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Review: MS Train Simulator Paint Shed
Developer: Auran, Publisher: Auran
Reviewed By Matthew Peddlesden
Date: 21 September 2002


You can get Auran MSTS Paint Shed direct from Auran's Web site at http://www.auran.com for a cost of approximately $20.57 US Dollars or about 14 pounds.

Screenshots include MidEast UK at Peterborough and the HST 125 coaches from the JustTrains Euro Loco Pack.

Click on any screenshot to see a full size version

Auran are better known for their work on another product in the field of Train Simulation, 'Trainz'. They have, however, not neglected the opportunities presented by the existing community of Microsofts Train Simulator (MSTS) product.

Previously they have released two free loco's for MSTS and their USA and Canada loco add-on pack of 20 locomotives from that area.

Available for Trainz is a product called Trainz Paint Shed, allowing people at any skill level to create repaints of loco's and freight. It seemed only natural that they would, at some point, release a sister product aimed at doing exactly the same thing for the MSTS community.

What exactly does Paint Shed do?

It allows you to repaint stock items using a very simple user interface. It does all the hard work of creating the new loco and setting up 'ACE' graphics files for you and so forth, all you do is point and click and when you are happy you click save to make a new loco.

But that's incredible! What's the 'gotcha'?

You can only repaint loco's that have got a Paint Shed template, so if you were thinking you'd be able to install MSTS Paint Shed and immediately start reskinning your loco's then unfortunately you'd be wrong. On the up-side it is quite easy to create a template so it is possible that we will see more of the developers in the community including an MSTS Paint Shed template with their releases in order to encourage repaints.

The other big problems are founded in the extremely simple (but clever, credit where credit is due!) way that the application actually works, so let's look at that now.

The templates I spoke of are a series of files, one for the front, another for the back and so forth. Then there is a 'white' texture which is just the normal 'source' texture for the loco but as if the loco were a bright white canvas. Finally there is the coloured version of the source texture - but not coloured in a way that you would use, this is the heart of the template.

When MSTS PS starts and you choose your loco to repaint it will show you all of the white base textures, so you see a white loco or goods wagon. Internally it has mapped each of the coloured images on to what you are seeing - so if we imagine that on the front view there are a series of fairly random colours in squares. You don't see this of course, it's all internal.

When you choose a colour from your palette and click somewhere on the loco it will find out what colour is on the template and set "red on the template is now blue on the final loco", you continue doing this until you are happy with what you see on the screen.

When you click the export button it applies all of those remappings that it saved as you worked - so it overlaps the big coloured template on top of the white base template remapping the colours from the coloured template as it goes, with the final result looking how you wanted.

As I say, it's very clever and ingeniously simple - so what are the problems that this brings?

The template you use dictates what kind of repaint you are going to be able to achieve - you cannot free-draw, you're just filling in predefined squares on the unit you are painting. A well designed template will enable you to achieve good results and MSTS Paint Shed supports you having many templates for each loco that you have.

The 'Details' screen is created in the same way - it's just a series of colours that get remapped using the same rules the loco is created with.

It is possible to add text and logo's (graphics) on to your design and a fairly sizeable library of logo's is already provided. You can import your own for use just by saving them as a BMP from your graphics package.

It is with Text and Logos that we see further problems still unfortunately.

Text is not anti-aliased, I was quite disappointed about that, it's not hard to do and it makes a loco look a hundred times better than having jagged text everywhere.

Logos and Text do not appear on anything but the final product - so while they have a perspective details view that gets painted correctly it won't have any text or logos that you put on there.

Logos can have transparencies allowing them to fit more smoothly with designs that you make however these transparencies are binary - there's no gradiation so you are going to still wind up with jaggies around your logo. Also, the help doesn't tell you how to make a transparency in your graphic.

The solution to your own transparencies is simple - the colour 255,0,255 (bright purple) will be treated as transparent, I'm not sure why small fact isn't mentioned anywhere (at least not that I could find).

It's been a lot of doom and gloom so far but I felt it important to state exactly what this product could not do for you since it would be very easy to reach for the stars and imagine this product capable of wiping out every repainter that's ever looked at a loco. That's not the case, and as far as I can tell was never the intention of the Paint Shed product line.

Paint Shed is aimed squarely at the beginner. Anyone that has done a repaint of a Train Simulator unit can understand that the amount of copying and editing of files required just to see your artwork going is almost certainly going to put off the newcomer. Even with tutorials (as we have on UKTrainSim) you're not going to spark an interest in the casual user and some younger (or older!) users just may not feel comfortable doing this kind of manipulation inside their Train Sim - even following a tutorial. This is where Paint Shed comes in to its own.

Paint Shed is just point and click, everything beyond the actual painting itself is done for you so you can focus on that and not have to worry that you might mess your Train Sim up by not copying a file correctly or something.

When you click 'Save' in Paint Shed it will automatically do all the copying and editing for you, it will automatically create the ACE graphic files for the textures from your work and when it's done it has even created a simple consist so you can go straight in to Train Sim and run your loco.

I think this product will definitely appeal to the younger generation as well as any one else that just wants to casually do a repaint perhaps for personal use (we all have our own personal fleet livery after all!) and I would very much encourage the developers releasing models to consider also creating a Paint Shed template or two for it so that these newcomers can join in our community. Likewise, the repaint artists that are working hard at the moment could consider approaching developers for permission to create these templates themselves.

Isn't Paint Shed going to detract from the skills required to repaint?

No, far from it. It is my belief that a product such as Paint Shed will do much more - it will enable the community to grow. I am confident that after doing a number of repaints and really getting the 'bug' for repainting, almost everybody that uses it will then start seeking out instructions for getting those templates in to Paintshop Pro or equivalent, so that they can get down to the pixel level and really have some fun. These are people that would probably not have become interested in repainting without Paint Shed making it such an easy thing to start out with.

Consist Editor

Also added to MSTS Paint Shed is a reasonable consist editor. It's nice and big filling the screen but again it's just a simple tool and has some fairly basic issues.

One thing I would have really liked to see from it was sorting the columns, you can do that within the MSTS consist editor and it makes finding what you want an awful lot easier, so I was a little surprised that such a basic feature was not present in this consist editor.

MSTS Paint Shed makes use of small loco images for the picture it builds up where as the MSTS Consist Editor actually internally renders the loco to get that view - this means that you must draw the side view yourself or you'll just see lots of icons that look the same (you can see this in the screenshot where I am building the consist to test my new 50 out, it has the 50 correctly on the front but a bunch of silver coaches apparently behind it, that is because there is no little icon graphic for stock already on my machine).

The extra space used for the consist editor makes it easier to find things than on the small MSTS Consist Editor (though again, Sorting would have been the icing on the cake here). An extra categorisation for Tenders will make seeking those out much simpler too.

Finally the biggest bonus with the consist editor is that it is very visible unlike the very well hidden MSTS consist editor!

Anything else included?

You get 4 Locomotives and 14 items of rolling stock all with three templates each. One of the locomotives is a pretty good Class 50 but that's all there is for UK stock. The rest of it is American, European and Australian from what I can tell (i'm not well versed in non-UK railways unfortunately).

The templates are all basically the same - one is a chequer-board style pattern, one is a stripey style and one is a bunch of wavey lines/sections.

I found it almost amusing that the Class 50 supplied cannot be painted in any of the liveries that a Class 50 has ever held. Granted, you can get close, but not close enough.

There is a custom cab for the 50, though it's just a cab they've made in the past for their USA and Canada pack rather than a specific Class 50 cab.

Then again, the liveries included are more aimed at fictional repaints as can be gathered from the bright green and yellow GP38 on the back of the box :)

With some good work on the templates it is possible to make a texture file that is usable for real liveries - in fact the chequer template isn't far off, it just needs a few tweaks and you can do a fair few straight off.

Interaction with Trainz Paint Shed?

I haven't tested it yet, but I have looked at the way both Trainz Paint Shed and MSTS Paint Shed work - and it's identical. They have the same files and the same formats and therefore I believe that it should be possible to share templates between the two systems, assuming the loco is available on both of course.

Closing Comments

This review has probably come off scathing and negative, unfortunately highlighting limitations often comes off that way but as a reviewer I feel it is important to ensure that readers of this review fully understand what this product can and cannot do, not just how well it does it.

It is very professionally finished, I had no crashes or other bugs while I was using it so it's obviously been well tested prior to release. This is good as the target audience is not going to be tolerant of errors happening while they work.

The idea is technically very clever and the execution is very easy to use indeed, with the exceptions to what you can actually create using the templates kept in mind.

The Consist Editor is a nice thing to see as most non-technical users won't have a hope of finding the one that Microsoft completely buried. Unfortunately a few extra simple features would have made it much more valuable.

It's aimed at beginners, it's a solid program for beginners to use and get results out of and hopefully it will kick off more interest and create some great new 'proper' repainters in the community.

The price is very good at around 14 pounds, aiming it at a position where it won't break the bank. Unfortunately it isn't available on the shelf and you'll therefore need a credit card to purchase it direct from Auran, though Auran are always prompt and reliable on delivery in our experience.

Our final score for MSTS Paint Shed is:

89%


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