Written by: TrainSim-James
We talk to Alex Shaw at Fastline Simulation Ltd about the series of fantastic wagon packs they are bringing to Steam
Welcome, Alex! Please introduce yourself and tell us a little more about Fastline Simulation.
Thank you Simon. Personally I have been involved in train simulation since pretty early on in the life of Microsoft Train Simulator. I started off tinkering with some activities (scenarios in Train Simulator parlance) before moving on to re-texturing work which eventually found me creating textures for commercial products developed by Making Tracks. Fastline Simulation was conceived as a publisher and was originally formed as a reaction to changing personal circumstances and a desire to offer a better deal to train simulator developers. As time has progressed we’ve morphed into full on developer in our own right with eight rolling stock expansions and one scenario pack and have published some items for third parties too.
You have developed a strong focus and expertise on BR-era British wagons. What drew you to this area in the first place?
Like most rail enthusiasts it has probably come from the personal formative train spotting age, in my case the later 1980s. It was the period where British Rail and the Government were working hard to modernise the freight business through promotion of Speedlink and the development of terminals and wagons through Section 8 grants. I grew up close to Whitemoor Yard at March in Cambridgeshire and was exposed to a wide range of then modern air braked wagons and international wagons arriving via the Harwich train ferry. Like most modellers in any format there’s always the desire to recapture past memories but in my case it’s being inflicted on the Train Simulator community! Now all we need is a nice 1980s route to make then models feel completely at home.
Many Engine Driver readers already familiar with your work will be pleased to see your add-ons coming to Steam. What prompted you to pursue the Steam publishing option?
More changes in personal circumstances were the catalyst to re-evaluate what we were doing and to explore turning Fastline into a full time option rather than a serious hobby. By the very nature of Steam being an intrinsic part of Train Simulator and Marketplace an integrated part of the game it became a fairly logical step to take if we wanted our expansions to be visible to the widest part of the Train Simulator user base as an official expansion. Couple this with Digital Rights Management (DRM) as a further tool in the struggle against software theft and the ability ask questions of the team at Dovetail Games it simply became the most sensible option.
How many people are involved in production at Fastline Simulation? How do you divide the effort required to create each add-on?
We have a core team of two modellers, around five testers and are in the process of bringing additional scenario authors on board to allow more scenarios to be commissioned for upload to Workshop in support of our forthcoming Marketplace expansions. Much of the effort division is by skill and interest as there’s nothing worse than flogging through something that doesn’t really interest you, especially when what we were doing was a free time thing! Generally, we will discuss what we fancy doing and then hone and develop that into a final proposal to see through to creation. Obviously there can be changes along the way as we discover something new or find that we’d previously got something wrong. Usually each team member works on what they’re doing and bounces ideas or support requests off other people they know to have the skills to help. As a team we’re distributed around the world so we do use a wide range of software tools to ensure everyone knows where we’re at and what is happening even if saying ‘good evening’ to someone when you’ve just got up doesn’t stop feeling strange!
Fastline seems to have a solid reputation among the community. What sort of response do your add-ons tend to get from Train Simulator users?
Generally positive, although there are always the cases where things don’t work as we’d hope. We pride ourselves in our support so usually manage to get positive outcomes from any issues that may have arisen. It’s been encouraging to receive a number of messages of support from current customers since we announced our decision to go full time and to start using Steam to distribute our expansions. One thing that always manages to raise a wicked smile is when your products are used as the benchmark to compare other developers, we must be doing something right.
What is your own era and region of special interest? If you could go back with your flask of tea and camera and capture any location in any era, where would you set the coordinates on your time machine?
I think astute readers will have already guessed the answer. We’d be heading back to the late 1980’s but with a can of Lilt and some Chewits! Location is much more difficult as there were so many great places at the time but I’d probably end up heading home to March and drifting between the Station, the footbridge over March West Junction and Norwood Road Bridge. If only to prove those slab sided Belgian Polybulks really did appear in trains like in so many photographs even though I cannot remember seeing them!
As seasoned add-on creators, you will have experienced a number of changes in the core code and of course the available route and train content. How have these changes influenced your choice of products and helped – or perhaps challenged – your plans along the way?
The transient nature of content that you don’t control has always been the challenge. We’ve seen default content used for scenarios stop being default and huge chunks of stuff vanish from the market. It’s one of the things you’ve just got to adapt to at the end of the day. Code changes have challenged us occasionally as it’s introduced errors but fortunately they were easily corrected. The bigger challenges have come from attempting to integrate new features into expansions when the documentation hasn’t been available leading to much problem solving and experimenting to get what we want.
What sort of add-ons do you have in the pipeline for Train Simulator? Are you looking at different eras and genres, or are your sights firmly on British wagons?
Wagons, wagons and more wagons at the moment… However, the date range is expanding and the next few months should see expansions suitable to use in scenarios from 1950 through to somewhere around last Thursday. Planning is already starting to take place for next year and there’s a fairly strong chance we’ll be applying RIV numbers to some wagons too! We also have an under-employed route builder on the team so we may need to find something for him to do too.
Thank you Alex – over to you for the last word to the Engine Driver readers…
Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you about Fastline Simulation. It’s going to be an interesting few months with a number of (possibly surprising) expansions about to be announced and there are some quirky extra developments to accompany them. If readers would like to keep up-to-date with Fastline Simulation they should take a look at our website as a great starting point. It’s been a pleasure getting to know some of the Dovetail team and once we get into a decent rhythm should be the basis of a productive and hopefully enduring partnership.
Keep an eye out for a range of high quality wagon packs coming soon to Steam Marketplace