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.