Trainz/Things You Can Do In Trainz
A full Trainz release is an advanced 'industrial strength' railroading simulator with world modeling abilities, not just a computer game. It is designed to allow model railroading in 'V-scale, or Virtual-scale, meaning it creates and allows a user to interact with a virtual reality, which is the computing technical term for creating and playing around in an alternative reality of your own or another's making.
It is extensible in all versions and Trainz releases make up a family of backwards compatible products with new releases and upgrades steadily growing in capability and power. The software system gives you everything you need to build a Virtual Model Railroad far larger and far less expensively than the dedicated hobbyist who has slaved away devotedly to build an expensive Basement Railroad Empire. In Trainz you can unleash your own creative streak to make a prototype model railroad—model a real railroad down to amazing degrees of accuracy, including if you like, automated topography from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) agency or other government's agencies (Trainz is world wide, Trainzers come from everywhere) that host satellite measured height above ground (HOG) data that can be rendered into a Digital Enhanced Map (DEM data). Alternatively, you can unleash the wild beast creative in yourself and create a Fantasy or Fictional Railroad in any setting and type of terrain that you dream up and can justify to yourself. Many Trainzer operating in that mode create a Fictional History to provide a backstory for their creation.
That means that you never "reach the end" and there are always more things to do. Since there is a world wide user community, and there is a free website many add content and new routes up to, you can expand and select from a lot of non-Payware. Like in physical scale model railroading, different owners are interested in different aspects of railroading— some like creating realistic scenery, others modeling an actual real world railway, others the experience of driving, some designing the 'game play' aspect of Trainz, sessions for others to Drive and experience on a particular map or layout. Many like a bit of each in their turn. In Trainz if you don't like a layout, a few mouse clicks puts you back in the menu to select a different one. You don't have to face tearing down man-years worth of painstaking effort of that model railroad which has been king of the basement all these many years, nor do you have to spend years building it's virtual equivalent: Many Trainz routes began modeled on model railway layouts, and today many model railroad clubs Trainz in 'V-scale' as much as meet at the club house where they pay dues, etc.
The difference between V-scale and other 'standard' model railroading scales is vast. Perhaps the most popular is the H.O. scale train sets sold so often during the Christmas holiday season. Model Railroaders look with some disdain at the technology level of the undercarriages, meaning couplers, wheels (plastic) and trucks; so would immediately replace with steel wheels, better trucks and much better couplers. Such an upgrade can cost up to $5.00 a car. In Trainz, it takes a few minutes editing a configuration file "config.txt", which is an initiaization file common to all Trainz assets, and an whole consist of thirty coal hopper cars would be updated forevermore for five minutes of editing using a common text editor.
What you skip with Trainz
Furthermore, a major feature of Trainz is that it replaces all the messes, wiring, sweat, tears, track laying and hammered fingers, torn/ruined clothing, physical insults to oneself such as nicks, cuts and scraped fingers—not to mention the several thousands of dollars— necessary to build a modest model railroad of your dreams in all too little space (most HO railroad projects need a large room to affect a small railroad)—Trainz programs give one all that without messy paints, plaster of Paris over a wood and chicken wire frame in a virtual space that can extends tens of miles in a given Route (railroad), and you don't have to give up the spare room, crowd up the basement, nor squeeze into the attic to create just a shortline model for a few miles of track in a repetitive quasi-circular motif.
The world is filled with learning curves
Like a new comer in the model railroading world, there are learning curves to surmount, not the least for example, the fact the simulator really models the physics of an actual train, it's responses and load effects in what is called CAB (in the Cab) mode. Or there is the option of DCC, which is much like the model railroad electrical controls, dial and all, with hot keys for switching and similar 'arcade game' play options. Learners start there, then learn to tame the CAB mode. Both are fun, and have their uses.
A bit on the legacy
The current release of Trainz is Trainz 2012 (TRS2012) which requires 64 bit computer architecture and advanced video cards. Trains 2004/2006 run fine on even laptops of their era and look quite stunning on newer more modern high definition monitor technologies. Trainz 1.x was released in 2001, and looks, feels and operates much like it's successors, only with less capable graphics. TRS2004 and TRS2006, were iteratively much better as is Trainz 2009, the World Builder Edition and the name is eponymous, the improvements in TRS2009 greatly improved route building ease, content selection and save lots of time. TRS2009, looks a bit different, somewhat spiffier with a new skin and semi-transparent drop down menus versus that look-see-and aspect of the preceding main releases, but the feel is the same, and the tools have only gotten better version to version. If you don't yet own a trainz or unsure of your hardware's capabilities, TRS2009 is available still for download at Auran.com and various web site vendors like Amazon.com. It runs fine on a 2003 era 2Ghz Pentium 4 and updated video card, as well as a 7 year old business laptop (both have 2 Gbytes RAM memory); and neither were ever 'gamer' machines.
TRS2010 and TRS2012 have more taxing graphical and computer performance requirements, but may run still run fine on younger generation laptops. One stable staple of the company philosophy is keeping the graphical engine a few years behind leading edge technology, allowing today's Trainz release to run on yesterdays advanced graphics, which of course gradually permeate into a staple computer ability. This means a new Trainz version runs on just about anything from several years ago, creating a broad base of platforms serving the needs of it's million plus registered Trainz users. (Many of those have multiple versions, or the whole collection. Visit the website and see some posts; the users have 'Stations' shown in a track diagram indication registered versions. Want a question answered, ask a Trainz veteran.)
Where versions converge and diverge
Beginning with the Trainz 2004 (TRS2004) release and the much improved database facilities of the TRS2006 releases, there are three main operating modes or modules and several auxiliaries accessed via a common Launcher program: A database manager (formerly and initially long called CMP or Content Manager Plus which debuted as TRS2006's most significant improvement to users with respect to time, and which also incorporated the formerly separate uploading and downloading content run time programs—seperate .EXE files launched independently—to upload and download from the DLS or Download Station server and website. TRS2006.exe is a typical launcher program, or front-end menu. Except for a few set up options adjustments and linking various parts of trainz and the web site, it is small and does just that, connect things to make them simple. It or the equally eponymous TRS2004, TRS2009,..., TRS2012 are usually also the install folder name, so serve as a shorthand identifying the base release.
CMP was a big step forward, for it included the ability to set certain selection criteria (region+building+era or industry+build+maker, and many other combinations) called filters, and look at them both in installed content but also in what was available on the DLS for the same criteria —CMP has lost it's plus, and is now just called 'CM' in newer releases; the CM or database manager will automatically list and download content from the Auran database, inform you that an upgrade exists, and download your shopping cart of free goodies when you ask it... allowing even more extensibility of your created worlds).
The DLS and free user created (shared freeware under version control) content is one of the nicest features of Trainz, and by shopping the website or by DLS filters it is where you can access parts (assets) and download new (free or for pay) content/extensions/assets, the world building/editing Gui environment tool called Surveyor, and the Driver module where one enters play mode and interacts with the virtual worlds created in Surveyor. Surveyor can also use that same set of filters, allowing you to narrow down and exclude (Indian+Japanese+Austrailian+USA+German railway assets on a Irish Railway. Or selectively include as you like. Trainz is all about home cooking to suit yourself.
There are also two auxiliary GUI database modes called Railyard and Paintshed; the first allows one to browse rolling stock; the second to modify paint schemes and adapt it to a local color scheme (Livery in Railroad speak). CM/CMP has thumbnail images so the full screen Railyard is useful for choosing period or line specific assets for a Driver Session; the asset which merges the Session's asset (scenario) tasks, rolling stock, Interactive Industries and you into a virtual railroad on a particular Route you or someone else created or modified in Surveyor. 'Tasking' is what the Model Railroad clubs do with one another worldwide—usually in timed contests, puzzle tests to use the least number of switching operations or junction changes or with co-operative sharing of rolling stock across parts of a layout (switching consists or engineers at the border, so to speak). Operation of such a physical model railroad and Auran's Driver Module are the real world and virtual world equivalents.
List of Trainz activities
Here is a list of things one can do in Trainz, but it is inevitably incomplete.
- Learn how to drive a train
- There are two driving modes, DCC (Digital Command Control which is simpler based on model railroad electrical systems and CAB mode (Cabin mode) which is considerably more challenging and realistic, placing you in charge of modeled real world train cab controls.
- In each, one's Viewpoint can be outside the train (External mode) which can be focused and located as if attached on any of the trains cars (usually 'begins' on the Locomotive driven, but can center on any car in the consist), from an exterior fixed camera position one adds in Surveyor (Tracking camera/mode), inside the train CAB (giving the mode it's name 'Cab mode' but also sometimes selectable inside some passenger vehicles), or Free Roaming, which allows one to use the mouse to fly down the virtual world ahead or behind the train and see signals, switches (turn outs, junctions, switches or points are all equivalent in railroad-speak) and generally see anything in the virtual world of your route. Each viewing mode but the fixed tracking camera allows the user to pan and change angles, rotate in all three dimensions and look around. They also zoom in or out using the mouse wheel and or cursor arrow keys on the keyboard. Both driving modes also have a set of operator hot keys allowing one to not use the mouse pointer drag method if desired.
- DCC emulates the forgiving and speedier reaction physics of driving a model railroad, in many respects but a big consist still takes a while to slow or speed up. The mouse tip turns a dial and your engine responds quite a bit quicker than a train would in a real world. Alternatively, one can use hotkeys centered about the classic gaming control practice centered about the S key to control the loco. In practice, one uses both. The mass of the train is not neglected, and you still can't start on a dime, but speed changes and stops occur far faster and so driving a task is much easier (and/or safer).
- CAB mode puts you in the virtual cab where you control the train using analogs of real modeled controls used by real world engineers. The mouse cursor point moves levers, turns valves to replenish boiler water, pushes buttons, tugs the horn cable and so forth, then the control takes effect. In short, like driving a real world vehicle, there are delays, sometimes appreciable delays that compound in the modeling of long trains with long consists of rail-cars depending upon air brakes and pressure changes through a lengthy system of hoses and pipes to effectuate actual braking, or brake releases. A 3500 ton train has a lot of momentum and takes some thinking ahead to drive safely. This can be fun and challenging, particularly when one needs to complete a picky task without running off the end of a siding when parking that particular car at an industry loading dock with little room to spare! Many coupling and decoupling sessions will also take off points for overenthusiastic coupling speeds. Coupling too fast will also virtually break consist couplers, leaving you to replay the mission (and hopefully learn from your mistake).
- Give trains commands
- These are scripts hidden as debugged graphical icons which you can set up in a list (que) in Surveyor so AI Drivers (Artificial intelligence assistants) will follow and obey automatically. Conversely, in Driver, they can be dragged and dropped on the fly into a similar command que, which allows you to dynamically change the instruction set for that particular AI Driver.
- These include visiting industries and loading or unloading at them, stopping at train stations, following schedules, and so forth. These can be event triggered creating traffic you have to work around, or just add flavor while they go past where you are working. The system also contains portals, which are off the layout but provide simulated far off destinations and train sources that traverse your layout under similar programming one sets up in a session using surveyor for the particular train and its AI Driver. Time controls then generate the new train and Driver on your route which enters from the portal. Commands even span entering one portal (leaving your route) and returning from the same asset or from another portal. These can also be set up to empty a loaded train or load an empty train then return it.
- More dynamically, iPortals allow co-operative train sharing between online players connected by Trainz chat similar to the way a Model Railroading Club set up in a hobby show will turn control over to another operator on the next part of the interconnected model railroad tables (Track alignment and spacing in such groups is possible because the clubs have developed a standard.) Iportals are far more flexible, requiring no alignments and can be in the middle of a much larger layout.
- Explore the built-in Routes (layouts) which come with the program
- These are changeable and extensible and yet will remain unchanged! Auran's Trainz disallows overwriting alterations of the canned content, but will happily clone such assets and allow you to create and fiddle from that copy at will. Most have associated Driver Session assets that will allow you to play before you put on your virtual carpenters apron. But jump right in. You can't hurt anything, but if you change it and overwrite a copy, there's no backup. You have to make that yourself by changing the name when saving. When launching, the simulator automatically indexes you to the last thing you accessed.
- This is the easiest way to gain some fun experience with the many tools in the Surveyor GUI, go ahead and change a fields' appearance, 'paint' a different texture on that cliff, lay some new track, extend the world off the edge by adding a new baseboard (720x720 meters), add that industry or tree or grove, program that train station or add another five or ten trains or consists (groups of cars, assemblies). Once you change it, it's your own private world until you choose to share it.
- Similarly, learning the art of creating bug proof Drivers command ques using the graphical script writing command system by modifying one of the tutorials in Surveyor is the best way to begin to learn and employ the extensive Driver Command system. (As I write this there are 14 AI Drivers systematically running as many locomotives to and from interactive industries on a watershed following route through mountainous terrain that is 25x16 baseboards (map squares) or 18.0x11.52 kilometers, that began exactly that way—as an adaptation of the Highland Valley Industries scenario used for the fifth tutorial, and which was bundled with all releases from the first through TRS2006. It uses only stock assets from TRS2004 and TRS2006, and is now in its fourth year, so you need not investigate online extensions at all to spend many a fun hour recreating and creating on Trainz.)
- Run the built-in Driver sessions and/or scenarios
- These include tutorials and challenges of various types. Many of these are based on Model Railroading Club practices, many of which have self-organized as prolific Trainz contributors providing much of the overwhelming wealth of free or for-pay content available to download. Need a new building type? Odds are there are ten or twelve out there modeled on real world structures put together by guys and gals experienced with model building in physical model railroads who have spread their enthusiasms and talents throughout the world community. Go ahead, boldly change that tutorial to run in a blinding rainstorm, steady snow, or at night. Surveyor gives you control of the world (virtually) to do as you will.
|“||Tip: One of the great features of TRS2006 is that you can save many different operations session setups with a given route. E.g. an early morning passenger run or a midnight freight haul.||”|
- Create a layout
- The Surveyor module of Trainz makes the inevitably complicated process of making a layout as easy as possible. However, while a small simple layout can be made by anyone, creating a worthwhile layout will take a very considerable amount of time, effort and skill. Starting with a stock kernel is easier, so add another baseboard square or three dozen, use the editing tools to copy terrains or towns and build some skills using the editor as you learn the art of terrain shaping and the tougher art of painting.
- Download additional items of all kinds
- Additional items are available on Auran's (the program's publisher) web site or a large number of Trainz fansites. Much of this material is freeware but some is payware, requiring a payment per item or a subscription for a period of time. The quality of these additional items varies enormously but some are of the highest standard.
- Learn how to obtain assets
- Many assets are required by newly acquired layouts or Driver modules but which aren't readily provided from the same source. Most often, a little diligent web searching can locate a source. It can be very frustrating when that fails, but an appeal on the website chats will likely find willing help that will email the asset to you, including older asset versions which have not been updated or vice versa; many times a party will adapt things into the newer flavor after a major release. Website chats and fansites are active and useful places.
- Run downloaded Driver sessions and/or scenarios
- These have their own special challenges and enjoyments.
- Learn how to correct errors in downloaded assets
- Since most additional items are created by Trainz owners with varying skill levels, they sometimes need to be mended before they will work. This is particularly true of older assets imported into newer versions or vice versa.
- Some new constructs use features not found in older releases, as the system continues to evolve capabilities and features.
- Other times older assets use a data element that has been found to be relatively useless, so has been deleted from updated content.
- Since the simulator is at its heart, script based, it is highly reconfigurable, and extensible. Like any programming, a version change can require tweaks to the code, of a generally simple nature. This skill involves some programming like knowledge and little commonsense. Many things can be fixed up in a few moments using the edit feature in Content Manager Plus or a simple text editor like windows Notepad.
- Join in discussions on the forums provided by Auran and the Trainz fansites
- The forums are an invaluable method of obtaining solutions to problems.
- Join an interest group
- These are an outgrowth of discussions on the forums provided by Auran and the Trainz fansites, where a group gets together to co-operatively make a route, usually based on modeling a particular real world railroad during a specific era. As a spin-off benefit, you'll make friends and likely gain a wide range of mentors willing to answer dumb questions.
- Reskin assets
- Apply new textures to existing 3D meshes this is done with a graphics program such as Photoshop, paint.net or GIMP to edit the .tga or .bmp formated files used in Trainz graphics rendering. The PaintShed program which comes with Trainz can be used to create new skins for existing Paintshed meshes.
- Get involved in contributing to the Trainz community
- For example by offering help on a forum or acting as a beta tester on a fansite.
- While these programs are generally regarded as being difficult to learn, the results can be extremely rewarding.
- Create Driver sessions and/or scenarios
- Creating your own is one thing, creating ones which are of a high enough standard to justify distribution to the general Trainz community in a whole different league. There is a lot of help out there to do so, but the time investment is yours to commit.
- Become more involved in the running of a fansite
- This may require learning how to use the administration functions of server-based software such as forums and Content Management Systems.
- Contribute to this Wikibook!