TRANSPORT SIMULATION UK
Microsoft Train Simulator Review
|MSTS was released in mid 2001 and was the
first large scale commercial simulation of its kind. Developed in the UK
by Kuju Entertainment the basic package offered six routes:- Marias Pass
and part of the NE Corridor from US, Settle & Carlisle (UK) and the
Arlberg Pass (Austria) from Europe with two Japanese routes - one an urban
run, the other the rural Hisatsu Line. A selection of motive power and rolling
stock was provided to get the user started, albeit in some cases rather
specialised to use on other routes. Editing packages were supplied with
the sim, allowing users to create their own routes and activities.At the
time the graphics were a vast improvement on anything previously seen in
a train simulation product. Sound was pretty good, particularly the Dash
9 diesel which gave the speakers a workout, though less said about the rather
awful default track sound the better. For a first attempt at a train sim
MSTS made a reasonable stab at train physics though some aspects could have
been better, in particular the braking and acceleration of heavy trains
and a serious glitch that can cause trains to derail after running more
than ten miles on track unbroken by points or switches. One feature sadly
lacking was any attempt to replicate lateral or vertical movement (aka cab
"sway") while the train was in motion giving a rather flat feel.
Although a patch was released several annoying bugs persist to this day
and the Route Editor quickly developed a reputation for instability and
sudden crashes. Activity editor had a few of us scratching our heads and
we made the discovery early on that the signalling AI lacked the ability
to deviate trains from the pre-defined path or resolve conflicts. This led
to frequent lock-ups or even collisions on single track routes.
Dash 9 Diesel
Along the Marias Pass
|Where MSTS really scored was the open architecture
and that so much could be customised. Both the freeware community and payware
developers got behind the sim to produce a myriad of routes and additional
rolling stock. The physics were sorted to give much more authentic train
handling, particularly in regard to steam locomotives and more realistic
braking. New track systems were devised to offer more flexibility than the
default geometry. Utilities to import terrain data either from digital sources
(DEM data) or contour tracing were developed. It's true to say that many
of the later expansions totally transformed the look and feel of MSTS, beyond
the potential even MS and Kuju thought possible. Even after six years, the
programme has a huge following and must be one of the most long lived software
titles ever produced.
MSTS can still be picked up in most UK software stores or online on the Xplosiv or similar budget label. Still worth a purchase, though I would recommend any new user to fairly quickly check out some of the many and varied third party content available. In Spring 2003, MS previewed a sequel title - MSTS2 - at the E3 show with Kuju Entertainment once again commissioned to lead the development. For reasons that were never made public, in the late summer of 2003 Kuju announced they had handed the work in progress back to MS. Initially it looked as if Microsoft would pursue further development in house but in early 2004 they announced the project had been cancelled. In February 2007 we thought a phoenix had arisen when Microsoft announced they would be re-entering the train sim field with an all new product, initially known as MSTS-X but subsequently given the working title of MSTS2 - World of Rails. Unfortunately this once again fell victim to financial cutbacks at MS in the grim economic days of late 2008/early 2009 when the company announced it was shelving the project and effectively closing down the in-house developer Aces Studios. Pretty much fair to say I seriously doubt we will ever see another train sim product from Microsoft and to be honest even if they were to announce a resurrection of a new MSTS at some future stage, they have lost all credibility so far as I am concerned.
Flying Scotsman on Settle & Carlisle
THIRD PARTY CONTENT
Such a vast quantity of additional content has been produced for MSTS, it is hard to list them all. Here is a very brief outline of some of the developers and sources for MSTS expansions. Detailed reviews of the products mentioned are not planned at this stage and the list is presented for information purposes. Exclusion of a particular product or add on should not be construed as to any view on its merit or otherwise.
Wide selection of content for routes and rolling stock around the world, though with the emphasis on North America. Again a subscription is required to get the best out of the library and to pay for the bandwidth required to support the gargantuan file sizes.
3D Train Stuff:
Blue Sky Interactive:
East Lancs Railway:
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(This page created on 12/09/07 and last updated on 24/01/09 - MSTS2 (second outing) canned).