Gaming Frequencies: Railway Empire

Jul 12, 2018 By Austin Trunick Web Exclusive
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Already one of the richest businessmen on the planet by the mid-19th Century, Cornelius Vanderbilt sold off his interests in the steamship industy and shifted focus to elsewhere. Though many of his contemporaries thought him mad, the tycoon understood one thing few others had yet to realize: boat travel was on its way out, to be replaced by a nation-spanning railway system. Vanderbilt snapped up all of the regional railways he could buy and connected them with newly-built lines. With cutting edge engine technology, uniform scheduling, and efficient stocking systems, not only did he put travel across the sprawling American states within easy reach, but expanded the American industrial machine in ways like no other had.

You can unleash your inner Vanderbilt in Gaming Minds Studios new simulation title, Railway Empire. Spanning the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the game puts you at the helm of your own rail company through the boom years of steam engine travel. You’ll lay track and connect remote cities, farms, and depots. You’ll invest in new technology, engines, agriculture, factories, and even your opponents – Railway Empire lets you commit sabotage, or gobble up competitors’ stock until you’ve bought them out. (Watch out, though: too many years in the red and you may find yourself on the receiving end of a hostile takeover.) The game is an immensely detailed simulator, as you’ll micro-manage everything from personnel to cargo across its lengthy campaign, in one-off scenarios, or in its open-ended sandbox modes. Like many simulation titles, Railway Empire was likely geared toward desktop gamers, but it has the distinction of being one of the few also available on consoles and well-mapped to a controller. If you’re the type of sim player who loves having their options open, Railway Empire’s play offers remarkable depth. 

If you've played a lot of simluators, you’ve probably noticed that their presentation can be, well… a little dry. These are games where you spend a lot of time parsing menus and looking at charts. More so than most other genres, developers need to get creative and work harder to find ways to keep the play feeling lively and add some zing to the proceedings. (For example, the Tropico series – also published by Kalypso – does this with a bouncy soundtrack and a tongue-in-cheek narrator commenting on your every move.)

For many developers, building a lively game around a theme of 19th century railroad planning would have been an uphill battle, but Gaming Minds Studios’ Railway Empire is surprisingly vibrant on-screen. The German studio brought the world of Railway Empire to life with large, detailed, eye-catching train models, a visual and audio framing which calls to mind both historical documentaries and Western movies, and a voice cast who breathe energy into to its numerous NPC citizens. Daniel Dumont, the team’s creative director, answered our questions about building their Railway Empire.

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: You're a German team, but your game interestingly focuses on the American railway system, and to western expansion in the 19th Century. What brought you to look at this historical period? 

Daniel Dumont, Creative Director, Gaming Minds Studios: We wanted to develop a historical economic simulation about the glorious days of the steam locomotives. In history, the rise of steam locomotives began almost simultaneously in Europe and the USA, but the importance in the USA was much greater. Because many regions in this huge country were very poorly connected at that time, and so the invention of the railways was extremely important for growth and economic rise of this country. We believe that such a situation is a lot of fun for the player, because every player wants to have a big influence on the game world and wants to change this world as much as possible.

Can you tell me about you research process? The game features real locomotives from across many decades. 

We have learned most information about locomotive engines and railway companies from books, and fortunately there is an incredible number of books about famous lines and successful locomotives and companies. This implies that we have researched for a long time which books are actually relevant. Most of the books were ordered directly from the USA, because they were not available in Europe. Afterwards we read a lot and collected information about the most famous locomotives, for example construction drawings and photos. Because we wanted all locomotives to be as true to the authentic as possible.

I was immediately caught by the way the game's campaign mode seemed to almost tap into documentary aesthetics, with the intro almost reminding me of a Ken Burns film. Can you describe some of your influences for Railway Empire, outside of other simulation games? 

I think the biggest influence have been Western movies. There were locomotives in so many of them. You might remember the steam development, the animation of the wheels, the slipping wheels, the lumbering starting, the refueling and also the tiny stations and villages or at least get an idea of it. We also visited a railway museum with the whole team, for example, where steam locomotives are still in operation today, and have studied the technology and inventions of the steam locomotive age extensively.

The simulation genre, with its abundance of charts, statistics, and menus, always runs the risk of being overly dry. Are music and sound design a key to keeping the action lively? 

Music and sound are definitely a part of it, but the graphical representation is very important. Large, detailed models and illustrations, animations, special graphic effects and much more play a role. The simulation must be made as audible and visible as possible with such things. For instance, you might know that a train is going from A to B, that’s one thing. But when you see how the train starts, how the steam rises and how everything is properly set to music, the player is drawn into the world much more and not only numbers will play out in his imagination.

Please tell me about your best -- or, better yet, worst-ever -- experience with train travel. 

In Germany we travel a lot by train. I could reach almost all European capitals by train from where I live and spend many hours on the train several times a year. Of course, this gives us a lot of experience. Most of the negative ones are delays and missing connecting trains. Nothing dramatic has ever happened to me. Once I took the ICE, the German express train, from Berlin home. One has to imagine that this train can be faster than 300km/h. But on that day it had a technical breakdown and we stopped in the middle of nowhere. There we waited almost 2 hours until finally another train arrived and we were able to change trains and continue our journey. But it wasn't that bad, because I had a lot of fun with the other passengers I met in this situation.


Railway Empire's latest DLC add-on lets you play on Mexico maps. Its trailer is below: 


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