In fact, they continue to speak. Of course I’m referring to all you current and potential Train Simulator customers out there. I’ve spend a good deal of time reading feedback since we announced the new version. In the first week since we posted the announcement we received over 1000 comments from the feedback page. I’ve also been reading several Train Simulator forums (I’ve listed them on the left hand nav bar) on a regular basis.
The first thing that jumped out was the enthusiasm you have for the hobby. Many of the feedback comments were variations on: “Hooray! I’ve glad your doing another version. I can’t wait to see it!” Mixed in with these were reminders of how we screwed the pooch (can I say that on a blog??) on the first attempt at MSTS 2.0. If you sent us one of those messages then you have every right to be skeptical about this time around. We know we need to show you how serious we are, not just tell you. Patience, grasshopper–all will be revealed in time.
Another common theme was concern over backward compatibility (or lack thereof) with the first version of Train Simulator. This is understandable, given how much of the current MSTS experience revolves around content created by talented and dedicated third-party developers like 3DTrains and Diesels West. Others point out the obvious problems with trying to provide backward compatibility with what is, in effect, a completely different program that’s going on 7 years old. Backward compatibility is a very tricky issue that we’ve tried to grapple with on Flight Sim for many, many years. As the game engine evolves it often takes effort to ensure that older content still works. That effort could be applied to creating newer, even cooler features–a concept called “oppotunity cost“. Part of our job is to try and figure out what is the right balance of “make old stuff work” versus “make new stuff extra cool”. It’s part art, part science and something we’ll be thinking a lot about in regards to the new Train Simulator.
Naturally we received a fair share of suggestions for features, routes, locomotives, and so on. My first thought? Wow, it’s great to see so many passionate users. My second thought? Wow, there’s no way we’re going to be able to do everything everyone wants–at least not for this upcoming version. As many people have pointed out on the forums, building on the Flight Simulator X platform gives us a great starting point (worldwide data, basic physics, weather, good looking medium-distance graphics) but there’s still a lot of basic train stuff we need to build more or less from scratch. Our approach is going to be to get the fundamental stuff right and then move on to greater breadth and depth in the game. Our design director, Pat, likes to use the analogy of building a pyramid when you don’t know when you’ll run out of material. You start by laying two foundation blocks and then place a block on top of them. If you discover that you can’t get any more blocks then at least you’ve got a pyramid, albeit a small one. What you don’t do is plan for a large pyramid by laying all three blocks as a foundation because if you run out of blocks at that point you’re hosed. All you have is the foundation–no pyramid.The same goes for building a new piece of software but in that case the blocks are time and resources. We are striving not to be too ambitious in this first release so what we do deliver is solid and does whatever it does very well. Disappointed? Don’t be. We’re building real software, not metaphorical pyramids, and we believe the end result will be well worth your investment.
That’s all for now. I have to back to sifting through the rest of the 1000 comments I didn’t get to last week.