TRANSPORT SIMULATION UK

A Train Series - Feature


INTRODUCTION

I have decided to call this article a feature for the simple reason that most of the A-Train games released in the west have passed into historical status, while the latest releases remain (frustratingly so) available only to the Japanese markets.

A-TRAIN

It all started in the early 1990's with the original A-Train (not illustrated). The game was created by Japanese developer Artdink and set the scene for all future instalments in the series. As with most transport strategy titles the aim was to set up a rail network and run the train service to best cater for the demand. One departure from the norm - and an excellent selling feature of the A-Train series - is that unlike other games in the genre some attempt at timetable operation was made, you actually had to run your trains according to a schedule that catered for the passenger flow. A-Train was an old MS-DOS game and can probably be found around the various abandonware sites.

One assumes there was an A-Train 2 and A-Train 3 but in what became an unfortunate trend, these never saw the light of day outside the Japanese/Asian markets.

Which brings us on to...


Screenshot From AIV Networks

A-Train 6 Screenshot

AIV NETWORKS

Of slightly more recent interest was the sequel released in the west as AIV Networks, in 1995. Still MS-DOS based (although it could also run under Windows, Networks expanded the transportation theme of the original to include more in depth financial management, stock trading and urban development. Along with Wing Commander 3 (!), it was one of the first games to include FMV video footage with the (late, great) actor James Coburn playing the part of your CEO giving you corporate instructions. As I recall there were several scenarios, ranging from your taking over and improving existing transport network and starting virtually from scratch, ferrying building materials out to suburban towns whereupon they would expand. Timetable mode again played an important part but the rail system did not include signalling - or even a Railroad Tycoon fade out system - which meant trying to control trains by means of the timetable at passing stations, not easy. Networks also allowed you to set up bus networks but these also had issues on the single lane roads - one road, one bus route.

Networks also made it on to the Playstation One with the added bonus of a camera view which allowed you to take a ride on your vehicle.

Again the only source these days for AIV Networks is going to be abandonware for the PC version - Artdink did release a "15th Anniversary" edition in 2006, but only for the Japanese market. The PSOne version is also long discontinued so online auction sites or the secondhand shelves of game stores and cash exchange shops are probably the best bet.

A-TRAIN 6

A-Train 5 also passed the western markets by and A-Train 6 was on release in Japan for some time before publisher Atari announced they had acquired the rights to release the game in the west. The sting in the tail however, was that the chosen medium was the Sony Playstation 2 games console, not exactly the best system on which to run a complex strategy game. Presentation of the game stuck with the established canon of network and infrastructure construction. The graphics were certainly far superior to previous versions of the game and you could zoom right in on your trains, which actually looked like their prototype as opposed to generic boxes. However the visuals were still low resolution on a TV screen compared to what one might achieve on a computer monitor. This coupled with the interface, which required use of the PS2 gamepad (no mouse support) made for a rather frustrating interaction. The instructions were rather vague particularly with regard to setting up timetables. The lack of signalling or train seperation from earlier versions also persisted which again meant building a separate line for each train you wished to operate. However once set up the timetable operation was very effective in operation.


A-Train 6 Screenshot

A-Train 7 Screenshot

A morning train into the city would be showing 120% load factor, whereas the last train in the late evening would only carry a handful of passengers. The game also featured some very effective night and day effects. A quick recce of the online retailers would seem to indicate A-Train 6 is no longer on general release. However there seems to be a reasonable supply on the secondhand market if you are looking to try this particular variety of transport strategy game (and you own a PS2 games console of course).

And so we move on to the next chapter in A-Train history...

A-TRAIN 7

Unfortunately this is where it starts to get a little depressing. After A-Train 6, Artdink went on to develop yet a further sequel in the series with A-Train 7. Relatively little is known about this title, that is to say what information can be gleaned from the Artdink website. A-Train 7 is a PC game but thus far released only for the Japanese market. Compatability with English versions of Windows is unknown and even if the game could be made to run many of the function menus are in Kanji script with no English subtitle. You can muddle through that in a Densha de Go driving game but not a complex strategy title.

Looking through the screenshots on the Artdink website it seems the spirit of the earlier games is still preserved but with much better, sharper graphics. Presentation seems more akin to AIV Networks than its immediate predecessor. The Artdink website also indicates expansion packs are available for the main game which allow users to create their own scenarios, trains and diagrams (presumably timetables).

However unless Atari or another publisher can persuade Artdink to release ouside Japan...any desire to play this title will remain unrequited.

Which brings us finally to...

A TRAIN HX

While checking the Artdink site I spotted yes, yet another updated game in the A-Train series. This one is known as HX and is aimed at the X-Box 360 market, including support for output to a high resolution TV at either 720p or 1080i. It's possible the game may be a conversion or improved version of A-Train 7. Interestingly, visit the Artdink site and there is an extensive English section describing in some detail the features of the game. Does this means they could be looking towards a western release of HX? Who knows but hopefully, yes. In the meantime we can only look at the screenshots and imagine what could be.


Another A-Train 7 Image

Another New A-Train Game - HX!

***Update***

As of March 2008, A-Train HX is getting a UK/Western release on the X-Box 360 console platform. Watch this space for more information!!

CONCLUSIONS

There's no doubt the A-Train games have played a key part in shaping transport related strategy. Unfortunately they are another series where the developer seems content to confine themselves to the Japanese domestic market rather than share the fruits of the labour around the world. I can only hope that an enterprising publisher spots A-Train 7 or A-Train HX and can persuade Artdink they should consider a global release.

In the meantime we will have to content ourselves with the memories of those titles which did make it into the western arena.

Artdink A-Train Page (Japanese)

Artdink A-Train HX (English) Page

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(This page created 08/10/07 and last updated 04/03/08 - HX Western X-Box info added).