Hello! Just dropping by the blog to say that I’m still alive.
However, we are in a middle of moving from our little apartment to a bigger condo! So, the progress on the simulation has slowed down for a bit. But I can confidently tell you that the “steam engine simulation” part of the simulator is at least 90% finish! All that’s left is to finish the Disneyland layout, write the manual, and we’re off to release!
Why’s the work on the Disneyland layout so time consuming? Well, the research on the layout and buildings has to be done, and every building has to be custom made, with custom painted texture map. Even the berm size and location, fences along the tracks, and the foliage along the route, has to be researched and recreated.
It’s not fun to make a post without anything to show, so, I’ll leave you with this closing image of the Holliday waiting to steam out into the ranch:
I thought the sim looked pretty good then, but since then, there’s still plenty of subtle rendering and lighting improvements. Also, most of the development has been in the underlying codes.
Here are some of the new features and improvements completed since the January 2016 video, made a year ago:
Cab controls have been changed to pushing/pull your mouse, rather than using the scrollwheel. This allows for certain controls to “feel” lighter or heavier. Using the sim really feels much more realistic when you’re “turning” valves or “pull” the throttle.
Steam in the cylinders now exhausts with each “chuff”, and is replenished proportional to whatever throttle amount you have, so the pressure in the cylinder is not constant.
Pressure gauges are not “exactly” accurate like a “computer”. They error by up to 1% or 1.5%, per the manufacturer’s specification.
Lubrication in the steam chest can “wash off” if you pull the water into the cylinders. When the cylinders are flooded, the pistons move sluggishly, if at all!
The water glass can be clogged from sediments, and you’ll see all the proper signs of it.
Added a bunch of engine customization options like gauge face type, metal or wood running boards, arm rests, etc.
Better (more realistic) sky and clouds, lighting, and overall rendering qualities.
Expanded the ranch test tracks.
More realistic smoke and steam effects.
Better camera shakes and controls.
More realistic air compressor behavior.
Added limited hot keys.
Water in the boiler now expands realistically when it’s heated.
A ton of miscellaneous fixes and improvements that just makes everything “feel right”. This is only “one” item on the list but it’s actually the biggest item of all, because every system, components, and physics of the sim got fine tuned at some point in the last year. This really makes the sim come together.
All this tweaking and fine tuning is paying off. Steve DeGaetano is one of the expert tester, and so far he feels “right at home” with the sim. Here are some of the things he had to say:
I have been playing with a couple versions of it over the past few days. It is mind-boggling to me how accurate to firing and operating a real steam locomotive this is. You basically have to do *everything* the way you would on a real oil-burning engine. You have to hook up an air compressor if the engine is cold, in order for the blower and atomizer to work. All appropriate valves must be opened. The fire door has to be opened in order to throw in a lit piece of waste, which will go out in about 10 seconds unless you apply atomizer and oil. As the boiler heats, the water in the sight glass goes up: Why? Because water expands when heated!
For me, the experience of firing this engine and running it is exactly as I would expect from the real thing–I felt quite at home, knowing that when I made an adjustment, say, to the fire, I’d see that adjustment reflected on the steam pressure gauge. When I added water with the injector, the pressure invariably goes down in proportion–you’re adding cold water to the boiler and cooling it off, so the pressure goes down.
I can say that this is as close as you can come to actually operating the real thing. The thought has crossed my mind that Disney themselves might be able to use this as a training tool. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to fire and run a real DRR-style steam engine, this will be as close as you will be able to get unless you get a job on the DRR.
You can read his full write up of the experience here. I will admit that I was quite anxious when I was sending the sim out to testing, but so far I feel reassured by the feedback that this will be *the* steam sim (even a couple of DRR engineers like it!). Of course, there are bugs, and I’m getting them fixed and patched up everyday. Some of the bugs they found are very interesting, and I’m certainly learning even more about the engine from them.
Having sent the sim out for testing, and it being a new year, was a good opportunity to make another preview video! I always wanted to do one without narration—just let the sim sounds speak for themselves so you can get the full immersion of being around these engines. Well, here it is! It is also the perfect accompaniment while reading Steve’s write up! Enjoy!
To stay on the “development track” one must create a “road map”. The mixing of track and road analogy probably sounds weird, but it really makes sense when you think about it. Many developers don’t like to share their road map with their followers and rather keep their development a secret, but I don’t really have anything to hide so I will share it here for two reasons. One: because I really do need to see it for my self and this is a good permanent place for me to find it later; and two, so you too can know exactly where we are, and how close we are to upcoming major goals, etc.
In my development world, version numbers are sort of like “percentage completed”, so a version of 1.0.0 is really 100% complete. It makes sense for me to look at it that way (other developers have their own versioning philosophy). You’ll see in the road map below that we are really quite close to the end of the development phase (alpha), and almost into beta (general testing).
However, we will also have a round of special testing, called “tech testing”, which is between alpha and beta, where I will have steam experts pick the sim apart. When the experts are happy, then we’re off to general beta testing!
Also I linked the version number to its corresponding previews, just for time capsule sake.
So, here it is… enjoy!
Disneyland Railroad Simulator Development Road Map
1.0.RC1: release candidate… may be more than one
0.9.9: finish the manual, finish all beta bug fixes, optimize for performance
0.9.5: second round of beta, finish all peripheral operating features (main menu, loading menu, setup.exe, website)
0.9.0: finish the DL layouts, first round of general beta testing and builds
0.8.5: tech testing for industry experts/consultants
0.8.0: lots of improvements/optimization of sim codes, effects, and general stability of features <— you are here!!
0.7.7: lots of secondary physics and functions (lubrication and the effect of its temperatures, cylinder lubrication wash out, etc), upgraded Tenkoku Sky module to 1.0.8, running board options, improved sounds, etc.
0.7.0: added camera post effects (color grading, motion blur… all optional)
There’s a lot going on behind the scenes right now… the last time I posted an update, I wasn’t even a father! 😀
Yes, there’s a little baby boy in this house now, and he sure is a time sink! We’re going through a whole new set of adventures everyday. Meanwhile, the sim is in a “slow burn” mode. There actually have been quite a bit of progress under the hood… real subtle stuff.
I love looking at this comparison of the two engines. You get a really good sense of scale in these pictures, the tiny, compactness of the engines, and yet big enough to ride in.
This picture above of the EP Ripley steaming into the blazing late afternoon/early evening sun really gives you a sense of the atmosphere.
The shot below is a sneak peek of the options available to customize your engine:
The engines are mighty thirsty machines, drinking about 250 gallons per hour. You’ll have to stop at a water tower somewhat frequently to keep the tender from running out of water (which is modeled in the sim). Here’s the Holliday filling up from the water spout:
I’ve having a lot of fun trying to stop the train to line up the water hatch right under spout. It’s very challenging!
By now I’m sure you’re eager to see the Disneyland layout (me too… hahah). It’s still not picture ready yet, and it’s taking a lot more effort than I thought. I’m happy to share this rendering of the Frontierland station with you, though.
It looks great in the sim, next to the tracks. And when the sim is finally released, you’ll be able to pull up to the station on the right side of the train!
I took a break from working on the Disneyland layout to go back and work on the ranch scenery some more. The ranch is more than just a test bed for the train, but it is also a test bed for scenery-related stuff. So I tend to work on the ranch stuff first before using it in the Disneyland layout.
Recently, I expanded the ranch tracks to double the length, and it’s now possible to run the trains through reversing loops, etc. This was my “switching” practice for those siding/switch outs in the Disneyland layout.
This is the control panel for the switches on the ranch tracks. It’s pretty simple to understand, and very much resembles a control panel for model railroads (or even real railroads!).
And now for some scenery goodies!
The tracks run through small villages that you’ll see on the sides.
It’s a serene little scenery, with plenty of hills and trees, nestled in at the foothills. A real chance to stretch those 4-4-0 legs!
And here’s a little miscellaneous teaser—you can select the gauge face style: normal or bolded; and you can select to display the calibration stickers, too!
Last month, the CK Holliday made a very special appearance at the 2016 Fullerton Railroad Day. It was a momentous occasion because it was the engine’s first public appearance in quite a few years.
Why the disappearance for so long? The Holliday recently underwent an extensive refurbishment at the Hillcrest Shop in Reedley, California. The engine received a new boiler, new plumbing and appliances, and many more improvements and changes. Indeed, she’s the “newest” that she’s ever been, since 1955 when she was “actually new”! This is truly an exciting moment for the engine.
Trivial rumors might also suggest that Pixar’s CEO John Lasseter had some say in the direction of the refurb, given that he’s an avid train fan and the Hillcrest Shop did work for him before.
Join me as I survey the engine up close and personal, and talk to the DRR crew. I also make some before-and-after comparisons to get an idea of what kind of work was done on the refurb (… and it’s indeed very extensive!)
In a later update, I’ll post a selection of pictures I find interesting. For now, enjoy the video…
…and this bonus picture (I had to do it!)
A picture of the CK Holliday cab with the Engine Study Plan Book (Author for scale)
In the last few updates you’ve seen the engine simulations and physics coming along—really close to getting polished. So now I’m moving on to work on the scenery. You’ve seen plenty of my fictional testing ranch (which I plan on expanding further still!) but there will also be a Disneyland layout of sort.
Through out my research to recreate the old Disneyland tracks, I learn that it’s pretty difficult to exactly recreate the park, because the park changed so often! A picture from early 1956 can be drastically be different from a photo taken in middle or late in the same year! More on this later.
So far, there’s nothing exciting in the park to show yet, but I’ll at least leave you with these teaser images. I took the first picture to specifically show off the new tracks rendering…
…notice the much closer (and more realistic) track ties spacing, the oil and grease stains on the ties and gravel, and the natural fringe of the gravel edges. This was taken at the bend around the Rivers of America, looking back.
Another teaser picture. I’m sure you’ll recognize this structure right away…
Yes, notice on the bridge: the dual tracks of the old SF&D days! You’ll be able to operate the switches to run on either the siding or the pass-by tracks at both stations. Check out the landscaping around the stations. The foliage really gives a sense of scale, and the point of view from the cab pulling into Main Street Station is quite breathtaking… but I’ll save that for another day!
Where do you go when you need the best information on Disneyland Railroad and steam engine operations? North Carolina, of course!
This month, I visited an accomplished author and good friend, Steve DeGaetano. Steve has four published books on the history of the Disneyland Railroad. Most of you have probably talked to him on the Burnsland forums, so his authority on the subject is quite established. He is now currently a fireman and engineer at the New Hope Valley Railroad, a volunteer-run organization, in North Carolina. I had an opportunity to spend a day with his unique little 0-4-0 engine, and try my hands at pulling the levers and turning the valves to see how these controls really feel. And they really feel different than what I had imagined! So you can bet that I’ll be finding a way to mimic these feelings in the simulator.
We also dove under and climbed over the engine to get a good look at rarely seen mechanisms, like the burner, the blowdown pipe, and even the link block and eccentric rods in motion when the Johnson bar is shifted! Steve also explained how many of the components on the engine work, and how the engine operates, all of which are very similar to the Disney engines.
Here’s a quick tour of the little engine, and a taste of what will be integrated into the sim:
Thanks again to Steve for the opportunity. I left with a lot of great ideas for the sim, and you’ll surely see another update coming. Soon, you’ll also get to feel what it’s like to be at the controls of one of these. (Hint: in a word, it’s exhausting!)
It’s 2016, and the Disneyland Railroad Steam Locomotive Simulator now enters its 3rd year of development! 😀
Let’s kick off the new year with a new preview video… and let’s make it over an hour long so we can really get into the meat of the sim. In this video, we’ll look at the fine 3D model from the exterior of the train and the cab. Then, we’ll fire up the Holliday, and take her out for a quick trip around the test track ranch.
I’ll also try to point out some of the interesting sights and sounds on the engine and in the sim, as well as explaining the procedure and process of operating the engine. So, let’s get right into the video, and I’ll let the footage speak for itself.
I didn’t get a chance to really explain the function of each appliance and each option in the menu this time. I’ll make another video for those, and I also to point out some of the finer details. (Did you notice that when the engine is moving, there was a short, audible `beep’ from the water alarm, due to the sloshing water in the boiler? It’s at 43:48).
Meanwhile, enjoy the first, in-depth look at the sim, coming to your desktop in the near future!