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Dovetail Games Interview – Train Simulator 2015

Simon SauntsonTrain Simulator 2015 is due out at the end of this week, and we had the opportunity beforehand to interview Simon Sauntson from the publishing team at Dovetail Games. We talked a lot about Trains, and also about the latest game in a long running franchise that is renowned for being the “best in class” Train Simulator.

Hi Simon, thanks for taking your time to answer some questions for CalmDownTom. Let’s get some Nerdy questions out-of-the-way first. What’s your personal favourite locomotive from any point in history? I love the Steam era so mine is of course the Class A3 4472 Flying Scotsman.

I suppose like many rail fans, I was heavily influenced by the trains I saw and rode on as a child. My Dad worked on the ECML for nearly 30 years, first as a relayer in the Deltic days, replacing jointed track in readiness for the HSTs, then as an ultrasonic tester throughout the electrification and finally the privatisation eras. When I was small, we used to take advantage of his staff travel warrants to fly down to London on a new ‘Intercity 125’ to visit the museums, and the wonderfully smooth speed and what were then very futuristic looks of the HST have remained ingrained in my mind ever since – along with the piercing scream of those Paxman Valenta powerplants. It is very exciting to see the high-speed family tree on the ECML continue with the Hitachi Class 801, and it is great to be able to work with Hitachi Rail Europe and make an accurate simulation of it before anybody has even seen a real one.

OO or N gage? (OO for me)

N gauge. I like the fact that you can use larger radius curves and longer trains within your space confines. I am currently (and at the current rate of progress, probably for the foreseeable future) about a third of the way into the construction of a BR Corporate Blue era layout based vaguely in the East Midlands. Like all good (and not-so-good) railway modellers, I have of course already purchased a decent rolling stock fleet, despite half the baseboard being completely bare. N gauge models have come on leaps and bounds, and I currently have a BR Blue Class 37, large logo Class 47, Class 108 DMU and rakes of Mk2 coaches, sea lion ballast wagons, cement hoppers and more. I have so far stopped myself from acquiring anything else, like a green Class 25 with some maroon Mk1s or even a 4MT tank, until more scenic progress has been made!

Screenshot_New York to New Haven_41.05117--73.53081_18-02-18Every year that Train Simulator is launched, existing owners find their game updated for free and only need to purchase the new content. Will this be true again in 2015?

Yes, we are continuing with the same upgrade mechanic which we have employed since RailWorks 2 back in 2010. Existing users receive the new core game technology automatically for free, and anybody who owns the routes included with TS2015 will automatically receive any upgrades we are making.

I think it’s a great feature of the Train Simulator franchise, I can’t think of another game that respectfully treats it fans the same way, nor can I ever imagine the likes of EA Sports doing the same with say FIFA. How can you continue to support this model, and how difficult is it each year to maintain?

Funnily enough, the most challenging part of the process – apart from building the technology upgrades, of course – is getting the free upgrade message out to all the users in a way that everybody can understand. Each year, people are unsure about what exactly they will get on release day (18th September for TS2015) so let me say it clearly on your blog: existing, current Train Simulator users will ALL automatically get the new TS2015 core technology free of charge. That means the under-the-hood technology, which enables the TS2015 routes and trains to be upgraded with their new features, will be given to everybody. Anybody who owns the routes included with TS2015 (ECML: London – Peterborough, Munich – Garmisch-Partenkirchen and New York – New Haven) will automatically get the upgrades to those routes free. If you don’t own those routes, you can still buy them separately.

Looking forward to TS2015, what new feature are you most proud of?

Screenshot_Academy_52.04418--0.53355_18-00-52It has to be TS Academy. Trains are complex beasts, and to the uninitiated, so are simulators. We know there are diehard rail fans are out there who would love Train Simulator, but who have never tried it simply because they think it would be too complicated for them. There are also people who dive in and enjoy the software, but never get the full benefit of its capabilities because they never learn to drive and carry out the tasks correctly. TS Academy is designed to break down those barriers and enable those people who have been peeking over the fence to join in and start enjoying the train driving experience on from day one.

Can you go into a little more detail on the new TS Academy feature? Should we expect training and license missions similar to say Gran Turismo? How will experienced players benefit from the Academy?

TS Academy is really a virtual training centre, and just like a training centre, the facilities have been specially designed for the job in hand. Namely, for newcomers (and perhaps a few more experienced users) to become confident and capable drivers. It covers all the basics, like starting a train and stopping at a station, through to more complex matters such as using dynamic brakes and understanding signals. It starts at the very beginning – how to look around and change your camera view – and covers everything you will need to know to get your teeth into the scenarios you will drive on the included routes. Experienced players can benefit a great deal from the more advanced tutorials: I certainly learned a lot about the braking systems on the SD70MAC which I had largely been ignoring, to my detriment.

There can’t really be many left, but what rail line has yet to make it into the game that you would really like to see? Any chance we can get the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line in there?

Screenshot_Academy_52.04680--0.53279_08-00-27There is ALWAYS a chance….. Plus of course, with the tools included in TS2015, my answer would be that if you like that route, get stuck in and make it – then share it with the rest of us on Steam Workshop! In terms of what I’d like to see, we really ought to do a ‘proper’, no holds barred high-speed line like a Shinkansen or LGV route, and some mountain railways like the Swiss Alpine lines and Indian hill railways. But then I’d still like to see more from the UK, perhaps turning the clock back and capturing that golden age of pick-up goods and branch line passenger services.

Another great feature of Train Simulator is that not only do we have these realistic replica routes, but some that have not yet, or never will, come to light. The example I have in mind is the Glasgow Airport Rail Link. Can we expect more futuristic or pre-construction phase routes in TS 2015 or future DLC?

It’s a tricky question. Generally, the feedback we receive is that Train Simulator users enjoy driving what they know or see most of in real life, hence the liking for EMUs and DMUs in the UK, Class I railroads in the US and up-to-the-minute German routes. But I think if the route is well-built and captures the imagination, as GARL clearly did on both counts, then it can obviously be popular. I think the key is that the route needs to be at least based on proposals or plans that became widely known and accepted in railway lore. Something totally ‘out there’ like a fictitious Birmingham – Leicester maglev would probably bite the dust rather quickly! Or would it?

Screenshot_ECML London - Peterborough_51.53443--0.12331_15-33-04With that said, a third-party developer is in the final stages of a fictitious route set in Japan, complete with a fictitious railway company and scenarios that tell a story as you work through them and rise to seniority in the job. If people start asking for more of the same, who knows – it could be an interesting avenue.

And finally: Steam, Diesel or Electric?

If it can only be one, then despite what I said earlier about HSTs it would have to be steam. Nothing else has that magic, nothing else can turn a chance encounter in a platform or at a level crossing into a moment of pure joy in the way that a passing steam engine can.

I would absolutely agree with you on that

Our thanks go to Simon for answering our questions about the upcoming Train Simulator 2015, due for release on the 18th of September. We look forward to getting our hands on it and bringing you a full review.

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