Monday, 26 February 2018

An Interview with Steam Trains Unlimited

Steam Sounds Supreme were recently approached by Steam Trains Unlimited for an exclusive interview. Below is the interview in full, where Matt tells of his passion for steam and where it comes from.
Q: You have a passion as creator of superb sounds of Steam locomotives and what is included, but when did your passion starts to appear?
Picture supplied by Steam Trains Unlimited
A: "My name is Matt. I am the co-founder of steam-sound specialists Steam Sounds Supreme. My fascination with sound goes back many years to when I was a child. As a boy, I used to listen carefully to the sounds steam locomotives make. The feelings you experience when a steam locomotive comes powering past you, sending vibrations through your whole body, is something that you never forget. And it’s an experience you want to enjoy again, and again, and again! It’s often said that steam gets into your blood. What I believe is that when you are a child, if you have an amazing experience, be that with a steam locomotive, a racing car, motorbike, aeroplane or whatever; then the emotion you experience at that moment will turn that experience into your hobby for life! It becomes part of who you are as a person. My interest in steam is certainly a huge part of who I am."
Q: What is your present occupation and is there any link between your profession and your passion?
A: "My present occupation is Steam Sounds Supreme. It is my only means of income. Although things can be a little tight month-by-month, my wife and I get by, and it’s thanks to our loyal customer base. The customer base continues to expand gradually as well. So, my profession and my passion are intertwined. When a hobby becomes a profession, it can create a problem. Obviously, there can be times when you are not enjoying the work as much. But when it is your livelihood, you must keep going."
Q: When did you start to create sounds for steam locomotives (including the MSTS era)?
Picture supplied by Steam Trains Unlimited
A: "When I first played the train simulator game MSTS, right at the beginning, I thought it was terrific. Of course, that was all there was at the time. I hadn’t heard of Trainz. However, as new locomotives and routes began to appear for MSTS, I started to wonder how the steam locomotive sounds were put together. I started to dig a little deeper, in an effort to understand how I could make what I heard better. But, the MSTS audio engine was extremely limited in both the quality of sound it would support and the way sounds were played. So, it was not a particularly satisfying experience. When Rail Simulator came out in 2007, I bought it straight away. The sounds were much better. Locomotive exhausts were set as individual triggered sounds, instead of the MSTS method of using loops. So, it was certainly a huge step forward. But soon I became dissatisfied with the default sounds supplied with the Black 5 and SDJR 7F. And from there, the early moves toward setting up Steam Sounds Supreme occurred.”

Q: Are you a member and/or co-worker of any heritage railway, railway museum, steam locomotive society or miniature railway (live steam, 7,25 inch, 5 inch) that gives you the insight in the working of the steam locomotive?
'DARTMOUTH CASTLE' visits the Medina Valley Railway
A: "I am not currently a member of any society connected with heritage railways or engineering. In the past I was a member of the Isle of Wight Model Engineers Society for a period of 1 year, but that was a temporary thing. We had a brief foray into 5’’ gauge steam, and we needed somewhere to run the locomotive we had. We no longer own the locomotive, as it was unreliable. We have returned to our first love, 32mm gauge (16mm scale) live steam. We have a railway in our own garden. I personally own a ‘Silver Lady’ by Roundhouse(similar to what was seen in the recent Channel 4 TV series ‘Biggest Little Railway in the World’) in Victorian Maroon livery, with the name ‘Dartmouth Castle’."
Q: You create magnificent steam locomotive sounds. How long does it take before a recording has been converted into the virtual reality of TS20XX?
A: “Thank you. The length of time to get sounds from a recording, onto a working Train Simulator steam locomotive can vary, depending on the quality of the recording. The factors which dictate this are:
(1). The performance of the locomotive on the day of recording;
(2) The weather and
(3) The state of play regarding the TS steam locomotive we record the sounds for.
(1). Sometimes you set yourself up behind the locomotive(usually the front window behind the loco on a heritage railway), eagerly anticipating capturing the sounds I need, but on the occasion you visit, the driver does not provide the sounds you want – I.E. Lack of whistling, doesn’t work the engine particularly hard, or there are other sounds from the loco preventing getting a clean exhaust sounds, like a leaking cylinder, a loud ejector or often blowing off steam. These things can make for a poor recording. That is the experience we have had with the Fitzwilliam Hunslet loco. Getting clean exhaust sounds has proven to be very difficult.
A recent occasion when the weather let us down!
(2). There can be occasions when the weather is completely unsuitable for recording, most likely rain. I won’t record in anything more than the lightest drizzle, as I don’t want to risk damaging my equipment. And the sound of rain can interfere with recording clear sounds as well.
(3). Sometimes recordings are made with a future locomotive sound project in mind, so will be put to one side until needed. Or recordings are made simply to increase my catalogue. No such thing as too many recordings in my view!
But when all things fall into place, then it is at least 2-3 days work to complete the process. But ideally it will take a week, as there will be lots of testing.”
Q: What kind of sound program(s) do you use to create your sounds?
Recording device and microphone take a well-earned rest!
A: “To record the sounds, I use an Olympus LS-100 digital recorder, with an Audio-Technicashotgun microphone. This gives great results! Editing the sounds is done using Goldwave audio editor, Nero Wave Editor and a free program called Wavosaur. All these programs offer different vital tools which help me to create the sounds I do. Goldwave offers the ability to add Cue Points. These are vital when making exhaust sounds. Nero Wave Editor features a tool called Time Correction. This speeds up a looped sound without raising the pitch. An important thing when creating exhaust loops – used for high speed exhaust sounds. Wavosaur is unique among the three, in that it is the only one that support Loop Points. Adding a loop point to a sound sample is perfect when you need to create a looped sound but also want a beginning and end to the sound. Perfect for making whistle loops.”
Q: What is the best TS20xx experience you ever had?
A: “I think it would have to be connected with what I feel are the best locomotive sounds I have ever created. Steam Sounds Supreme have a very good working relationship with Victory Works. We have enjoyed many reciprocal arrangements over the past few years – I do something for them, in exchange for a task they carry out for us.

Picture supplied by Steam Trains Unlimited
Picture supplied by Steam Trains Unlimited
The standout has to be the S160. I agreed that I would supply the sounds. I had a great time recording for this project, as I think the USATC S160’s are one of the most awe-inspiring steam locomotive types in the UK. Most of that awe is felt when that 5-note chime whistle is blown. It was important to make sure all aspects of the sounds were as good as possible, but the most important part had to be getting that 5-note chime whistle in-game, sounding as good as in real life. The kind of sound that gives you goose pimples! I managed to sort out some sounds I liked for the whistle sounds. One for a more distant sound, and one for when the loco is directly next to the camera position. In my communications with Peter(of Victory Works) I was trying to explain how I wanted to be able to position myself lineside, but still have access to a handle, so you could blow this amazing whistle in a dynamic way. What do I mean by ‘dynamic’? I had introduced a dynamic whistle to some releases a few months earlier. Basically, a dynamic whistle control enables you to play with the whistle sound by gradually increasing the volume and pitch as you press down the whistle lever. This gives an awesome effect, when I find a suitable whistle sample. Peter delivered! He created a control where you could change the brake handle on the HUD,into a whistle control, providing a way of playing this dynamic whistle from the lineside. The moment I tested this out for the first time, yes, that was the best experience I have had in TS to-date!"

Q: Have you any other family, friends or relatives that are passionate about steam locomotives?
A: “My close family have an interest in steam, particularly my Dad, Grandad and Uncle. But I think the word passion for steam would best describe how my uncle & friend Jonathan feels about steam locomotives. When I was in my early teens, that passion began to rub off on me. And when we lived under the same roof for a period of 6/7 years, we would travel to many steam event around the country, experiencing the power and thrill of steam – many unforgettable moments!”
Q: Are you working with (retired) train drivers and or with heritage railways in order to complete the sounds you create?
A: No, I have never enjoyed the privilege of working alongside such experienced individuals. I know that some of the guys I do sound work for – Victory Works, Digital Traction – consult experts where possible. Pieces of information have come my way which have had a positive influence on making sounds better, and reflect more closely real-life experiences with a particular locomotive type.”
Q: Do you use any other resources to create your sounds?
A: “The only other resource that comes to mind is the built-in tools that come with Train Simulator – the Blueprint Editor. This piece of software is where all the parameters are set, for when each sound sample is used in the game situation. A lot of trial and error is needed to get things just right.”
Q: Have you ever driven a steam locomotive?
A: “Not a full-size one. As mentioned previously, I own a 32mm gauge live steam Silver Lady locomotive. This is radio controlled. I have also had the opportunity to drive and fire two 5” gauge steam locomotives in the past as well.”
Q: Do you have any new project in mind since the release of your last sound?
Picture supplied by Steam Trains Unlimited
A: “I have a lot of sound projects in the works. But the one I really want to do, but don’t yet have the sounds for is the LMS Duchess. As soon as I get a recording of one, then a sound pack will follow. The same goes for the ‘Gresley’ A4. We have received many, many requests for an A4 sound pack. All that is stopping us doing it is a lack of good sound sources. Again, as soon as we have something to work with, a sound pack will follow.”
Q: What can you tell to inspire fellow train simmers to drive mainly with steam locomotives?

A: “This is a tricky question because really, you must be passionate about steam in real life first, I would say. However, Train Simulator can disappoint at times, if you love real steam, because some pieces of steam loco DLC have sounds which are not up to scratch. So, if you have been disappointed by the sounds of steam locos in Train Simulator in the past, we’re here to make up for that, as our sounds are a huge step towards immersing yourself in a believable world. Sounds will make or break any simulator experience. Steam Sounds Supreme will certainly make your Train Simulator experience a significantly more enjoyable one. Steam locomotives live. They have personality. Our sounds go a long way to adding that personality to your steam driving experience!”

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