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.

Official Microsoft Train Sim Page

 


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.

FREEWARE SOURCES

Train-sim.com:

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.

PAYWARE DEVELOPERS

3D Train Stuff:
US and UK developer. UK content includes the Cambrian Coast route (for which I was lead route builder) and the Swanage preserved railway. For the US, the Cajon Pass, Tehachapi and most recently Donner Pass routes of California are offered. The original Cambrian Coast was recently superceded by a new and extended version.
Visit 3D Train Stuff

Abacus:
Released probably the first commercial MSTS add-on with the rather mundane Roundhouse offering. Best known for publishing the "Route Building Guide" by Michael Vone and the Trainsim Modeller programme - essentially 3D modelling for dummies.
Visit Abacus

Blue Arrow:
UK developer. Best known for the Severn Valley railway expansion pack, but have also produced several rolling stock packs. In 2005with BA on a route for their Southern Region pack.
Blue Arrow ceased trading in Sept 2007, however the SVR pack can be obtained through Just Trains and the Southern Pack through Contact Sales.

Blue Sky Interactive:
German developer of the Protrain expansion pack range.
Visit Blue Sky Interactive

Europeanbahn:
UK developer best known for London to Brighton Express. Also released the West Coastway pack. Believed to be working on the "White Rose" pack featuring part of the UK East Coast Main Line, north from Kings Cross.
Visit European Bahn

East Lancs Railway:
Route and loco pack showcasing preserved railway of the same name. Particularly good selection of classic diesel traction. Proceeds go towards restoring Metro-Vick Co-Bo diesel D5705.
Visit ELR /BR Diesel Web

Railwaves:
Best known for providing a replacement jointed track sound for MSTS, just in time to save our sanity from the default ones. Also produced a sound set for the UK Class 150/153/156 Cummins engined Sprinter units and some Class 66/67 loco sounds. In addition, they also developed the West Somerset Railway expansion pack.
Visit Railwaves

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(This page created on 12/09/07 and last updated on 24/01/09 - MSTS2 (second outing) canned).