Interview with a Railfan

Article

posted 10/17/2013 by Travis Huinker
other articles by Travis Huinker
Platforms: PC
With the recent release of Train Simulator 2014 from developer Railsimulator.com, we had the opportunity to interview long-time fan of the series, Gary Dolzall. From questions relating to gameplay interest to his thoughts about the series latest focus on capturing the attention of more casual gamers, Gary provides a fascinating insight into the Train Simulator community as well as disproving the stigma around the game's downloadable content.

How long have you been a fan of the Train Simulator game series as well as member of the RailSimulator.com community?
In its original form (as Railworks) the game was introduced in 2009 and I purchased it quite soon after that. So I have been active with the game and in the community for some time - in fact I'm coming up on 2,000 hours of game time with Train Simulator. Beyond that, my active participation in the community has particularly increased in the past year since Train Simulator introduced its Workshop on Steam. I very much enjoy creating and sharing scenarios via Workshop. Train Simulator's Engine Driver website also provides a good venue to be involved with the community.  

What initially drew you into the simulation train genre?
Two answers to that really. First, I have had a life-long interest in railroading (more on that below) and I've long been an active simmer as well, whether it be aviation, racing, railroading, you name it. So when Microsoft Train Simulator (MSTS) was introduced back around 1997, I was literally a first-day buyer. I logged a lot of hours with MSTS, but switched over to Train Simulator early on because it was clear, in my view, that the Train Simulator product was far superior and RSC had a real, long-term commitment to the train sim category and the community.
 

Were you an enthusiast of model train sets before discovering the game or fan of trains in general?
Yes to both. I grew up in a home that, thanks to my dad's interests, had a big model railroad in the basement. But really, my keenest interest has always been about real railroading and trains and it has been that enthusiasm about real railroading that most drew me into train simulation.

One comment I see mentioned frequently is the confusion over the game's interest for the advanced players. Can you describe what aspects of the game are appealing to you?
Much of what has drawn me toward train simulation is my interest in real railroading, realistic operations of a train and railroad routes, and replicating that real experience as closely as possible. Train Simulator is a game that can be as simple or as complex and challenging as one wishes to make it. I've logged many hours with Microsoft Flight Simulator over the years, flying some very advanced commercial aircraft sims, and I find Train Simulator no less challenging -- and if you're the engineer of a heavy freight on a steep mountain mainline or the like, there's no autopilot, believe me!

What keeps you coming back to the game in terms of gameplay features and such?
Challenges and diversity. No sim, regardless of genre, can perfectly replicate a real experience, but Train Simulator offers a broad range of challenges, whether, as mentioned above, it be handling an enormously heavy train over a mountain pass, or operating a passenger service on a tight timetable and with 125 mph running, or solving the puzzle of switching cars into a consist in a huge yard. And, beyond the gameplay, are the tools - to create scenarios (realistic activities) or even new routes. As I've shared, I personally very much enjoy and spend a lot of time creating scenarios and sharing them on Steam Workshop.


Currently, a stigma revolves around the Train Simulator series' extensive amount of downloadable content and its pricing. Without really any other game for comparison in terms of downloadable content, can you provide details on how the community of advanced Train Simulator players view the additional content and its pricing structure?
You're right, there is something of a stigma around that, but I think to some degree the tone of the "chatter" reflects the fact that those who are happy about something say less than those who aren't. Personally, the diversity of products available for Train Simulator - whether it be routes, locomotives, or rolling stock - is hugely appealing to me and, honestly, I think to a large percentage of the advanced community as well. Obviously I'm free to buy the DLC I am interested in and pass on one's I'm not, but I appreciate the opportunity of choice.

Actually, the flight simulator community has an enormous range of supplemental content available to it as well and I think much for the same reasons as does Train Simulator - users are always interested in experiencing new aircraft or trains or routes and hoping their personal favorites will be made available. As far as pricing, as someone who has been involved in model railroading, I find the pricing of Train Simulator DLC entirely reasonable. For about $35 I can purchase a complete, highly detailed, and realistic simulated route that stretches well over a hundred miles or more; or I can purchase maybe one or two scale boxcars for my model railroad. When I view it that way, Train Simulator DLC seems rather like a huge bargain.

Recent previews and trailers of Train Simulator 2014 indicate a strong focus on creating a more accessible experience for series newcomers. How does the Train Simulator community view this shift in focus and ultimately how do you predict it will affect the series' future?
Like any product or gaming category, the train sim hobby in general and Train Simulator needs and will benefit from the strong and growing user base that will come when the game is welcoming and accessible to newcomers. Train Simulator has done a solid job of making the game accessible to newcomers with features such as its HUD and optional use of Xbox controllers, but has also steadily enhanced the "advanced" users' experience, so really a win-win for everyone. 


For newcomers to the series, what advice and resources would you offer as good starting points for exploring what the Train Simulator series and community has to offer?
Dive in and enjoy and use the tutorials and advice available in the community from sources such as Engine Driver. All of Train Simulator's scenarios are marked as easy, intermediate, or hard, so it's simple to identify those that are good ones to run as you begin. And Quick Drive is a great way to enjoy some uncomplicated running and see what types of routes and trains you most enjoy. And I think as you go, learning more about how real railroads operate and their history will only enhance your enjoyment of the game.

What are your most anticipated additions and features of Train Simulator 2014?
For all the time I've spent with Train Simulator running the sim and creating scenarios with the scenario tools, I've only dabbled with creating my own route. Train Simulator 2014 has some new features to make that process less complicated and yet more accurate and realistic, the most exciting of which will be the ability to overlay Google mapping onto your route to guide you as you create the topography, tracks, infrastructure, line-side structures, etc., of the railroad.

For those unfamiliar with the modding community of Train Simulator, what content are users able to create and then share with others through the Steam Workshop and other websites?
The primary two creative opportunities are to use the scenario editor to create new activities for existing routes using a variety of different stock and such, as well as the route tools and assets to create your own all-new route. For the past year, you have been able to share scenarios with others via Steam Workshop and there are literally hundreds of such that have been posted. And now with Train Simulator 2014, you'll be able to share routes you've created via Workshop as well.

Lastly, if you can pick only one for each, what is your favorite type of locomotive, particular train model, route, and why?
Ah, no fair! As I have mentioned, really one of the primary appeals of Train Simulator  for me personally is its diversity - in routes and locomotives and trains from North America and around the world. But if I have to choose, I'd pick Donner Pass as my favorite route, and the Great Northern F7 and Empire Builder passenger train as my favorite DLC. I've always loved mountain railroading and the Donner Pass route (crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains) is mountain railroading at its scenic and dramatic best. And the Empire Builder is one of America's most classic passenger trains and is beautifully re-created.
 

We'd like to thank Gary for taking the time to answer our questions. Train Simulator 2014 is available now through Steam and other retailers.
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