Rail Route Interview – Build a rail network and become a train dispatcher

Rail Route is a management game where you can build rail networks and also control their traffic. We talked to Bitrich.info to learn more.

Do you have what it takes to be a train dispatcher? Don’t worry, Rail Route is easy to get into, but challenging to master. This train network management sim has been in Early Access on Steam since June last year, and it’s already picked up over 500 reviews, 94% of them positive.

Unique to Rail Route is that apart from creating your own rail network, you can control traffic as a train dispatcher and then take it a step further with expanding and automating your network. Apart from an Endless Mode and a Scored Mode, you can also create your own maps and share them on Steam Workshop. And that’s just what the Early Access has so far – there’s lots more to come.

We interviewed Zdeněk Doležal, co-founder of the game’s development studio, Bitrich.info about where Rail Route departed from and where it’s arriving soon.

Tell us about how Bitrich.info was formed and how you came to work on Rail Route for your first project.

We formed it with my friend Michal. Initially, we met at a bank start-up that we both worked at. He was an IT Solution Architect, and I was leading the development teams.

It was a nice experience, but the company quickly became too big for us. We jumped into a few prototyping projects in the field of genetic algorithms and neural networks research but nothing serious in terms of a business.

Then we started to think about creating a game. It took us a few months to come up with an idea for a prototype.

When Michal showed me a train dispatcher simulator he used to play during his studies during university, everything really clicked. I was astonished by the uniqueness of the display as well as how interesting it was. It was an awesome experience and we knew right then that that was the best idea for a game.

Rail Route indie game screenshot

Does your team have experience with trains or dispatching? How did you research this profession?

Not much. Michal thinks he sank at least 100 hours in that simulator, but that’s it in terms of dispatching experience. In terms of software development, we are quite experienced – and that’s pretty handy when designing a game like Rail Route.

The main problem with that simulator was that it was not a game. We were mostly trying to gamify the dispatcher simulator idea.

We took inspiration from a bunch of different games to try to create engaging, compelling loops that work in the train dispatch format. Fans of Factorio can see the resemblances in the Endless mode maps, for example.

Screenshots of Rail Route make it look fascinatingly complex. How do you keep it from getting too overwhelming or complicated?

When you get a good grasp of the game, it’s not quite as complex as you might imagine. Most of the negative feedback we received after we entered the Early Access period was regarding the tutorial. We ended up changing our initial plans and shifting development a little to fix this.

We redesigned the whole tutorial and introduced a narrator character in form of our ‘train-dispatching veteran’ Jozic. Jozic leads the player through the tutorial, dynamically giving them hints and teaching them the various facets of the game. The reception has been great, and it’s made the game a lot easier to get into.

What’s interesting is that during the development of the new tutorial, we started using QA testers for the first time. It was a whole new experience for all of us.

Seeing randomly selected players (that have never played our game before) play through the tutorial whilst thinking out loud was super helpful. We refined the new tutorial a lot thanks to this technique, and we plan to keep using it in the future.

Rail Route indie game screenshot

Rail Route has been in Early Access for half a year now. Was community involvement always in the plans? How has it shaped development?

We held an open alpha before we went into Early Access, it was our plan from the very beginning. We actually released our first prototype to the public. That was the beginning of Rail Route and its community. The feedback we gathered during these years helped us shape the game tremendously.

But community involvement in terms of the game when we released Map Editor was a whole other level. It was when community members were allowed to create their own maps and share them that we started to see the true power of our community. It was an incredible experience to see it grow.

What’s in store for Rail Route’s near-future?

We’ve got a lot planned. We’re now a team of four developers working full time on the game. Our next update will feature a new game mode, bringing a brand new experience into Rail Route.

We’re calling the new mode ‘Rush Hour’. In Rush Hour, everything is streamlined – there are no delays or wait-times between trains, and the objective is just to handle wave after wave of hectic, incoming traffic.

Between waves, the player is awarded a few items that they can use to improve the layout of their map. Things like tracks, automatic signals, etc. It’s a challenge for the players – how long can they survive with only their dispatching skills?

When can we expect the game to launch out of Early Access and on what platforms?

We have some internal dates and scenarios, but we’re still not entirely sure. We try not to keep to a solid roadmap externally. It helps us to stay dynamic, focusing on immediate priorities and staying flexible, rather than just what’s in our roadmap.

You can continue following Rail Route’s development here on the game’s Twitter, as well as on the game’s official website and on the Steam page. The developers also have a Discord server going for the game, which you’ll find here.

For more previews and interviews of upcoming games, be sure to check out our Previews section here!

This Article was written by: Rahul Shirke

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