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VirtualRailroader

Virtual Railroading/Train Simulation FAQs


FAQs


What is virtual railroading?
What aspects of railroading have been simulated in VR?
How much computer expertise do I need?
What kind of computer do I need?
Where can I get train sim software?
 
How does a 3-D train sim work?
Can I run more than one train at a time?
Are there additional trains and routes available?
Where can I find out more about my train sim?
Are multi-player versions available?
 
Can a train simulator be used to model a model railroad?
How does a train simulator do its thing?
What's an add-on?
What tools do you need to build add-ons?
What's the best approach to building a route?
 
Can routes be built collaboratively?
Can I modify the works of others?
How do I modify a piece of rolling stock?
Can you build variable-length items?
What does AI stand for?
 
What's a scenario?
What's an activity?
What are portals?
Will I have trouble with my widescreen display?


What is virtual railroading?


Virtual railroading (VR) is another name for train simulation (or V scale modeling, if you prefer). In its most general sense, VR is an attempt to simulate railroading, or some aspect of it, on a computer. Since traditional (physical) model railroading is also a simulation, virtual railroading is perhaps a better term to use. [Back to FAQs]


What aspects of railroading have been simulated in VR?


The earliest desktop computer simulations were limited by the graphics capabilities of the computers, thus the first simulations involved such things as recreating the job of a train dispatcher (e.g., Train Dispatcher). Then came the strategy games, simulating the empire builder (e.g., Railroad Tycoon). JBSS Bahn was the first to simulate entire transit systems and railway divisions, using 2-dimensional graphics and displaying trains, tracks, and scenery in isometric views.
 
The advent of full 3-dimensional modeling capabilities on the personal computer led to Microsoft Train Simulator (MSTS) and Auran Trainz, both of which let you view the train from all angles, inside and out, and to drive the train from either position. Another form of 3-D sim is represented by Boso View Express (BVE), which is cab-view only, and focuses on the driving challenge of meeting a schedule while obeying all the rules.
 
Large computers have been used for a much longer time to simulate the driving experience. These have been used in training (no pun intended) by railroads and for demonstrations by transit museums.
 
Our focus at Virtual Railroader is mainly on the full 3-D desktop simulators such as MSTS, Trainz, and BVE. [Back to FAQs]


How much computer expertise do I need?


You can operate a train sim with no more computer skills than are needed to turn on a computer and launch a program.
 
It takes a bit more expertise if you want to create something to go with your sim, such as a route or a piece of rolling stock or building, or create a scenario (driving challenge). The degree of expertise needed depends on the simulator (software program). [Back to FAQs]


What kind of computer do I need?


At the moment, all desktop simulators run in the Windows PC environment. Only Railroad Tycoon runs on a Macintosh as well. The minimum requirements for the current version of Trainz (TRS 2004), which has the most demanding requirements of the simulators, is Windows 98/2000/Me/XP; a Pentium III 733 Mhz (or equivalent) CPU; 256 Mb of RAM, a 32 MB video card and a Direct-X compatible sound card. If your computer was new within the last few years, it almost certainly meets all these requirements easily. [Back to FAQs]


Where can I get train sim software?


In most cases you can get it direct from the manufacturer. You may also be able to get it from electronic game stores and from Amazon.com. BVE can only be gotten from its creator’s web site. Here are a few links to try:
 
• Train Dispatcher 2 (freeware): http://www.signalcc.com/train2/td2freeware.html
• Train Dispatcher 3.5 (payware): http://www.softrail.com/railsof.html
• JBSS Bahn: http://www.jbss.de/
• Boso View Express: http://mackoy.cool.ne.jp/
• Microsoft Train Simulator: http://www.microsoft.com/games/trainsimulator/
• Auran Trainz: http://www.auran.com/TRS2004/default.htm

You can also get Trainz from our VR Pro Shop.

 
[Back to FAQs]


How does a 3-D train sim work?


From the operator’s point of view, a full 3-D train simulation lets you sit in the cab and move the train controls (throttle, brake, sander, etc.) or float outside and move about the train, zooming in and out. As you start the train, it moves through the scenery just as though you were watching a movie, with the exception that you’re the one in control. With MSTS and Trainz you can throw track switches and choose your route. You can also couple or decouple cars. [Back to FAQs]


Can I run more than one train at a time?


With MSTS additional trains can be run under automatic control – that is, control by the computer. Trainz adds to this capability by letting you switch control from one train to another and has no limit to the number of trains you can do this with. [Back to FAQs]


Are there additional trains and routes available?


There are literally thousands of additional routes, locomotives, cars, buildings, etc. available free for your sim. See:
 
• BVE: Many available; start here: http://www.bve-routes.com/
• Train-sim.com: http://www.train-sim.com/
• UKTrainSim: http://www.uktrainsim.com/
• EUTrainSim: http://www.eutrainsim.com/
• Trainz Download Station: http://www.auran.com/TRS2004/DLS.php
 
[Back to FAQs]


Where can I find out more about my train sim?


There are Internet forums available for discussing topics relevant to your sim. These are usually the fastest way to get specific answers to specific questions. See:
 
• Train-sim.com: http://www.train-sim.com/
• UKTrainSim: http://www.uktrainsim.com/
• EUTrainSim: http://www.eutrainsim.com/
• Trainz Forum: http://forums.auran.com/TRS2004/forum/default.htm
 
You can also learn a lot by looking through the back issues of Virtual Railroader and its predecessor, Virtual Model Railway Journal here. See also our Basic Trainz section. [Back to FAQs]


Are multi-player versions available?


Auran is working on one for Trainz. [Back to FAQs]


Can a train simulator be used to model a model railroad?


Yes. Trainz is particularly good at this. The built-in Surveyor module is a snap to use and lets you lay track, sculpt the ground, place buildings and natural features, and add textures to the landscape.
 
A Trainz layout is built on baseboards measuring 720 meters on a side and divided into squares. You can select a scale to work in or just use 1:1. You can find measuring devices at the Trainz Download Station that you can place temporarily in the layout to verify your dimensions. You will also find there curved sections of track with fixed radii to help manage your planning.
 
2-D simulators, such as JSS Bahn and the original Rail3D (Rail 3D Classic), are handy for simulating operations. It's quick and easy to set up a route, place signals, and establish operating rules.
 
[Back to FAQs]


How does a train simulator do its thing?


At the core of a train simulator is a graphic engine – a piece of software that renders graphics and has additional audio capabilities. As you drive, the viewpoint proceeds along a path defined by the route (which may or may not be user-switchable, depending on the simulator), and displays everything visible within a certain viewing range. This path is an imaginary line given visibility by the graphic image of a track. The image of the track could be main line, backwoods, narrow gauge, embedded in pavement, or whatever. It could even be a road or a sidewalk. By not providing an image we can have the path describe the flight of an airplane, submarine, automobile, or anything we like. These capabilities suggest potential uses beyond train simulation for your train simulator. One such use is that of presenting walk-throughs of architectural and engineering projects. [Back to FAQs]


What's an add-on?


An add-on is any component that can be developed outside the basic simulation. Add-ons include such things as routes, locomotives, cars, buildings, people, trees, and sounds. [Back to FAQs]


What tools do you need to build add-ons?


That depends on the simulator. BVE requires the simplest tools. Objects (any 3-D shape) can be built using a text editor, such as Notepad. It helps to have a graphics program for manipulating images to be used as surface textures, but you can do quite a lot with MS Paint, which, along with Notepad, comes free with Windows.
 
BVE routes can also be built using Notepad, though some prefer to use Excel.
 
Trainz and Microsoft Train Simulator (MSTS) both come with a special version of gmax, a professional 3-D creation tool, for building objects. Again, a graphics program, such as Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro, or the freeware Gimp, is a valuable addition.
 
Trainz routes are built with the built-in Surveyor module. MSTS routes are built using a text editor.
 
[Back to FAQs]


What's the best approach to building a route?


It depends on your goals. If you want to model a specific section, true to prototype, then the approach is clear: dig up as much information as you can and follow it. There are also techniques whereby satellite-imaging data (called DEM, meaning digital elevation model) can be used to set the ground contours for you. See http://data.geocomm.com/dem/demdownload.html.
 
Many routes are freelanced. I like to build routes designed to accommodate the kind of operations I would like to engage in. That may be switching, such as an inner city industrial yard or a rural short line; or a rapid transit system; or just a general sort of thing where I can run trains. To this end I begin by developing a track plan that enables the desired operation, planning it in much the same way as I would with a model railroad, except that I would not necessarily have the trains run in circles (although, I might).
 
Many people turn to the pages of model railroad magazines for track plans. This is fine, except that these plans are often designed around the physical constraints of size and means of access. Neither of these constraints apply to train simulations.
 
When planning a layout there are some things to think about, especially when trying to match the prototype. For example, do you really want that many tracks in a yard? Will your computer be able to handle the load of many tracks populated with cars? How much of the layout can you realistically manage while operating? How long do you want to travel between towns or stations? The prototype distances and times can be quite large. Sometimes the approach of the model railroader – creating a series of scenes – is the best way to approach layout design.
 
One thing for certain about virtual railroading is that you have choices. LOTS of choices!
 
[Back to FAQs]


Can routes be built collaboratively?


The short answer is Yes. Exactly how is another matter. Trainz is the most suitable for modular construction since it is built on standard baseboards. These baseboards can be inserted, copied, or removed. We have found, though, that once the signaling system has been set across baseboards, inserting or deleting a baseboard can cause the signals to malfunction.
 
An approach especially suited to Trainz is to think of the route as a collection of railroad interchanges, with each person building an interchange. Anyone could then assemble the collection in any arrangement desired, filling in with connecting baseboards.
 
BVE can be built in modules, with the understanding that BVE is built linearly. There is no opportunity to branch, unless the branched version is treated as a second route.
 
All sims can be built serially. That is, first one person performs a special function, say setting the contours and laying the track, another person textures the landscape, and another places buildings and perfects scenes. In this approach the layout is passed from one person to the next, with each person working on it in turn.
 
[Back to FAQs]


Can I modify the works of others?


Generally, yes if it's for your own use. You cannot republish something that is even partly made up of the work of someone else without asking that person's permission. [Back to FAQs]


How do I modify a piece of rolling stock?


Basically, you can only modify the surface colors or textures of a model without having access to the original modeling file.
 
In Trainz you can easily change road names and paint schemes by using Paint Shed, a program that comes free with Trainz.
 
In Microsoft Train Simulator you need a graphics program that can work with the Targa (TGA) format. There is a utility called TGATools2 (see http://fly.to/mwgfx) that will open a TGA file and let you work on it with a paint type of program. If there are no transparent portions of the object, MS Paint is good enough. If there are transparencies involved, you will need a program such as Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, or Gimp that can handle the transparency in a separate channel.
 
Trainz, being modular to the extent that components such as trucks are stored separately at the Trainz Download Station, lets you exchange these components by modifying the config file of the car or locomotive.
 
[Back to FAQs]


Can you build variable-length items?


We normally think of an object as a single-sized entity – say a tool shed, for example – that is placed and positioned by raising/lowering or turning or moving. Another type of object is called a spline. This kind of object can be stretched, just like a road or track. After the object has been stretched a certain length it replicates iteslf. People have used splines to build variable-length bridges, fences, row housing, and so forth. [Back to FAQs]


What does AI stand for?


AI is an acronym for artificial intelligence. As applied to train simulations, AI refers to trains that are controlled by the simulator rather than you, the player. [Back to FAQs]


What's a scenario?


A scenario is the Trainz version of Microsoft Train Simulator's "activity." Both are a set of tasks for you, the engineer, to complete. In use, the instructions are displayable while driving. It's possible to create your own activity or scenario; both are somewhat involved. MSTS has a built-in activity function, whereas Trainz requires some knowledge of scripting. The TrainzProRoutes group has created a utility that aids in the creation of scenarios. [Back to FAQs]


What's an activity?


An activity is Microsoft Train Simulator's version of the Trainz "scenario." Both are a set of tasks for you, the engineer, to complete. In use, the instructions are displayable while driving. It's possible to create your own activity or scenario; both are somewhat involved. MSTS has a built-in activity function, whereas Trainz requires some knowledge of scripting. The TrainzProRoutes group has created a utility that aids in the creation of scenarios. [Back to FAQs]


What are portals?


Portals are unique to Trainz. They provide a way of generating and absorbing trains from set points that you designate, such as tunnels or hidden areas. You can determine the trains that are generated and the frequency of their generation. You can also program each train to do certain things alongthe way, such as stopping at such-and-such station and waiting for so many minutes. Portals were introduced by Trainz as part of their TRS2004 Railroad Simulator, Service Pack 2. [Back to FAQs]


Will I have trouble with my widescreen display?


The new widescreen laptops feature viewing areas 1/3 wider than traditional computer screens. The widescreen aspect ratio is typically 16:10 or 16:9 vs. the traditional 12:9. Most programs display in windowed mode, which makes them indpendent of the screen's aspect ratio. Many games, however, use full screen mode, which can cause flattening or elongation of the images. Fixing this distortion seems to be a game-by-game proposition. My experience with Trainz, MSTS, and BVE resulted in three different solutions.
 
Trainz
Trainz is easiest and most satisfactory. Open your TRS2004 folder and open the trainzoptions.txt file using Notepad. Add a line at the end of the file for the display width and another for the display height as follows:
 
-width=1920
-height=1200
 
I've used the numbers for a 17" widescreen. Use the appropriate numbers for your screen. The save the file. The Trainz display will now be full screen and without distortion.
 
MSTS
The best I've been able to achieve with MSTS is a windowed display of 1600 x 1200. The trick here is to launch MSTS from the Start menu by selecting the Run... command and adding the -vm:w parameter as follows:
 
Select Start > Run... When the Run dialog opens, browse to find and select the train.exe program file. It will then appear in the Open: field with quotes around it (e.g., "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Train Simulator\train.exe"). Add a space and then the parameter -vm:w and selectthe OK button.
 
MSTS will now open in windowed mode, free of distortion.
 
BVE
I expecte dthe method used for MSTS would work for BVE. It didn't. BVE DOES have a windowed mode option built in, but that mode produces a window with 640 x 480 resolution, which is a small on a large widescreen laptop. [Back to FAQs]




©2005 Alfred Barten. All rights reserved.