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Review: Trainz Railroad/Railway Simulator 2004
Developer: Auran, Publisher: JustTrains
Reviewed By Matthew Peddlesden
Date: 7 November 2003


Full Disclosure
On the plus side... I am a member of the beta team for Trainz (though after this review goes out, I'm not sure for how much longer!) and have been since Service Pack 3.

On the negative side... UKTrainSim is primarily a Microsoft Train Simulator site, this was not my intention but as Auran aim to have all Trainz content on the Download Station and in fact make it so that content not hosted on the Download Station is actually harder to use in terms of downloading dependencies and missing assets, our attempts to become an active member of the Trainz community have failed.

Some might say that therefore there is some hostility from this end behind the review, I can assure you there is not - people upload religiously to UKTrainSim in just the same way so I'm not about to start saying it's good for me but not for Auran or the Trainz community!

Along the same lines, since there is little or no Trainz content on UKTrainSim and certainly not enough to warrant any one obtaining a premium membership for it, a charge of protecting my rear could therefore be levied against me with this review - if everybody decides to dump MSTS and switch to Trainz then I am out of business. I can assure you that this is not (intentionally, at any rate) my aim either, I have aimed to write a fair review on Trainz the same as I do for any product, indeed check the review for Trainz Service Pack 3 and you will see that I sang its praises and it received a very high score.

Front Menu, note the smooth new colours/backdrop etc In the Railyard looking at the new reskin of the default Intercity Front menu for Surveyor, note how you have sessions for a route, and how many routes dont have any sessions? In Surveyor, putting a consist down with the consist editor open

Introduction

Trainz has been around for quite a while, the excitement surrounding its original release was almost a total frenzy and initially a lot of people were very happy with what they received when it was eventually released. A lot of people however found it too 'toy' like and the lack of any form of Activities and no Steam support meant that Microsoft Train Simulator ('MSTS' hereafter) became their mainstay, whether they appreciated some of its warts or not.

Trainz Community Edition was only available online, shortly afterwards publishing deals were signed and Trainz went Retail with its official version 1 - basically Trainz CE but with service patches 1 and 2. Service Pack 3 was released at a whopping 230 megabytes but this added substantial new content as well as support for a whole new concept called Scenarios, these promised massive potential - far beyond anything the MSTS Activities were capable of - but the fact that you needed to be a software developer to program them meant only a few people ever actually did. A second spin-off product called Paint Shed was released later, this allowed users to quickly and easily perform very simple and limited repaints of stock that was specially configured. Ultimate Trainz Collection ('UTC' hereafter) was the next major release and for many this was seen as the culmination of what Trainz was supposed to be, what it ideally should have been at its first release. Bundling Paint Shed in the box as well as a lot of enhancements over Service Pack 3 it was the best that Trainz could be without looking to new areas. Still no easy method for writing scenarios and no steam support - but what was there was now quite polished.

That brings us to the current day, Trainz Railroad Simulator, the 4th release in the product line. It will be released in the UK under the name 'Trainz Railway Simulator 2004' and will also feature the Mallard and Intercity 125 as the locomotives on the front page. Publishing in the UK is now handled by JustTrains, who are something of a veteran in both Flight Simulation and Train Simulation so it is to be hoped and expected that Trainz will now receive a lot more attention than it has previously under Arxel Tribe and Mindscape where it was largely neglected.

I shall be reviewing Trainz Railroad Simulator 2004 as this is what I have been testing for the review, all the comments should hold true for Trainz Railway Simulator 2004 as well as it's the same product.

Having had three releases that just kept adding bits to previous builds and not really changing anything substantial (with the exception of the Scenario system in Service Pack 3 of course) it was time for Auran to look to expanding the product in to new areas - when Service Pack 3 came out and people exclaimed how much they wanted a visual scenario editor Auran said that would be the focus for Yardmaster (the 'codename' for what is now Trainz Railroad Simulator), when UTC came out they reminded everyone that it was not Yardmaster and to just stay patient for a while longer.

Yardmaster, Trainz Railroad Simulator 2004 is now out, so let's open the box and see what new toys we have to play with!

A few consists down, Unfortunately there are some visual artifacts sometimes shown here most obviously by the 37 Looking out the firemans side of the Mallard cab General drivers eye view of the Mallard Cab Drivers eye view looking down including the reverser and firebox

Out of the Box: Sessions and Scenarios

My first port of call when I am looking at something new is, what can I get out of it quickly - what's the out of the box experience. With MSTS these are Activities and in TRS2004 you have Scenarios - but you also now have something called Sessions. The scenarios in TRS2004 are, very disappointingly, exactly the same as was in previous versions of Trainz. Given the immense power that Scenarios have and that a lot of people just can't develop them themselves, I was seriously hoping that Auran would provide a really nice selection of scenarios that demonstrate this immense power but as yet, the best demonstration of Scenario capability that I have seen is still TafWeb's free Proteus Yard.

From an end users perspective, it very much appears that Scenario's have been left to rot, and it's possible that developers could see Auran moving away from Scenario's and therefore stop developing them. I personally see that Scenario's are the biggest and most powerful thing that Trainz has to offer and i'm bitterly disappointed they've done absolutely nothing with them in this latest release.

Sessions are a whole new concept and this is where Auran have been spending their time. Another name for Sessions might be 'Situations' - rather than where an Activity or Scenario places you in the role of driver and you act out some scenario, a Session puts the layout/route in to a particular situation, puts locomotives on the route in certain positions with certain loads, puts drivers in the locomotives and sets industries up with various supply and demand values, what you do when you start a session is then up to you.

I am disappointed to see that there are some routes that have no sessions at all and many of the routes only have one session. The problem with a route having no session is that it doesn't show up in the Driver list anymore - so you have to manually go and create a session on each route that doesn't have one just so that you can have a drive on it. The lack of variety in sessions on routes tends to suggest that there might not be much you can do but I am not sure that is the case - it's just bad form on Auran's part to let the product down right at the sound of the starter pistol for your average end user. Here I would have liked to have seen a real demonstration of the power of their new Sessions and Industries system with plenty of variety and enough different things to keep people of all interests amused.

Most of the included routes are updated versions of their previous small model railways, the apparently large list is also misleading as there are two versions of most routes, one with industries added and one without. One route is fairly blank but has lots of industries so you can play with it and perhaps use it as a starter. There are two or three actual routes now though such as the Glasgow to Falkirk route which was done by Vern Moorhouse. It's good to see real routes finally appearing in Trainz boxes as it means that people buying the product in the shops will now get something real to play with rather than model railways all the time.

Overall I don't think very much of the 'out of the box' experience for TRS2004, there's a bit of a learning curve working out how to run the Sessions and if you have UTC then you've already played the Scenarios. The selection of routes is interesting but there's nothing that grabs me particularly.

Industries

One of the major new features in TRS2004 is the new working industries. Now when you pull your coal train in to a mine you will see coal pour in to the wagons, the wagons will fill up and then they will get heavier. When you get to the power station with your coal train you will see the bottom gates open and the coal pour out, it'll appear in a growing coal pile and you'll see the power station spring to life, consuming the coal. There's also containers, logs and many many more kinds of freight that are supported. Industries include coal mines, power stations, ship yards, refineries, forests and so forth.

Close up on brake and boiler pressure gauges - here the brakes are completely off... no, really. A look at the water gauges, which do move up and down to show you water levels but do not reflect the angle of the loco (e.g. on a down gradient it should show less water than on an up gradient). Drivers view looking out the firemans side of the Mallard Cab The LNER A4, my favourite steam loco looking wonderful in Trainz

Unfortunately in TRS2004 there is no support for Passengers and by extension no timetabled passenger services. This also means that many routes that are out there will be no use with this new Industries facility at this time as many routes are passenger based.

The industries are large animated objects with track sections on them, you attach your spline track to the track on the industry models and that forms the access roads. The animation on the industries is very good but I think much like in the original Trainz where it rapidly became apparent that all routes were going to look the same but just have different layout because everyone used the fairly limited selection of default scenery, the same might well turn out to be true with industries because there is only one of each type. It will therefore be very much up to third parties to make new kinds of models for each industry type to ensure a little variety in downloaded layouts.

The Industry system is a neat addition from an eye candy perspective, but other than the fact that your train literally does get heavier or lighter depending on the load I am really not that bothered by it and I really feel that once you've seen all the animations a few times you'll find them much less of a "wow" factor and wonder why they are one of the major new facilities in this release.

To take advantage of the new industry system, any wagons you use must have the new 'IND' and a green tick next to them, it looks like most if not all of the wagons in the product have been upgraded to support this including the british ones which is great.

A look at the new Blood and Custard Mark 1 coaches, including interiors Note how you can now see a driver and fireman in the cab of the loco, the driver is dynamic - if you move him to another loco he disappears from here and goes to the other loco! A close up looking at the cab of the 37 - note how it now has a driver, and a different one to the one we had in the Mallard. A look at the gorgeous Flying Scotsman.

AI

The AI system in previous versions of Trainz really couldn't have been much simpler - it would drive at the speed limits and stop for red lights or junctions facing the wrong way, nothing else. So it couldn't shunt a yard, it couldn't even stop at stations along the way. Given that the focus of these previous versions of Trainz was more that the player would be driving all the trains on the layout this was acceptable, it kept things moving.

Back in the early days of TRS2004 I remember hearing claims that you would be able to take part in a living world where other trains are doing real tasks of moving cargo around and you are just a part of it. It sounds wonderful and it's like having a kind of 'super activity' in MSTS terms, totally dynamic. Did this happen?

The simple answer is no, the new AI system is only marginally more clever than the previous one. When you start a Session you must set all the other trains going by right clicking on them and giving them orders such as "Drive to Coal Mine", "Load", "Drive to Power station", "Unload", "Repeat". They will then use a simple algorithm to find the shortest path from where they are to where you've told them to go and then they'll get on their way. The route the AI chooses can be influenced by putting AI direction markers down however that then rules out the possibility of the AI ever taking the other route - it might simply be that you want this train never to take it, but another train always to take it.

You can also influence the AI by putting track markers down using the route editor 'Surveyor' and then using 'Drive to Trackmarker' commands when you give the orders out. Unfortunately on a large layout this can cause lots of problems because you just get one bit list of track markers and it gets very hard to remember which is the right one.

It is also not possible to edit the orders that you give a driver, you can delete the entire schedule and start again but you can't do any editing on what there is.

The AI will happily push 100 wagons along the length of a journey rather than either going another perhaps longer route the right way around or running around the train and pulling it the shorter journey. It will also happily run for miles on the wrong line, there is no way to specify what 'direction' is valid for a particular line and the AI does not use the direction that signals are facing to try and get a best guess. All tracks are valid options and if the shortest path from A to B involves taking your express train through a yard perhaps, rather than all the way around the outside on the main line, it will happily use the yard - an AI direction marker will stop this happening, but then you can't get any trains in the yard either...

There is no central despatcher controlling the layout, each driver makes its own decisions about what route it will take, what points it wants to change and so forth, atomically from the rest of the world. This leads to problems such as deadlocks and potentially chaos at times if the player is not keeping an eye on things. The AI is smart enough to use a passing loop if one is available which is quite sexy to see when it happens however. Should any AI trains become stuck and not know how to proceed they will pop up a message saying so and then they'll need your assistance to help them out. One other annoyance is that if the loading of a certain cargo requires the loco to go past a switch that is set the wrong way it will simply call for help - leaving you to wander the layout and see if changing this point is going to leave another train slamming on its brakes.

Running a session, we need to get our wagons up to the lumber mill to get some wood chips. The new right click interface for issuing orders to drivers. Making our way to the lumber mill. Auran's usually superb trees seem to have gone a bit wrong - its not all of the trees but some of them do look blocky like this.

I am not sure why they took the decision to go with a distributed system such as this where each driver looks after themselves, it would have made much more sense to centralise it. Of course one knock-on with this distributed system is that you as a player are one of these drivers, so if you want to get from A to B yourself then it's up to you to find and set your path and hope to hell you don't suddenly cause another train to have to slam on emergency brakes.

Overall, I don't find the AI particularly satisfactory, it is not possible to have the rest of the world just get on with it unless it is very carefully orchestrated by either having not much AI that never crosses paths or just having a simple layout.

Sessions

Sessions, as I have mentioned previously, are the new way that you drive your trains if you are not in a scenario. They are a dynamic world that you are taking part in - in theory. In reality you will find yourself having to babysit all the other trains (to a greater extent if you have a complex layout and/or lots of AI trains) as well as having to work out your own path, make sure its safe to change points and so forth.

When you start a session all the AI trains are idle, you must start them all off - so ideally each session needs to come with a set of instructions telling you how to start it up, hopefully people will distributed 'saved' sessions that include all this data as having to set them up all the time could be very boring!

I personally believe that most people will end up having to get out of their cab and manage all the other trains in order to make sure that the rest of the railway runs adequately and that all the industries are meeting their supply and demand requirements.

It's quite easy to set a session up on a route using Surveyor but I found that I was mostly doing the same steps all the time - set up control method, weather, time of day, add drivers for each loco, give the drivers their commands and so forth) and it made me wonder why they didn't have the option to pre-populate a session with some defaults just to save that repetitive task.

The Session system only concerns itself with getting loads from A to B and has no concern about how this happens. The AI is not smart enough to be able to do any shunting, so you'll have to do all of that yourself and then call on AI trains to come and take the trains away as you prepare them. The system also does not cater for those tasks where by what you want is to drop off some wagons and take others away, all of the wagons are loadable and unloadable so your consist never changes. It would have been nice to pull in to a station and have a pilot loco come out and extract some wagons off in to sidings, put some different ones on and then send you on your way. Many activities for MSTS set you the task of setting up or breaking down a train in a yard where the goal is to put wagons in certain sidings, this kind of activity is not possible either.

I am a bit hard on Trainz with its Sessions because Auran have been referring to them as 'User Activities' - this clever use of wording is, in my opinion, aimed at capturing those MSTS users who already know that Activities are the one thing that Trainz lacks and keeps them with MSTS. The fact is that Sessions do not replace Activities, they can be fun in their own right but it is Scenarios that replace MSTS Activities at least from the point of view of the end user who knows what they can be expected to do in an Activity and therefore expects the same thing in Trainz.

Steam

Oh dear... Where to start...

The physics of Steam in TRS2004 are really, really, bad. It appears to use an approximation based on the few controls that you have at your disposal, for example, if you multiply regulator and cutoff together you get roughly how they appear to work in TRS2004.

Manipulation of the cutoff does appear to affect how much water you use, but it seems to be over an inordinately long period. As an example to test this, I drove the Mallard and 7 Mk 1's on the Glasgow to Falkirk line. The first time was with the cutoff at 75% forward, I had the injectors on until I passed my 'start mark' and then I cut the injectors (you can't fill past 80% so it means that both tests start with exactly the same conditions). By the time I got to my end mark quite a long way down the route I was at 56% water. I repeated the test and this time I was careful with the cutoff and managed to end up with 60% water by the end of the journey so while there's kudos for taking cutoff in to account it doesn't appear to my uneducated eyes that it's necessarily enough of a difference.

The new water effect is dazzling, this screenshot cannot possibly do it justice! Attempting to load some logs - unfortunately I had the wrong wagons... Oops. Now we get to the lumber mill and as you can see, woodchips flow freely in to the wood chip wagons. All our wagons are now full, the train is heavier and you can visually see that it has cargo.

Let's start with the real basics... You can run the loco out of water completely, it just slows down and grinds to a halt. Ok, so it doesn't explode or report a melting of the fusable plugs but it's stopped and since Trainz has never modelled crashes or derailments we can say that's good enough. Unfortunately, if you then put the injectors on and fill the boiler up she starts right up again...

Normally when a steam engine goes in to a tunnel you absolutely have to shut that fire door. The reason is because you get a very nasty blow back through the funnel and this causes a jet out of the firebox in to the cab which will very likely kill people. TRS2004 does not model this problem at all, you can quite happily just leave the firebox open permanently and it will have no discernable affect on anything at all.

All the brakes in Trainz appear to be Air brakes and the Mallard is definitely a Vacuum braked loco. This difference is more in the realm of the rivet counter brigade but what does annoy me is that a bug which has been present in their air braking system since day 1 is still present today and now shows itself in the new steamers. If you apply the brakes say 50% and then bring the control back to lap then I would expect the brake pressure to remain at its current position. In Trainz what happens is that they continue to apply at exactly the same rate. This makes smooth operation of the units much harder than it needs to be as you continually apply and release the brakes to maintain a smooth stop without going to emergency pressure (i.e. full on).

The steam cabs are seriously gorgeous, the mood in them is really great and they're as much fun as I was hoping they would be having used the diesel and electric cabs in previous versions. Unfortunately they've chosen to make all of the controls respond to user input, so there are lots of controls that you can turn and so forth when in fact only very few of them actually do anything at all. So while you might be under the impression you're firing the loco because all the controls are there and are labelled up, you're actually doing nothing of the sort. What adds to the confusion here is that some of the non-functioning controls have tooltips on them, and some of the functioning ones do not...

The exterior model of the steam loco's themselves is much the same as you would have seen in previous versions of Trainz, it has gorgeous steam effects using the latest particle techniques but it is all for visual effect only. There is a gentle jet out the front where the cylinder cocks would eject that stops as soon as you move without you having to do anything and the smoke coming out of the smoke box never changes colour, it's part of the model itself rather than part of the simulation.

On the Australian QB15 steamer there is a fireman, pressing Space causes him to start loading coal in to the fire. He does 2 shovels, wipes his brow and then does one more. He'll open the fire doors automatically but unfortunately doesn't close them when he's done - likewise if you close them while he's loading coal he'll happily put the coal through the door. It's a neat visual effect but I am not sure what benefit it's doing for the steamer itself. What does strike me as odd is that the Mallard and Flying Scotsman do not have firemen on them so you apparently can't put coal in at all, which makes me wonder if this is yet more eye candy - good as it is - rather than anything functional.

One quick 'selotape' solution they've applied to the problem of smoke in tunnels has been to completely shut it off, if you are in the external view (positioned above the cab) when you are in a tunnel, you will see the smoke completely stop and then start again once you are out of the tunnel so there doesn't appear to have been any success in making the smoke bounce around inside the tunnel, which is always a nice effect when you see the steamer coming out the other end. Likewise the steam happily wafts up through scenery, something that people giggle about when they see MSTS demo's at exhibitions :)

Finally, related to the Steam era, I am saddened to see that there are no semaphore signals in TRS2004 at all. I would have expected to see a decent set of Semaphores for at least each country that is represented with a Steam Loco. There is a very good selection of colour light signals however, but those enthusiasts who yearn for the Steam era will be disappointed at this omission.

Arriving at the pulp we can see the first car has emptied and a small pile of woodchips has appeared in the yard. After the last wagon has unloaded we can see a much bigger pile of woodchips in the yard. Oddly the AI chose to reverse the entire train, I guess it can't load trains backwards, so here we are reversing out of the wood chips siding Goods crates are loaded on to our flats and also in to the container wagons.

Included Stock

The included stock is all of wildly varying quality - stock that was in previous versions is generally untouched meaning coaches that have no interiors and so forth. Newer stock is noticeably better with the new Blood and Custard Mark 1 coaches having a full visible interior. It's a shame that the whole product couldn't get a decent upgrade instead of still getting the same HST that came out right at the start in this brand new product.

There are also oddities where a particular country has one loco and no rolling stock, but it is better to have something rather than nothing as quite often it is possible to find items of rolling stock to match the loco from other countries, not perfectly but close enough that a good session can be had.

A very large number of countries are represented even if with only one loco so there is a lot of interest there for a lot of people, Auran are definitely to be congratulated for the vast variety presented.

One thing that does bug me is that I'm not sure that the end user is really going to understand why they buy a product and it has two separate places to find UK stock ('UK' and 'Third Party UK') and then some more UK stock can be found in 'TRS2004', it seems that the categorisation has not been done with the average end user in mind who just wants to find UK content in one place. The same is true in the Railyard, you sort by country and you'll find some are in '04' instead of 'UK'. Possibly a reason behind this is that as Auran aren't responsible for the third party content they want it separated so that it is clear that it's not from them however, in my opinion, since they are including it on the CD they need to be taking responsibility for it, as far as the average end user is concerned the Mallard came in the box so it's part of the product just the same as the Intercity 125, who Auran contracted to do each item is not any of our business.

It is worth noting that small wheels still do not rotate, i.e. on diesels, passenger coaches and freight wagons, the wheels are locked in one place and the unit just appears to be sliding along the rails. It's minor, but I have to say, it's something that I do notice moving on MSTS loco's and since this is now release number 4, it's time that this problem was sorted - minor or not. It is interesting to note that even new content like the Blood and Custard Mark 1's do not have rotating wheels.

3rd Party Content

There is a huge amount of new content in TRS2004 for route builders, just looking at the UK list alone you will find masses of new scenic items, road types and so forth - if you are a user of previous versions of Trainz and downloaded a lot of scenery you'll no doubt recognise a lot of it as it's updated and repackaged from Download Station to go in to the product as it ships now, which means the out of the box experience is vastly improved for those wanting to create their own layouts.

Likewise the locomotives and rolling stock has been seriously grown with the addition of a great new set - including things like the UP BigBoy, Mallard, Flying Scotsman and so forth. Also some repaints of existing items such as a Midland Mainline HST are included.

UK Interest: What is there for UK Rail Enthusiasts

In steam, you can find the Mallard, Flying Scotsman of course, the two flagship steamers for the UK release.

For diesels you can find the Deltic, 37 and Intercity 125 from previous versions. As has been noted above, they have not been updated in the slightest although the Intercity is also presented in two additional liveries based on Midland Mainline.

One ommission from previous versions is the Class 37 done by Pikkabird, this is no longer present.

There are no interiors on the Mark 2 and Mark 3 blue/grey coaches, but the lovely new Mark 1 Blood and Custard coaches do have interiors and look markedly better than the Mark 2 and 3 coaches.

Finally for freight there are Freightliner triple container wagons and ZHV mineral wagons.

Before loading... After loading... There's no animation with loading of fixed loads like this, they just magically appear. Bringing the right wagons to the forest this time... And voila, we get logs on to our logging wagons.  The digger wanders around while a man is chopping down the same tree over and over, the digger picks it up and puts the log down on the pile - its a simple animation but its effective.  As logs are loaded on to your train they disappear from the pile.

New Surveyor Tools

Things have changed now with the way that you actually use Trainz. It's going to be one of those some people like it, some people hate it type changes. In previous versions you would have track markers on the route and then you would start driver and create a consist on each track marker. That's no longer possible, now you place all your stock directly in surveyor - unfortunately you can't move it around once it is placed, but it is easy enough to place things down, remove them or toggle their direction. If you are happy with what you have you can then press CTRL-F2 and jump directly to driver and get on with business, this is really nice for those developing routes who want to quickly try out a new bit of track or something. Once you are finished driving in this mode, exiting takes you right back to Surveyor. You can save the positions of all the loco's as part of a session and then later when you go to Driver you can pick the session and get right on it.

There is a new World Coordinates tool which allows you to finally start getting some semblence of reality in to your Trainz world. The way it works is that you place a World Center down and specify the longitude and latitude of it. You then use another tool which you slide around and it tells you what the long and lat of it is based on what you set the world center to. That's all there is to it, neat and simple but does the job.

A major new addition to your toolbox is Fixed Track. After Mike Banfield released his absolutely stunning fixed track pieces for Trainz some while ago people have really been able to produce some fantastic looking routes. Mike's turnouts had all the check rails and moving blades, it really looked the part and was far better than the 'fake' points you get by joining two splines together. When Auran announced that TRS2004 would contain fixed track, some people figured they'd bought the track off Mike so they could include it as part of the standard distribution but as it turns out, they have developed their own...

Unfortunately, what they have developed for fixed track is a good start but nowhere near good enough. It includes a few straight pieces and a fairly comprehensive selection of curves. There are no points, no crossovers and no slips. For me, it's exactly what they haven't done that I was looking forward to so I am very disappointed about it. The fixed track they have supplied also seems to be of limited use in anything other than a flat environment as you cannot set a gradient on it or indeed raise the height of the splines at either end of the piece. What you can do is lay a road or spline track piece over the top of it and then adjust that to what you want, then raise the terrain to the track - the fixed track pieces follow the terrain very closely so by adjusting the terrain you can effect changes in the track. It's a bit backwards and it's a shame that the fixed track isn't as usable as the rest of the track in the product. Fixed track also only comes in single track pieces, there are no two or four lane road pieces that you can use to quickly drop down large stretches of track (this is somewhere that curves would come in very handy too).

On the topic of track, another annoyance is that a very old 'feature' whereby you cannot use the straightening tool on double track still has yet to be addressed.

Other

New in this version of Trainz is a potentially very cool little utility called Trainz Download Helper ('TDH' hereafter). To understand why this tool is useful, it is first necessary to understand the way in which downloads are available on the Auran Download Station.

When you download a Layout for Trainz it only contains details about where track and scenery goes, it doesn't actually contain any of the scenery itself. This makes layouts extremely small, many Trainz layouts are only a few megabytes in size, and that's the big ones. What this does mean is that in order to get a layout working you will need to download a number of other scenery items if you are missing any of them from your installation. You have two approaches, either download everything and ignore the bits that say "already installed", or go through the list of dependencies and the list of things on your machine (a utility Content Manager will tell you this) and work out what you need to get yourself.

When you download a locomotive for Trainz it is a similar situation. The Download Station splits rolling stock in to their bogies, the main body and texture, sounds, horns and physics. If it is a repaint, then the repaint will be in its own file additionally too.

TDH comes to the rescue and automates all of the above, you click on a layout you want and it will find out what you need to get in addition and will go get it for you, click on an item of stock and it will make sure that you have everything else that you need to go with it too. Potentially really useful!

So why am I implying it isn't, or at least isn't yet? It's such a primitive piece of software... It effectively replaces your download manager so one would expect it to have download manager style functionality - it does not. It has no capability to resume downloads, which will be a major disappointment to those on slow or unreliable connections. It is only capable of downloading one file at a time, if you request to download another file then the new TDH window just hangs or says it is waiting for access to the Trainz Asset Database. As an example, while testing for this review I found a layout I wanted to look at and it reported that it needed a total of 60 megabytes of data in order to get it working, very nice, it worked it all out and dealt with it and as it downloaded each item it installed it for me automatically. Now, even on broadband, 60 meg takes a while, so I carried on browsing the Download Station. I clicked on another file I found and a new window popped up and sat there saying it was waiting for access to the asset database, I guessed that it would just wait for the current download to complete and then fire this one up, although the extra window isn't especially welcome if it isn't doing anything. I carried on looking and found three or four more files, those windows came up additionally but they were just white windows that were completely frozen. It was bed time at this point so I let the first 60 meg session finish overnight, assuming that when one download finished it would move to the next until it was done. When I got up in the morning, the first window was sitting there saying "Completed all tasks", with a close button, and all the other windows were still sitting there waiting. Sure enough, close the window and the next window springs in to life.

One minor gripe which is perhaps more appropriately aimed at the Download Station rather than TDH, is that it is not possible to see how much you need before you start - when I clicked on the layout to download it said 2 megabytes, but TDH determined I needed another 58 megabytes to make it work. However this review is not about the Download Station so i'll leave that comment there.

Having used TDH and determined that for some people it just won't cut it (lack of resume being the principle problem here) I wondered what other options were available for download and install of content. You can still download using the original method but in this case you download all the files yourself and then double click on each one for it to be installed, you can add all dependencies to a 'cart' but you can't just simply download the entire cart (this is another function of TDH). Rather than manually download all the dependencies I wondered if Trainz would still go and fetch them - sure enough it will do just that, but unfortunately you are then tied to sitting and watching it download until it is finished. It would have been very nice if Trainz would simply download in the background and in the mean time let you go back to doing something else.

Another view of that lovely water, this time near a port.  You can choose different types of water although it must be the same type for the entire route - so if you have a choppy ocean you're going to have a choppy pond too! :) Configuring an industry in Surveyor to set its supply and demand requirements. Not sure why this plane landed so far left of the center line... A fully animated airport is one of the industries present in the product, with planes taking off and landing, taxiing and so forth.

Conclusions

Microsoft Train Simulator concentrates on how you get from point A to point B. You have to look after that train all the way but what happened to your load at the start and what happens to your load at the end is irrelevant.

Trainz Railroad Simulator 2004 seems to have shifted its focus, now it's geared towards making sure that loads get to where they are needed - actually how they get there seems to be less relevant and driving the trains themselves almost takes a back seat while you make sure that the power station is kept operational and so forth.

I was very much hoping for a visual scenario editor in this product as was indeed referred to when SP3/UTC were being produced when people commented that Scenarios were just too hard to develop for most people. I personally feel that such a tool would dramatically increase the appeal of Trainz, especially to the MSTS community, and I have to say I'm puzzled that Auran haven't realised this and got to work already, they have such a marvellous capability with Scenarios and it is so vastly under-utilised.

Another old classic issue with Trainz is that it is not possible to slip or slide the loco, for example if you are running a heavy train up a hill you can't cause your loco to wheel slip if you don't drive carefully, I personally find this a bad ommission as some of the more fun activities in MSTS have you having to carefully balance your controls so as not to slip but still manage to keep going.

The lack of points in the fixed track renders this a very minor new facility in my view, almost every route I see for Trainz I do not like the points on it, they are either Y points when they should be a normal point because of the way the splines work, or they are too sharp, or all uneven angles or any one of a number of other things that are not the route builders fault - it's just too hard to have to continually construct the points accurately over and over, fixed track solves the problem... but not if there are no points, slips, crossovers etc. The other thing to remember is that if you cross two bits of spline track over one another they have no knowledge of each other - put signals on there and it will happily let trains crash in to each other, the only way you can get around this is to join the tracks, this is ok for an angled crossover but if you are in a '+' formation that's not especially practical. All the limitations with Trainz Railroad Simulator mean that it is still very much for model railways (in which it excels extremely well) or general gaming, but for a real world railway simulator it still seriously lacks in all the basic areas.

The new industries facility is interesting but the focus change to concentrating on how the industries themselves are coping with their supply and demand means that you will spend lots of time playing a management game than you will driving trains.

If you are a fan of the Trainz genre then there is no doubt that this product is a big leap forward from the original UK retail release - it's light years ahead of that. It's a marginal improvement on Ultimate Trainz (remember, Steam engines were always possible in UTC using the DCC controller) in my opinion. If you are a fan, then I would say it's worth going for, all the new 3rd party content is going to come out for TRS2004 so you pretty much have to upgrade to keep up with it.

A passenger airliner takes off for the blue yonder. Loading our SD40 with some containers, again, they just appear suddenly but they do disappear from the stock pile - those yellow cranes are static. Heading for the other side of the sea port to deposit our containers. Cab view from the SD40

If you're looking for a competitor to Train Simulator then this isn't the place to look, it just doesn't aim for the same market (or at least, it doesn't hit it), Trainz is still, in my opinion, very much suited to the model railway community while Train Simulator is suited far more for the 'real scale' railway community due to its vastly superior physics.

Passenger support is due to be added very soon with a Passenger Expansion pack that you will be able to download and then hopefully soon after that we might see a patch that can address some of the other many fundamental issues such as perhaps putting in a much more comprehensive steam model and fixing the lapped brakes issue.

Please read the review on Trainz SP3 that is on this site, everything said in that review still applies to this product as it really hasn't changed fundamentally since then.

I'm going to give TRS 2004 a sadly low score because I just feel that it has tried to fake it or take shortcuts in too many areas with too many issues still to be resolved requiring users to download patches to fix. I do not condone the "release now, patch later" attitude that many developers have and their continual droning on that commercial realities mean that dates must be kept doesn't cut it for me, if you bought a car that then needed the cardboard steering wheel removed and the right one put on a month later you would be none too pleased, correct? My concern is that the vast majority of users who will purchase a product in the stores do not have access to the Internet - especially in the railway fraternity - therefore patches are just not an option to them, 9 times out of 10 people don't even know they exist. We had one gentleman mention Trainz to us at an exhibition fairly recently, he said he'd bought it and thought it was a bit basic and that the MSTS that we were demonstrating looked more like what he wanted - when we enquired if he had the service pack 3 patch installed his comment was that he had no clue there was one. I have spoken with JustTrains and while they are vaguely aware of the upcoming Passenger Expansion pack and a possible Service Pack 1, they feel these are updates with new features and therefore not a fix; it will be up to users to find out about it and get hold of it themselves. JustTrains will email people that register the product to let them know, but to be honest this doesn't help the vast number of people who are not online.

If you have earlier versions of Trainz and they do what you want then you can assume the score would be higher for you, as I have said, TRS2004 is definitely the best Trainz to date - but they are now calling it a Railway Simulator and that forces me to expect more simulation and less game, which TRS2004 does not deliver on, if anything it's gone the other way delivering a pretty fun game and a very poor simulation indeed.

The first wagon comes off As the wagons come off, they load on to the ship rather than the pile on the ground.  The ship doesn't appear to move anywhere, presumably the wagons slowly disappear off the ship as the industry 'consumes' them.

Trainz Railway Simulator 2004 - The UK Release

My review copy of the UK release version has just arrived from JustTrains so I decided to hold the review back and get in any differences that I noticed between the two versions.

First, of course, the name is different and more appropriate for the UK market. The box cover features a photograph of the Mallard at what looks like Kings Cross station with an HST pulling past it in the background.

The manual is better than the 'Railroad' version, including a key command reference. One thing I did not like was that the CD's are layered on top of each other on the right hand side, while the manual etc is on the left - the 'Railroad' version uses the more conventional method of one CD in each side. I would have to raise some concern about scratching to CD's in this configuration and I don't see what benefits it offers - I've had lots of two CD products in the past with substantial manuals and they managed it just fine.

The artwork on the CD itself is different, making them look like pressure gauges, which is quite neat :)

Overall it's good to see JustTrains have repackaged it so that it will sell to the UK market, another product with US loco's and the word 'Railroad' won't sell as well as it should.

Moving on to the software side of things, JustTrains have put their usual copy protection on to the CD's and made it so that you now must have Disc 1 in your drive to be able to run the program. It makes it less convenient to run it and I just generally don't like having to fish out a CD to get something to run.

Once installed you have actually got a newer build than the 'Railroad' simulator - so one would expect some of the issues in 'Railroad' simulator to be resolved, and there are certainly some differences between the two.

The most notable difference is the presence of a new cab for Mallard and Flying Scotsman based on the Mallard loco at the National Railway Museum. This cab seriously looks the part now - it even has all the useless controls locked and only the working ones actually do anything, excellent. I took the Mallard out for a jaunt with a rake of the Blood and Custard Mark 1's to see if Steam physics had received any enhancements and I can certainly confirm things are different, whether they are better or not is another thing.

Running out of Glasgow on 5% regulator I left the brakes on inadvertently and the loco was doing 20mph in no time, I released the brakes and off we went a bit faster. I was running down the line admiring the excellent graphics when I came to look at my boiler pressure - 0psi. I thought... Ooer, why are we still doing 70 mph? I looked at the water level and sure enough, we're at 0% (boom? no...). I popped in to the cab and switched the injectors on. I noticed at this point that the injectors are now analog controls - the more you turn them on the faster water goes in to the boiler, which is an improvement. The moment I turned the injectors on and off again the boiler pressure shot back up to about 240 and the loco was back on steam and accelerating. I let it run out and the pressure dropped and finally we slowed down again. I repeated this exercise a few times and the behaviour is very bizarre - from 0% water and 0 PSI, put your injectors on and it goes to 1% and on up, but with no discernable difference to the pressure. The moment you cut the injectors your pressure soars up to the right value - even if all you did was tap the injector momentarily to put 1% of water back in.

On the up side, it was using water a lot faster - but this is either keyed to boiler pressure or speed of the loco as if I kept the boiler pressure low (bizarrely by just twiddling with the injector) it used water significantly less.

A little further on down the route I saw the boiler pressure heading down again and we were slowing down. Water in the boiler was fine so what was wrong now? I opened the fire door and sure enough I was greeted with a deep red fire rather than a white hot one. I pressed Space (the 'shovel coal' button) once and instantly it went to almost transparent and then over the course of a few seconds it went through a sequence and ended up at white hot - boiler pressure returns to normal and off we go. I think it's safe to say that while you do now have to pay a bit more attention when running your steam loco, it's still rather unrealistic and very much working to its own set of simplified rules.

I also looked at the Trainz Download Helper to see if the bug of it not starting the next file after the first one finishes was fixed, sadly there appear to have been no changes at all to the Download Helper for this release.

If you have already purchased the 'Railroad' simulator then it's not worth getting the 'Railway' simulator as well, keep your copy that doesn't need the CD in - all the upgrades in this release should be coming in patches to the 'Railroad' simulator anyway so you won't miss out.

Patches

By now Auran have released information on what the first patch will contain, as it is not available for me to comment on at the time of review I have not included anything about it. As it also will not be generally available to all TRS2004 UK users (only to those with Internet access) I don't feel it's appropriate to adjust the score for the boxed product based on this limited availability patch.

Final 'Railroad' score:

65%

Final 'Railway' score:

67%

Score for 'Railway' is higher because I think the Mallard cab is worth some extra score and at least with the Steam you appear to be doing something for the loco - even if it isn't necessarily right.

The key features I see as missing are:

  • Semaphore signals for all regions that contain steam engines.
  • Fixed points.
  • Passenger and timetabled services support
  • Real world geographical data import.
  • Visual Scenario Editor.
  • Overhaul of all pre-existing Auran stock to bring it up to current standards.
  • Realistic Steam Physics.
  • Ability to be just a driver, I just want to see AI trains, not have to set them all going or deal with them when they get stuck, I also do not want to have to make my own path.
  • Trainz Helper looks like it was a quick hack one afternoon, it needs a lot more work to be "product quality" in my opinion, but once this is done it will be a massive bonus for Trainz users.

    Note: Timetabled Services are of course supported via the scripted Scenarios (one of the included scenarios is just this) however I do not feel that this is good enough because most users of Trainz will have no access to it. It is very hard to create a time tabled scenario unless you are a software developer yourself, and most users of Trainz do not fall in to this category - indeed most users of Railway products are probably very minimal computer users!

    If these are addressed in patches then the score can rise appropriately.

    Just to keep it balanced, things I particularly DO like:

  • Steam cabs look gorgeous especially with the flickering effect.
  • The new water effect looks marvellous, it's amazing what tricks you can play to get a really nice effect these days.
  • Animation on industries and the way that your wagons are loaded/unloaded and the train changes its weight/behaviour as a result, very nice.
  • There is now a very good selection of stock for UK users not to mention masses of it in total.
  • Integration with the Auran Download Station is very nice.
  • Surveyor always has been an absolutely wonderful tool for building railways in, it just couldn't make it any easier than it does.
  • The driver and fireman (where applicable) are now visible on the footplate of whatever loco you are driving, they match up with the ones that you have selected in the session configuration.
  • The new 'free roaming' camera is a very nice addition, this permits you to roam around the layout in exactly the same was as you do in Surveyor, not tied to any train.
  • As I said above, when it's finished the Trainz Helper will be just what the doctor ordered for people who download content.


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