TRANSPORT SIMULATION UK

TRAIN SIMULATOR 2013 (FORMERLY KNOWN AS RAILWORKS)

Railworks evolved out of the "Rail Simulator" programme created by Kuju Entertainment and initially released by Electronic Arts in 2007. Since passing to the current owner - Railsimulator.com (RSC) - the product has undergone a number of facelifts and re-issues, resulting in the latest version Train Simulator 2013, being released on 20th September 2012. RSC have also dropped the Railworks brand in publicity, though it still appears in various documentation with reference to "Railworks 4". The programme continues to be sold through and based on the Steam distribution platform.

What TS2013 does achieve, is that for the first time, not all users will have the same base game as it comes with a different set of default routes for new users. Existing Railworks customers who purchased a previous version will still retain the original core Kuju routes (Somerset & Dorset, York to Newcastle, Paddington to Oxford, Hagen to Siegen and Cajon Pass) plus the three fictional routes (Castle Rock, Hedborough and Seeberg) and for those who bought the game when it became Railworks 3 also got Horseshoe Curve as default content. The default content for new TS2013 consists of the Isle of Wight, North East Corridor, London to Brighton and Sherman Hill, all with the exception of the latter previously sold as add-on content (so existing customers may have some or all). A German route Munich to Augsburg will be available to purchasers of a special edition and also sold as DLC. Existing users get the TS2013 core upgrade but not the new routes (unless they pay for them or already own them) while new users don't get the old default content (unless they pay for it, too). RSC are planning to sell the old routes to new users and realising the assets are used in a great many freeware (and some payware) routes released to date they will also be selling them as two separate packs. I'm not exactly convinced that removing older routes and assets then selling to new users is a particularly customer friendly gesture, particularly when indications on Steam are these will be going for more than a bargain price...

The upshot is, there will now be multiple levels of TS2013 ownership making it very difficult for third parties to balance which items to include in their own routes and it now appears some older content may be withdrawn from sale completely. More thoughts on where RSC are taking the programme with their policies a bit later.

Looking at TS2013 compared to early versiosn, this is not such a radical update compared to the pevious jump to Railworks 3. RSC have added a number of new technology features to the programme, most notably:

Support for the PC XBox 360 Controller - At first I was sceptical about this but having tried it, doesn't feel too bad. Using a gamepad allows you to sit back in the chair away from the screen, rather than hunched over keyboard and mouse. However I don't think it's a complete substitute for keyboard control, particularly when driving steam locomotives or the more complex scripted modern motive power.

Steam Workshop - This is a place where users can upload user created files, initially just scenarios and only those which use official RSC content either in the core game or sold through Steam. Check the terms and conditions before uploading though. Whether Steam Workshop extends to more complex items such as routes or rolling stock which have many other dependencies remains to be seen. It does, however, pose a challenge to the established means of getting train sim freeware, via independent file hosting sites.

Quick-Drive - Feature added to allow users to quickly drive a route of their choice with pre-selected motive power, without going to the trouble of setting up a scenario in the editors. Again I have tried this but the concept is limited - only routes and rolling stock which have been enabled for this function can be used for Quick-Drive. You can only drive from A to B, not able to set up an intricate calling pattern en-route. The feature is supposed to generate AI traffic on other lines passing you, but a twenty minute run on WCML North so far hasn't had any trains show up.

Relay Mode - In the run up to TS2013, RSC stated they would be looking at adding a multiplayer mode to the game. What turned up instead is the rather odd concept of "Relay", which allows you to partially complete a scenario then pass it on to another player to finish (said player also needs to be a Steam "friend"). Not what most people would regard as multiplayer which is several people playing the game via a network link/server at the same time.

Anyhow, it's off to play trains. The first thing users will notice is that starting TS2013 places you straight in the game itself, the initial launcher which accessed various utilities associated with the programme no longer appears. The utilities are now accessed via a separate launcher found in the Railworks root folder on your hard drive (hint: create a desktop shortcut) which gives you access to the fun essentials such as the Packager/Package Manager and Blueprint Editor. Presumably RSC decided that the majority of users didn't need to see the elements used by pesky content creators. Instead of placing you in the Main Menu, when TS2013 starts it puts you in the "Collection" screen, which is a graphical indication of some of the content you have installed. I say "some", because it appears only routes or rolling stock identified by a new metadata system appear there - which at present is of course RSC's own content! However the Main Menu is only a mouse click away and lists all your routes and available scenarios, though note the option to select "Drive By Train" type seems to have vanished from TS2013. The new interface is colourful, almost garish and while (perhaps) an improvement on the somewhat texty appearance of early versions now looks as if it was designed for a console.

Now the big update to Railworks in terms of appearance happened in 2011 when the "TSX" graphics revision appeared. There have not been so many radical changes in TS2013 though the lighting effects, particularly at night, have improved. Graphically there is little doubt that TS2013 is the best looking of the commercial simulators though still has issues with how objects or hills in the distance appear. The previous version of Railworks had the ability to cap the maximum frames per second (FPS) at 30 or 60 but this has disappeared from TS2013. The FPS has always had a tendency to run up and down as you travel along a route or in areas with dense scenery it can slow down to 14 FPS or less. That has not gone away in the latest version nor has the tendency for the sim to pause or stutter momentarily, presumably as it loads in scenery or sound files. While for the most part it runs smooth, it's a shame RSC programmers can't settle the code down to avoid the stutters and ensure the sim runs at a consistent FPS. The legacy (aka non-TSX) graphics mode is still available for those who's hardware is not quite up to running in TSX mode, but it's not as pretty.

More of an update this time on sound; RSC have ditched EAX in favour of OpenAL. If like me you run your sound off a Realtek built in sound card it probably won't make much difference in overall quality. What RSC have added is a reverb effect passing through cuttings and under bridges, tunnels etc. The results of this range from totally awesome with traction and routes which feature reasonable quality sound, to positively awful on routes which rely on the old xylophone track effects - sounded more like an out of tune chord on an electric guitar than the sound of a heavy machine passing a solid stone wall. Of course sound is a very subjective subject, more so than graphics and your mileage will vary according to as I said the type of soundcard and the quality of your desktop speakers. Don't expect a pair of tinny £15 Logitech speakers will give the same result as pumping through a 7:1 surround amp feeding 80w speakers. At least this time round they have tried to do something about the sound - but some of the older routes and motive power need work to bring them up to the new standards.

One of the more controversial additions to Railworks 3 was the addition of the F4 driving aid, which quickly became somewhat disaffectionately known as the "Fisher Price" or toy HUD. This is still present in TS2013 but the opaucity can be changed to show more of the real cab display. It's still fairly icky though, so most users opted to use the F5 text HUD and the similar to MSTS F3 box. However in TS2013 the F3 has now become a cut down version of the F4 and virtual drivers lose some of the information which was available - most notably the aspect displayed by upcoming signals. Fine, if the route is signalled correctly and the signalling system worked correctly but not all routes are and the system doesn't, so there's now no pre-warning if you are coming off a green light straight on to a red. While on the subject of signalling, I've noticed that approach control now seems to work correctly for UK signalling, i.e. you reduce speed on the flashing yellow aspects then get a green (or other proceed) aspect with the route feathers at the protecting signal. Previously, the last signal displayed a red until you hit the AWS ramp which was incorrect.

I'll touch very briefly on physics and general operations. The implementation of correct physics performance of traction and rolling stock seems to be an aspect RSC and their associates continue to struggle with, possibly as a result of inherent and unchangeable parameters in the core code. However, as the recently released Run 8 has shown, it is perfectly feasible to have a simulation with accurate physics which do not detract from the gameplay. This isn't the place to go through a list of all the items and suggest how the performance needs tweaking, the question is more whether RSC feel they need to in order to satisfy users of the sim. As regards operations, the new Quick-Drive is to all intents and purposes a slightly upmarket free roam. Scenarios are divided between "Standard" and "Timetabled" with most routes or rolling stock including some "Career" scenarios, too. The latter was a flawed idea introduced in Railworks 3, it's not really a career mode as might be understood by train simmers who cut their teeth on Train Driver 3 or even anything like the FS Passengers add-on for Flight Sim. Essentially it simply scores your run and uploads the result to a league table on Steam. The fact you have to complete most of the Career scenarios in a somewhat reckless and unsafe (from a prototype point of view) manner often devalues them to the verge of being a pointless addition. In terms of running a scenario the AI signaller is still fairly rigid, there's no dynamic element here, the path selected by the programme when the scenario was created is what the train runs on, no attempt to autonomously resolve conflicts with other traffic etc. The whole AI and signalling has got to be the next item on the list for an overhaul, even if this does break some existing scenarios. At the moment non-player trains are essentially moving scenery. One more thing to note, you can have one saved game per route and it appears the bug which crept in some time ago - where certain locomotives derail if you resume a game saved when the train is in motion, is still present.

Content creation - now this is likely to be the biggest source of consternation in TS2013 for those who like to dabble in this area. With the launch of TS2013 comes a new and far more restrictive End User Licence Agreement (EULA) on what you can do with the tools RSC graciously supply you with. This can be found in the Manuals\EN (for English) sub-directory of your Railworks directory. Open it, read it, then read it again - several times until you digest what it says as your very ability to continue playing TS2013 is dependent on your compliance with the terms and conditions. The whole of Section 9 and Section 11.2 is particularly relevant and the following are well worth noting...

And if the above wasn't bad enough failure to comply with the content creation EULA sends you down the snake to 11.2 - where RSC reserve the right to remove your access to the entire game, with presumably no obligation to refund the £100's you spent on it over the years..

So I have to say it again - even if you only create the occasional scenario, please ensure you are fully compliant with the EULA. As to why RSC have tightened things up, I can only surmise they want much tighter control over what users see in the game and we may indeed be seeing the beginning of the end of the editing tools being available to all. Carefully vetted freeware via Steam Workshop only and payware sold as DLC through the Steam shop may well be the order of the day in a year or two's time.

If, after all the above, you do decide to continue making content, the editors are largely unchanged. Route building is still tricky particularly terrain texture, though a couple of new and potentially useful features have appeared - such as a tool to smooth out gradient changes.

In conclusion, TS2013 brings a few changes and improvements to the general virtual train driving experience but something of a hammer blow to content creators. Overall it is still probably the best looking of all the sims, gone are the rather garish cartoony graphics of Rail Simulator and certainly this goes a long way to immersing the player in what they are doing. However there is a tendency to think that RSC are progressively moving the title towards being a mainstream gaming product, with the inevitable compromises this will mean for those who want to see the more serious areas of train simulation improved. Despite the fact on the surface Railworks offers what we could only dream about back when I created my original website back in 1999, it is beginning to come with too many caveats and the control now being exerted on third party content creation is only going to alienate many who were previously quite supportive. I can only hope that over the coming months RSC take a long hard luck at exactly where they see it going. They need to decide that it's either a simulation product and actually start paying attention to those areas, including full support for an active freeware and payware content creation community. Or it's a strictly controlled game, in which case get on and lock it down completely which will remove any dubiety about what can be done with the user tools.

Useful Links:
RS.com HomePage
Just Trains - add-ons for RS & RW.
RW Tools - Mike Simpsons essential utility, make sure you tip generously.

This page created on 05/07/09 and last updated on 27/09/12 (TS2013 reviewed).

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