Project Description

EngineerRailroads! was my final project at Firaxis and one that I’ve come to appreciate a lot more as the years have passed. In late 2005 when I was assigned to the project, it was nothing more than a simple-yet-enthralling demo Sid had created that merged the basic strategy / economy game of Railroad Tycoon with the fun and aesthetic of playing with model trains.   Our challenge was to take that demo and create a polished retail product in about a year.

As in previous projects such as Pirates!, I took on more design responsibilities on this title, putting together the basics of our scenario system, compiling the list of trains, buildings, robber barons and scenario locales to be included, and borrowing some familiar gameplay mechanics from some of our other products (the stock and patent systems were shamelessly lifted from the “Mars” prototype that eventually became Civ IV).  I also  implemented some smaller features into the game including the “train table mode” and the in-game newspapers that are displayed when key events take place.

Initially intended to be a small-scale product that helped stagger our production cycles following the simultaneous completion of Civ IV and Pirates!, interest and expectation soon began to balloon as 2K fielded a lot of press inquiries about the game, and major press events followed.  I first demoed the game at the Sony Metreon in San Francisco as a part of Sid Meier’s induction into the “Walk of Game”, then traveled to Los Angeles to present the game at E3, where it was nominated for a “Best of E3” award, and later in 2006 had the chance to demo in Leipzig, Germany at the world’s largest games show.  German gamers are passionate about their trains!

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Looking back, we did some pretty amazing things with the game in a very short amount of time.  At the time of development, it was without question the best-looking title the studio had ever produced, and I think we nailed player experience in the core feedback loop: to this day I feel that there is a zen-like joy to being able to drag train tracks across terrain and watch the world terraform to meet your desires.   We had an amazing team, including some of the best engineers and artists I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

 

The game has gone on to become a bit of a cult hit — there are still active communities building mods and maps for the game despite a lack of real built-in mod support (we never had the resources to tackle it on this project), and the game was even ported to the Mac recently, proving that “watching the trains go by” does indeed have universal  appeal.