The unique, scratch-built narrow gauge Zany Zen Railway and its creator

The Somdari station.

The ZZR’s Somdari station (rated: Moderate). As always, please click on any picture for its full-size version, which opens in a new window.

My good friend and neighbour Zen Swords (ZenriaCo Resident), a.k.a. the Zany Zen, has been working on her labour of love, the Zany Zen Railway (ZZR for short), for a few years now, documenting her efforts and progress on her SL feed, and we’ve hung around quite a bit as she was working on her narrow gauge locomotives, train station builds, and other infrastructure. Yes, the locomotives, carriages, buildings, and many other pieces of decor were made by her, using the in-world build tools and third-party in-world mesh creation systems and converters. At this stage, the ZZR consists of four stations (Somdari, Ahndang, Seogyeo, and Little Coverston)  I found her work really fascinating, with many quaint, humorous, realistic, and even whimsical details and touches, and we’ve been talking about arranging an interview for some time now. Eventually, we managed to find some time and today I’m giving you this interview.

The Zany Zen

The Zany Zen

Mona: Maybe we should sit down for the interview? Those two chairs over there look nice.

Zen: Of course.

Mona: Is it me, or are most of the poses for tables and chairs designed to make us look like we don’t give a rat’s ass about being there?

Zen: The fun of Apple Fall chairs. (giggles) The Pub has Apple Fall chairs and they have utterly the same animations.

Mona: Which are the same everyone’s been using since 2003.

Zen: Pretty much! (giggles)

Mona: I’ll spend the late winter rescripting as much of my furniture as possible. Anyway, I wanted to interview you about the ZZR… When did the project come about?

Zen: Well, the seed of it really started with in a project… Me and a best friend at the time 2012ish had a Zeppelin, and I wanted a railway inside said Zeppelin, and [it] ended up blossoming from there; it kinda got bigger when I did the shop thing. Then, [on] 2015 March 7th, after searching for the perfect road side parcel with a stretch of abandoned land in front of it, I closed the shop and used the tier for this railway.

ZZR Interview

Mona: A railway inside a Zeppelin? That would have to require a ginormous Zeppelin, no?

Zen: Well, yes and no… It was a very simple straight bit of track with a incline between two levels to bring coal to the Zeppelin’s steam engine, hence why I used narrow gauge, because it looked like it should be able to do tight curves without looking ridiculous, and I had already knowledge of narrow gauge thanks to there being a narrow gauge line near where I live in RL. Everyone thinks I measured the track to be 2 footish… Ironically, I did it by eye in the zep, then the whole railway was based on that gauge… Only recently I found it is almost perfectly on 2 foot. (pauses for a bit) “Almost” really cancels out the perfectly in that sentence. (giggles)

Mona: Do you have an interest in trains and railways in RL?

Zen: Very much so! From a little kid always loved them… Dad is a train nut as well so he got me into them.

Mona: The only narrow gauge train I’ve seen so far in RL is the Pelion railway, which has in recent years started resumed service, doing short trips for the tourists, albeit no longer with a steam engine.

Zen: Steam tends to be the last thing when people start a railway nowadays… You need very very dedicated people to look after the locos… Thank god the ZZR doesn’t need people to put the engines to bed at night *giggles* Lovely standard gauge line near me only recently got a steam loco within the last 10 years.

Mona: So, the ZZR is a narrow-gauge railway. How many regions does it cover?

Zen: Four regions as of last year… Before, it went two years as three regions.

Mona: Any plans for expanding it?

Zen: If I won the euro millions, yes (giggles). But at the moment it feels complete.

Mona: How many stations does it have?

Zen: Four; one in each sim… [I] was hoping what would happen [would be] that people would want to own land by them and do their own thing… so they could RP walking to their local station and such.

The depot at Somdari.

The depot at Somdari (rated: Moderate).

Mona: Yeah, it looks like with the global financial crisis people are too busy trying to put food on the table, and renting virtual land to roleplay in a virtual world is no longer anywhere near their list of priorities.

Zen: Well I have got some awesome neighbours still… Dragonna (Dragonna Swords) moved in as she loves how passionate I am of the project, and then Steele wanted land in SL and I helped her to get some by the railway… It does OK… And I like the community around the line… And of course always happy for more to join it.

Mona: I hope it works out. It’d be great to see a vibrant community around your project. But there are a few more things I’d like you to tell me. For instance, what were the challenges you faced with this project?

Zen: Well a few… I didn’t know how to script that well when I first started, so the early locos used very very sensitive SLRR scripts to run. Of course, I had asked on the forums a few times for help but due to my dyslexia making how I came across [hard to understand], most seemed more intent on being a grammar Nazi than [willing] to help, and of course when I pushed for the railway I ended up having a correspondence with LL via support tickets. They really didn’t want to give me four-meter wide plots so i ended up having to apply for two 512 sqm plots end to end in a 64 meter length configuration then cut them down… So, [it was] 1024 L$ each request. I didn’t know anyone who had attempted what I did… 4 meter wide parcels going though multiple sims for a track bed and locos. LL originally offered me the old WARR route or a part of it… But by then I had already got the plot in Somdari and Michael Linden had put guide rails across the road for me. And of course, this was all done on a 4096 sqm tier using group ownership bonuses and my Linden home tier.

Mona: Being narrow gauge, your railway already seems to have gone in a certain direction w.r.t. its style. Did you actively seek to make it conform to a certain theme?

Zen: At the start I just wanted a railway, but then it just felt right to be unique and push to be as close to the real thing, so went very British. *giggles* I didn’t want it to be 1950; I wanted it to be [a] modern day preservation railway like most RL narrow gauges are now.

Mona: I’m pretty sure finding trains and locos of this kind in-world would be a pain. Did you have to make the trains yourself?

Zen: Objects very much so, scripts for the locos and carriages done by Dizzi (Dizzi Sternberg), her Sister and Partner. Dizzi really pushed me to get a better understanding of scripting most of the scripts along the line are using foundations she laid and I built upon.. of course haven’t touched the loco scripts. *giggles* hehe i always make sure to mention Dizzi as with out her and her family I would still be using SLRR scripts with no carriages.

Mona: Does the ZZR attract visitors?

Zen: A small amount, I know nearly everyday at least someone has ridden the railway the full length.

Mona: Do you have any further plans, or ambitions, for the ZZR?

Zen: Mostly keep improving it… I have plans for another loco after The Dragon is finished, reduce prims on some of the buildings and hopefully do some more events. You know, like the Halloween spook service, and the Santa Specials we run yearly.

Mona: Yes, although I haven’t been able to attend any one of them yet.

Zen: Hehe, I know, I hope to do all the end of year stuff again this year and hoping to throw some more in… Got to celebrate the 3rd year of the ZZR being founded.

Mona: Can we go have a look at the stations?

Zen: Of course! Wanna head to the start and get a train from there or fly to them?

Mona: Let’s get the train, it’d be more appropriate.

Zen: Ηehe! Τhen to Somdari and Ι will reset the railway.

Beardy Bernard at the Somdari Station.

Beardy Bernard at the Somdari Station.

Zen: (While we’re on the train from Somdari) The whole system is completely automated, and even the signals when they change their levers in the signal box back there will mimic how they are set.

Mona: And it does shake a fair bit.

Zen: [That’s] one of the small downsides of the ZZR 2.0 scripting not as smooth as the SLRR scripting, but they cross sim borders like a dream 90% of the time.

Mona: And sim crossings are typically a nightmare.

Zen: (laughs) Very much so… Dizzi had already designed a set up for her railway, where, if it didn’t get a chat message after a certain amount of time, it would send out a message to kill all trains then re-rez them out and we do the same here so the line runs 24/7. Feb 1st, the snow will be all gone (giggles). It has been depressing me as this isn’t as pretty as the line can be

Mona: (camming around) I think the land could use some extra scenery. Farmland, forests, the works.

The Little Coverston Station

The Little Coverston Station.

Zen: Very much so. This sim is the emptiest, and in fact the railway is the only land on this sim owned by someone. The issue with only owning such a small piece of land… and all tier is wrapped up in the railway. Wanna get off here?

Mona: Sure.

Zen: This is the newest section of the railway finished on the 16th of October 2017.

Mona: I’ve seen Little Coverston before, but not the other stations.

Zen: Oooh! Then TPing might be for the best, as it rushes though the others! (giggles)

The Seogyeo Station.

The Seogyeo Station.

Zen: (laughs heartily) This is Seogyeo, the old last station.

Mona: It does seem chilly here…

Zen: (smiles) Yes, the snow was part of the whole Christmas thing. I intend to keep it till the spring.

Mona: In general, what could you say about your cooperation with LL on this project? Are you satisfied? Is there something you wish they’d have done for you?

Zen: LL have been awesome  with the railway… For Little Coverston, they ended up giving me the thin parcels i asked for in a special case, but I would have loved it if they smoothed the hills out so they where not the ugly stairs and planted some trees, but I understand the reason why they didn’t do the trees on the abandoned land.

Mona: I sort of understand them, too, but… To be 100% honest, I wouldn’t fool myself into thinking this land would be rented anytime soon. They could send the LDPW (Linden Department of Public Works) to beautify the place, making it look like farms or forests, thus making it more attractive for potential residents.

Zen: Well, I’ve asked in the past for them to put plots up for auction to bring people in… 512sqms… That is why we have the beautiful Galways up on the hill. But I was told when I asked about the forest that I would have to buy the land or have someone else buy it.

Mona: To buy land on the mainland, you need a premium account, right?

Zen: Yes.

Mona: Hmm. And I can’t quite justify a premium account right now.

Little Coverston minimap - while works were in progress.

Little Coverston minimap – while works were in progress.

Zen: (provides image displayed on the left) That’s what my mini-map looked like when i finally completed the Little Coverston section… (laughs) Guy Linden being the blue dot as he carved the land up for me. And it’s understandable about the account but if you ever do [upgrade to a premium account again], you are always welcome to a plot by the line if I can get you one.

Mona: Thanks (smiles) Has the ZZR been featured in the Destination Guide so far?

Zen: Sadly, not that I know of… I kinda hope it doesn’t; the info on the ZZR in the destination guide is very, very old, and has a picture of the old station and everything in 2015… I have attempted multiple times to get it all updated via the editor email, but so far nothing.

Mona: I see. 

Mona: Thank you for letting me interview you about the ZZR, Zen. 

Zen: Of course! Always a pleasure! (smiles)

The Welsh Dragon Pub at Little Coverston.

The Welsh Dragon Pub at Little Coverston.

The Zany Zen Railway is indeed a remarkable piece of work, on several fronts: aesthetic, engineering, scripting – it is simply one of those personal projects that showcase Second Life as an excellent canvas for one’s creativity. It also includes several other attractions, such as Dragonna’s stall from where her trinkets are sold, a museum, a shop with memorabilia and souvenirs, and so on. However, the fact that it is built on mainland comes with a few drawbacks. The first being the fact that most mainland dwellers tend to stay firmly stuck in SL’s Paleolithic Age, with builds coming straight from the worst of the 2005-2007 era. Such surroundings, sadly, do no favours to Zen’s creation, and she has practically zero control over them.

The second is Linden Lab’s handling of abandoned land. By leaving such lands barren, the Lab misses out on a great opportunity to increase the attractiveness of mainland projects like the ZZR and, in turn, leverage their beauty and unique character to bring new tenants to the abandoned lands. If anything, the talented staff of the LDPW could have a great time creating forests and farmlands near places like the ZZR; at the same time, they could provide somewhat smaller parcels, perhaps with an LI bonus, to potential renters, who would enjoy the beauty of such surroundings.

Regardless of that, the amount of work and detail that has been put into the ZZR provides the SL traveller with many beautiful sights that shan’t be forgotten soon; there’s just so much to see and enjoy.  I highly recommend a visit – or ten, or more!



(All rated Moderate)

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