I think just about every little boy had a train set of some nature when they were growing up. Then as they aged they lost interest or decided to put their time into other activities... computer games for example. Well today, we had a chat with Robin Smith, Vice President at Auran Games to talk about Auran's upcoming railroad simulator: Trainz Railroad Simulator 2004.
the Junkyard: Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your position and background.
Robin Smith: I'm Robin Smith, suffering a little from lack of sleep as I just had my first baby - well, ok my wife had the baby.
tJY: Tell us a little bit about Auran and some of the games they've created.
Robin: Auran is best known for Dark Reign, and our technology platform Auran Jet. We're now also in our 3rd edition of our Trainz franchise, which is the project I am responsible for.
tJY: In a nutshell, what is Trainz Railroad Simulator 2004 and what sets it apart from the other train simulators out there like Microsoft's Train Simulator 2?
Robin: MSTS is only a train simulator - you drive a train from A to B in a linear fashion. TRS2004 is a complete railroad simulator. So whilst you can do the same type of driving "activities" of MSTS in Trainz, you can also operate a number of different trains at one time. We have also introduced the concept of Drivers, so you can give orders to each Driver such as taking a rake of coal cars to the coal mine, or setting off the express passenger service along the mainline while you get on with your own set of orders. The other major difference with TRS2004 is that our route and activity editors really form part of the game. It's as much about creating new worlds as it is interacting with them.
tJY: What would you say is TRS2004's biggest selling point? What are some of the improvements that you have made to it over previous versions?
Robin: The biggest selling point in the past has been our world builder tool "Surveyor". It is just so easy to use and it's really addictive. You start out laying track and moving mountains, and next thing you know you've missed dinner! This time around we've added a lot more tools for creating your own railroad experience so now instead of just building a static world, you can take advantage of all the interactive industries and actually develop your own storylines.
tJY: Are you happy with the publicity and fan feedback that you received from this year's E3 demo of TRS2004?
Robin: Our fans are one of our greatest assets. Most of the guys have a passion for trains in general, but we have a lot of people from the flight sim world and guys who probably had a train set as a kid. We know that they are really looking forward to a lot of the new features, which kind of makes sense as many of the features were actually requested by them. We have our own Community Liaison guy who is doing his PhD in online community management. One of his roles is to report to the team so that we can incorporate this community feedback directly into our upcoming products.
tJY: TRS2004 will support downloadable locomotives and items from the internet. How will these items be imported into the game? Will it be an arduous process or simply "drag 'n drop"?
Robin: We believe that we're pioneering some of the best download and install systems of any game. From within the game itself you can install a new route, then the Trainz Helper software will find any missing items (such as buildings or even locos) from either our Download Station or other fan sites. The items will be downloaded and installed without exiting the program.
tJY: How moddable is TRS2004? You already mentioned that players can download items and such from the internet; will users be able to create custom skins and textures as well?
Robin: A big part of Trainz is the world builder, so in that sense, everyone is a content creator. We ship with Gmax, which means you can make your own 3D objects. We have an add-on utility, Paint Shed, that lets you repaint your favorite locos and items of rolling stock as well. We've really tried to expose as much of the content as possible to end-users so that they can modify it as they wish. There's even a scripting community who use the underlying Trainz script language to make more complex scenarios.
tJY: Will the locomotives be customizable at all? And if so, to what extent?
Robin: You can tweak the engine config file, so you can make rocket powered locos if you really want. Using Paintshop Pro or a similar art package, you can create your own skins, and, of course, with Paint Shed it becomes even easier. You can also tweak the smoke and steam effects using our Twinkles editor.
tJY: Can you tell us about the "engine" that drives TRS2004, the Jet V2.0 engine.
Robin: Our technology team has been developing Jet for 5 years. Version 1.0 has been licensed to a dozen different countries and the team is currently developing V2.0. Since we are an in-house team, we get to use the technology before anyone else, so TRS2004 will be the first full game released using Jet 2.
tJY: Tell us about the Bridge IT demo that Auran and nVidia have been working on. How has the experience gained from that contributed to TRS2004?
Robin: The Jet team has been working very closely with Nvidia and showcased Bridge at E3 earlier this year. Nvidia was so impressed that they have extended the project and the full version of that game will be released shortly. What it has meant for Trainz is that we've been able to grab a bunch of the cool new shader effects for things like water, and take advantage of bump mapping, and so on. As a result, we have had more time to work on the game code itself rather than underlying support systems.
tJY: How big of a part will money and commerce play in TRS2004? As you get more money, do you earn new locomotives, items, etc.? Or is it all an elaborate scheme to allow your city to prosper?
Robin: Trainz is primarily a simulator and a world builder rather than a management strategy game. Although the interactive industries do give you a reason for driving around your world, the main purpose is to operate the various aspects of a railroad rather than own it all. I'm sure someone will come up with a money system using the scripting language, but we're focused on railroad operations, not railroad share markets or cost structures.
tJY: What is a "scenario" and how do they work?
Robin: Scenario is the term we came up with for our scripted railroad operations. We wanted to convey the feeling of something more than an activity, which sounded limited and specific to a particular set of actions. Our scenarios are much more open-ended and flexible, and with TRS2004 you will be able to make your own simple scenario in a matter of minutes. This functionality is what really sets us apart from other simulators because it is so easy to do whatever you want to do.
tJY: How realistic is the physics model? For example, if two trains were to collide or if livestock got on the tracks... what would happen?
Robin: In order to get a General rating, we can't have cows getting splattered across the front of the locos (even though it might be fun for us, but not for the cow). The physics efforts have mostly been aimed at making the driving experience real, so as you load up your coal wagons, the cars get heavier and the train requires more power to maintain speed. We also have the option of a simple control system that lets you jump in and drive without knowing the difference between your dynamic brakes and your independent brakes. Your trains will still derail if you go too fast or jump a set of points, but there arenít any bloodstains or mangled carriages to clean up.
tJY: How will weather affect the gameplay?
Robin: You can set variable weather conditions so that you start out on a sunny day and then the rain comes in later on. We are working with some real world railroads and our plan is to incorporate the weather conditions into the physics system of those simulations, and incorporate that feature into a future release of Trainz.
tJY: Was there anything that was left out of the game before it went gold? And if so, are you planning on releasing it in a future add-on or free download?
Robin: Absolutely. We've always said that Trainz is a long-term project and that we will keep adding new features as requested by our customers. However, you have to draw the line somewhere, and we're very happy that TRS2004 will be a "must have" title for all our existing fans and hopefully lots of new ones. We'll be releasing a free upgrade with some of the more requested features a few months after we go Gold and of course there is all the downloadable content as well which expands the entire experience.
tJY: Finally, is there anything else about TRS2004, Auran or the Jet V2.0 engine that you'd like to add?
Robin: The Auran team is making exciting advancements in game development, and things are changing all the time, so we encourage the Junkyard readers to visit www.auran.com often. Be on the lookout for upcoming news about TRS2004. Thanks for the interview!
So perhaps we may not all have the time or ambition to dig out our old and dusty train set that we got from our grandparents as a child, but TRS2004 could be that missing link in your track.
Check out our exclusive TRS2004 shots here.