfect London & Port Stanley route. I followed its development from start to finish (the guy kept a diary tracking his progress), amazed at the detail. If you have MSTS still, I strongly encourage you to take a look, it’s a fascinating trip through the heyday of interurban operations in North America almost a century ago.

      http://lnps.msts.steam4me.net/

      (you can also then go to the Halton County Radial Railway museum in Guelph, Ontario – as I did twice a summer since early childhood – and ride on one of the cars)

  16. dejoh says:

    I agree. MSTS was the best train-sim for its time. I had it from day one, spent many hours running great routes. But it being 10 years old is really showing its age. As in any game, new technologies
    leave the old version in the dust. Three cheers for RW.