Train Sim World


Steam is coming to Train Sim World 2 and is currently in development.
Steam power is a very different experience to the diesels and electrics already available in the game. Getting it right as a player experience means understanding where those differences are and how it should feel to manage power on a more mechanical basis. We caught up with Dovetail Games’ founder, CEO and Chief Creative Officer Paul Jackson to get his insight into what the challenges are, and what we want to accomplish in bringing steam to Train Sim World.
- What are we looking for with a steam experience?
PJ: "I feel that all trains are wonderful things. I see people complaining about the Pacers running in the north of England but I love them. They might have been cold and noisy things but I’ve loved the times I've ridden on one, then again I didn't have to live with them every day.
I've got a deep love of trains that has stuck with me ever since I became a train fan in my mid-teens. It was then that I started trainspotting with my friends and ever since then I have gone out of my way to see trains everywhere I've been. We've done railway quizzes at Dovetail and it freaks me out as much as it freaks everyone else out that I know most of the answers. I am absolutely that guy.
For me, the trains that you enjoy are the ones that you engage with in the real world, and that's critical. Whether it's the train you see in the morning, or a preserved steam engine, authenticity is everything."
- When you say authenticity, what do you mean?
"I've talked a lot in the past about what my perfect train experience would be. For me it would be standing on Crewe station in 1953/54 when most of the privations of the war were over. Services were reasonably back to normal but for all intents and purposes modern technology hadn't started to encroach on the steam trains that were running. Just being there and watching things happen naturally where an unexpected loco might come through the station is my idea of an perfect experience.
For me, that would be the epitome: to see the train in its natural environment; perhaps it's dirty, perhaps they had to put a different engine on at the last minute. It pulls into the station and maybe the fire's run down and the crew might be tired but they set off again, heading north.
When I think about steam trains there's preserved or heritage rail which are superb, but what I really want is steam in its natural environment."
- So, work-a-day steam?
"Yes. In many ways that would be the purest rail experience for me. A close second would be old electrics: I love the 76's over Woodhead, I love the Milwaukee electrics. Even old EMU's excite me. In mechanical terms, they're really quite agricultural, modern but still agricultural and that’s what really appeals to me.
Simulating steam engines is the opportunity to provide a wide variety of unique engines that players can try their hand on. The excitement and colour, the smoke and the steam, the romance and the passion. I find this prospect tremendously exciting.
If you've ever stood next to a steam engine there is an immediate understanding of its power. You can appreciate its scale, feel its heat and get the sense that it might explode at any moment - of course it won't, but you cannot help but be aware of the almost primal nature of the machine. Then the whistle blows and they're off, putting that power into motion.
The most challenging aspect of simulating a steam engine is the skill involved in their management. It takes the partnership between the driver and fireman on the footplate, finesse and experience to really master the craft. Whether uphill or downhill, accelerating or braking, knowing the train you're operating and the characteristics of your formation takes significant expertise. Safety systems are modest, the assistance provided to the crew is primitive and the controls are intimidating. The crew’s sheer professionalism and skill got those trains from one place to another.
I don't think there's anything else we can offer that can be as challenging and rewarding as that experience. Regardless of whether you're into steam trains or not, I believe it is the ultimate train management experience that we can give our players."
- It's a living thing. Modern diesels and electrics come with more self-management systems allowing you to tell them what you want them to do, but with steam you're in control of how you want them to do it.
"Exactly. A sensible analogy would be that driving modern traction is like driving a car, whereas steam would be like riding a horse. Essentially the horse can shy at the slightest thing, it has its own needs, it will try to eat and drink while you're trying to go forwards."
- It's a synergistic relationship.
- You use the term agricultural regularly in describing control systems, what do you mean by that?
"It's visceral, physical, mechanical. Fundamentally, you have to release the brakes, set the reverser, operate the regulator – all mechanical processes involving heavy, forged metal. It's a physical process. There are few, if any, automated assistants to ensure that you’re doing it right."
- How do you represent a physical experience when you're doing that with a digital interface? How do you get that feeling across?
"That's the challenge.
We need communicate what is happening to the player. Explaining what you need to do to the player is reasonably straightforward, but they also need to know what and why something is happening. How do you know that what you've done is correct even if you don’t see an immediate result? Equally, how do you know that you’ve got something wrong when everything appears to be running smoothly? We’re focusing on early modelling so that we can test those systems and make sure you can feel what's happening without needing help that wouldn’t have been available to a real crew."
- The trick is in communicating what's happening when you can't physically feel the state the engine is in.
"That’s the holy grail. If you become a driver on modern traction, you've had a 6-month training course, maybe another 6 months driving with an inspector. With a steam engine you will have started as a cleaner on the footplate. You were promoted to become a fireman, you become intimately familiar with your engine over 7 or 8 years before getting your hands on the controls. We've got to pass all that experience, artistry and skill to our players - grant them 8 years’ experience in moments. The better we meet that challenge, the more rewarding it will be to play."
We'll have regular updates on how steam is progressing through the development process over the months to its release. In the next article we'll talk about how SimuGraph and Train Sim World's physics systems are being enhanced to give players the feel of managing a steam engine, and how the role of fireman is integrated into the experience.
Train Sim World