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1st January 2015
Would just like to take this opportunity to wish site visitors a belated happy Christmas and best wishes for 2015. 2014 was a mixed year for the hobby both generally and on a personal note. Dovetail Games continued to consolidate TS20xx (now TS2015 formerly Railworks) as the generally accepted market leader, with a steady stream of add on DLC featuring popular routes and rolling stock and some core changes to the sim in its annual "renewal" back in September. However my perception is that TS20xx is slowly moving away from being a hobby sim. Despite ongoing flaws in the basic product (mainly physics related) and a tetchy scenario editor/inflexible AI signalling the quality of the payware output with custom models and scenery has made it virtually impossible for the lone freeware builder to match. While in the early days we had assets which could be referenced in third party projects, the trend these days is for complete bespoke model "units" of stations, bridges etc. which won't fit anywhere else. Although it was still working for me last time I checked, some have reported issues with the Google Earth API overlay no longer working in Route Editor and it certainly hammers the frame rate more than it used to. Dovetail also announced in 2014 they are working on a significant upgrade to TS20xx using the Unreal graphics engine so a development I'm sure we'll all be watching closely in the coming year. Dovetail are now very much moving into "big" developer/publisher status having recently also acquired the rights to distribute Microsoft's last version of Flight Simulator (FSX) via Steam.
N3V announced their Kickstarter to partially fund their "New Era" of Trainz and raised just over AUS$200k to invest in the project. Unfortunately as the year drew to a close it became apparent things have slipped quite badly, both in terms of timescale and perceived final quality. The decision to retain backward compatibility with older content divided opinions and I certainly came down on the side of those who would have preferred to see an all new game and a line drawn under the past. The original retail release of "TANE" was promised in December 2014 but has now slipped back to late February 2015. Beyond that, many of the promised features will still need to be added in via patches. To placate Kickstarters and pre-order customers, N3V did release a community edition of TANE in mid-December but it soon became apparent, far from being a nearly complete public beta of the final product, it still has many, many issues to resolve and doesn't look much better than TS12. Not helped by N3V's ongoing policy of simply including content plucked from that created by users which certainly doesn't show off even earlier versions to the best. (And don't mention the awful Deltic cab). Personally I think N3V are struggling and despite all the hype and promise, TANE will simply turn out to be another warmed over update, barely competing with other products available. For the time being I've asked N3V to cancel my order and refund the money, as I don't think in the short to medium term TANE has anything to offer the other versions don't already. I still hope N3V can pull it off and wish them luck, hopefully this time next year I would like to be posting that TANE is a complete success and has revolutionised how we approach our hobby...
2014 was also the first year I paid serious attention to Open Rails. This is a freeware simulation game engine, primarily created to run MSTS routes and traction in a better more stable environment. It is now in a fairly advanced state and does that very well - new lease of life to veteran content. What OR lacks at present though is its own creator tools (specifically route and scenario editors). If it has to rely on the MSTS suite of tools for new content then that offers a limited future. Hopefully the team behind OR are pursuing this as their next objective but whatever they produce needs to be more than a clone of the existing MSTS tools. I did - briefly - re-activate the MSTS RE myself in 2014 but it's a pefectly nasty experience, compared to the editors in Trainz or TS20xx, and none too reliable on modern PC's either especially when you step away from the default. I somehow don't think I'll be going back there in a hurry.
As to the rest, well Eisenbahn Pro/Exe got another makeover but too costly with a limited audience for me to try personally. Zusi 3 once again gets the end of year raspberry award for vapourware - it's nearly 10 years since the project was announced and other than a slightly made over demo no sign of it ever being commercially released. OpenBVE seems to have largely faded away and I read on a forum somewhere that the designer of BVE proper seems to have retrenched the programme back into the Japanese end user scene only.
From my own point of view, 2014 proved to be a challenging and frustrating year for building routes. Maybe the process has grown old and my heart is no longer really in it, but I started far more projects than ended up being finished and released. So my output for the year consisted of three Trainz TS12 routes, one of which was a remake of an earlier project and another a model railway layout. Just one route for TS20xx emerged this year and that was a scaled up miniature railway. As noted above I have a certain dis-content that TS20xx is moving away from the capacity and capability of amateur hobby builders. While I have resolved in 2015 to find more focus and engagement with projects but it is getting harder.
So it just remains to wish all involved with the train sim hobby good luck and good prospects for the coming year and look forward to continuing to share my own, admittedly slightly less intense, involvement via these pages.
The following are links to message boards which may be useful:
Auran Trainz Forum - the official board to discuss Auran's train sim products.
Densha de Go Board - English language forum for users of Japanese console train driving games.
Train-sim.com - US orientated discussion site.
Trainsimdev.com - New in May 2014, forum aimed at those developing content for all train sim products - meet, talk and share ideas, projects, help etc.
Transport Tycoon Forum - For TT etc. & Locomotion discussion.
Truck Pol Forum - C'mon good buddy, 10-4, rubber duck (plastic chicken) discuss all those road transport driving games out there!
Zusi - Official board of the German sim. English language section available.
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