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Parcival

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Tracks - The Train Set Game - It's like virtual BRIO!


Tracks - The Train Set Game is being developed by UK developer Whoop Group and published by Excalibur Games.  This game has been on my radar for a while and I want to say a big thank you to the team at Excalibur who have kindly provided me with a copy of the game.  This will be the first of a number of their current and upcoming games I'll be looking at over the coming months.

Tracks started life a little under 2 years ago as an entry in the the February 2017 AGDG Comfy Jam, a 2 week game jam to make a 'comfy' game.  The game received positive feedback and was released as a prototype onto the Itch.io platform under their 'Pay What You Want' model.

Due to the generosity of the players who decided to support the game by making contributions, the prototype was able to be developed further into a full game, being published again to Itch.io as a paid product and also into the Steam Early Access programme on September 28th 2017.

If you ever owned, or like me wished you owned, some BRIO wooden rails (other, compatible, brands are available) then you know exactly what to expect from your available parts.  Imagine you have a massive, empty floor and the worlds biggest box of wooden rails, trains and accessories and you might be partway to knowing what to expect from this game.

Working on a track layout which started as the small oval in the centre and was gradually expanded

When you load the game the default 'Clear' environment is selected for Free Play mode.  As is suggests this is simply a blank canvas in which you can play with all of the pieces to make your dream wooden rail layout.  In the level select menu, you can change between, at the time of writing, 5 different environments: Clear; Clear (Night); Modern Apartment; Apartment (Night); Bedroom.  All of these allow Free Play with the Modern Apartment environment also offering the Passengers game mode.

If you jump straight in to play without changing the level you are greeted by a tutorial introducing you to the game, how to lay tracks, place decorations and, possibly most importantly, how to drive your trains!  This tutorial can be replayed just by starting a game on the Clear environment again, but can be skipped if you want to get straight into it.

A simpler layout with a small town (complete with a seasonal Christmas Tree), a farm and a train shed 

When you start the game in the Clear and Bedroom environments you start with a single straight track piece and train, the Apartment environments have a small section of track consisting of a curve and a few straights.

To expand your tracks, you simply decide if you want a straight piece, an incline/decline by scrolling the mouse wheel or using Q and E keys, a curve left or right, or an S-bend into a parallel track by moving the mouse left or right, and place the piece using left click.  This will add a new piece to the existing track.  It is also possible to create junctions simply by selecting the node of a straight or curve and adding on to that piece.  By hovering your mouse over the junction you are able to select which path the train will take through the junction by default.

Top: The basic track piece available in the game.  Bottom Left: A junction with default route going straight across.  Bottom Right: A junction with default route going to the right 

At some point you will probably want to start decorating your layout.  You are spoiled for choice with the possibilities in the Toy Box.  This contains over 100 items which you can use to make your layout your own.  There are also a range of items which are tagged a 'experimental' and are not fully implemented or contain bugs currently.

These items range from static houses, trees and vehicles to interactive fireworks, passengers who will get on and off your train at stations and, probably my favourite, a tunable bell which plays as a train passes it.  These make virtually endless possibilities as if you literally have a bottomless tub of wooden rail and a massive floor to play on.  As with many sandbox games however this can also be a problem with creative block from getting overwhelmed a very real possibility.  It's probably best to start small, complete an area and then expand slowly despite the urge to go full steam ahead and make a huge layout.

Some of the massive selection of items available in your Toy Box

Once you have completed your layout and are happy with it, it's time to play!  This is an aspect of the game I thoroughly enjoy.  It would have been very easy for the developer to simple put a start/stop button for the trains in the game, however as there is practically no UI outwith the toy box would have felt strange.  Instead they opted for a first person driver mode.

When in the driver mode you can change the speed of the train and over-ride the default paths through junctions, using the W,A,S,D keys.  You can also do a quick stop of the train using Space.  This can be useful when trying to stop at stations to collect passengers, or stopping on the turntable piece.

Train sitting in stables whilst in train driver mode

The Passengers game mode combines the Free Play with groups of passengers which spawn around the room.  These spawn one group at a time and you will need to build a station near this group and then tracks to link that with the stations which have been pre-placed.  There are a combination of 'standard' and 'business' passengers.  These are delivered to different types of station and the business passengers have a 2 minute countdown to deliver them.  Unfortunately there is no penalty for missing this and you can still deliver them to the station.

Top: The first group of passengers awaiting transport to the station.  Bottom Left: Standard passengers boarding the train.  Bottom Right: Business passengers boarding the train.

Overall I've thoroughly enjoyed this game, from first opening it and thinking it had maybe an hour or two entertainment I can easily see how time can run away with you once you start to detail your layouts.  Being in early access there are a few issues, for example passing through a tunnel in the first person mode seems to break that view for the remainder of the session, the lack of penalties mentioned above and a few polish aspects which I'm sure will come with time.  The main complaint I have is more due to me than the game.  I constantly try to rotate the camera using Q and E which actually raise and lower the camera and track, but this is more due to what I am used to in other games.

Passengers waiting for their Christmassy gingerbread train

You can purchase Tracks now on Steam priced at £14.99/$19.99/€16.79, and Itch.io at $19.99 or local equivalent + relevant taxes, and support the game through its early access cycle.  The game gets updated about once a month with new items/features and the developer seems very active and responsive on the Steam Discussions when players have feedback and queries.

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