Written by: TrainSim-Steve
We interview Managing Director of Skyhook Games, David Harper who gives us an insight into the company and their involvement with Train Simulator
Welcome! Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about Skyhook Games. Where did you come from and how did you come to develop add-ons for Train Simulator?
Hello Engine Driver, thank you for the chance to talk to you and your readers. Skyhook Games is David Harper and Jon Greenwell, two veterans of game development, with nearly 40 years of experience between us. We previously worked together at the same games studio and had long toyed with the idea of doing our own games. When that former employer had to make all its staff redundant, that was the catalyst that finally gave us the momentum to start this new venture.
We have both known about the Train Simulator products for many years through one of our close friends, and one of your regular contributors, Derek Siddle. Jon grew up with Derek in the North East of England, and David went to University with him in Huddersfield in the early 90s. We all briefly worked together at the same games company in Liverpool before Derek moved to London to chase fame and fortune. When we started our new endeavour we spoke to Derek and he thought our past experience would fit well with creating work for the Railsim universe. Following a very productive visit down to Dovetail HQ in June it was agreed that we would provide a Halloween route with a similar gameplay feel to the Holiday Express Christmas DLC from 2013.
What kinds of titles have you worked on before? What is different about making Train Simulator add-ons? What are you having to learn or do differently?
Previously we have worked on a lot of licensed tie-ins for children’s games on consoles ranging from Sony PS1 – PS4. Some examples are: Stuart Little 2 & 3, Muppets Monster Adventure and Cat in the Hat. We also worked on a number of more grown up titles too over the years set in realistic locations around the world.
Surprisingly perhaps, given our previous subject matter, there are a lot of similarities between making content for Train Simulator and what we have done before. From an art perspective, the basics of working with geometry and textures is the same for any type of game. All that changes is the subject matter. In terms of accurately representing the subject matter, Henson’s for instance were just as specific about the details of miss Piggy’s nose being modelled accurately as any train fan would be about a specific loco being correct! With the Halloween route of course we had slightly more free reign that usual as it is a fictitious place only existing in our heads.
Beyond that, there was of course a lot to learn about the editor, scenario writing, train setup, physics, track laying, etc that is specific to TS. Still is a lot to learn to be honest as there is a lot of complexity under the hood which we only scratched the surface of.
Your first add-on for Train Simulator was the very popular Count of Monster Disco, the Halloween route featuring a 4-4-0 steam loco. Tell us a bit about it: where did you get the idea and concept from? What features are you most proud of?
We knew that we wanted to draw on our background of creating family friendly games to bring something quite fantastical and graphically stylised to Train Simulator. We had been very impressed with the Rail Simularity blog that proved TS can be used for none realistic settings. The Holiday Express route from 2013 also showed that Railsim fans enjoy the lighter side of engine driving too. For the look of the route we decided to draw references from TV shows we enjoyed as kids such as Scooby Doo and Wacky Races. All of the above influences were thrown into the melting pot, and the result was the Count of Monster Disco..!
In truth, another reason for the decision for our first route to be a stylised one, is that we thought it would be the perfect half way house in between the world that we know and that of Train Simulator. There is still the same level of work involved in terms of modelling, placement and scenarios, but with a fantastical setting we could work within our own rules.
When we initially pitched the idea for the route, complete with the dance finale, the feedback from DTG was that they thought it was a strong concept they would like to see developed, but that they would be impressed if we managed to get dancing vampires into the engine. Happily we managed to do just that..!
What are you working on next for Train Simulator?
In contrast to the cartoon styling of the Halloween route, we also have a couple of locomotives in production. A class 07 shunter in BR Blue and Green liveries, and a Class 58 in 3 liveries. We are putting a lot of effort into the research for both of these to try to ensure the community are happy with them.
If any of the community would like us to have a go at anything specific, please get in touch.
And what sort of challenges are you encountering in production?
The challenge with the Halloween route was going from a near standing start in terms of our editor knowledge, to requiring a finished product, in a matter of months. Nothing like an immovable deadline to focus you..! The team at DTG have been exceptionally helpful all the way through, and we are very grateful to them for all their assistance. We definitely couldn’t have done it without their support.
With regards to the 2 locos we are creating, the devil is in the detail as they say. The challenge here, as I’m sure many of your readers will know, is obtaining all of the correct reference. We have reached out to many forums and support groups for these and appreciate the help they have given.
As relative newcomers to Train Simulator, you are looking at the software with fresh eyes. What kinds of things would you like to be able to do, in terms of new features, new approaches to art and scripting or new types of locomotives, to provide a more enjoyable and more challenging experience for the users?
From what we have experienced so far, there is certainly a pretty steep learning curve to go from an initial idea to getting a polished product into the engine. Once you do get the hang of the basics however the editor is very enjoyable to use. It is obvious that the editor has been developed over many years and is very well suited to the task. If we struggled a little occasionally it was only because we were trying to create something that was a little different to what the system was designed to do. This required a little lateral thinking from both us and DTG to say the least, but we love a challenge.
Given time and resource, what route or train would you ultimately like to make for Train Simulator?
That’s a big question..! We would definitely like to tackle a real world route at some point. The world’s a big place, with lots of unmapped territories that would be exciting to create in TS for the first time.
We would also like to build on our Halloween route experience to bring new experiences to the community. We think there is a large potential to expand the core offering into many more areas, both stylistically and in terms of gameplay. With TS moving onto the Unreal engine before long, that will also present new opportunities that we would love to explore.
Anything else you’d like to add…
We are very grateful to DTG for giving us the opportunity to create this route. Their assistance has been exceptional at every step. For a large company they have proved very welcoming and supportive to newcomers to their world, as has the community at large. There are too many people to thank individually, but you know who you are, and thanks to each and every one of you!
We are very proud of what we have managed to achieve with this route. We took on a lot in a short space of time, worked hard and hopefully people are enjoying the result. We hope that this will be the first of many products for the Train Simulator store, and look forward to creating both fantastical and real world DLC in the future.