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Communication Cord: A Train Sim 2012 Q&A

RW3 > HS2

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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About the Author

Tim Stone