TRANSPORT SIMULATION UK
Trainz Railway Simulator - Review
There's been so many changes in Trainz that I decided the two previous reviews on the site (TRS2006 and TC3) are somewhat outdated and not really representative of the current situation (2010).
In the beginning, there was a man who ran a software company who had a vision. The man was Greg Lane and he was CEO of Australian software house Auran. The vision was Trainz, born in the heady days of the early 2000's and conceived as a very different take on the genre. The idea was to provide a platform which could be continually expanded, ease of use for route builders and operators alike and (although subsequently dropped) the possibility of selling limited edition "collectible" items which could be traded as virtual models. A central Download Station (DLS) was provided as a central repository where assets and routes created for the programme could be hosted.
The ongoing history of Trainz has been complex and not without a little controversy.
The first iterations -- Trainz 1.0, Trainz CE and Trainz UTC were, in truth, little more than slightly extended model railways. The first major evolution in concept came with TRS2004 (actually released in 2003) and the later upgraded TRS2004 Passenger Edition. This version made the creation of prototype length and style routes much more practical, there was improvement to the physics and support - albeit simplified - for steam locomotive operation.
Two years later in 2005, TRS2006 followed and this contained some significant changes. The first was the inclusion of several longer routes and expanded content - though it turned out some of these were actually demos for commercial products which had to be purchased separately. A new database manager Content Manager Plus (CMP) was introduced which was intended to streamline the downloading of content and dependent assets from the DLS. TRS2006 was not without problems and required several patches to address issues with the software but it is probably the widest sold and most successful version of the programme and appeared in various guises over the next couple of years.
By now, many of the original team had left Auran and moved on - including Greg Lane, leaving the future of Trainz in other hands. In 2007 Auran announced that TRS2006 would be the last full release of the software and they would now be concentating on themed packs, known as Trainz Classics (TC). These would contain only the items required to run the particular route but would be culmative, i.e. TC2 could be added over TC1 and TC3 over both its predecessors. However there was to be no backward link to all the legacy content from TRS2006. This caused some controversy in the community not least due to the confusion that might arise from so many different TC configurations, when planning to build a route (particularly after the community discovered a backdoor means to copy in all the content from TRS2006). TC1/2 were released as a joint pack and featured a fictional tramway and US suburban route. TC3 featured the UK Settle & Carlisle line with a massive collection of UK stock and is regarded by many as one of the finest moments in Trainz history.
In 2008, Auran did a U-turn on their TC policy and announced they were returning to a mainstream release which would be known as TS2009 World Builders Edition, followed in a few months by an "Engineer's Edition". The content in TS2009 was expanded with more routes and rolling stock. The product also incorporated the TC1/2 routes and content but somewhat controversially, left out the TC3 content which went on to be sold as a separate add on pack (I think readers will have realised by now, that buying things over again is a particular feature of Auran). TS2009 contained a fair few bugs and while a number of enhancements - such as 5m terrain grid - were supposed to boost the software potential, this was at the cost of a hit on performance as the aging core and Jet graphics engine struggled to keep up with what was now being asked of it.
Cue late 2009/early 2010 and Auran are now part of the larger NeverFail (sic) gaming group. The "Engineer's Edition" upgrade to TS2009 morphed into TS2010, another full scale/full price re-release of the whole core programme (though still not including the TC3 content).
In fairness to Neverfail/Auran it has to be said that this version of the programme is probably one of the best train sim products released, in terms of content. There are several new routes including the showpiece UK ECML, Kings Cross to York and numerous branches and several German/Eastern Europe routes - my favourite being the Niddertalbahn. There's enough content in terms of objects, terrain textures and rolling stock that you could build whole routes without touching the DLS for any additional resources. The downside is that TS2010 is even more of a resource hog than TS2009. The developer actually recommends users run on a 64 bit system to ensure maximum performance. My own personal experience is that, even after installing up to date drivers and optimising the software, any route building in Surveyor soon slows to a single FPS crawl, particularly once starting to paint terrain textures or place scenery - the Speedtree foliage also introduced with TS2010 really drags things down. I would add this issue seems particular to Surveyor, the problems aren't encountered in Driver mode however it makes it difficult at best to create any content in TS2010, or even just go into Surveyor to set up an operating session.
With the release of TS2010, Neverfail have adopted a fairly aggressive stance towards users of previous versions of the software who are regarded as "former" customers (even though many like myself have bought every release and some of the add ons). From September 2010 support for older versions will be scaled down including no more uploads of content created in or for TRS2006/earlier to the DLS. Users of TRS2006 will only be able to download content if they have a DLS or a later version and then possibly via more restricted access (FTP instead of CMP thus no automatic acquisition of dependent assets). The company have stated this is to ensure uploaded content meets the more stringent requirements of TS2010, better QA and avoid the need to configure DLS access for different versions of CMP. As this is a review rather than an OpEd, I'll refrain from comment other than to say this is an insanely daft move likely to alienate many customers - who may well own the latest version - but for whatever reason find it necessary or preferable to stick with an earlier version. It remains to be seen what effect this policy may have in the longer term, given that TS2010 will itself - in time - become a former product.
So focusing on TS2010 let's take a quick look at what Trainz offer the discerning train simmer?
The strong point of Trainz has always been the route building sandbox. This was designed to be user friendly and to encourage people to build their favourite layouts or routes without having to jump through a variety of technical hoops first. Although there have been changes to the interface over the years, the basic principles of track laying and object placement are no different in TS2010 than Trainz 1.0. There's still a learning curve and anyone contemplating route building should start small and simple to develop their techniques. However it is probably far easier to get going in Surveyor than route building in MSTS, Railworks and most certainly Zusi!
Trainz uses a spline based system to lay track and other linear objects such as roads, rivers and even lines of vegetation. This is generally quicker than laying fixed pieces but getting good results can be something of a dark art. While some swear by the method it can be hard to avoid doglegs or kinks in the track. (Hint: The Straighten Tool is your friend). By default, Trainz still doesn't draw any frogs or checkrails on pointwork. Terrain texture painting is superb not just the variety of textures which can be blended and swirled together but an extremely useful copy and paste function which speeds up the texturing of large areas. The same tool can also copy and paste objects so ideal for creating large areas of (say) forest. The paste function drops the objects flush with the terrain and can be rotated to vary the placement. For more advanced users there are interactive industries and passenger stations which can be added to bring life to the route.
Despite almost ten years of development, tunnels remain a bit of a weak point. The original splined type tunnels can only be placed with the portals at angles of 0, 45, 90, 135, 180, 225, 270 and 315 degrees which may not fit in with the trackplan. They also look rather clunky and horrible. A new system known as the "dighole" offers a system more akin to the other sims but it requires a great deal of trial and error to get all the elements of the tunnel kit connected up and stabilised on the terrain.
TS2010 still has no direct means of importing real world "DEM" terrain data and for prototype based routes users are recommended to use third party programmes such as Transdem to set up the terrain.
I've successfully created a number of routes in earlier versions of Trainz but as mentioned in the overview, TS2010 in Surveyor is presenting severe performance issues on my current hardware (laptop and desktop) which I'm not convinced is at fault. The immediate solution is to build in an earlier version then import to TS2010 but with changes Auran/Neverfail have made even a route built with default items in TRS2006 may not transfer cleanly across to TS2010. This does present something of a dilemna particularly in light of Neverfail's stance to force users on to the latest version. I'm still actively pursuing a solution to the route building situation in TS2010 as, like it or not, this is the version current users are being herded into using.
Once you've built your route/layout or indeed to sample the considerable
number of included routes you do so via the Driver function. Trainz visuals
utilise the Auran Jet graphics engine. They do tend to have a softer perhaps
less life-like appearance than other simulations, perhaps attributable
to the original model based intentions. The game supports a diurnal cycle
(night/day) and you can adjust the gamma as to how dark you want your
nights. Changeable weather is offered so you can start a run in bright
sunlight and end it in a raging thunderstorm. The ability to run a route
in more than one season was not supported in earlier versions however
TS2010 has introduced the concept of "layers" where the route
builder can create sub versions of the same route and thus offer an autumn
or winter version. It remains to be seen how many builders take this up
as the process effectively means building substantial parts of the route
over again - unlike MSTS or Railworks where seasonal variations are done
by having different versions of the textures and objects used in the route.
UPDATE - TS12
In Spring 2011 N3V, as they now like to be known, released another version of the Trainz programme. Purportedly the next "full" version of the game, it does in fact ship with very little of the original legacy content from its predecessors and focuses on new content created for the particular release. Multiplayer capability has also been added. Also removed however is the "compatability mode" which allowed older assets to display correctly in the updated graphics engine of the later versions.
At the time of writing this I have taken a quick look at TS12 but regret to say I am not all that impressed. Graphically the Auran Jet engine is now creaking at the seams. I loaded several routes and whether it's the alpha blending looking out the cab window you still have that washed out, pastellised and unreal appearance. To all intents and purposes I could have been driving a route in Trainz UTC (2002) or TRS2004. I really find it hard to believe they have dropped so much in order to gain very little. It is possible to get realistic looking routes in Trainz, several of those introduced in TS2010 (Avery to Drexel) managed it as have many third party routes I've encountered over the years. Even my own Sulitjelma route I built in TRS2006 I always thought looked pretty good and I actually preferred it to my Railworks version of the same route. It doesn't help that at least two of the new routes (one Chinese, the other Russian) are entirely fictional - fairly obscure choice anyway but they could have had routes based on real world locations which people can refer to on a map.
The poor presentation doesn't stop there. All of the routes are presented with a minimal number of player sessions. Okay, Trainz has always been more hands on when it comes to player interaction and setting up your own sessions. However and particularly for new players it's essential to have something that showcases what you are selling. The newly extended ECML route is a case in point. The route now goes all the way from Kings Cross to Newcastle (plus branches) but three scant sessions none of which includes the extension from York north to Newcastle.
Or the new Russian locos included as default content. These require a fairly complex cab se
I would like to report on the other new flagship route - Tehachapi (called Mojave Division in the game). Uncoupling.
No changes to long standing issues, points, tunnels, no AI
Thrown together, minimal playtesting, quick buck off the Auran blind faithful.
The bottom line is I can certainly recommend TS2010 to those who don't already own a previous version of Trainz and for those that do, well it seems to be the way of the future or at least the next 12 months!
I've gone out of favour of giving % marks or ratings to titles reviewed on this site as it can be a bit subjective, but if pressed I would probably rate TS2010 overall as 4/5.
Over the years I've created a number of routes for Trainz:
Also note, all of the above were created in earlier versions of Trainz and while they should work in TS2010 I cannot guarantee they will not be free of glitches, visual artefacts etc.
Where would Trainz route builders be without this superb utility? Transdem started life as a utility for the specialist German Zusi train sim but the author adapted it and it has become the primary means of getting real world data for prototype based routes into Trainz Surveyor. In very simple terms, Transdem allows you to set up the digital terrain data (DEM), filling any holes that may exist. You then either import image files of the appropriate maps georeferencing these over the terrain or, where suitable facilities exist, directly download the mapping from Web Map or Tile servers. After tracing out the course of the route, Transdem will export the terrain overlaid with the mapping data into a file/folder structure which can be imported into Trainz via the CMP. With readily available data it can literally take less than an hour from thinking about starting a route to having the overlaid terrain in front of you in Surveyor, ready to be worked on. More information at the Transdem Website.
Auran Trainz Website
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(This page created 18/09/07 and last updated 07/05/10 review overhauled).