How do we design the way you should feel when you look at a model railway? How do we control that aspect, the fundamental core of the user experience? I’ve written a number of posts here and shared my thoughts on this elsewhere. I think it’s a question for layout design, one I don’t have an answer for and no experience with, but wonder about.
I like to download a pile of podcasts to listen to while at work. Among those downloads was a recent episode of Model Rail Radio in which Tom Barbalet is at Professor Klyzlr’s house in Australia. They’re talking about The Prof’s layout Brooklyn 3AM. To fill in the layout’s back story, here’s a link to the Carl Arendt website and a full page devoted to introducing the layout:
Brooklyn 3AM is designed to showcase railroading in an urban setting, after dark. It presents a version of this popular style of railroading we seldom see in the hobby and does so in a way that really communicates its builder’s vision instantly to the audience. Even if you’ve never been to this part of Brooklyn you know this place. Going beyond track planning or layout design, its builder designed the experience for the viewer looking at the layout when it’s on display. He designed custom sound and light effects to stimulate reactions to the scene. He uses those triggers to guide your attention through the scene and immerse yourself into the scene. Listening to the interview I thought about how innovative this approach was. How he relied on effectively controlling your reaction to his work instead of just hoping that a visual queue alone would make that connection in you. He brought you into the scene and made you a participant in it. He’s doing this in less than ten square feet. This is theatre.
As I think about that interview and the layout I wondered how we could relate to our model railways. Even the most dedicated prototype model seems to attend to only those visual attributes. We have the set and the script but can we go further? As designer or builder, I know what I’m doing since it all lives in my imagination. I don’t even need the layout in front of me to know what I’m doing. How can I help you see that too? If I’m modelling the Canadian winter is a model of a snow drift or a detailed snow plow enough? How can I get you to feel that winter’s day?
Digging further into this question, I wondered about a typical operating session. We arrive and enjoy small talk at the start of the session. Eventually we find a throttle, some trains, and some orders describing the work we need to do. Those orders might describe a season in the language of traffic over the line. As we pull out onto the mainline we play with the locomotive sounds to help us feel like what it might have felt like in the cab or trigger a railfan’s view trackside. Our train itself is long with refrigerator cars that indicate we’re deep in another good potato harvest. From having lived here though I know that fall on the Island is so much more than just a long train I watch. It smells like fall. It feels like fall. I’m not proposing to spread leaves around on the floor or ratchet up the air conditioning to fall-like temperatures but I am curious about what we might do to get you to feel like you’re there in that scene instead of just looking at a three dimensional animation of it.
I don’t have an answer, just a curiousity. I’m fascinated with these sorts of ideas and luckily I have a blog to post them to. Thanks for reading this far and entertaining these moments. It means a lot to me to have this place.
You can download the Model Rail Radio podcast on iTunes:
The episode that triggered the above is titled Chez Prof