Title: Railroad Tycoon 3

Strap: 20

Dan Griliopoulos gets on the right tracks to promote RRT3 – but are his motives loco?

Details:

Genre: Management

Due date: October 2003

Must see scene: Why do we keep on starting fires?

Run a train over too long a distance without water or sand, and it’ll blow a gasket, and burst into flames. Pray that Mr Glass wasn’t there.

Developer box:

Developer: Poptop

Publisher: THQ

Web address: http://www.poptop.com

Tel:

Image – Franz J Felsl, Designer

Who are they?:

Poptop are one of the harder working, but less well-known developers out there. They’ve got more sequels under their bulging belts than Sly Stallone, with titles like Railroad Tycoon 2, Tropico 2, Age of Wonders 2 (as reviewed on page **.) They describe their games as “easy to learn, hard to master, lots of gameplay value, and minimal violence.”

What are they doing? As ever with games companies they have a ‘secret project’ on the go, which is probably something like C&C Generals 2: Ghandi Up to 80 words describing the company’s current work and future plans. Are they going to change the world of gaming with their vision? Or is this game all they will ever do?

Let me take you back to your childhood. Watch the watch the watch the… Eh haff now putt you into a dip trans. Go deep inside yourself; go past all those repressed memories and desires (urgh, is that Jeremy Beadle?) and you’ll find at the bottom of it all, a vague, suppressed and confused image of a train. Focus on the train…

Back in the depths of PC memory there was a little game called Railroad Tycoon, made by a nobody programmer called Sid Meier. Somehow, despite its primitive graphics and limited gameplay, it still managed to capture the imagination of game players worldwide. (There wasn’t much else to do apart from whittle ships out of soap in the good old days.)

Now thirteen years on, we’re sat in Windsor watching the unique Franz J Felsl demonstrate Railroad Tycoon III. It was a nightmarish train journey to get here (aren’t they all?) so we’re hoping the game is something of an improvement on that. So up comes the lovingly rendered menu screen, up comes the map screen. At least it looks like the map – we can see the whole of the British isles – then Franz just starts rolling the mouse wheel, and we start zooming in, and just keep going in, from a global view to a cat’s eye view.

Yup, this iteration is in 3D. Granted the game’s not got an accurate scale; so trains are about the same size as towns, and the cities look more like industrial estates, with a few scattered factories and not much in the way of houses; but the trains are properly modelled. You can spin around them, track them, though you can’t ride them as yet.

For those without dormant memories of the first game or its sequel, the point of Railroad Tycoon III is to build up your corporation. You do this by linking together towns with rail connections, which you then use to ship freight around. It’s suitably simple in concept, but the actual game is much more complicated, involving gradually spreading your network across the country.

It doesn’t just involve building track and trains either; you also can add any of 150 buildings to towns, such as hotels and post offices to promote trade. The money to do this comes from your initial capital, and from issuing bonds on the strength of your shares in a full stock market simulation built into the game (though if you so choose, you can eschew running a railway company at all, and just deal shares, your personal fortune being separate from your companies’.) Following Transport Tycoon, you can also build bridges and tunnels now, though they are prohibitively expensive.

There’s more trains and cargo types than ever to roll through the tracts of land. Though there’s still licensing issues over several of the trains (certain famous names being reluctant to allow the consumer to crash them repeatedly), there’s going to be over 40 locomotives – from the original Planet and Norris 4-2-0 to monstrous late steam engines like the 4-6-6-4 Challenger to ultra-modern bullet trains. There’s also over 35 cargoes to schlep, and fulfilling missions, or doing well on particular routes will win your trains awards and hence attract more cargo.

Players of the previous games will be divided over the next innovation: signals are gone. “They were the single most complained about part of the previous games” says Franz, “they were also one of the most difficult parts to remove.” Anyone who played the first game, would have seen their trains in more head-on collisions than the BBC and No. 10. Like anything challenging to use though, they were rewarding to overcome, so the die-hard fans might miss them. Instead the trains have a priority system allowing them to overtake each other, with less important cargoes or slower trains giving way to expresses and the like.

The new iteration also promises improved multiplayer over RR2, with improved matchmaking and chat forums. There’s 25 single-player scenarios to muck about with, and there’s already plans for expansion packs. There’s also a single-player mode which varies from the de rigeur sandbox mode (where you have limitless funds, and treat the map like a giant train set), to Tycoon mode where you’ll struggle to make a dime.

Like the Sim City series, RailRoad will ship with an editor to allow the modding community to make their own maps. Editing appears to be simplicity itself; we saw Franz turn the British Isles from a green and pleasant land into a ruined post-apocalyptic landscape, with Liverpool under water and a big volcano covering London. (Being Mancunian, I obviously wept for days.)To top everything off, the game’s soundtrack will feature another installment of some of the best authentic blues, bluegrass, and Americana music around. Now,when I click my fingers you’ll wake up and want to buy Railroad Tycoon III.

Railroad Tycoon 3 will feature 25 scenarios challenging players to recreate magnificent feats of railroading history from around the world. Players will be able to lay track (this time with tunnels and overpasses), pick from over 40 locomotives from early steams to modern bullets, choose to haul over 35 types of cargo in a dynamic economy, and participate in an advanced stock market

Press Pass: This boxout is about the marketing hype. It features a single dynamic screenshot accompanied by:

Strap: Trainspotters may already have their tickets, but how are Poptop going to get the rest onboard?

They say: “The Railroad Tycoon series continues to evoke the passion people have for steam and modern day locomotives, as well as the strategy gamers’ desire for a significant challenge…’Railroad Tycoon 3′ builds on the popular features and successes of the franchise, and will deliver one of the best Tycoon experiences in the market.”

We say: The die-hard Railroad Tycoon and simulation fans are going to love this (despite the excision of the signals), but the wider public may not be as enamoured of its ‘spreadsheetathon’ heritage. That said, the engine is impressively unrestricted, and the rest of the game is true to the series, whilst losing none of the challenge.

Boxouts: These can take several forms. Either:

A two grab box

(one large, one small) with a title, strap and 100 words of copy.

Plane Sailing

Trains are exciting, but what else does RR3 have to offer.

Hit the turn of the twentieth century and the stuttering figure of a gypsy moth will fly into view. Watch it carefully over the course of the century and it’ll turn from biplane into

monoplane, into turbo-prop, into a basic jet, into a Learjet. There are also numerous other Easter Eggs tucked away inside the game. Our favourite was the fully controllable Sherman Tank written in by an errant programmer, which we’re sad to hear has been removed.

A three step walkthrough

Getting a station in life

Would that it were so quick for Railtrack…

Strap

RT3_001

First, find certain relatively close cities, preferably with complementary outputs, like iron mines and a steel refinery. One of RT3’s many filters will show you how high demand is for goods.

RT3_002

Then build your track. Just like Transport Tycoon, avoid building bridges or tunnels unless you really have to, as they substantially increase the cost of track. Add water, repair and sand points along the way.

RT3_003

Finally select a train. Depending on what you’re shipping you should select for either comfort, pulling load, ability to deal with gradients and nationalism.

30 word caption for each.

2 page – 2 boxes

Images & Captions: Plenty of each. Work on the theory that we’ll need at least five per page to choose from, and caption ‘em all. For 2 and 3 page games, we’ll also need hi-res art – but we can probably source this.

We’re going to Stoke. It’s necessary on steam trains.

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GriddleOctopus

There are few harder things in life than introducing yourself, especially in print where mellifluous nuance can turn to indulgent wankery. So. I am definitely a 'writer'. You could also call me an 'artist'. I could probably put the words 'designer' and 'consultant' here too, but they feel crass.

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