As a developer on Train Simulator 2014, I spend somewhere between 40 to 9000 hours a week trying to solve one simple question. It's a question that informs every element of our design process and every aspect of our community outreach efforts. It's the question I had when I first started working in the rail sim genre. It's the question Kotaku understandably had when they ran this piece about our game. Hell, it's probably the question you had when you clicked into this article:
What's so fun about trains? Where's the action? Where's the challenge?
I can answer that question, I promise, but first, let's go off the rails a bit and talk about StarCraft.
During the World Championship Series at gamescom this past August, I discovered I love watching StarCraft II played at a competitive, professional level. It took me by surprise; I haven't played StarCraft in perhaps a decade, and with new units and my hazy memory, I could barely figure out what was happening on-screen half the time.
And yet it was still exhilarating to take in. Matches almost always proceed in the same way. There's a long stretch in the beginning where very little happens. The players start to move their pieces into position. They create a game plan based on the scenario at hand, making crucial decisions early on about how hard to push their luck, how cautious they can afford to proceed given the invisible timetable floating over their heads. Slowly but surely, the action builds until it reaches a beautiful crescendo — suddenly, all the choices, all the planning, all the minute variables of micromanagement and the nerve-wracking stress collide. What took so long to develop can triumph or crumble within seconds.
There's a simple joy that comes with doing something well, and it's a sensation that underlies everything you love about gaming. It doesn't matter if you're playing yourself or watching someone else — seeing skill, practice, determination, planning, and execution work together to pull off a difficult challenge flawlessly is immensely rewarding. There's nothing more invigorating than experiencing someone playing at the top of their game. It challenges you to step up your own game. It celebrates the pride and the craftsmanship at the heart of play. It's fun. And it's what Train Simulator is all about.
There's a simple joy that comes with doing something well, and it's a sensation that underlies everything you love about gaming.
Where's the action in Train Simulator 2014? Try handling a 250-ton speeding bullet barrelling at 300 km/h through a high-traffic, urban area on a rainy day and coming to a smooth and safe stop perfectly along a 100-meter boarding platform. Where's the challenge? Try keeping a diesel-powered American freight engine upright as it hauls precious cargo along the steep grades and treacherous bends of the Sierra Nevada's Donner Pass.
Oh, and don't forget, you're on a schedule — no one likes it when the trains run late.
This is the experience trains offer. It's the struggle of commanding hundreds of thousands of pounds of raw steel, wrestling these stubborn, untamable beasts of mechanical engineering to your will, mastering your craft until you can halt your towering behemoth on a dime two miles down the track without breaking a sweat. It's about sustaining that level of skill, adrenaline, and disciplined concentration over 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour without cracking under the pressure. It's about the unbridled thrill of pulling into the station a minute early, defying the laws of physics and your passengers' expectations.
There's a scenario I love on our London to Brighton route called "Night Rider," where you're driving an old Class 421 4CIG Electric Multiple Unit in the dead of night along a very busy commuter route with multiple tracks from the capital to the coast; it's only about 50 miles in length, but you very quickly start to realise as you pull away from the station and plunge into darkness that your only guide on this journey is a dizzying network of brightly coloured track lights in the distance. Your instincts might tell you to ease up on the throttle, but you're on a tight schedule. So how fast do you push your ride? Do you have enough room to bring your massive, mechanised megalodon to a stop on a moment's notice if necessary? Is that red light in the distance for you or another train? ...You sure about that?
There's a quiet wave of relief I see on the face of every professional StarCraft player the moment they see that "gg" from their opponent appear on screen and know the battle is won. It's the exact same sigh I breathe every time I complete the Night Rider run and pull into my final destination on-time.
We made Train Simulator to be your virtual train set.
As an adult, I can't really take over the living room with my model train set like I might have as a child. But that's ok. In the past half-decade, I've reduced my bookshelves to the size of a Kindle. My sprawling gaming library lives effortlessly on the cloud. And my train hobby fits easily within a video game. We made Train Simulator to be your virtual train set.
For newcomers, Train Simulator 2014's got a revamped career and tutorial system that eases you into the shoes of a rail jockey. But, like you, we rail fans take our fun seriously. We respect the engineering, the power, and the terrain conquered. I have friends who can rattle off the most precise detail about any automobile made by Ford in the last 50 years; we gush about the 3,200-horsepower, EMD F59PHI Pacific Surfliner at dinner parties. We crave the immersion and the challenge. Taming the rails is a craft — and that makes playing all the richer.
A lifelong gamer and rail fan, Matt Peddlesden is the Head of 3rd Party Relations at RailSimulator.com, where he helps external developers get their creations published on Steam.
The Pacific Surfliner LA — San Diego Route from RailSimulator.com is now available on Steam.