The Flare Path: Talks To The Bogeymen

By Tim Stone on September 22nd, 2013 at 3:00 pm.

Flare Path would like to apologise for the late running of Friday’s column. The 50-hour delay was caused by signalling problems, leaves on the line, partisan sabotage, and a Lambton Worm-linked tunnel collapse. Anyone seriously inconvenienced should write to The Flare Path Customer Services Dept. c/o Captain Harry ‘Dapper’ Danvers, The Green Lion, Badger Cull Lane, Little Coddling, Wiltshire, requesting a compensation form request form request form.

By the time compensation seekers get their compensation form request form request form request acknowledgement slips Train Simulator 2013 will probably be Train Simulator 2014. The PC’s prettiest, palliest and most prominent ironhorsemanship game undergoes its annual free transformation next Thursday. Rather impressed by last year’s gratis metamorphosis, but a tad disappointed by RailSimulator.com’s continued unwillingness to explore the globe and embrace multiplayer, I thought I’d prepare for TS2014 by plying Jon Rissik (VP of Brand & Acquisition in Chatham) with tricky questions.

RPS: Whacking a new cover and number on the end of TS every year, implies significant changes. What’s bold and new about TS2014?

Jon: This is the first year that we have really gone out to our current players and asked them what they like about the experience today, and what they want to see in future iterations. At the same time we also spoke to a number of people who said that they would be interested in playing the game, but for whatever reason weren’t doing so today. TS2014 is, in many ways, our response to that.

Essentially our core fans are telling us that they are happy with the experience, but would like a greater range of ways to create and share content. So we have expanded what players can build and share via Steam Workshop considerably as a result of that. For those players who have a few reservations about getting into train simulation, we have really looked to address their concerns by making the first 30-60 minutes of play more engaging and by introducing our new career system. It allows players to complete scenarios and receive a score depending on how they perform against those set objectives. We then offer players a ‘career’ of levels and ratings which can be shared with friends. On top of that we have a number of technical improvements that will make for a more authentic experience, such as an intuitive new consist builder. And remember, everything I have mentioned comes as a free upgrade from the day of the TS2014 launch for existing players. All they need to do is boot up the game and they will be playing the very latest version.

RPS: Tiny outfits like Run 8 and the Open Rails team have managed to produce working train sim multiplayer modes. Why hasn’t RSC?

Jon: We have spent a lot of time discussing the multiplayer question, both internally and most importantly, with our customers. There are some players who see it as an important feature, but many more have told us that they want to enjoy their experience on their own, in an environment where they have complete control over it. While the idea of creating and running a rail network with friends sounds fun, it relies on everyone playing together in a certain way, essentially bringing structure to what is an unstructured experience. Our players are telling us they are happy for other people to see what they are doing, as long as they can’t interfere directly with their content. This is another reason why we have spent time implementing the career system and delivering a simple and intuitive way for players to check out their friends progress. We are certainly not turning our back on multiplayer, we just want to make sure that when we do introduce it, it will be welcomed by the majority of players as a fun and engaging feature in its own right, rather than simply a tag-line that fits neatly onto the back of the box.

RPS: Why were Donner Pass, London-Faversham, and Hamburg-Hanover chosen as new default routes, and which routes have been dropped to make room for them?

Jon: Donner Pass, London-Faversham and Hamburg-Hanover are three of the most popular stand-alone routes available for the game. They cover our three largest markets (US, UK and Germany), and we think they offer a great entry point for newcomers to the franchise. Existing owners of these routes will automatically have their content upgraded with the TS2014 feature set. So for example we have done a lot of work to improve our mountain texturing, particularly when viewed from a distance. Any current owner of the Donner Pass route who fires it up after the release of TS2014 will automatically receive that upgrade. As for routes that we had to drop to create these, we spend a lot of time thinking about routes that our customers will want. The key questions we ask ourselves are; ‘is it a popular/known route?’’, ‘are the locos that run on the route interesting?’ and, ‘is there a good variety of engaging gameplay to be derived from the route?’ If the answer is yes to all three, we add the route to the list of ‘potentials’. We are really pleased with routes we are including in TS2014, but we could have gone in other directions. We’re not short of ideas!

RPS: RSC seems to play it fairly safe when it comes to add-on themes. Four years after Paul Jackson stated “I have high hopes for India, Russia, and Japan as potential markets”, there’s still no official add-ons set in those countries. Why?

Jon: Over the past few years we have been focused on growing our customer base in the key established western markets. For a relatively small company like ours, that’s been the right decision, as it has allowed us to focus. However it’s fair to say that we are still excited about opportunities in the markets you mention. They are challenging places for western publishers to be successful, but we certainly believe that the core ingredient is there – an enthusiasm for rail and everything associated with it.

RPS: I suspect part of the reason I now spend more time bus and truck simming than train simming is that games like ETS2 and OMSI offer random traffic flows and traffic lights. Do you plan to add more unpredictability to TS scenarios?

Jon: Our Quick Drive feature, introduced in TS2013, brought the ability for players to quickly and easily choose any journey on a route that they wish.  While you drive you will see random (but appropriate) wagons placed in yards and meet random trains coming in the other direction.  For example, when starting a quick drive scenario in a Class 395 in Faversham station, as I pull out I see a Class 395 coming in, another time it might be a Class 375 and another time there might be nothing at all. Random signalling is far trickier to manage; unlike the roads you’re operating in a strictly managed environment on the rails.  However, with Steam Workshop support for scenarios, you can of course choose from a huge selection of over 2,000 scenarios to download and drive, so if you want a new challenge you can find it quickly and easily and you’ll never know quite what’s coming each time.

RPS: Has RSC ever considered branching out into other sim areas or blending traditional train simming with tycoon elements a la Euro Truck Simulator or Farming Simulator?  It strikes me a ‘run your own heritage railway’ game could be rather fun – buying and selling stock, investing in facilities, extending lines etc.

Jon: I think when you start introducing elements of management, or ‘tycoon’ style play then you enter firmly into the category of ‘game’, rather than ‘simulation’. We make simulation ‘hobby’ experiences and we work hard not to dictate the way that the game should be played. We are introducing a richer player career system in TS2014, but we know that some of our players will still prefer to run locos at their own pace, without the pressure or challenge of scenarios. We have some players who prefer not to drive the loco at all and simply enjoy accessing the passenger view and watching the world go by. Others spend the majority of their time in the editor, customising content and creating their own, unique experience. All of that is okay. We like to think that we provide a ‘kit’ of routes and locomotives – how you enjoy them is up to you.

RPS: Is the update likely to cause problems for any existing add-ons or scenarios?

Jon: We go to great efforts to ensure that everything we do is backwards compatible, which is a challenging job when you have more than 100 pieces of DLC to look after.

RPS: Is it going to have any effect on framerates?

Jon: There will be no negative effect.

RPS: Thank you for your time

 

The Flare Path Foxer

… is sunning itself on a litter-strewn railway embankment near Clapham today. Sorry. Back next week.

Morbid duo SuicideKing and Osdeath share last Friday’s prize.

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37 Comments »

  1. trjp says:

    The answer to the multiplayer questions is typical PR/Politician “not answering the question” nonsense – so I’ll answer it using my magical de-waffleator

    “We’ don’t think multiplayer is as important as other stuff – simples”

    I do wonder what the hell people do with a multiplayer rail sim?

    “Oh look, that train there is being driven by BRIAN0076 and that one by DELTICXXX – wonderful – shall we all go on a quest together?”

    Collaborative building could be better I guess but given the massive amount of content, it’s clearly not stopping people.

    • ghling says:

      Well, the idea of a multiplayer is to add more unpredictable scenarios, as mentioned with ETS2 or OMSI. Currently, the most scenarios in TS are “start there, drive there and stop on those stations”, with green signals nearly every time. This might be the ideal for a train environment, but on the other hand isn’t very challenging for the player. So with a multiplayer, you can add some delays, red signals, occupied sections in front of you, just like the real world.

      • David_VI says:

        Thing is, a good scenario writer won’t always have it going a smoothly as all greens. I write activities myself for a website and I use real timetables… This is where I think Train Simulator excels. The idea of running your train out of Liverpool Street at rush hour, with lots of traffic passing you in both directions.. a tight timetable… stopping at the right place first time. random failures.

        Personally I enjoy this way of ‘playing’ But I also really enjoy the more atmospheric and relaxing nature of it… the late night or early morning timetables where there’s barely any other traffic so when there is it’s quite exciting. Driving from ilford depot to Liverpool street at 4am on an empty stock movement, following a stopping service from Shenfield is an atmospheric and challenging drive as you are chasing yellow signals and can do it without stopping at all if you coast and judge your distances well..

        Thats why I enjoy it.. Interesting stuff can be done.

    • Archonsod says:

      “I do wonder what the hell people do with a multiplayer rail sim?”

      Well, steam engines did have more than just a driver for example.

      • InnerPartisan says:

        Oh my, what an incredibly fun multiplayer experience that would be for the one who gets to shovel the coal. Totes immersive!

    • foop says:

      The answers to most of it were PR waffle.

      Q: “which routes have been dropped to make room for them?”
      A: PR puff, waffle, complete lack of an answer about which routes have been dropped.

  2. ghling says:

    Hey RSC, how about adding better support for controllers at last? It’s nice you add the support for the x360 pad, but I can’t describe how much it annoys me that I can’t use the throttle control of my joystick to control a train with pretty much the same controller. I’m so much less interested in creating and sharing content than in trying to get a realistic control for a simulation.
    C’mon it can’t be that hard.

    • DellyWelly says:

      Have you tried using x360ce? I don’t know if it works with TS but it’s an xbox pad emulator with a great front end so you can easily set and calibrate your controller.

      https://code.google.com/p/x360ce/

      Just put the exe in the game folder and set up from there, it has helped me in the past for games that didn’t support many controllers.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Mechanicus_ says:

    Worth noting, given that TS2013 automatically upgrades to 2014, that TS2013 can currently be had for £3.75 from greenmangaming with voucher code GMG25-J4B0D-FLH8M.

    I would love to see a train simulator game which also presents itself as a “train set” game where you can sculpt miniature terrain, place settlements (or have them appear themselves) and then build, run and drive the trains to serve that little world.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Streets of Transport Tycoon?

      .. er, Rails of, I guess

    • VFRHawk says:

      Thank you very much for that, I like the sound of the new additions and been thinking about buying this for a while, that made me get off my a**e and do so…

      Graham

  4. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    Wait, this wasn’t the interview with Napoleon I was expecting.

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      How far in did you notice? :)

    • The Random One says:

      It was also not the interview Napoleon I was expecting, although Napoleon II had seen it coming.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        Agreed, neither Napoleon I nor Napoleon III were good with stress, and both caved under the prussia.

  5. Freud says:

    In a train simulator is it the driving or the stopping that’s alluring to those that like those games?

    • fastica says:

      In a First Person Shooter is it the shooting or the not shooting that’s alluring to those that like those games?

      • Freud says:

        The shooting.

        But in a train game, stopping at platforms is the skill part, isn’t it?

        • Sheng-ji says:

          Presumably you don’t just run around shooting at whatever happens to fill your screen, you enjoy gunning down your target, right?

          In a train sim, you’re not just driving and stopping – you’re trying to hit your targets too, get to each station at exactly the right time, make sure you’ve not made all you passengers puke etc.

          Scenarios get more complicated than that – but a basic intro would be a simple branch line run with those two goals.

        • Archonsod says:

          “But in a train game, stopping at platforms is the skill part, isn’t it?”

          Depends on what you’re driving. In a steam engine you’ve got to worry about engine pressure (and balance building steam with moving the wheels), fire temperature and similar. Electrics, particularly the early ones, tend to have their own quirks with regards to the engines, and even with the diesels you’ve got things like speed limits and signals to worry about. The skilled part is keeping several hundred tons of metal under control while running to a timetable in all conditions and varied topographies.

    • bstard says:

      Been wondering that as well. Seems to me train games are among the most boring and DLC costly around. Nothing is exploding, dieing or taking their cloths of.

  6. pingu666 says:

    there are a couple of model railway sims, google as i cant remmber what they are :\, one might be hornby.

    more controls options, trackir that works, gfx that run at decent frame rate, and without random issues like a black sky would be rather nice too.

    think its been part of some bundle too recently..

  7. Moth Bones says:

    Yay, you’re not ill! I was worried.

    I have this game but still haven’t tried it, as I assume my laptop would struggle. But the prospect would be more enticing with creaky mountain or jungle railways. I guess the research involved in producing a route is pretty in-depth.

  8. Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

    Welcome back, Fl. Lt. Stone.

    Everything is more fun multiplayer. Mucking about with Train Sim on my own doesn’t sound quite entertaining enough to justify a purchase, but if it came up on sale and I could arse about in it with RPS chums then I’d certainly grab hold of it.

    I’ll assume RCS have done their sums right and the number of players like me wouldn’t compensate for the time and difficulty of adding MP, but it’s what it’d take to get me playing it.

  9. SuicideKing says:

    Yay!

    I was going to write “boat” for 11 initially, but thought U-boat would me more literal than exaggerated.

    Anyway, it’s always satisfying to solve the Foxer, even partially.

  10. shagohad says:

    hey flare path peeps, this is a question not really related to the article but was wondering if any of you guys were aware of a ww2 flight sim that still has active servers? I have heard maybe IL2 Cliffs of Dover? any others? War thunder is ok, but I cant stand f2p bullshit

    • Saarlaender39 says:

      Hmm,…”Wings of Prey”?
      http://www.airwargame.com/
      (btw: it’s on Steam, too)

      • Mattressi says:

        I’m pretty sure WoP servers are dead. As in, no one can actually access them any more. Gaijin (the devs who made WoP) also make War Thunder, so I’m guessing they don’t plan to ever fix WoP’s servers.

        IL-2 CoD has some servers still active, especially the ATAG (Air Tactical Assault Group) server. They fly with no icons and full real settings. You’ll need to use the Team Fusion mod, which greatly improves CoD.

        Other than that, I’d say you should probably wait for either IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad (made by the guys who made Rise of Flight, plus some guys from the IL-2 CoD team) and/or DCSWWII:E1944 (…DCS, with a WW2 setting, set in Europe, in 1944…), which is being made by Oleg and a few other guys who were the head of previous IL-2 games.

        Though, if your main thing is not the social/communication aspect, and, rather, just the challenge of fighting real people, you could always check out Battle of Britain 2. It doesn’t look so great any more and it has no multiplayer, but it has very good AI, which might be enough for you.

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      Il-2 1946 (all the stuff from the pre-Cliffs of Dover Il-2 games in one package) still has servers you can drop in and play on through Hyperlobby. The game is less than £5 on Amazon and while it lacks the high-fidelity of Cliffs of Dover or Rise of Flight right at the edge of the flight model, it still has extremely good physics modelling, an enormous amount of flyable aircraft, and is still being patched.

    • shagohad says:

      thanks guys :)

  11. P.Funk says:

    In response to the Multiplayer question he basically said that most of their player base are anti-social control freaks who like the idea of simulating real life but decry the idea of other kiddies ruining it by being CoD players.

    Sounds to me like the majority of the Train Simulator community are old men who have a strange bias against multi play because they all think its exactly like being on XBL. They must never have seen the product of closed Minecraft servers.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s a train sim. Given you’ve got the choice of two possible directions to go in it’s hard to see how multiplayer is really feasible in the first place. Unless they start simulating the train crew beyond the driver anyway; maybe they could include a Papers Please style minigame where one player has to check everyone’s tickets while the other drives?

      • P.Funk says:

        How about just having a bunch of people driving around on trains with 1 or 2 people working to coordinate their movements and giving them schedules and then having those people in charge have to deal with players who fail to keep their schedules and shuffle things around?

        Its not exactly difficult to figure out what you could do since the vast majority of making a rail network function is trying to make dozens of locomotives efficiently share a limited track space.

        Given what people can do with Arma City Life this seems like a natural idea for this type of game. Imagine, dozens of control freaks freaking out over control together. Timetables and switching and having to put together a consist before your window closes. Its exciting stuff I tells ya.

  12. Yglorba says:

    Man, we have so many WWII games, but no Maginot Line simulators. That would be awesome — play as the French defenders on the mighty, invulnerable Maginot Line, helplessly receiving radio reports that the Germans are simply ignoring you and going around through Belgium, then receive a command to surrender without firing a shot. Glory of the Maginot Line would be the greatest WWII game of all time.

  13. Danny252 says:

    I feel almost, but not quite, embarrassed for knowing the books those illustrations came from.

    (I also congratulate you on your choice of supporting the correct railway to have illustrations of)

  14. Megadyptes says:

    “Essentially our core fans are telling us that they are happy with the experience, ”
    hah, good one!

    Bunch of mindless PR talk and no real answers. I don’t think anyone will give a shit about medals or whatever and just brushing aside multiplayer like that is a joke.

    Shoulda asked about TrackIR and controller support (asiide from the 360 controller support, and even then you can’t redefine the controls) and about the actual sim aspect.

    I want glorious clicky train cockpits, or whatever the driving part is called, where I can flick all those switches and press all them buttons, not just having maybe 4-5 of them being clickable while the rest are just blank. I want OMSI or DCS level of detail dammit, not more reskins and half assed overpriced trains. I found it amusing when he made a distinction between a simulator and game when asked about economy. What a load of bull.

    And bug fixes, there’s bugs in routes and scenarios from last year that still have not been fixed.