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Editorial: BVE Train Simulator Version 4
Author: Matthew Peddlesden
Date: 10 September 2005


It's been a while since the BVE editorial has been updated and with the release of BVE 4 some while back I recently took the opportunity to download a few BVE 4 routes and trains and see how things have progressed.

It's still a cab-only simulator, i.e. you can't get out of the cab as you might in MSTS or Trainz, a lot of what was good about BVE is still there in this new version but more importantly there's plenty of new stuff as well.

BVE stands for 'Boso View Express' and is developed by a Japanese man named Mackoy. The latest version is developed with the .NET Framework and as such you will need to ensure you have the runtime component of this installed on your computer (it is easily obtainable through Windows Update at http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com).

To obtain BVE (which is free) you can go to Mackoy's web site - http://mackoy.cool.ne.jp and click the 'Version 4' logo. From here on, a lot of it is in Japanese unfortunately - however it's reasonably easy to work your way around to finding the download as Mackoy has provided additional prompts in English. Look for the word 'GET' on the left and click on the screenshot below it. On the left in the blue section you will find 'Get BVE' and a little way below it a link titled "Download" - click that. Scroll the right hand side down and you will find BVE 4 and Uchibo, Mackoy's Japanese Underground route. I must admit I didn't download Uchibo yet. Click the link for BVE to download it (at the time of writing it is "bve4.2.1947.25355.zip" dated 2005/05/01. File size is less than 700k so it's a quick download for anyone.

Once BVE is downloaded, open the ZIP and you will find an MSI file - double click that and follow the prompts to install it. Note the install directory (default is: c:\program files\mackoy\bve4) as you will need this later to install some add-ons.

If you did not download Uchibo then BVE has nothing for you to run at the moment, so let's go and find one of the best examples of a BVE route, plus some relevant stock.

First let's visit Anthony Bowden's site "Rail Sim Routes UK" (http://www.railsimroutes.co.uk/) where his BVE work is available, plus a lot of other useful links and information - well worth a browse.

To business, click to enter the site and along the top is a blue bar with some headings - click on 'Projects'. From there, click 'Cross City South v1.3'. This will give you some information about the route - to download it you must now click on the 'Download' link in the bar on the left hand side. After a read through the details about the route, scroll to the bottom and you'll find all the links.

Each file is a self installing EXE file - so download the following files somewhere that you can find later (e.g. a download directory or as I do commonly - my desktop) - download a file by clicking on the blue download button to the left of the description:

  • Objects 1
  • Objects 2
  • Sound Files
  • Route Files
This gives you what you need to get the route itself working, but nothing to run with it.

Next there are two entries for the Class 323 EMU - the first is for BVE 4 and the second for BVE 2. Obviously we want the first one so click on the Download button - this will take you to another site (http://www.bvetrains.co.uk) where you can download the EMU. Read the details about the EMU and at the bottom of the page you will find:

  • Class 323 Cab Downloads
  • Class 323 Passenger View Downloads
The latter is not required, but if you are on a reasonable speed connection it's worth having. The files are about 8 mb each.

Once all that's down you're about ready to go, but since we're in a downloading mood at the moment let's finish off and get the add-on pack that's available plus a little more stock.

Back on the Rail Sim Routes UK site (at this URL: http://www.anthony-b.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/rsr-uk/x-city_south/downloads.html), scroll down further and you will find a section titled "Cross-City South Add-ons".

Download the Class 158 and 37 add-on route pack, again another EXE file.

In order to make the new add-on work you'll need the Class 158 and Class 37 to go with it. The instructions on Anthony's site tell us to go to http://www.trainsimcentral.co.uk - from there, click on 'Train Downloads'.

At the top of the page you will see a number of London Underground units, below that you will see Class 323, Class 158, Class 170 and Class 37 units - download the 158 and 37 units that we need (obviously if you want the 170 then go ahead :) ).

Ok, now we've got everything we need to get a reasonably good set-up going with plenty of variety.


Let's take a step back for a minute, for the MSTS user, what's the comparison? What are we going to see with BVE in comparison to what an MSTS user might expect? I'm going to focus on what an MSTS user will be expecting and therefore this won't necessarily include what BVE will give you in addition - that will come later :)

The biggest difference is obviously that it's a cab-only simulator so you can't get out of the cab and see your loco from outside. Don't worry, there's a lot more to do in the cab with BVE than there was in either Trainz or MSTS so you are unlikely to miss it, you'll be far too busy :)

Next, the routes (aka activities) are very specific journeys. You control the train but have no control over any points, in this instance it is a driving simulator in the strictest of meaning of the word. Consequently this means there's no capacity for shunting (that I can tell, and none that i've seen), though this does not mean that there are no freight activities.

There are a fair few extra controls (loco dependant) to know about, as well as various steps such as how to get the thing moving in the first place, not to mention a very nice AWS/TPWS implementation - so driving is going to be much more challenging.

Finally, computer-controlled stock in Train Simulator follows a path just the same as you - in BVE it is just static, stationary scenery with no ability to move. If you're travelling at speed then there might be some sense that it appears to be moving slowly but it isn't. I must admit this was one aspect I was hoping to see rectified in this newer version of BVE but never the less it doesn't seriously detract from the immersion, as I say, you'll be far too busy worrying about your own train to care about anyone elses.


Time to get these add-ons installed and have a play.

Everything you installed comes as a self installing EXE file - Kudos to everyone involved for making it easy. Back when you installed BVE I suggested that you record what the install path was, this is when you're going to need it.

Double click on each EXE file and fix the install path as required, then accept defaults and get them all installed. Do that for the lot and come back when you're done...

Ok, all done? Quick wasn't it? Once again, kudos to the BVE community for making it easy.

Now things get fun! Before we start, make sure you've got some sounds switched on either through speakers or headphones - BVE is a real treat for the ears, but turn it down a bit as it can get quite loud at times and the non-rail enthusiasts of the house may simply not be able to bring themselves to appreciate the auditory pleasure they should be experiencing :)

Time to fire up BVE, double click on the icon it deposited on your desktop.

The first thing it asks you is what screen resolution you want to run at and whether you want it as a window - make your choice and press OK. BVE will load up and then offer you a "file/open" style box allowing you to choose what you'd like to do. Let's select Birmingham_Cross-City_South_BVE4, then High Detail, Day and finally load the "High Detail 323 Summer 2002 0931 Rain Overcast" file.

Once that finishes loading (it might take a minute or two) you'll find yourself dropped in to the sim.

Immediately something is different - see how it bounced and swayed a bit?

Ok, put Num Lock ON and use the number keys 2,4,6 and 8 to move around - it's just a 2D image but you can scroll around it. This becomes especially useful in conjunction with INS and DEL. Press DEL to zoom in and INS to zoom back out.

The instructions below for driving this unit are potentially specific to this unit - so don't rely on them for when you get in to a 170 or 158 later on, though largely things like throttles and reversers are the same - start-up procedures rarely are and often the keys for the same functions are different between locos (such as this 323 uses HOME/END for wipers, another loco might use PG UP and PG DN).

We're waiting for departure so let's prepare the unit.

First thing we need to do is activate the master switch, in this unit we need to flip the reverser - so press UP and then DOWN to put it in neutral again.

Next, press SPACE to clear the DRA.

Next, you'll probably have a buzzer going off so press INSERT to clear the AWS reset - if the buzzer isn't going off, wait until it is. If you took too long to clear it, you might want to restart (right click and select restart from the menu).

That's initialised the unit so we're ready, press UP to put it in to Forwards and then press 4 and 5 to set your lights up. We're waiting for the doors to close, then you'll hear the guards buzzer sound. Press 6 a couple of times to repeat the buzzer back to the guard and we're ready to leave.

Press Z until you get to P2 (readings are on the bottom left for throttle, break and reverser settings - again this is different for each loco type according to whether it's a combined throttle or not - in this instance the 323 is a combined throttle so we only see reverser and the combined handle position, which starts at EMG for Emergency Brakes.

If you need to apply brakes, the combined handle can be moved in the other direction with Q (A will do it as well but will stop working once you get to Neutral).

We're now moving - notice the sound effects, a lovely squeal of the wheels as we move around the corner out of the station. Keep to the speed limit (no, there's no Track Monitor equivalent that I could find) which is 20mph out of the station and shortly you will come around a left turn and go over a bridge. You will see something yellow in the middle of the track - as you go over it a buzzer will sound in the cab, press INS (this time with Num lock OFF) to clear the buzzer. If you do not do this in time your train will come to a stand still as a safety precaution.

Just after the bridge the speed limit rises to 55mph - remember that the whole train must be inside the speed limit before you can legally accelerate to it. Press Z again to wind up the throttle and maintain the speed limit.

By now you will probably find it's started raining - note how it's cluttering up your wind screen? Press HOME to start the wipers and clean it off. END will stop them again. A nice touch here is that if the wind screen is not actually wet then the wipers have a nice squeak to them :)

You can remove the time table on the top right by pressing F3 (which is a toggle). F4 will zoom you in for a closer look at the time table.

Your horn is activated by the ENTER and + keys on the numeric keypad - it's a two tone loco and each key gives you a single tone so blow your hown to your hearts content :)

When you get to the first station (which as a 20mph speed limit so be watchful), you'll want to stop as close as possible to the 'S' marker that's on one of the posts. In other stations this might be a '3' marker, since you're operating a 3 car unit. Once stopped if you hear three buzz sounds you're not in the right place - reverse or go forwards as instructed in the top left of the screen. Once you stop in the right place you'll hear the doors open and even see the cab sway a bit as people get on and off, another nice touch.

Once the passengers are all on, the doors close and you get the buzzer from the guard - repeat it back with the 6 key and then accelerate away with the Z key.

A few nice things to note already:

  • The train does not appear glued to the track, it bounces and sways around very nicely - even more so over points and junctions as you'll see later.
  • Going under bridges darkens the cab, this is extremely atmospheric - tunnels do the same thing.
  • There are a lot of cab sounds going on especially with all the AWS buzzers and other tones going off - on some loco's (e.g. some underground ones) you'll even hear sporadic radio chatter.
  • The wiper works, it's very effective and giving you a reason to use it makes it all the more worth while.
Note: If you get a high pitched beeping you need to press the DEL key to clear it quickly.

As you approach the next station you hit a 15mph section and the track splits from single to double track with you taking the left route. It goes around a very tight curve to the right and there is a lot of squeal as you pull in to the platform. Keep an eye on the signals - as I approached it a couple of times it was red.

Once you get the guards buzzer to proceed from this station it's time to depart - now you're heading out on to the main line where you'll get to do some high speed running. Pull out of the station and go over the points and junctions to your track - note the very nice sounds as you do so, extremely atmospheric. Wait until your full train is inside the 90mph section and let rip - watching out for signals!

As a side note, if you find your train grinds to a halt perhaps because you didn't get to the AWS button quick enough then you have probably been fouled by the TPWS Train Stop. You'll need to wait until the train is at a stop, reset the controls to Neutral/Neutral and then press Page Up to reset the TPWS/TS, you should then be able to proceed.

Another nice thing is that there are differente AWS tones - if the signal ahead of you is green then you get a more pleasant 'bing' type sound, if the signal ahead is not green then you get a much more "attention grabbing" alert tone.

Lighting effects at different times of day are very nice and the night versions of the cab are done very well indeed.

I've downloaded Maybank (a fictional route) and Northern Line in addition to the above, plus their required stock, and they are all superb - well worth the download. The underground stock has some nice touches with regards to the use of the monitors as well. The Class 170 will also require you to start it fully as it begins its scenarios switched off. What's nice is that sometimes it doesn't actually start and might require a couple of attempts to get it up and running. Equally, I observe on a scenario with the 158 that it took two or three attempts to close the doors before the guard finally gave the all-clear, presumably a busy station with passengers blocking the doors.

On the Northern line you can hear the station announcements and each announcement is relevant to the station you're in, in addition you can start the "this train is about to depart, mind the doors" message off yourself by pressing the plus key on the numeric keypad. I was also pleased to see that where there is a break in the rails you actually experience power loss on the train and acceleration stops until the power returns - a nice touch.

Another plus in BVE - but not necessarily applicable to all routes - is that the signals are nicely visible from a long distance, very handy without any other means of determining if you should be accelerating to the speed limit or braking :) (of course there's the AWS but that only tells you if it's amber or red).

While driving numerous routes, numerous bits of stock and numerous scenarios, I have not had any problems with frame rates. There is an occasional judder but not very often, on my laptop I was seeing 25+ and on my desktop more like 40+, so all in all a very smooth experience.

There are a few visual artifacts such as shadows showing up in the distance when there's fog - but the actual object not being visible due to the fog, but these are probably simple bugs that Mackoy can fix, there really weren't any show-stopper problems experienced.

Sounds for the locos are usually quite excellent, as are the cabs - but this is obviously a variable thing between different developers, just as with any other simulator (or any other product for that matter) you'll come to know whose work you find superb and must-have on your machine.

As the simulator was originally designed for simulation of Underground routes (as I understand it), it is ideally suited for modern traffic. While loco hauled stock is demonstrated there is of course no way to uncouple it or to change the consist - indeed the only way you would know that you're hauling something is the change in weight and handling of the consist. The 66 was really nice to drive, as was the 37. What you won't get from this simulator is any form of steam - while I have seen some steam locos in BVE2, they were driven like modern electric/diesel locos, so not really what you were looking for when the rest of the simulator is aiming to be so realistic.

My one complaint would have to be the various approaches to key control - for example as I have mentioned, wipers on one unit might be HOME and END but on another unit might be Page Up and Page Down. Similarly, on the Class 66 the AWS Reset key is space - but on the Class 323 EMU it is INSERT. This non-standardisation could make it frustrating for the less technically inclined, even though it does encourage some learning of how to drive the loco in question uniquely from others.

Overall I don't see BVE as replacing MSTS or Trainz as it is quite specific in the field that it is trying to simulate, it is immensely enjoyable however and if the driving experience that BVE offers is what you're looking for then it is probably far more applicable to you than MSTS or Trainz are. If you haven't yet given BVE a shot, it's well worth it and I hope that i've provided enough information in this article to get anyone up and running with it and some good add-ons in order to give it a fair shot.

I am looking forward to more add-ons being produced for BVE 4 - but it does seem that there are very few routes available at the moment.

Finally, congratulations to Mackoy for BVE itself and Anthony Bowden, Steve Green and a host of other people who are responsible for some superb add-ons.



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