Dynamic fireman and other updates

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).

some bugs in 1.0.1

Numerous reports have pointed me to a couple of bugs that managed to get in to the 1.0.1 update. They are:

  • Autofire crashing within 1956 map
  • Valve sensitivity not taking effect within 1956 map
  • FPS settings not saving (this affects the Windows version only, according to my tests)

The root cause of these bugs have been found and another update is coming.

Disneyland Railroad Steam Simulator 1.0.1 update released

Effective immediately, the first update of the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad Steam Simulator is now available. Version 1.0.1 updates and changes include:

  • macOS version released
  • Added keyboard controls for throttle and Johnson bar
  • Added cab and headlight lamps response to generator charging
  • Added target FPS slider and lock
  • Speedometer now working when engine is moving backward
  • Added variable “auto” fireman control
  • Slightly tweaked the electrical system (now possible higher starting voltage value)
  • Changed/updated fire script to allow for auto firing and possible future feature expansion
  • Fixed crashing bug when auto firing is active
  • Updated the manual

There are two ways to obtain the new updated version:

  • If you haven’t purchased the sim yet, just purchasing from the product page will give you the latest download
  • If you have already purchased the sim, look for your original order email for the download link. Simply redownload the file and you will have the latest version, then install as usual.

A note about macOS: the Simulator is based on the OpenGL platform, and as far as I know, Mojave has completely left OpenGL for Metal, therefore Mojave is not officially supported at this time. The Simulator was built for and successfully tested on High Sierra (10.13.3 to be exact). (Which version do I have?)

Disneyland Railroad Simulator Manual… printed edition!

One of the new items coming as part of the Simulator update that I haven’t talked about is the highly limited printed edition of the Operating Manual!

Although a PDF copy comes with the Simulator, this printed version allows you to actually hold a “piece” of the Simulator. It is printed on 6″x9″ format and spiral bound, mimicking the real operating manual typical of steam engines and other technical/industrial type of work.

It is printed in color on glossy paper, and makes reading and browsing through the technical aspects of the Simulator and steam engine operation a breeze.

The printed manual is based on version Simulator version 1.0.1 (ie, the first update after the initial release of 1.0). You can also take this announcement to hint that the long overdue but minor update is coming really soon now (I hope!).

You can order the printed manual from the sidebar on the Simulator’s product page.

another simulator review and walkthrough!

Alex the Historian posted another review of the sim. This one is a bit more like a “walk through” so it’s almost an hour long!

At some point near the beginning he said that the sim gives a window into what the early days of Disneyland was like. You’re exactly right, Alex. That’s what the sim (currently) aims to do. Sure, the park may look sparse, and there are only two engines, but that’s what it was really like!

Enjoy the show!

what about the other engines?

I’m going to dedicate some posts answering frequently asked questions about the sim. Perhaps the most asked question of all time is “what about the other engines?”

I get the demand. It would be cool to try your hand at all the different engines, and not everyone’s favorite engine is either the #1 or #2. But, it’s not so easy a task to bring the other engines into the sim. As you know, the goal of the sim is to be as accurate as possible a digital replica of those steam engines, so just slapping on a different engine skin on the existing engine won’t work.

But, to recreate the other engines, the #3, #4, and #5, requires very close access to the engine in order to record the sound, get photo references, and most importantly watch how the engine behaves under different circumstances. Number 3 and 5 are particularly the most difficult because there’s no cab ride available (except for that one time…) so it’s very challenging to get the necessary observation.

I was very fortunate way back many years ago to have had such access to the engines and the crew. I watched and learn many things but I don’t have that luxury anymore. So, until I can have that kind of access and insight, I’m afraid there just isn’t going to be enough data to rebuild these engines in the sim.

wow…. oops…

So the last post here was in February about an upcoming update. It’s now practically September. Sorry about that! Was it some kind of ground breaking or technologically advanced feature being worked on behind the scene that’s holding up the update?

Not really.

Well, we over here did add one more human being to the family roster this summer. I’ve been busy developing his independence and behavior and that’s taking a lot of time!

Truthfully, other than the OSX version, there really isn’t anything new or exciting that will completely change the sim. If you have the sim now, you’ll hardly notice a difference with the update.

Well, except for a few of my favorite features:

  • Glowing/dimming lamps. The electrical lamps will glow and dim as the generator kicks in when the train is in motion or slows down. It’s pretty!
  • Keyboard control: additional keyboard control has been added to the throttle and the Johnson Bar, if you get tired of moving the mouse around (even though that’s like one of the main “feature” (uhh… goal) of the sim—to show the fatigue from operating the controls all day long!)
  • Dynamic fireman. In the current version if you select “auto firing” your fireman Otto will always do a very good job of holding about 130 psi. In the update, you can select the “experience level” of your fireman from novice to pro. If you select novice, expect to see the pressure gauge swinging and a lot of “hunting” for the pressure. If you select “expert” of course you can expect a rock solid pressure! This can make your pulling experience quite interesting when you have a novice fireman in the left seat.

And that’s about it… not much to it if you’ve been waiting this long. Like I said, you can basically enjoy the sim as it is now and you’re not missing much from this update.

But there is a not-so-secret secret about the sim that’s to be revealed much later also!

…and we’re back!

Hello! Is there anybody here?

Thank you all for making the release of the Steam Simulator such a success. I really hope you are enjoying it. I love reading about what people have learned from the sim. And since you have come back to read this blog, I guess you are still looking for more 🙂

You may have noticed that the functionality of the website was reduced a few days ago. Unfortunately, the website suffered a malware injection attack, but we are now back to being fully operational, which is timely for me to announce an upcoming update to the simulator.

Thanks to everyone that took the time to find these bugs and report them to me. Here’s a list of features and fixes in the upcoming update:

  • macOS version! More info about this closer to the release of the update
  • Keyboard remap – allow for remapping of the keyboard controls
  • Speedometer fix – speedometer works when moving backward
  • FPS lock – add a FPS lock option
  • Crashes – fix a crash when operating some valves with the auto-firing option active

If all goes well, I anticipate finishing the update in about 2 to 3 months. Of course, you’ll be the first to know when it is available if you check this blog regularly.

See ya, and high ball!