Trainyard, and where it came from

trainyard1.jpgTrainyard (App Store link) is a neat little casual game about making the trains run on time. And also about them, you know, not crashing. It may be a small subset of the casual-gaming crowd that likes this sort of thing, but count me among its members. A few nights ago I was reminiscing with a friend about "Railroad Tycoon," a game that inexplicably obsessed me for some months in the early 1990s. "Which one was that?" he asked me. "God, it was great," I told him. "You loaded up these old trains with lumber and livestock and stuff, and you had to get 'em from one station to the other on time, and... " And right there I realized how pathetic the gameplay sounded. In retrospect it was, and I'm sure the game would look laughably primitive to me now. But there was something hypnotic about laying the track, building the stations, loading the cars and letting them go. It was like you were winding the stem of an ever-more-complicated machine you yourself had designed and built, and standing back and watching it go.

Trainyard, and its free cousin Trainyard Express, tickles that same nerdy lobe in the brain. As is appropriate for an iPhone game, however, the graphics are minimal -- developer Matt Rix scales each train and line down to a clean, colorful schematic, and ratchets up the difficulty so subtly that by the time you realize you're hooked it's way too late to do anything about it. Rix is a clever guy and a good writer, and his lengthy blog post detailing the origins of the game is an interesting read loaded with good insights and spiky little lessons ("One of the key things I've learned is that the first project you make with any new technology will be awful"). All this fun is is bargain-priced at a buck for a short time, and well worth the miniscule investment. Go support an indie game developer. You'll have a good time doing it.