We've been playing the new Xbox Live Indie games title Train Frontier Express, an innovative new simulator-cum-creator available now on the Xbox Indie Marketplace, for a bit of insight on the creators behind the game, and their inspirations and thoughts behind it, read below;
Gamercast: So for those that don’t know, what is Train Frontier Express?
Eric: Train Frontier Express is a landscape building and rail riding simulator, taking inspiration from model railroading. We feature a what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor, online map sharing and train riding, along with a few other surprises. We launched August 31st on Xbox Live Indie Games, as part of the Indie Games Summer Uprising for a deal at only 240 Microsoft points (around $3 USD).
GC: Who is Team Train Frontier?
Emoks: I'm the artist--I make pictures in the computer. (That's how I explain it to my mother).
Eric: I'm Eric "expartend", the coder.
GC: What background do the two of you come from?
Eric: We have some prior experience working for traditional game studios. This is our first indie title and a large departure from our previous work.
GC: So you aren’t train nerds?
Emoks: Not by default--ending up learning (and still learning) a lot during the experience. I did have a Lionel set my father bought from a garage sale, but I mostly just played with the locomotives by themselves. We tried hooking it up to the tracks once and sparks flew everywhere--I'm thinking that particular set was made before safety standards existed.
Eric: Does making Train Frontier Express qualify me as one? I am a passenger rail supporter, so my love for trains is more practical. I played the Sim City series as a kid and the first thing I'd always do is attempt to make an efficient city with only rail as transport.
GC: When did you decide, “We’re going to make a train game”?
Eric: The idea came up right before the end of last year as a joke almost. We were interested in testing out the Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace for a small game. The game has grown quite a lot since then.
Emoks: Yeah, it seemed like it would be a small project at the time. We ended up needing a bigger boat...
GC: Which came first the editor or the train driving?
Eric: The editor, definitely. We work remotely, so Emoks needs to be able to see his props in game. The editor doubles as his prop viewer. The engine's been built from the ground up, so there's a lot of hidden tech going into it. I left the rail driving mode to the very end -- let me tell you, hooking up multiple connected cars to a player made rail is a lot harder than programming a flying or driving game.
GC: After working on the game, have you become a bit of a train nerd?
Eric: A lot more than when I started. Since the game has a model train inspiration, one of the first things we did was visit a model rail museum for research. We're not trying to be a hyper-accurate simulator, so we can look at many different areas and pick and choose how deep we want to go. We've even used the film Unstoppable as a reference.
Emoks: A few aspects have definitely grown on me. I love a lot of mid century railroad art--especially old rail line posters. I've picked up a couple old Hiawatha and GE ads at flea markets when I find them in nice condition. Oh! I also just discovered Tom Fawell--his work is awesome; so much style in tackling those locomotives!
GC: Do you have a favourite train (in real life)?
Emoks: I don't have a particular one; I'm a sucker for the streamlined engines--any of the Hiawatha locomotives. EMD E4/E5 are some other favorites.
Eric: I'm really jealous of the Japanese Shnikansen lines. The 500 series looks like a rocket and jet fighter combined.
GC: For a 3D Xbox Live Indie game, Train Frontier Express looks very polished, just how long have you been working on it for?
Eric: Thank you, we've been working on it since the start of the year, off and on. We've actually been handicapped in what we can do visually due to the XNA Framework on PC, but our next update will contain some visual enhancements.
GC: Your colour palette is bright and colourful and your UI is very stylish, where did you pull your visual inspiration from?
Emoks: We wanted something fun and visually appealing; from media, movies like Open Season and games like Team Fortress 2 were a starting point for the kind of familiar visual feel we wanted to go with (if you see some of our early UI screens, it might have been a little too TF2...) A lot of our UI has been influenced by WPA posters and other advertising art from mid to mid-late century. Builder mode uses a flat graphic look with mostly monochromatic colors for the different toolsets.
Eric: People recognize a Team Fortress 2 vibe from Train Frontier Express, which is actually great. The creators of TF2 spent a lot of time honing their 3D art direction, and they threw out what didn't work -- trying to avoid everything Valve learned would be a bit foolish.
GC: You’ve got Bullet Trains, Steam Locomotives and Diesels, how many different train setups are there?
Emoks: Setups are numerous; there are currently 10 engines (six locomotive engines with a few paint variations) and 20 train cars of different styles and colors. You can have up to nine train cars hooked up to your locomotive. Updates will include some new locomotives, so the possibilities will grow even more.
Eric: Not accounting for taste and common sense, there's billions of mix and match combinations, but those are numbers only a marketer person would come up with.
GC: The towns made in the trailers look fantastic, and contain more variety than most retail Train Simulators, just how many props have you got in your inventory?
Emoks: I believe around a 140 including variations, but there were a lot of things that didn't make it into the initial release that we want to include in updates. We also get (and encourage) suggestions on our facebook page. Certain railroad signal types that went into the initial release were based on user suggestions (before they'd even played it!)
GC: What can we expect from the team now? Do you have anything in the works?
Eric: Aside from an update to Train Frontier, we don't have any concrete plans. A lot rests on how well Train Frontier Express does sales wise. Without fan support, Team Train Frontier will hang up its conductor hat after this one. Though, I'll continue to work on my own indie projects.
Emoks: For the immediate future supporting TFE as it takes its first steps out amongst the zombie games and dating sims. Long term: sleep.
GC: Thank you for making trains fun with explosions and true derailments!
Eric: Making explosions is also fun, so it's a win-win. Thank you for the interview!
Emoks: Thank you!
We love to get a little insight on games produced by small teams, and Team Train Frontier is no exception, readers know that simulators are held dear to us, and with the creative fun of a game like LittleBigPlanet mixed with the niche gameplay of a a Train Simulator, there's no better marriage in Train Frontier Express.
If you haven't checked out the game yet, there is a demo available on the Xbox Indie Marketplace, and the game costs a mere 240 MSPoints. Watch this space for our review.