Have You Played… Hellfire?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Silly question. Of course you haven’t. Michael Wright’s texty ‘haulage bashing’ sim is so niche you could place an ormolu vase in it. It recreates a rarefied form of trainspotting in which sighting locos isn’t enough. To scratch a particular diesel or electric from your Ian Allan motive power pocketbook you must travel behind it.

Bashers are, or rather were (the demise of loco-hauled passenger trains in the UK together with the inexorable rise of ticket prices has – I assume – killed the hobby), incredibly well-travelled. Like twitchers they criss-crossed Britain in search of the unusual and the elusive. They had their own jargon. Beast. Bailing. Dreadful. Moves. Gen. Hellfire. And, in the early days of the PC, thanks to this man, Alan Baylis, they got their own game.

Rail Rover was the inspiration for Hellfire, a sim that hides remarkable complexity behind unassuming menus and maps. It’s 1981 and you’re a basher with the entire British rail network at your Adidas Samba-shod feet. Travelling on authentically timetabled trains, you roam the rails hunting for the blue and yellow workhorses on your ‘needs’ list. These locos aren’t randomly scattered. They’re plausibly diagrammed. There’s no point stalking Hoovers in the North or Deltics in the South, for example. Peaks, Cromptons, Rats, Whistlers, Duffs… every form of motive power has its natural habitat.

Knowledge of loco haunts is important in Hellfire, but so too is luck and in-the-field intelligence gathering. Breakdowns and miscalculations can lead to missed connections and interminable waits on one-horse backwater stations. The demo includes another peril – ticket inspectors. Unless you’ve paid your 25 GBP, this singular game assumes you’re a fare dodger. Eventually your luck will run out – the old hiding-in-the-WC trick will fail – and your virtual bashing odyssey will be brought to an end by a gruff man with a double arrow on his hat.


  1. StAUG says:

    I wonder if train spotters look down on bird watchers, and vice versa.

    • trjp says:

      Not as much as people who do neither of those things, nor much else which is interesting, look down on either of them…

      • Harlander says:

        There was a brief period in the nineties, as I recall, of really intense media sneering at people with unusual hobbies. Trainspotting, tabletop RPGs, birdwatching.

        ‘Anoraks’, they called them. And then, just as suddenly as the trend appeared, it vanished.

        • TOYLTH says:

          The internet slowly made everything ‘normal’.

          Suddenly you could chat to thousands of people that had the same strangeness as you and then it wasn’t so strange anymore.

  2. OpT1mUs says:

    I understood cca 10% of the article

  3. Zenicetus says:

    This is like cricket, isn’t it? A pastime that only someone from the UK can understand? And probably intentionally designed to confuse those of us from the USA, in particular.

    • laiwm says:

      Is trainspotting a uniquely British hobby? I’d assumed it was the manifestation of some universal desire to catalogue that dwells in the hearts of some small fraction of people everywhere. Although I’ve never heard of it being mentioned in US media.

      As far as I know it’s been on the decline here, as Mr Stone says, as train companies streamlined & standardised their fleets. I’ve seen people spotting busses, and I think plane spotting’s still going strong.

      • gwop_the_derailer says:

        “Is trainspotting a uniquely British hobby?”

        Not if I am to believe this video.

        • gwop_the_derailer says:

          You will never love anything in your life as much as this man loves trains.

          • trjp says:

            This man’s discovery of cheese puffs easily wins

            link to youtu.be

          • gwop_the_derailer says:

            @trjp: I’m not sure whether I should be happy for his ecstasy or worried that solitude has driven him to a breakdown.

            I guess I’ll do both, just to be safe.

      • trjp says:

        Plane spotters are greatly hampered by the crackpot security in operation at most airports but plenty of people still do it from the perimeter (I pass them most days!)

        Train spotters aren’t really diminished in the UK either – it’s maybe less about collecting numbers and more about seeing rare combinations of stuff/engines in unusual places now – alongside recording stuff for YouTube/taking pics etc. etc.

        The US has plenty of train enthusiasts – Europe isn’t entirely devoid of them either – but the ‘collecting numbers’ thing was a MUCH more British thing (thanks to Ian Allan – RiP) perhaps?

        • Zenicetus says:

          That’s what I was wondering about (collecting numbers etc). There appears to be something uniquely British about it. I mean, trains are a thing here in the USA, but I think interest in them was mostly expressed on the model railroading side of things.

          Every kid, including me, had an electric Lionel Train Set when I grew up. This was in the pre-Internet stone age and kids have more distractions now. But I never heard of anything like trainspotting, at least where I grew up (Florida). I guess we’re too spread out and car-focused here. Trains aren’t a central part of life for most of us in the USA.

      • benab says:

        Trainspotting is certainly not just a British hobby, though I don’t think you usually hear it called “trainspotting” in the States. “Train watching,” I guess.

        When I was a kid in the 1980s, my dad used to take me out to Cajon Pass outside of LA to watch trains all day, with some of his railfan friends. I don’t remember him keeping a list but certainly some people did.

        I’ve never heard of “Bashing” before reading this article, though. I think that really is a British only thing (since in the US freight and passenger are handled bydifferent companies).

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        phuzz says:

        Perhaps part of it is that it’s possible to travel across the width of the UK in half a day (by rail of course), spot a particularly elusive piece of rolling stock, and be home by the evening. In a weekend you could easily do a lap of the UK by rail. It’s all just a bit more accessible than the US.

    • shevtsov200 says:

      In Russia they are called “Zhelezodorozhnie manyaki” which means something like “Railroad maniacs”.

  4. leeder krenon says:

    I’ve played it! For about 10 minutes.

    • Metalfish says:

      But Mr Stone said “Of course you haven’t.” Next you’ll be commenting on the frequency of your visits to the Cloud District….

  5. Al__S says:

    Oh bashers still exist. I’m not one, but I know they’re out there

  6. pertusaria says:

    Two train-related articles in a week – outstanding! Keep up the good work, Mr. Stone!