News:

Do you need help?
Simutrans Wiki Manual can help you to play and extend Simutrans. In 9 languages.

Simutrans 25th Anniversary

Started by Roboron, June 30, 2022, 07:07:58 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Roboron

Simutrans turns 25! I have been preparing some special posts to commemorate this milestone, that will be published on the Simutrans Blog and Steam. Since Steam also uses BBCode, I'll mirror the posts in this thread too, so you can discuss on them.

Schedule of the Simutrans 25th Anniversary Posts

Roboron


Hajo's first Simutrans sketch. At the top-right, a date can be read: 30-06-1997. Today, 25 years ago.

Simutrans started 25 years ago. Not yet as bits and bytes, but in the mind of a man: Hansjörg Malthaner (known by the Simutrans community as "Hajo"). Today, Simutrans is still alive, not only as bits and bytes in the thousands of computers (and now smartphones) that run Simutrans, but also in the hearts of many talented programmers, excellent artists, amazing modders and dedicated players.

To everyone of you: Thank you! Simutrans has gone very far, and it will go even further, thanks to everyone who believes in the Simutrans project.

Let's take some time to congratulate ourselves and celebrate this milestone!



But first things first...

[h2]A little bit of history[/h2]
Hajo started Simutrans alone in mid-1997. It was not until early 1999 that the first public beta was released. Simutrans started gaining some interest, and the first contributors, as the precursor of our current forum was created in the early 2000's to accommodate a growing community.

Hajo kept developing Simutrans until he retired from development because of personal reasons in 2005. Since then, Markus Pristovsek "prissi" takes care of Simutrans, but not alone. In 2007, Simutrans became open source. This move ensured the long term survival of Simutrans and attracted many contributors.

Simutrans stayed on good track after that and would eventually come to other platforms such as Linux distributions, Steam, or more recently, Android.

Meanwhile, as Simutrans matured, other projects were born from it with the intention to innovate even further like jamespetts' Simutrans Extended or himeshi's OTRP.

But enough of reading about history. Reading about history is boring. So why don't you instead see it?

[h2]The Simutrans Interactive Timeline[/h2]
For the first event of this anniversary, here is an exciting idea: Let's build a Simutrans Timeline of events. Surely a project as old as Simutrans has a lot of history to tell! So let's tell it, graphically.

The very good news is that we already have built the foundations of this timeline, and it is interactive!



See it right now at simutrans.github.io. You can look more closely an also filter by event type. Here is a closer look at the last two years.



I have added the events that came to my mind, but there are many things missing, and I don't know everything about Simutrans. Help us get a complete view of Simutrans history by adding missing events to the repository at GitHub. Missing releases, the date a contributor joined, or important events such as the forum migration. Every help is welcome!

[h2]The Simutrans 25th Anniversary[/h2]
That's not all we have prepared for this anniversary, but that's all for today. In the upcoming weeks, you will see more posts to celebrate the anniversary. Join us in two weeks from now for an exclusive interview with the Man Who Started It All: Hansjörg Malthaner (Hajo).

Happy Simutransing!

prissi

#2
Thank you very much for that work. ALso, did you made that cake? Looks really good ...

Could there be end dates, like for pak sets or contributors?

Matthew

Happy birthday Simutrans!

PD Animated Fireworks Smallest.gif

Roboron, this post series is a great idea and I really, really enjoyed it.

I only wish I had known the anniversary was coming so that I could prepare posts on Reddit etc.
(Signature being tested) If you enjoy playing Simutrans, then you might also enjoy watching Japan Railway Journal
Available in English and simplified Chinese
如果您喜欢玩Simutrans的话,那么说不定就想看《日本铁路之旅》(英语也有简体中文字幕)。

Isaac Eiland-Hall

Happy 25th to Simutrans!

The earliest forum snapshot on archive.org: https://web.archive.org/web/20050729004628/http://forum.simutrans.com:80/

The earliest version of simutrans.com from my era: https://web.archive.org/web/20040525180729/http://simutrans.com:80/

This one has the first graphics from me: https://web.archive.org/web/20040609051452/http://simutrans.com/

I hadn't realized that someone (surely Hajo) had registered it earlier and then let it go: https://web.archive.org/web/20010312171136/http://simutrans.com/

And one captured with graphics: https://web.archive.org/web/20010520040838if_/http://www.simutrans.com:80/

Roboron

Quote from: prissi on July 01, 2022, 02:07:59 AMThank you very much for that work. ALso, did you made that cake? Looks really good ...

Could there be end dates, like for pak sets or contributors?

Sorry, no time left for cake making. Maybe for the 50th anniversary...

Yes, you can add end dates. Events can also have and end date in addition to the start date, but then I do not recommend doing this as it takes so much space (so I used backgrounds when really needed)..

Quote from: Matthew on July 01, 2022, 07:38:35 AMI only wish I had known the anniversary was coming so that I could prepare posts on Reddit etc.

I think this was discussed briefly on a Devotee thread (in which you participated) some months ago. I also remember to had teased it in some of the first posts I made this year, and then two weeks ago again in the latest Simutrans Extra.
Quote from: Isaac Eiland-Hall on July 01, 2022, 06:37:45 PMThe earliest forum snapshot on archive.org: https://web.archive.org/web/20050729004628/http://forum.simutrans.com:80/

Seems like this is the oldest post, so I'll take that as the start date 👍

QuoteHow to use this forum...    Isaac.Eiland-Hall    0    358    July 23, 2005

Thank you very much for the links. I've added those to the Timeline now, including also https://web.archive.org/web/20030411182703/http://www.simugraph.com/forum/ which seems to be the first simutrans-related forum.
_____

Since yesterday I've made some modifications to the Timeline, because Flemmbrav asked for possibility of adding sources. Now, when you click an event, it will show details, including the source (if any). It is a good idea because this serves as a way to document Simutrans' history. I have added some sources, including the links by Isaac.

Use "source_name" and "source_url" fields when adding events to define it. Also the images are now added to a separate "img_url" field, for easier editing.

prissi

I have added some old versions to sourceforge museum
https://sourceforge.net/projects/simutrans/files/Museum

The 0.5 version runs only in dosbox and crashs on every user interaction.

For the other version, please be aware they need usually -res 5 in the commandline to start in a window, or they fail to switch to fullscreen 16 bit under modern windows versions.

Yona-TYT

Happy 25th to Simutrans!. 8)   :star: :star: :star: :star: :star:

Wow 25 years ago I was barely 1!.

It's great to see all the support and love from the fans of the project! . :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

@Roboron, Thanks for all your effort! I think that in the few years you have been in the forum you have done more than I have in 10 years here hehehehe, greetings friend!. ;D ;D ;D  

prissi

I added a video of the code contributions in the last 17 years:
https://youtu.be/tj03xoPTEXY

Roboron

QuoteCompared to the old version ending in 2011, the video is less nice, since the obsolete tools have not been really not been updated since 2011 and the old versions I needed to install to run it were producing slightly different output.

Have you tried this? https://gource.io/

prissi

Interesting.

Since lots of contribution in the SVN need hand editing, since they were either commited by me or dwachs but submitted via the forum. (True even for your first five patches or so.) So I hacked the contering python script from codeswarm and converted the history.txt for a relase log. Still some work needed to finetune parameters.

KneeOn

It's been 15 years of playing and trying to contribute and there was a whole decade of history before, what a journey Simutrans has been on. There can't be many games with this longevity and active development in one release strand...

Roboron

Simutrans was started 25 years ago, not by a game development company, not even by a team, but by a single man who dreamed to build the best ever transportation simulator: Hansjörg Malthaner, known by the Simutrans Community as "Hajo".

But who is this "Hajo"? How did he develop Simutrans in its early days? What has he been doing since he left the project, and what does he think about Simutrans today? We have reached Hansjörg Malthaner himself for an exclusive anniversary interview to reply to these and more questions.

Let's begin the interview!
________________________________________________________________

First of all, introduce yourself. Who are you? Where do you live? What did you study? Where are you working or have worked on the past?

I live in Stuttgart, Germany. A place that often is called boring and provincial, but actually the living quality here is quite good. To German standards it counts as a larger town with a population of more than half a million people.

Most of my professional career I've worked as programmer, mainly using Java. Later the focus changed to quality assurance and automatization of build processes, testing and deployment. Meanwhile research has also become an aspect, to find and compile information which enables other people to do their work efficiently. In summary, still all typical software development just with emphasis on different aspects of the development process.


With such a curriculum, it is of no surprise that programming is also a big hobby of yours. But do you have any more hobbies?

There never was a scarcity of hobbies, just scarcity of time. Electronics was something that I was very interested in during my teenage years, and which recently was refreshed by experiments with microcontrollers, like the Arduino. Gardening was something that I picked from my parents. Not sure if hobby is the right term, it's more just part of my life all the time. As child I used to paint, and art has become a growing focus, while programming became less of a hobby and just a profession. Traditional art, pencil and watercolour, but also 3D art with help of the computer. Also experiments in sculpting and with arrangements of dried plant parts and rocks, but I even have written a few story fragments, that got some positive recognition.

Cooking has also taken a bigger role in my life lately, and I consider that a very nice hobby, particularly in conjunction with gardening and the options to grow some vegetables of my own. At times I build furniture or refurbish old furniture. There is really a lot of different things that I'm interested in. Music, both in composing or performing is likely seeing the least attention, but that didn't stop me from building a pipes instrument which is played similar to a xylophone.

Overall I think the shift away from programming released a lot of energy that went into very interesting and often also very satisfactory activities.


Talking about your art hobby, in the previous interview (more than 10 years ago) you stated that you were bad at 3D modelling. But now, looking at your art gallery, you have definitely improved a lot. Did you work on any 3D-related project that boosted your ability?

I think I am still bad at 3D modelling, but over the years I found ways to work around this and still produce interesting scenes. There are things like people or animals though, which I can do only with a huge investment of time.

There was no particular project, but at some point I changed from drawing game related graphics to 3d modelling. The rendered graphics both were more consistent and of higher quality than what I could draw. That set my focus on using the 3d tool, and made it worthwhile to really try to get good at it.

I'm still learning new things all the time though. Both about the 3d software and also how to set up scenes. There was no quick boost, it was more of a slow progress over many years. As you mentioned, 10 years passed and I even had used the 3d software before.

The next level will be short movies, so I'll have to learn how to move the camera, when to zoom how to cut and blend from one view to the next.


One of the artistic creations of Hansjörg Malthaner


Did you work on any serious project before starting Simutrans?

I'll say no. I had made a ray-casting engine, the original Doom game was popular the early 90s, and a simple space flight simulation, as I was an Elite fan. Also a drawing tool. Well, let's say the drawing tool was a serious project and actually used by some friends. But it soon was surpassed by other tools which were available for free. Also I had made a tool to model a sort of skeleton for 3D puppets and pose them easily. That one had potential but also limitations. Now tools like Blender serves the same purpose and does it much better. So I was working on projects, but none of them was published, at best shared with friends. Just the drawing tool I've offered as download for years, but I don't think it ever was used by many people.

A remnant of the space flight project persists, it went through many incarnations, had become Solarex, then Solarex GL, then Stellar Prospector, using OpenGL for display but deep inside there are still some design ideas that came from the old 3D space thingy. It actually might become a game some day.

https://freegamedev.net/d/22-stellar-prospector-formerly-solarex-gl

Allow me a note here - Simutrans did not start as a serious project. It started as a "let's see if I can do something like this" project and was only published when a person whom I had told about it in a sort of forum, asked to show a demo. The first versions were very bad, crashed often and barely had any functionality but show vehicles moving over roads on a tiled landscape. It took a lot of time to get past this infant stages.


The drawing tool sounds interesting. Did you ever use it to paint Simutrans graphics?
Yes, all the early graphics of pak64 were made with it. At that time 8 bit graphics with colour maps were still pretty standard, and the tool was aimed at working with colour mapped images. Later I changed to GIMP which is now the graphics tool that I use the most.

Actually, I forgot a later incarnation of the drawing tool, which focused on creating tile sets for games with tiled graphics. That one was used for some of the graphics in pak48.Excentrique, but more to conveniently handle and edit them. Most of the graphics were made with PovRay, a ray-tracing tool.


A screenshot of the painting tool "Drops" main menu.


So at mid 1997 you started Simutrans. A transportation simulator. Of all the projects you could have started, you started a pretty complex one. Did you ever think that the project was too much of a task for you?

Yes, I was often pushed to the limits of my skills. Particularly creating suitable graphics was a big problem. One time I got a comment, "Simutrans is too ugly to play."

I sure wanted to do better, but at the time my graphics skills were just not good enough, and only slowly improving as well. Programming was also tough, but a task that seemed to be more a matter of time to develop good solutions.

So from about 2000 I had been looking for help, and while it was very hard in the early days to find people willing to help, the more the project grew, the more it showed potential, the more offers came. I think, you can still see all the names in the credits scroller of the intro screen. Some had gotten monuments in the game. That time there was only one pak set, so pak64 was "the game" as much as the binary.

Only few wanted a monument though. So some had their names or nicknames preserved as vehicle manufacturers, architects and company names in the game. Some wanted no mention like that and only are named in the credits.

It was my way to honour those who helped in the years when help was really hard to get.


How did you promote Simutrans and find your first contributors in the early days?

This is a surprisingly tough question. After this long time memories can be deceiving. I remember the first announcement was made in a Usenet group, but version was very incomplete, so definitely not suitable for promotion.

I remember that for a while there were a very small number of people who had shown interest and which whom a had frequent email contact to talk about the project.

Before the first forum, we used e-group, a mix of mailing list and file repository. That was the major place for Simutrans for some years. Actually I tried to keep all talk in one place, I did not want to scout a lot of places daily and look if there are questions or comments which I should respond to.

Later it spread out, and we moved from the e-group to a forum which I hosted for a while. At that point I am fairly sure that I posted links in several game development places to the forum to attract more people.

This way I got into a surprisingly friendly contact with someone who was working on a commercial transport game.

But the pressure to promote was smaller, internet was somewhat exclusive. In private I did not have internet access before 1998 and that was a pay-per minute dial up connection, so any minute online was costly and somewhat precious.

Usenet also was a good place to get in touch with other game developers, but over the years, that also moved to forums.

It was not before 2015 that I published a game video on YouTube, way past my active time with Simutrans. I never was on Facebook, so my social media experience is limited.


How was the reaction to the first releases of Simutrans?

I really can't remember many details. It was just a demo, to show vehicles driving on roads. A proof of concept for the landscape display and vehicle driving. No game by far, and most of all, the early versions had no railroads.

A few people believed that it can become a proper game, helped with testing and feedback. If there were negative comments I seem to have forgotten, except that the art had to be improved a lot. That stuck, cause I could program, but not paint, and I had to deal with it somehow.


One of the first Simutrans demos released.


You have been quite a while apart from Simutrans. Do you miss working on Simutrans?

I certainly did not miss the working. I felt burned out and disappointed when I left, at least that is what I remember. Also more than once I voiced the opinion that software projects are a bad hobby for me, and even that I started a few over the years, it usually boiled down to the very same finding. These projects do not make me happy. I now have a stance, to only work on them when I really want to, which means that there are often year long breaks.

I missed the talk though. Usually around these projects there were challenges, ideas, solutions. They often were challenging in many ways, technical, artistic and in interaction of the player and the game. I liked to talk to other game developers about such.


What is the biggest challenge you faced when working on Simutrans?

At first I was tempted to say route calculations for vehicles and goods. But while this indeed was the biggest challenge in the early days, long term, the creation of good graphics and sound effects turned out to be an even bigger problem.


While graphics have improved over time thanks to pakset authors (pak128.german, pak192.comic, and pak256 specially), the sounds are indeed still a challenge no one wants to take. Is there anything more you think current Simutrans is in great need of improving?

I think a better user interface is needed. One that is easy to learn, understand and use. One which makes common tasks easy to accomplish. Also I think, a better looking user interface would be nice on top of an easier to use one.


Simutrans Depot window with the classic theme. The UI has improved since then, but not by much.

What was the thing you liked the most about working in Simutrans?

Actually, the thing I liked most was the feeling to be important. Older games, like civilization, had a big name on the title screen. Now I was on my way to join the ranks of these, whom I admired for their game making.


Simutrans has changed a lot through the years. When you look at it today, what makes you think?

It might sound strange, but often I wonder how much of it still is the same. All the core of the game is still quite like in the old days. I think the underground mode is the biggest new part, much of the rest was optimization and tuning what was already there. And yes, the networking code. I had a different approach in mind, and the team chose what I considered the hard way to do it. So that truly is new and it was no easy feat.


Simutrans has stand the test of time, so far. But it reached its peak in April 2012, when the game was downloaded more than 100.000 times on SourceForge. Since then its popularity has declined slowly but surely. What do you think this is due to?

I can think of three reasons. The first one is kinda obvious. Even free to play or indie games nowadays have very good graphics. Simutrans struggled to get on par with games from the 90s, and clearly looks very poor these days, compared to what players are used from other games.

The second is a more general change in gaming. Simutrans is very complex. Overall there has been a trend to simplify games. I think for most new players these days, learning how to play Simutrans is ridiculously hard.

This leads to the third point. Simutrans offers nothing inside the game to help new players. At least nothing that is easily accessible. After starting Simutrans, a player is prompted with some menus, lots of options to choose, and if they make their way through it, they are left with a kinda sad looking map and a bar of icons.

I think most new players give up at this point, if they even make it past the map creation dialog. They want to play a transport game but have to choose a pak set - a term that new players don't even know - and then create a map. "Where is the transport game?", many will think. And the newly generated map doesn't look that much like a transport game either.

I think Simutrans is just  too obscure for new players and not looking good enough. These days games must look very good and help the player right from the start to give them a feeling of success.

But these are just my thoughts, and others my find other explanations.


If you were to start Simutrans today, would you make it different? Would you make it simpler to accommodate the game to current trends?

This is a difficult question. I was not very experienced, neither as programmer nor as game designer and if I put myself in that position today, I think I'd again miss to understand the importance of a good interface and what is called user experience today. It had not been part of my studies, it's something I've learned later.


When you left Simutrans, the code was still closed-source. However, a few years later, you agreed to open-source it. Why did you took this decision then and not before? And why was the Artistic License choose over more popular open-source licenses?

The message from Prissi came in a very bad time. I was very depressed and not able or not willing to care. I was just like "leave me alone and do what you want with Simutrans". I was not involved in the choice of license, I think. I am sure I was asked but did not discuss, just said the choice looks good to me,  that is what I remember. I did not think much about the consequences. I just tried to live. If you are depressed like that, you care very little about license details and I did not expect to get in touch with the project again, so it meant very little to me those days.


An old post by Hajo, stating that he would open-source Simutrans should he left the project, which he finally ended up doing


There has always been the discussion of OpenTTD vs Simutrans, because they are both open source transportation games with similar looks and inspirations. While Simutrans is a success, it is far from OpenTTD in term of success. Why do you think players prefer OpenTTD over Simutrans?

The Transport Tycoon games had a huge fan base already when I started to work on Simutrans. And they are good games. There is little reason for their fans to look for alternatives.

Another aspect came to my mind when I dug out TTD once and compared it to Simutrans. It had limits, but it felt more fun to play. More dynamic? More "game"? Hard to really name it. My impression was, Simutrans is a huge and heavy simulation, TTD though was more fun to play.


It is hard for any project to be alive for 25 years without an organization backing it. And yet, here it is Simutrans. What do you think are the reasons Simutrans has gone so far and lasted so long?

I think it's mostly Prissi's determination and persistence, also Dwachs. Maybe there are more which I missed here, due to my long absence from the community. But in any case, it's the persistence and endurance of the people around it.


What's your opinion about Simutrans Extended? Have you ever played it?

I never played Simutrans Extended but I think it's good to have some competition. Usually this sparks new ideas and gives a push to try new approaches and solutions.


Finally, the question everyone wants to know., What is your favourite pakset?
pak96.comic was much to my liking. I don't know if it is still in development, but I liked the easy and fun approach taken there.


"Big Bus station" from pak96.comic, 1st place SMSC October 2010


Let's talk about your other recent project, "Stellar Prospector", a sim trading game set in the space. What are your inspirations and what do you want to accomplish with it?

Inspirations are old, games like Elite and Elite 2 - Frontier, but to some extent also Masters of Orion and Ascendancy.

The project's core is very old, dates back to 2000 or even before. It started as a stellar system generator, suns, planets, moons, atmospheres, resources and physics that were at least not openly nonsensical, even if very likely nowhere accurate either.

After that stage it became a trading game, actually without a flight simulation, well eventually a very limited 2D one. Just enough to get from place to place, cause that is what a trading game needs.

Then I've tried to add a 3D flight simulation, but never could fix some bugs in the display of the planets. I think, compared to other projects of mine, it got some pretty cool looks, though.

There were days when I really wanted to make a proper game out if it. I designed 5 major species to inhabit the galaxy, some politics and an attempt to simulate social events like sports events and concerts. The game even had a newspaper to read what happens in systems near and far.

But in one of the former questions you asked what is the reason for the success of Simutrans and I answered, the persistence and endurance of the core team members.

I don't have that any-more, or maybe never had. So at the moment I don't want to accomplish anything with it and I think the last update happened a year ago.

Furthermore there are now projects like Elite Dangerous and Star Citizens, crowd funded, very ambitioned, with very good graphics and likely way better stellar system generation code than mine.

So I don't think it makes sense to have big plans here. I'll work on it if want to try something, or to entertain myself in boring times.


A screenshot of Stellar Prospector


Thank you very much for this interview. Anything more you would like to say to Simutrans players?

Actually the ones I would like to address are those who joined and helped in the early years. They joined while the project hardly showed potential, had very limited graphics and it was closed source. Thank you for your trust in the project and thank you for the contributions.

Isaac Eiland-Hall

Hajo, if you ever find and read this: I may know the name Sid Meier from the Civ games, and I play the Civ games, and they benefit from being companies that can hire artists and programmers...

...but I've spent way way more time in Simutrans, and speaking personally, I consider you more important than Sid. I was sad when you broke away, worried about you. I've always wished there was more I might could have done to help things. But either way, I owe a great deal of debt to you and thanks to you for something that is part of my life.

Let those that want to play OpenTTD do so - great game, but I prefer Simutrans hands down.

KneeOn

I want to echo Issac. 

I was bunking off revision on my parents PC and I needed something like Sim City or Railroad Tycoon. 

I too play a lot of Civ, Cities Skylines and No Man's Sky but Simutrans is an absolute constant in my life. 

I think it always will be. I come and go, sometimes the gaps are months. 

It's good you mentioned Prissi and Extended as you did - the recent addition of timetabling is a great example of features jumping over etc. 

The entire dev team, starting with you, have created a community like no other in my view. 

Roboron

#15
In the last post of this series we talked with Hajo about the first years of Simutrans. However, many of the players reading this today have never played a Simutrans version from Hajo's era. If you ever wanted to take a taste of one of the earlier Simutrans releases, today is your lucky day!

The first demo version

A screenshot of Simutrans demo version 0.50, with text in German.

The first of the versions we have made available is not the actual first release, but it is pretty close. This beta version was released on 02/05/1999, while the history.txt starts just two months before (06/03/1999). As the "demo" name suggest, this version has practically no content, and crashes frequently, since it was just a version to show up the Simutrans engine working and a little more. Because of this and the need to use a DOSBOX, we recommend you to skip this version and try the next one if you want to truly play an early Simutrans.

The first playable version

A screenshot of Simutrans beta version 0.78.7 with the minimap and some toolbars and windows opened.

Thanks to the donation of user Khaki we got our hands on one of the firsts playable versions of Simutrans, beta version 0.78.7 (released on 14/06/01, two years after the previous demo). As you can see in the image, this version has already some basic working tools (rail, road, ship and terrain tools). The minimap is also present, with a familiar view.

You can play this version natively on Windows or with WINE under Linux, although you might find some game-breaking bugs (particularly one with pop-up windows).

The Museum and other versions
In the SourceForge Museum you can find the versions mentioned in this post and other versions from Hajo's era (beta versions 0.80,  0.84.01, 0.84.04.1 and 0.84.10) which were recovered thanks to Markus Pristovsek. Do you have any other previous version of Simutrans not listed there? Please share it with us!

And of course, you can still download (and compile) any version of Simutrans since it became open-source on SourceForge.

Talking about Markus Pristovsek, join us two weeks from now as we will interview the lead developer for the 25th Simutrans anniversary!

Roboron

After Hajo left Simutrans, a man took care of continuing development - and has continued to do so for over 17 years (more than double the time Hajo was involved with Simutrans!). Without him, we would not be here today celebrating 25th years of development. It is now the turn of developer Markus Pristovsek (known as prissi) to answer some questions!

You will find that many questions are similar to those from Hajo's interview, so you have the oportunity to compare the points of view of the two most influential Simutrans developers.

Let's begin the interview!
_______________________________________________________________

First of all, introduce yourself. Who are you? Where do you live? What did you study? Where are you working or have worked on the past?

I am Markus Pristovsek, which is a pretty unique name. So if you found this on the internet, chances are high it is connected to me.

I am a Dedicated Professor [at] Nagoya University in Japan. (Dedicated Professor means that I do not have to teach. But I teach anyway a little, because I like it.) Since I have recently got my tenure that will likely stay so. Yeah, my first stable job at 52 years ...

Science is a little like the old medieval crafts: You have to travel a lot until you find place you can settle. In my case it involved studying physics at the TU Berlin in Germany, and from 1995 or so I worked on crystal growth of semiconductors like GaAs and GaN (see the Nobel prize of 2014 to my current director, Hiroshi Amano). After my PhD I stood in Japan (2000-2003), Berlin again to 2009, University of Cambridge 2012-2016, and from 2017 Nagoya.

I wrote job applications for almost 50 positions but was invited only four times, which is pretty normal in my field. From 2010 or so I put something like Simutrans coding coordinator into my CV under other activities, mostly to have more to show. However, at my second to last interview in 2016, one of the committee members was from the IT department. He was very eager to know more about it (actually he had looked up on Simutrans a lot!) and 1/4 or the interview derailed to Simutrans and "herding" open source projects. He seemed quite impressed on it and I could have probably got a position for teaching IT and Open Source if the interview would not have been about Teaching Photonics at an Applied University.


Did you learn programming as part of your physics background or did you learn it by yourself?

I wrote my first program in 1983 when stuck in an Austrian pension during a very rainy hiking holiday. My parents set out anyway, and I wrote a Pascal "database" for keeping track of my sailing competition results on six A4 sheets of scribble paper, based on the book "Pascal Programming for the CDC6000" from the mid 1970ies from my home library.

Shortly after I also implemented a line drawing algorithm on a friend C64 in USDC Pascal were one could see the line emerging pixel by pixel... That routine I reused in Simutrans.

My first Computer came in 1986. By chance it was an Atari ST, which we got with 30% rebate because my father somewhat knew Jack Tramiel (the founder) since he worked as Chief Concierge in the best hotel (then Hilton).

I first programmed it in Basic, then Pascal (as soon as the school yard network provided a compiler). But soon I ended up programming in C, since there was an IDE. My main contribution from that time is an Editor (PrED, sold about 100 times), and a viewer for TeX's DVI-files, which was mentioned in the 1990 LaTeX companion. This combined highly optimised C and assembler (I even wrote a 30% faster replacement 32 bit division routine compared to the already optimised C-lib.) MC 68k assembler was great. (68k was also the base for the PamOS, where I learned about UTF-8 http://palmdict.sourceforge.net/ )

Formal training was 1 Semester in University, IT for Physics, at the ripe age of 22. It was a HP workstation with 8 X-terminals. Almost unworkable slow, so the true nerd met at 22h in the evening, spawned 20 emacs until the network card overheated and the system rebooted with cleared memory. Had to repeated every three hours or so. The only thing I learned was hacking Unix on that one ... In the next room were PCs with absolutely filled with Viruses, which were for "IT for Philosophers"! But they had Internet connection, so I could download ST software from the US at mind blowing 8 Bytes per second during the night (well whole the University had a 9600 baud connection).

The next big thing I am proud, is a software I am still using today: https://github.com/prissi/snomputz It was written in 1997 to 1999 to run on a 386 without coprocessor and 2 MB main memory under windows.

Thus, in 2004, when I started contributing to Simutrans, I was quite computer literate, but had zero ideas on OOP. Also the Stroustrup book is great if you cannot sleep. Honestly, one of the most boring text I failed to read.

So a lot of my early code is rather C in disguise than proper C++. But I never really learned it. Tron (who hosted the third SVN) taught me a lot of proper C++, which I often stubbornly ignored first for some time.


Apart from physics and programming, do you have any other interests?

That changed with time. However, I like to be outdoors. So at some point in life, I made myself the rule to not switch on the computer when there is sun outside, and I pretty much lived by this rule. (Not too hard with miserable German winters or now sunset before 19h even in summer in Japan ... )

Walking or Hiking is great. I cycle a lot, even more since Covid. (I have a tandem and send my 10 year old off to the 6 km away school and then cycle back almost 9 km to my University, whenever the weather permits.) I like sailing, but in Japan the summer is too hot and the Nagoya bay is mostly harbour with refineries and steelworks and the airport on an artificial island ...

I like to read, but lacking time, it is mostly webcomics (I recommend the belfry archive, https://new.belfrycomics.net/ around since 1996 without advertising - the last old school internet site I know).

I used to write Science Fiction (in German), but that is even more time consuming. Also my work involves a lot of writing, so usually in the evening I am quite empty anyway.

I enjoy playing with my three children, but due to getting older (them) and the whole Covid online transition, they rather like to play with "friends" online. (Before we had 30 min/day cap altogether, now this feels more like the daily minimum for one of them).

I like dancing, Folk dances (Irish, Isreal, south-east European, ...) but like for hiking, I lack willing companions (and especially in Japan also occasions). I also like all kind of music. In the evening during dinner, one choses one tune on youtube, plays it screen down, and then passes the phone to the next. So there is a very broad range of music we all listen. Mostly around Christmas I dust off my guitar and various recorders as well.


Do your children play Simutrans? If so, do you play with them?

No, I showed them once. But I had not played for over a year now, so I can be hardly setting an example ...


Did you ever publish any of your Science Fiction writings?

Yes, less than 10 stories appeared in monthly a fanzine in the 90ies (on paper), called Solar-X, where I also wrote several book critics. Some more (in their rather raw state) can be still found on my old homepage: http://www.physik.tu-berlin.de/~prissi/m-werke.html

But nothing in English.


How did you know Simutrans? What was your first contribution?

I came to Simutrans in 2001 via a game collection CD of the German magazine c't (which I am still subscribing today). I was in Japan at that time, but the magazine send also there with surprisingly little delay (5 days later or so). At that time most magazines had software CDs, c't had one about four times a year.

Contribution started in autumn 2004. First was the compilation of a pak64.japan from the objects in the Japanese wiki and some other sources.

Codewise, just a little later in November I asked Hajo for the vehicle acceleration code. Simutrans was Freeware, but not open source; quite common then. So Hajo as creator hold the codebase, and had sent out parts to possible contributors.

I wanted to try a more physical model. (Before vehicles always accelerated to max speed, even if totally underpowered.) I have a PdD in Physics, but in the end I made it intentionally non-physical, since a physical code (like the one extended is using) was too performance heavy and even worse, did not look good in game scale, and failed with many vehicles of the existing paks. Hajo was pleased, and so I got a zip of the whole code. Next was UTF8 support, where I had a very solid knowledge from the Japanese Dictionary for PalmOS. Then I got SVN access and in January 2005 Hajo left Simutrans with me and Dariok and Hsiegeln, who hosted the second SVN, which just vanished one day.


How did you become the lead developer of Simutrans after that?

Very simple, from March 2005 to end of 2006 I was the only regularly active developer left. In that year I did a lot of work (powerlines, winter transition, roadsigns, quick zooming, pak64.german, ... ) Only mip was longer active than me, and has contributed to the gui infrequently all that time. All other developer joined later, so they implied that I am the lead developer. I never really claimed the title in any proper way.


Have you ever felt uneasy with your unclaimed leadership of the project?

No, not really uneasy. Maybe tired, and I would happily hand it over to someone with more time and more drive, and maybe a vision what to do next. I think I am too old for this now.

I am not sure if people need a leader. Whenever possible I would like to do things with a Simutrans team, but in the end few things are done and it is down to oneself. I think you know this quite well ...

I often wonder if I am too strict, or too German rude for a good leadership role anyway.


Simutrans has been in your hands for most of his lifetime (17 years, double the time than in the hands of his creator, Hajo). Do you think it will survive without you? How do you envision this transition?

Simutrans turns 25. There are very few programs under active development that ever reach that age. Most of those are editors, compilers and other tools. Most programs did a complete makeover during such time (look at Word for Dos, Word for Windows, and the current ribbon Word: These are separate programs.)

In that regard, Simutrans simply will not go away. As to my contribution: I host the SVN, and the server listing, and the German forum. But now there is a github standard repo under the simutrans team control, and the server list node.js code is on github. So anyone could continue.

Apart from the Android porting (which was less a coding effort than learning and applying new stuff), I did not do much in the last two years. Maybe Standard is now mature enough to not require any leader. The server uptimes are as long as the OS itself, and automated test find many serious errors immediately.

And then there are the forks, like OTRP and extended (although its stability is rather experimental to me). These are sucking on Simutrans; maybe Simutrans (standard) will fizzle out due to everybody contributing on forks. And the recent code reorganisation (especially the slitting of large files), while in theory making contribution and maintenance easier, had in practice the effect I feared: it became almost impossible to port anything back for me or anybody else without investing much more time. I am very grateful for Ranran going both ways occasionally.

It is getting long, but let's go into the Simutrans forks a little more:

There are two typical user bases: The extended one who play British on one server and the Japanese ones, who like model railroading, play sole or net simutrans.

They dictate the development in these branches/communities: Extended is mostly dictated by some ideas of mostly british realism mostly concerning railroads. The Japanese community (which is by far the largest, just look at the Discord) is mostly focussing on building clockwork like little realities. There was a Japanese freeware Freetrain (http://www.kohsuke.org/freetrain/) which just run trains along lines, no economics, which pretty much give a good idea of the style of many players in Japan.

In standard we have some US players (mostly in pak128) which are mostly focused on road vehicles, and the Brasilian community, the German community, so it is a colorful fragmented community with a clear summer-winter contribution cycle. Standard tries to cater to all, but of course that is bound to fail when competing with specialized forks. So maybe Standard just dies in active development, and will rather be the base for various shorter and longer surviving forks.


Indeed, the Japanese community is pretty big and active, even making annual conferences. Since you have been living in Japan for many years, have you ever attended any of those events?

Just before corona I was at a Simutrans con in Tokyo, and last autumn I met with five nice guys in Nagoya, where we went to the local Shinkansen museum. It was my first "con" (in the fandom kind), and it was quite impressive, with the amount of work put into counting cars throughput for different crossing designs for instance. I think there are videos on the net or in the forum.


What is the biggest challenge you faced when working on Simutrans?

Lack of time.

The tools have been greatly improved (in 2004, simutrans only compiled with cygwin GCC, and had no working debugger). Contribution is also there, motivation is still there. But in End of 2006 my first child was born, and since then contribution went down. Now it is only two hours in the evening at most.


When you first took care of Simutrans, it was still closed source. Did you push to make it open source? How went the process of making previous contributors to agree? Why the Artistic License was chosen over more popular open source licenses?

After the birth of my first child my time got less and less, and I became worried. Thus, in May 2007 I finally got Hajo's permit, and then contacted all the other contributors of whom I knew their addresses, Markus Weber, Hendrik Siegeln, Volker Meyer, Owen Rudge, Kieron Green, Stefan Wuttich, and Tomas Kubes. Other vanished. Also without SVN or the other old CVS, we could not really assign code ownership, and code gets reworked many times. So who is the copyright holder after a code review with corrections? For graphics, we did not publish work from anybody who we could not reach.

Several people wanted a non-commercial license, but there was nothing there. The artistic license had a clause that could be interpreted as non-commercial (even though a non-commercial license is actually incompatible with GPL). It states "Freely Available means that no fee is charged for the item itself, though there may be fees involved in handling the item."

Modern CC licenses of course fill that hole.

Still, I got a blank permit from the original developers. In principle we could change to GPL, if we get permission from Knightly, Dwachs, and the other main contributors since 2007.


What is the thing you like the most about working in Simutrans? And the thing you like the least?

I certainly do not like "working", even though occasionally this is necessary. What I like least:

- tools with awful documentation, or the need to watch youtube tutorials (I thought programmers could read and write)

- maintenance of all kind

What I like:

- most of the rest, I would say, otherwise I would have quit a long time ago


Is there anything you think current Simutrans is in great need of improving?

There are a lot of other stuff, like a directional wayobj for single direction roads and not the OTPR "hack" of special roads, which also give no real indication without an overlay. Porting the overtaking code back from OTRP, now that it does not desync any more and seems stable. (Unfortunately this has became very difficult after all the splitting and reorganisation, so it needs to be done manually routine for routine. Might be good time for in depth for code review anyway.) This would cater to the general simutrans play, to be not biased towards rails (like extended). Here standard is lacking, and a directional wayobj would be also nice for airplanes.

More server hosting would certainly help to increase user base.

But nothing "great need" category.


Do you have any roadmap for Simutrans next version(s)?

I answered that one many times. No roadmap. There is an outdated todo.txt. I would not mind retiring as coordinator and just occasionally submit patches (as I do now anyway).

I think Simutrans can still improve on some areas, especially usability and network gaming (like more passenger and goods routing along competing connections, a nice side-effect of the static code of Knightly, but with less impact on performance and faster route recalculations than currently in extended).

However, the active international user base is shrinking, so maybe the foremost task of any Simutrans chef must be recruiting new players (as you do very nicely with Steam!) which will increase new contributors.


Indeed, the player base has been shrinking slowly but surely for quite a while, since April 2012, when the game was downloaded more than 100.000 times on SourceForge. What do you think this is due to?

Multiple factors, I guess, like going to yearly releases with plenty nightlies, start of experimental dividing attention, and changes of the industry, games from centralized platform, more gaming from mobile platforms. Also falling out of time, graphic-wise.

I find also the download per country quite interesting:
https://sourceforge.net/projects/simutrans/files/stats/map?dates=2007-05-16%20to%202022-07-01

So after Germany and Japan, there is Brazil and United States, and also Indonesia on 8th. Some unusual countries for a transport simulator.


Simutrans has changed a lot through the years. When you look at it today, what makes you think?

A tough one. Actually, I think the principal game play is still very similar to the earliest releases.

So I would rather say, I am surprised that Simutrans survived that long.


If you were to start Simutrans today, what would you make different?

This is extremely hypothetical given my lack of time since the last ten years. However, one thing would be probably to do this 3D or pseudo 3D. There have been other approaches like Czech game which is very close to simutrans in terms of track laying and still allowing for full 3D. But as far as I know it lacked in other transport modes and industry connections beyond rail.

And not sure how to have large maps and 3D together. The network mode model would be the same, since I see no realistic way of syncing 10000 convoy departures and millions of routing events per minute. And at least standard is extremely stable, servers run for months, and clients disconnect mostly on request of their users and not because of losing sync.


What's your opinion about Simutrans Extended? Have you ever played it? How is your relationship with Simutrans Extended developers?

I think extended took a lot of pressure to review and incorporate patches, especially ones that were done not so well and also ones which disturbed the balance between easy entry and heavy playing. Some ideas are great and I would like to have them in standard.

But extended has become one sink, happily taking advice and patches from standard but almost never giving back (apart from ranran). With a shrinking number of contributors, of course I see extended critical for the long term future.

However, I think the code quality of extended is in need of improvement.

I tried twice to start it. But it did not in a meaningful way, at least I could not connect to BB then respective the pak128.Britain extended did not start because the demo game did not work for that version of simutrans.

Compiling was also not working well. I then looked at some of the warnings in MSVC (beyond the trivial ones) and there were a lot of places that indeed needs fixing. The multithreaded code must work by luck because there are some accesses on variables just declared volatile instead mutex protected and so on.

Also the gameplay with signals is so geared towards Britain and so user unfriendly, that it has really entered a very special niche.


The discussion about Simutrans VS OpenTTD is a recurrent one between our players, since both are open source transportation simulation games. However, the reality is that Simutrans is far from close to the success of OpenTTD. What do you think this is due to?

While OpenTTD came late, there was the TTpatch before. So there is rather an uninterrupted chain of user from TT(D) to OpenTTD, and people remember oh TTD is still around. Also OpenTTD rewards quick success. Vanilla pak has four engines/trucks/busses and a very quick success. Getting bankrupt is close to impossible. The downside is that after 2 h or so one is drowned in micromanagement of broken down vehicles and close to the year 2020.

Simutrans after 2h is still in stage one of connecting everything in a way without getting bankrupt and/or causing insane queues of waiting goods/passengers.

So while vanilla OpenTTD is the fast food, Simutrans is rather the 12 course menu. In the real world, McDonald serves more customer than a Michelin starred restaurant per day. This goes along that OpenTTD is often played by rather young gamers (at least this is the impression I got from the forums) while Simutrans caters to the more well aged community who had outgrown the kick of quick satisfaction.

And in the time of mobile games with 5 minute success, and streaming stuff in 20 minute slices, Simutrans is clearly no mainstream, since 20 minutes in Simutrans is almost nothing.

So it boils down to different audiences, and different fame deriving from *THE* transport simulator.


Did you have any relationship with OpenTTD developers? Was there any interchange of ideas or code?

I had little direct contact with the OpenTTD developer. Actually Owen Ridge, who hosts to he TTD forum, has contributed midi code to Simutrans. I did two patches, a winter seasons one (which is doomed since there are less winter than summer trees), a night time patch, and a rudimentary destination systems, all in 2005/6. I did not contribute since then.

Occasionally I look at the OpenTTD forum, but development has also stalled a bit it seems.


Although you are now mainly a developer, you actually started contributing with graphics to pak64.japan. Do you still like to paint graphics?

Never painted much, just a tiny bit of copy and paste and editing. I would like to paint, but I am bad at it.


What tools do you use when creating objects?

When making button or other GUI stuff, I use an ancient Paint Shop Pro 4.12 from the late 90ies. Still the best tool to push pixels for me on these few occasions. And then shades and tile cutter and so on.


Do you have anything you worked on you are specially proud of?

After so many years, no. Maybe not giving up on Simutrans.


Which is you favourite pakset? (paksets maintained by you are not valid!)

Even though it is no longer maintained, pak96.comic was graphically very nice. Pak128.japan is second, but the graphics are too bright for my liking. pak129.comic is very complete, but somehow the industries never engaged me much. pak48.excentique does not have enough choices, but i like the abstract setting (same with pak contrast). pak.HD (handdrawn) looks ugly with the new climate system, but is also a nice addition. pak.HO I have ever really tried out at all. pak.nippon fails due to the use of pak64 vehicles, so technically I am involved with it ...


Thank you for this interview. Is there anything more you would like to tell to Simutrans players?

I thank you all for playing Simutrans. And please consider to contribute, whether spreading the word, reporting bugs, running a public server at home, paint a simple object, or help with coding. Simutrans can only live another 25 years if there is contribution from players.

____________________________________________

Schedule of the Simutrans 25th Anniversary Posts
Next time we'll bring you something different: A remake! A remake of what do you ask? Ah, you will need to wait to find out!

Carl

I'm really enjoying this series; it's great to read these detailed interviews with people who've put so much time and effort into Simutrans. Hard for me to believe that it's over 12 year since I first downloaded the game.