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Beginners Guide to Downloading and Installing MSTS Add-ons

By M. Peddlesden, Copyright ©2002 - 29 May 2002

Section 3: Installing Activities

Activities are a great way to see more of your installed files at once. They give you a bit of a challenge and generally they can be more fun than just doing your own thing in "Explore the Route".

In normal game terms, an Activity is very much like a Mission of some kind. You will be placed in a particular situation and told what you have to do and then you do it. Some activities will ask that you keep to a tight timetable on a busy day, some activities will have you shunting freight in a yard and you might find others have you rescuing a broken down train. The possibilities are quite extensive and they have the advantage that someone who is familiar with the period and location of the route can put together realistic consists and place you in a realistic situation and all you then have to do is enjoy the activity for however long it takes to complete. Run times on activities range from 10 minutes to several hours, however you are told before hand how long the author anticipates the activity to take so you won't get stuck doing a massive activity when you were planning on a 30 minute distraction.

Unfortunately they can also be a bit of a trick to install until you are used to what is going on.

Inside the ZIP for an activity you have downloaded you should find two key things - an 'APK' file, this is the packaged activity, and a README file. The README file is very important as it should tell you what other stock you need to have installed in order for the activity to work. ALWAYS read the README carefully before proceeding or you could end up making your life needlessly difficult.

Before you install the APK file, which is a very easy thing to do, you should try and locate all the stock that you are going to need first. If the README doesn't tell you what is required then you're going to have to either ask on the forums or 'suck it and see'.

If you have a tool such as Activity Analyser then you can go ahead and install the APK file and then let it tell you what you're missing.

It is recommended that you do not run MSTS until you are reasonably confident that everything is corrected and installed. Personally I haven't had any difficulties but some people have reported it causing them more problems, better safe than sorry.

Before we proceed, one final word of warning: It is very tempting to just quickly install loco's that are needed for an activity and not correctly and completely install them (eg. cab and sounds). This will cause you major problems - you must correctly and completely install each stock item or you could find an activity crashing out half way through because it's trying to find sound files for a loco you're about to go past, for example.

Activity Analyser costs $10 and is available from eTO Software.

Installing the APK file

If everything is set up correctly on your machine, all you need to do is extract the APK file somewhere on your hard drive and double click it and it should get installed just fine.

If however you have Gamespy Arcade on your machine, or the associations aren't set up correctly, then this won't work. You will need to move the file in to your Train Simulator\UTILS directory and then drag/drop it on to the tsunpack.exe utility - this will do the same job and install the activity on to your system.

Finding the Stock

Your MSTS installation is now not very happy, it has some new files referring to stock items that just don't exist on your system and if you now run MSTS you'll probably get a bunch of errors. If you have a utility such as Activity Analyser then this is going to be quite painless and easy, if you don't, then it could be quite difficult.

You may have realised by now that when installing stock there's not necessarily any convention to what directory name it goes in to under TRAINSET - you could call it anything, especially in the case that the original file didn't include one or suggest one in the README. You might hope therefore that it wasn't too important... Unfortunately this is not the case - and it might not even be your fault that an Activity fails to run. Some people have re-organised their TRAINSET directory so that things are more structured, perhaps prefixing a 2 letter country code before all directory names so they know which country the stock item is for. If that person then makes an activity it will expect to find it in that very same directory on your system, and if you don't have it in the same directory then it's just as bad as the stock item simply not being there at all.

Getting it working

This is where it can get quite hard, you're going to have to dig in to the files that make up an activity and make sure you have all the stock that each one requires.

It should be noted that I have attempted to provide an answer for most of the situations you might encounter when trying to get an activity working, so you may well not need all of these instructions for any one activity.

This section is also necessarily fairly technical, take it slow and follow it step by step until you are clear with what is going on, if you get stuck then always drop the author an email and ask, they can no doubt tell you very quickly if there are stock items in incorrect directories and so forth and can save you a lot of time!

Let's first understand how an Activity is made up and what we are looking for in each file:

ACT file: This is the activity itself. This file contains references to stock items so we'll need to check all of those. It also lists all of the Services used in the Activity, which moves us swiftly on to....

SRV files: These are the services. They contain each of the services that will run on the route during the activity, tieing together the path that the train will take and the consist of the train. There's no reference to stock items in this file but we'll need to look at it to find out which consist it uses...

CON files: These are the consists. They contain references to all of the stock items used in a particular consist and we'll need to check all of these too.

Activities are kept in the ACTIVITIES folder for the route it is for, so if the Activity is for Tim Court's Fictional ECML route then you will find it in Train Simulator/ROUTES/UK1/ACTIVITIES.

Hopefully the filename of the ACT file will be obvious enough that you can find it, load it in to something like Wordpad (you can use Notepad if you have Win2K or WinXP). First let's check all of the static stock items and find out what we need.

You're looking for lines that have "WagonData" in them, they'll look something like this:

WagonData ( HAA_hopper_loaded "BR_HAA hopper wagons" )

This example is of a wagon that it wants to find in the 'BR_HAA hopper wagons' directory, and it's looking for a wagon who's Wagon ID is 'HAA_hopper_loaded'. You can find the Wagon ID out by looking in the WAG files in the directory specified.

If you don't have the wagon mentioned here, there is a facility on UKTrainsim that will help - take the Wagon ID ('HAA_hopper_loaded') and put it in to the Wagon ID field of the Search screen.

The single response 'BR HAA/HDA Coal Hoppers' will come back, download and install that file and you will have resolved that stock item. It is perfectly possible for more than one stock item to be in a single downloadable file - indeed in this case there are four different Wagon ID's included in that file (2 different wagons in loaded and empty versions).

Once you have gone through all of the WagonData items in the ACT file we should find out all of the services that the activity is using so we can find and check their consists.

The key word you are looking for is 'Service_Definition', an example line looks like this:

Service_Definition ( "Adao Newark Sandy slow" 51300

This tells us that in the SERVICES folder we will find a file 'Adao Newark Sandy slow.srv' - write down all of these services and then let's go find them.

Once again you can edit an SRV file using Wordpad, or if you have Win2K/WinXP you can use Notepad.

Inside the Service Definition file the line we are looking for is "Train_Config", an example is:

Train_Config ( "Transpennine 3 Car" )

This tells us that in TRAINS\Consists we should find a file "transpennine 3 car.con". Go through all of the services and find out all of their consist names and then we'll go to each of those and check them.

Again, you edit the CON file using Notepad or Wordpad depending on our Operating System version. It's a very simple file - the lines you are looking for contain "EngineData" - here's an example:

EngineData ( Northern158 "northern spirit 158" )

It's exactly like the WagonData lines we looked at earlier - this line tells us that the consist requires a directory in TRAINSET called 'northern spirit 158' and inside it, a .ENG file should provide a WagonID of 'Northern158'.

If you don't have this file we can try searching for it on UKTrainsim - unfortunately a Wagon ID search will not work in this instance and yet I will tell you that the file is definitely on the site. Why has it let you down? The reason is because the Wagon ID search currently cannot cope with files that are in the self-extract format, so we're going to need to find this file by other means. Thankfully there are many other options we can search on.

A search for Northern or Spirit won't bring up any results so is the file really there or am I pulling your leg? It definitely is. It's just unfortunately not obvious. Remember the name of the consist was "transpennine 3 car" ? Let's give that a go and see if that helps. Sure enough a search for 'pennine' will give you the answer you are looking for so you can download and install that one to meet the requirement.

When searching for files keep in mind that we're all human and spelling and typing errors are very common so if you search for a file and can't find it, try broadening your search and include bits people are not likely to have spelled or typed wrongly - for example, pennine is a word that would be quite easy to mis-type so you could look for "trans", sure it'll give you loads of answers but if it helps you find the one you want...

If you end up not being able to find the stock item then you are going to have to replace it with something else. Let's say that we couldn't find the Transpennine 158 and we decided to use a different one instead, let's say the First North Western Class 158. You download and install it, and now you are going to have to edit the consist to tell it the new stock item you have downloaded.

When you install the First North Western 158 it goes in to TRAINS\Class 158 FNW. So the directory portion of the 'EngineData' line will simply be "Class 158 FNW". To get the Wagon ID you should find the ENG file in that directory (Class158fNW.eng) and load it in to Notepad/Wordpad. The line you are looking for is:

Wagon ( Class158fNW

That's the Wagon ID, Class158fNW. So where our consist file used to read:

Train (
	TrainCfg ( "Transpennine 3 Car"
		Serial ( 1 )
		MaxVelocity ( 44.70400 1.00000 )
		NextWagonUID ( 3 )
		Durability ( 1.00000 )
		Engine (
			UiD ( 0 )
			EngineData ( Northern158 "northern spirit 158" )
		)
		Engine (
			UiD ( 1 )
			EngineData ( northernmid "northern spirit 158" )
		)
		Engine (
			Flip ( )
			UiD ( 2 )
			EngineData ( Northern158 "northern spirit 158" )
		)
	)
)

We can change it as follows:

Train (
	TrainCfg ( "Transpennine 3 Car"
		Serial ( 1 )
		MaxVelocity ( 44.70400 1.00000 )
		NextWagonUID ( 3 )
		Durability ( 1.00000 )
		Engine (
			UiD ( 0 )
			EngineData ( Class158fNW "Class 158 fNW" )
		)
		Engine (
			UiD ( 1 )
			EngineData ( northernmid "northern spirit 158" )
		)
		Engine (
			Flip ( )
			UiD ( 2 )
			EngineData ( Class158fNW "Class 158 fNW" )
		)
	)
)

The changes are shown in bold. I have highlighted a block in Italics - this is because the Northern Spirit 158 is a three car unit and our First North Western one is only 2 car. You can delete the block shown in italics.

Finally, because a unit of stock has been deleted from the consist we must change the UiD's of the one(s) after the one we deleted so it is all sequential. I have underlined the UiD line that needs changing, just make it a 1 instead. I have also underlined the 'NextWagonUID' line that needs changing, this needs to be set to one bigger than the highest UiD line - so we need to set it to 2 now instead of 3.

So finally, we have a consist that looks like this:

Train (
	TrainCfg ( "Transpennine 3 Car"
		Serial ( 1 )
		MaxVelocity ( 44.70400 1.00000 )
		NextWagonUID ( 2 )
		Durability ( 1.00000 )
		Engine (
			UiD ( 0 )
			EngineData ( Class158fNW "Class 158 fNW" )
		)
		Engine (
			Flip ( )
			UiD ( 1 )
			EngineData ( Class158fNW "Class 158 fNW" )
		)
	)
)

Congratulations, you just edited a consist without using the graphical tool that Microsoft supplied (it would have had a very hard time, given that the stock required by the consist is not on your machine!).

Continue on through all of the consists, installing new stock and changing to existing stock as necessary and when you're finally finished you will be able to run the activity.

I personally rate Activity Analyser extremely highly, it makes installing activities a pleasure and since getting it I have installed and run a great number of the available activities with 100% success rate and zero hassle (and no editing of any files!).

Introduction
Section 1: Introduction to Downloading
Section 2: Locomotives and Wagons
Section 3: Activities
Section 4: Cab Views and Sound Packs
Section 5: Routes


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