The next update, version 1.0.2 is still cooking, but I think now is a good time to showcase some of the new features that are coming. One of the biggest feature is a more dynamic fireman.
Since the first version, there was an “auto fireman” option. In this version, the pressure needle is always pegged at about 130 psi and never moves… no matter if the train is pulling or stopping, or if you’re adding cold water into the boiler… it’s always 130 psi… no matter what (the fireman is just that good!). It sure made your life as an engineer easy, because you always had that same pressure to use.
In the second version, 1.0.1, you’ll see the pressure dip and climb a little (depending on the fireman’s experience). But the fireman still does not “reaction” realistically. The pressure dips and climbs are kind of random, but it does bring a little bit of flavor to your life as an engineer. Trying to start a heavy train with only 120 psi is probably not a good idea.
In these versions, the sim cheats a little bit behind the scene. The sim doesn’t really attempt to “fire” the engine, but it manipulates the water temperature directly to achieve the desired boiler pressure. This will all change with the next version: your new fireman will now fire the engine by manipulating the fuel, atomizer steam, and blower.
This means that if you’re using a lot of steam, like pulling out, you’ll accordingly see the fire gets bigger and hotter, and the atomizer steam sounds louder as the fireman turns up the controls to keep up. And when you’re stopped or coasting, the fire will be tamed down appropriately.
Sounds easy? It gets a bit more complicated! You, as the engineer, will now have to work with your fireman to efficiently manage the steam. This means that pulling the throttle wide open when you’re at a low pressure means you’ll make the fireman work harder to catch up, which in turn means that your fireman will be using more water, steam, and fuel because of your pulling (you’ll also make him mad).
If you’re the kind of engineer that’s not easy on the throttle, jerking it open and close often, you’ll subsequently see and hear the fire and steam getting louder and quieter all the time as the fireman tries to hold a fluctuating pressure.
Basically, you’ll have to work and coordinate your pulling with what the fireman is doing! In the real cab, the fireman and the engineer communicate with each other constantly, and you’ll be able to do this in the sim as well through the new fireman command menu.
Through this menu, you can tell the fireman to get ready to depart (he’ll build a hot fire and over build the pressure to give you a steam reserve), or that you’ll be coasting or coming to a stop (he’ll back off the fire). Even if you don’t talk to the fireman, he’ll try to follow your throttle use: firing up when you open the throttle, and backing off when you close it, but he’ll lag behind a little because he’s just reacting to your pulling, and it will show in the steam pressure and firing quality. The fireman’s experience will still be selectable, and it will basically comes down to how well he’ll anticipate or keep up with you.
The core of the fireman logic is still being refined. As it is, the fireman is just “too dumb”, and doesn’t really fire or behave the way a real person would. Using a car cruise control analogy, he’ll step on the gas until he gets to the speed and then back off, and then step on the gas again when the car’s speed is under the target. This creates a hunting behavior. It’s an oversimplification, but that’s basically why this feature is not ready yet. You’d think a computer would be really good at firing because it’s logical, but trying to code this feature really shows me that firing the engine well is actually more of an art, and computers are terrible at that.
In addition to finishing the logic, I am hoping to add in voice responses to commands, and selectable male and female fireman.
On the other buttons, you’ll be able to tell the fireman to set the fire directly, instead of turning the fuel and atomizer steam valves yourself. He won’t try to hold any particular pressure with these commands.
Any finally, the fireman will now ring the bell! He’ll ring it at a crossing and when coming into a station. You can just focus on stopping on the platform.
Another feature coming in 1.0.2: you won’t be lonely in the park anymore!
In addition to seeing a populated park, you’ll see and hear crowds at the station, the marching band on Main Street, the tropical birds at Jungle Cruise, a country band at Frontierland, and other background sounds. The clothes seen on the models in the two pictures above are generic. In the release, they’ll be wearing something more period appropriate. (Sorry, no Main Street Station announcement at this time).