TRANSPORT SIMULATION UK

Run 8 - Railroad Simulator

Disclosure: Run 8 is published by 3D Train Stuff with whom I worked a good number of years ago to produce the Cambrian Coast add-on for MSTS. However I am no longer in receipt of any royalties from the company in respect of past work and I have had no involvement whatsoever with developing or testing Run 8. The software has been purchased at full price by myself as a customer and not supplied specially for review purposes.

INTRODUCTION

Run 8 (R8) is the first all new train driving simulator to be released since the first World Of Subways launched in 2008. The sim was created and developed by Run 8 Studios, part of 3D Train Stuff - well known for their range of MSTS add-ons. At the moment it can only be purchased direct from 3D Train Stuff's Run 8 website and is only available as a download. Delivery is via an email link and you must download the software within 24 hours. The download is a modest 213Mb and R8 has a fairly small hard drive footprint, between 500 and 600Mb. I would recommend backing up the download and the order reference number needed to unlock it, to separate physical media to protect against accidental deletion. At launch, the programme costs US$40, or around GBP£26 at current exchange rates.

Installation is fairly straightforward via an exe file, however note the programme requires the XNA plug in to be present on your PC and although included with the download does not install automatically. If XNA is not on your PC, R8 will exit when attempting to start the game. The installer is located in the root directory for Run 8, so use Windows Explorer to navigate to wherever you installed it and run XNA from there.

It's probably best to start the review with a slight warning. R8 is most definitely aimed at the hardcore, experienced train sim player. It is very much the fulfillment of a personal vision by the lead designer and that does not include many soft options or game like elements to be found in other train sim products. The emphasis is very much about operating/driving heavy freight trains across a challenging mountain railroad. At least some basic knowledge and understanding of North American railroad practices and terminology is pretty much essential to get the best out of R8. The developer has put a particular emphasis on the procedural and train handling aspects and also sees the Multiplayer (MP) environment as the primary means by which users experience the simulation.

There's only one route in the initial R8 release which is the fairly well known Californian line from Bakersfield to Mojave over Tehachapi Pass then on to Barstow, around 130 miles in all. A selection of freight consists are provided but for the initial release only one locomotive type, the General Electric ES44, in either BNSF or Union Pacific colours. Anyhow let's take a look at the various aspects of R8 in more detail.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

Whether 3D Train Stuff have developed the graphics engine in-house or bought in from an external source is unclear. It's fair to say that compared to more recent sims or even good quality MSTS or Trainz offerings, the graphics in R8 are fairly basic being designed for function rather than aesthetics. The route chosen (Tehachapi and the extension to Barstow) consists almost entirely of desert style terrain, so sand, brown earth and the arid look are pretty much the order of the day - not much green in sight (even though from real life visits to the area I recall more variety of colour on the hills). The locomotives and freight cars look reasonable and the cabs (where you will be spending most of your time) are very detailed, sharp and functional. It's worth pointing out that the developer intends to add more detail to their route as noted on the website. From what I can see, time of day is simulated and done very well with sunrise or sunset over the desert particularly sublime. However there's no seasonal changes or even different weather conditions I can see - it does rain sometimes in the desert and on a visit to Tehachapi some years ago it was snowing at the summit.

There are several views attached to the locomotive and these can be rotated, panned and zoomed with the mouse. There's also an external view chiefly focused at ground level for start up and other operations.

The track is superelevated (canted) on curves and there is an implementation of cab sway, albeit a side to side motion rather than both lateral and vertical bounce.

SOUND

The sound support in R8 is pretty good. Loud and up front is the traction of course, the ES44 is a meaty sounding beast and well captured here. Sitting in the cab is quieter than the external positions, which is as it should be. Track sound is so-so. As most of the route is (presumably) welded rail there's little in the way of rail noise other than at points and crossings and flange squeal on curves. Various ambient noises can be heard outside the train such as level crossing bells. In single player mode you also get radio chatter inside the cab. Very effective but it loops and repeats a bit too quickly.

PHYSICS AND OPERATIONS

Dealing with physics first, there can be little doubt the R8 team have put a sterling effort into producing a physics model which is as close as possible to the real thing. That means realistic acceleration and braking, with the emphasis on handling the train correctly to avoid coupler breakage or other operational issues. Forget everything you thought you knew about train handling from other sims. A simple example is train brake release. On a long train (maybe 7000 feet) it can take 3 or 4 minutes for the brakes to fully release with the main reservoir and compressors working constantly to get the train pipe pressure back up. No instant release here (though there is a rapid recharge "cheat" built in for the impatient). Likewise with using the throttle, you need to get the train moving slowly in Notch 2 or Notch 3, then power up gradually all the time watching the ammeter and getting the sanders on if necessary. Starting on an uphill gradient in R8 is a unique challenge again quite unlike any other sim. The R8 team have implemented superelevation on their route and a little bit of cab sway too, though the latter tends to be more of a side to side rocking motion than movement in all planes of travel.

In terms of operations, I fully confess to not having tried nor really desire to try, the multiplayer side of things. It's just not my idea of having fun in a train driving sim. If you want a view on that side of things probably best to register at the R8 forum to view discussion on the pros and cons. As I understand it, one person (usually the host) assumes the role of dispatcher and then oversees the train movements for anyone else who's joined the session.

So far as single player mode is concerned, you pick a train from a list of those available which places you on the route at a particular start point (last time I checked, the list rather unhelpfully didn't include a description of the consist or the start/finish location). You then drive it across the route from A to B calling up the Dispatcher Board periodically to clear the points and signals ahead of your progress. However single player does not offer any form of goal orientated gameplay or scenarios in the way that some of the other sims offer. There's also no AI traffic or train movements on the route to complement yours. You can save your progress but note if you exit then resume you will find the train at a stand in its cold and dark state. In addition, the state of the route is not saved just the position of the train so if you straddle a set of points which are reversed then resume later these will be back in the normal position which mean the train splits the points, i.e. any wheelsets not already past the blades will take the opposite part of the turnout. Also worth noting, at least on the visual display, the Dispatcher board is not interlocked in any way, making it possible to clear signals against the lie of points or clear signals which could result in conflicting moves.

USER PROVISION

At the moment there are no editors or tools which allow end users to create their own content or routes, this ability having been retained "in house" by 3DTS. A number of new routes and motive power sets have been mooted for future release, more than likely as payware DLC, but this is inevitably swayed by the development teams' own personal preference or what is likely to sell in good numbers. One hopes in time some sort of editor suite will make it to the public domain, as that is the only way many of the more obscure routes or individual favourites would become available.

CONCLUSION

My own view of Run 8 is that it has massive potential but also rather frustrating playing it within the developers' relatively narrow concept. In other words, if the notion of pure multiplayer where a "live" dispatcher runs the session and other players provide the interaction appeals, then you will probably get a great deal out of it. To have a broader appeal two things need to happen:- 1.The choice of routes and motive power/train types needs to expand fairly quickly, there are only so many times you can drive across a minimally detailed Tehachapi at 23 MPH and, 2. The developers need to take a view on how they can make the sim more popular with the wider train simming paradigm not just the multiplayer environment. Certainly consider buying it though, the cost is around the same as an average DLC route for Railworks and there is definitely some enjoyment to be had for the money.

Run 8 Homepage - The developer/vendor site for Run 8. Here you can find more information, buy the sim or sign up to their forum.

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This page created 22 October 2012.