Saturday 25 February 2017

How To: Edit your Needs List

I received a request this week for some advice on how to remove a loco from a Needs List.  It transpires that the loco in question, 13002, had been scooped a while back, but for some reason was still showing as required in the person's needs list.

Anyway, here is how to do it:

If you are running a career, you need to start a game with that career file, and at the end of the game you can save your Needs List.

If you are not running a career, you should already have your needs list available as a text file.

You can use Notepad to edit the file and simply remove the offending loco from the list.

Start a new game, and at the point where you load up your career file, you can also import your edited needs list.

Firstly - select your career file as usual.

Then click Browse for Needs List and select the edited Needs List text file.

Note that the file name will appear in the box where you would normally enter the percentage required locos (if you are not running a career).

Start the game, and respond to the following prompts as below:

Say YES to the prompt asking if you want to merge or replace your needs list.

OK, so this one might seem a little cryptic, but for these purposes, you need to answer NO, so that the newly imported Needs List will completely replace the existing one.

You should now find that the loco you removed from the Needs List text file will no longer be shown as required in your career.

Saturday 18 February 2017

How it all started - Scottish Rover and Western Rover

I bought a copy of QuickBasic, which allowed you to compile BASIC programs into native program files, and used it to create some basic railway games (for my own amusement) including a text-based driving game from Carlisle to Glasgow Central (you could try different locos on various passenger and freight consists and the screen output included a graphical representation of the gradient profile - better than what Simudrive had to offer!)

My next PC was a 386 machine, with a colour monitor.  I upgraded my development software to Visual Basic 3.0, which allowed you to create Windows applications.  I re-wrote my train driving game to make use of the Simudrive route and motive power files, and added a visual representation of the driving controls of the various locomotives.  I also created a Windows version of Rail Rover, using the same data files as Alan Baylis's DOS version.  I also worked on a project to model Preston Station in a basic signalling simulator.  None of these early efforts were released, and were purely for personal use.

As I was living in Scotland at the time, I became a volunteer at my local preserved railway, and I statrted building a collection of Working Timetables with purchases from their shop.  Armed with a full set of Scottish Timetables for 1984, I set to work building "Scottish Rover", my first fully-fledged haulage bashing simulator.  My development machine had been updated to a 486 and the Internet was now available on a 56k dialup modem.

Once Scottish Rover had been released, I managed to get hold of a set of Western Region Timetables for 1981, and also a set of locomotive diagrams for the Western Region.  With these tools (as well as copies of "Locomotive Hauled Travel 1981" and the British Rail Passenger Timetable for 1981, I started the long task of building what turned into "Hellfire" as we know it.

It would be several years of work before the entire country would be completed, but I decided to start down at one end, and work slowly upwards.  Western Rover was released, initially covering Cornwall and Devon, but eventually growing into the whole Western Region, then up to Birmingham, North Wales and eventually covering the entire network.

Almost like painting the Forth Bridge, shortly after completing the initial sweep of the whole country, I made plans to rewrite the game (partly to ensure it would remain future proof, and partly to harness newer technologies) and make it more data-driven (meaning the actual program would be totally separate from the data files - so it is now possible to run Hellfire for any timetable - all we need is the raw data to build it).

Although this might read like it has been a solo effort getting Hellfire to where it is today, there are countless numbers of people who have helped (and continue to do so) along the way.  From those who have sourced, lent and donated Timetables, Traffic Notices and other official paperwork, to those who have spent time testing and bug reporting, to those who have provided financial support by purchasing the games through the years, without you all it would not have been possible to get Hellfire to its current status.  There is still a lot of work to do, and I hope you continue to enjoy Hellfire in the future.

I'll keep posting to this blog, providing trivia and other nuggets of gen every now and again.



Saturday 11 February 2017

How it all Started - the Early Games

Around 1984 I created my first Bashing Simulator as a board game that involved chasing Class 40's for haulage around a map of Northern England.  Simply called "The Bashing Game" it made an appearance on a couple of railtours, but the sheer size of the game board (made up of about 20 sheets of laminated A4 paper spread out on a table) did make it somewhat unwieldy.  Players would take turns throwing a dice, and moving their counter along the rail routes on the board.  At the same time, they would also move a Class 40-hauled 'train' on a route determined by card selection.  Players had to position themselves at a station due to be called at by the train, in order to board the train and score points.  There were other features (such as 'railtour' cards) which added some variety to the game.

My first encounter with the world of computer programming was when I undertook a week of work experience at a computer shop in Preston town centre.  It sold the Commodore PET, meaning I could start to teach myself BASIC, the programming language that shipped with these machines.

It was Commodore the released the very successful C16 and C64 machines, which although they were aimed at the fledgeling computer gaming market, were also shipped with BASIC.  The first railway computer games were also being developed, and I dived into the source code for RTC Penzance to see how it all worked.  You can still play this game today on a PC thanks to a free emulator.

I bought my first PC in about 1989; an Amstrad 2086 D.  (The link shows the 2086-S, which was the single drive version of mine - the 'D' stood for 'Dual' as it had 2 3.5 inch floppy disk drives).  Hard Drives were way beyond my budget at that time, but you could run Windows V2 using the two drives.  Not that I ever really bothered with Windows at that time - I was happy just tapping around in DOS, the command line operating system that shipped with PCs in those days. I remember buying my first hard disk drive for that machine, which weighed in at a whopping 20Mb, for 100 Quid - quite an investment in 1989 prices.  Nowadays (2017), you can buy a 2Tb drive for less than that, which is about 50,000 times bigger.

Around that time, a Class 25 bashing acquaintance, Alan Baylis, developed a game called "Rail Rover", which ran on DOS PCs, and was probably the first computer bashing game.  It was based on roughly the same area as "The Bashing Game", but this creation included the 1980 Summer Saturday timetable, and psuedo-ramdom loco allocations.  If any of you have ever played this game, you will see where many of the features of the modern "Hellfire" came from.  I still have V6.03 of this game on a 3.5 floppy, but have no idea if it even runs, as I haven't owned a PC with a floppy disk drive for many years!

To be continued...

Saturday 4 February 2017

How it all Started - The Very Beginning

Back in the mists of ancient time, when British Rail was the single entity running the railways in Britain, and Rail Blue/Grey was the only livery of the day, we spent our leisure time travelling the country seeking out rare locomotives working passenger trains between far-flung outposts of the railway network.

We were "Haulage Bashers" (often shortened to just "Bashers"), often evolved from the anorak'ed and bespectacled spotty youths that could be found adorning the platform ends of Britain's largest railway stations.  Bashers soon worked out that Trainspotting was not much fun (especially given Britain's weather) and was certainly not "cool" (it had nothing to do with the eponymously titled film directed by Danny Boyle, which is probably about the coolest movie you can find.  If you haven't seen it - you really have to check it out).

We were not the first of our kind.  Something almost all bashers have in common is the wish that they were born about five years before their actual birth date.  At any point in time (OK - so maybe any time since the mid 1800's) there was an overwhelming feeling that the railways were better (i.e. in locomotive haulage terms) in the "good old days".  Older bashers would taunt us with stories of the end of steam, early diesel locomotives, and long closed lines or trains that have passed into memory.

Maybe I had a bit of foresight back in the early 1980's, which was my bashing period.  I used to take a tape recorder on my travels, and loved recording the locos I travelled behind.  Sure - I did get a fair share of strange looks, but looking back I'm glad I managed to save a sonic sample of the times.  Now my tapes have either been lost or have perished due to age, but I do have several recordings digitized so they should now last for ever.

To be continued....