Getting it right
By Al Barten
29 April 2004 -- Today I learned that Microsoft had confirmed their decision to discontinue Train Simulator 2. They said the decision had been made a long time back. There are many ways to take this news. As someone who decided in late January to focus VMRJ on Trainz, and thus turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the larger numbers represented by MSTS enthusiasts, I am relieved to know that if I had to choose -- which I felt I did -- I chose rightly.
As with any announcement of this kind, one has to look at what was said and what was not said to try to grasp its long-term significance. For example, Microsoft said it was abandoning Train Simulator 2, but was committed to simulation in the form of Flight Simulator. Does this mean they are out of the train simulation business or does it only mean they are out of the train simulation business as represented by their initial offering? MS is famous for getting it right on the third try, so one has to wonder.
On the other hand, Microsoft may also be genuinely puzzled, having built their simulator on the very model of their successful Flight Simulator. What they didn't bank on was that a major part of the train simulation base is model railroad oriented (40% from what I hear in the case of Trainz users). Model railroading is all about creative involvement -- building models and layouts and operating according to real or invented schedules and rules. In this area the folks at Auran got it right the first time. Many MSTS enthusiasts failed to put much stock in the ease with which Trainz buffs could build layouts, instead focusing their criticism on aspects of the game they felt were unrealistic or toylike in appearance.
Still, there is no comparing the MSTS Route Editor and the Trainz Surveyor. The latter is so good at what it does that I've heard MSTS payware developers say they shunned Trainz because building routes was so easy that no one would buy their wares. I think it's unfortunate and shortsighted that they took this view. After all, the desktop publishing revolution made possible by the Macintosh 20 years ago hasn't put designers and printers out of business. Neither has the automatic, does-everything camera put professional photographers out of business. The fact is that wherever there is an opportunity for human control, there will always be some who do it better than others. Developers should have more confidence in their own abilities than to give up so easily.
We at VMRJ, being limited in our resources and available time, have resisted the temptation to be everything to all people. That was behind our earlier decision to focus on Trainz. A week ago we made another decision, which was to be clear and conscious in our focus on the model railroading, or creative, side to train simulation. Thus you may have noticed our "mission" statement (Who we are and what we're about) posted a week ago. This decision does not mean we are not interested in other aspects of train simulation, or that we will not cover those aspects, but it does mean that in our heart of hearts we are most interested in the creative side of things. When we cover these other aspects it will be from this perspective.
Thus we come back to Surveyor, the core of Trainz that sets it so far apart from MSTS, and the center of our involvement. The folks at Auran are committed to the continued development of Surveyor, and we can all thank our lucky stars for this. By the same token, we at VMRJ are committed to this same direction.
If Microsoft does someday decide to re-enter the field, and does so with a modeler's simulation instead of a driver's simulation, we will welcome Microsoft back and find a way to give appropriate coverage.
Article ©2004 Alfred Barten. All rights reserved.