- Contributing authors: Jcitron
Introduction to Trainz
Trainz simulators, once they've hooked you as an interest, grows to become first and foremost a hobby and, often a passion. Trainz has a large international participation and many sub-communities going back to 1999 when Model Railroad Hobby Clubs were consulted by Auran about what they'd want in a product. That group of clubs has done nothing but grow from those pre-release Trainz design days when their interest was rewarded with a rare and coveted Trainz 0.9 CDROM version, a Beta Test release several months before the advent of both Microsoft Trains Simulator (MSTS) and the 'Trainz 1' commercial product release. How large and how widespread has the community grown you ask. Last fall a reliable source,counted over 800 '3rd Party' Trainz websites, not counting Auran/N3V's several urls. These sites generally are hosted by and organized by a group of content creators, the talented guys and gals who make digital models the rest of us ooh and aw at that manifest and populate the Trainz Universe we are visiting in the moment. Trainz can become a lifestyle, or a large part of yours, for underneath the simulator fun is also an active friendly community, actually many communities and sub-communities meeting in internet communicated bliss to share common interests.
So early on, we recommend you browse the web forums as much or more time as that of when you try to run Trainz. There is no doing but a lot of learning new things—for the forums (plural) will both give you insights and a deeper sense of what can be done, but learn something of persons to whom you might relate and befriend, and broaden your view of the Trainz world that can not be gotten any other way. Finally, finding what areas of interests (again plural) are associated and grouped with others will be of great value to you when you finally get up the nerve to ask a question, or need to go look for an answer to a vexing issue of the moment. Most likely, the wily veterans of the game have seen or done something similar already. And you will have questions—we all do and did, and still do for the Trainz experience is immense and widely varied depending upon what parts of the game you end of settling into most often.
You don't have to be a 'Railfan' to enjoy Driving Trainz but to get the most out of the software requires the drive to want to make something, because Trainz has its warts, its confusions, and its faults and flaws. The inspiration of having a vision, a goal that entices you will help you past the rough days as it does us all. You will see your share of griping if you just visit and follow new posts, so no need to sugar coat it. Helping you understand some of the more negative attitudes will take amassing the exposure to the hurly-burly there and all the gems in the rough as well.
When all is said and done, Trainz can present a seemingly endless mountain of learning curves to surmount, and this book is all about helping you up those slopes in the least time intensive, least frustrating way possible. Our program is to expose you to skills building by introducing a task, giving a example to follow, then challenge you to repeat what we've shown how to do. In the processes we'll be putting up lots of images, written explanations, and starting all of it with a video series matched to the screenshots you'll see here.
It evolves, dude!
Trainz is however an ongoing, evolving, ever changing dynamic system of modeling in a 3D real time interactive graphical 'Virtual World' and was one of the first 'game classed' software packages which did a good job of simulation in such a milieu. It is far easier to simulate for example a flight simulator, for by and large, the graphical world demands are far off and indistinct. One of the key and unique features of Trainz is we humans can go anywhere in the virtual world, virtually at any moment, and just look around (letting that Train look after itself) or change things (the junction points of a ladder in a railyard) and experience the world with an intimacy which wasn't generally possible in most games which tightly controlled player placement and views. This is very much still the case even in specialize game virtual environments such as are generated in the play-stations and Nintendos and Xbox game consoles. Just try to run far from the path in Left for Dead -- the game environment scope is designed to channel you. In Trainz a route designer defines the whole world, but you are free to trespass everywhere in it from being underwater (can be weird or annoying) to flying high above (in satellite mode or as a hawk might) and can take on superpowers of sorts and walk through walls--the later case proving no matter how good the illusion, the world is indeed virtual; something made of mathematical constructs called polygon meshes with cladding over virtual surfaces called textures — which together with the game engine are rendered to us as objects we see with our 'camera position' color and depth in three dimensions (unless we trespass inside, breaking the illusion).
In the Trainz graphical worlds one can design and create boats, planes, automotive or truck vehicles and drive them as well as our beloved Trainz with far more cars than could fit on a 'Basement Railroad Empire' physical model railroad--and in Trainz the dynamic operation of that mass of cars (a consist in railroad parlance) changes the dynamic operating behavior of the train. If you load a string of coal cars the train becomes different to drive. If you try to accelerate a loaded train too fast, the wheels will slip and you could well go backwards. This makes Trainz endlessly different, for there is always a new possibility to explore if you are adventurous enough to tinker and customize to suit yourself.
And that customization is another strength of Trainz. The software is extensible and expansive enough you can mess around with trial and error and may do things no one else thought possible before. Admittedly after sixteen years development (Trainz software began taking shape in 1998, was first released in beta test in mid-2000 A.D.) the major 'new things' are being done by users with a software bent, for they invariably involve interactive scripting efforts to interact with the virtual world generated in Trainz.
- The forums and user community — it will take around ten years of Trainz experiences before any newcomer even has a chance of seeing a problem before the veterans of the forums.
- The Trainz Download Station where else are you going to find well over 100,000 plus [note 1] high quality digital RR assets and over 2500 routes? For Free, lovingly detailed and carefully crafted? Uh, uh. Trainz is in a league of its own.
- Surveyor is by far the best software module (even with its warts and shortcomings) for developing a realistic prototype model railroad.
- Content Manager and the DLS integrated asset management and updating capabilities are generally good, but need a few features to conserve users time. Both have some dated features, but keep evolving right with the rest of the software package. The new TANE multi-window main views capability already overcomes many of the TS12/TsMacX era releases.
- The four main camera viewpoints only available in Trainz Driver and the overall quality of driving along with dual operating mode choice and physical realism, or arcade DCC mode are important and potent combinations. Driving pre-TRS2004 scenarios without an external free camera is a relative pain—might as well stick with MSTS!
- The physics package and math are no longer the clear winner—the competitions now made it a contest, but they've lead the pack for over a decade against all comers and are still neck and neck in the operations race. Most of the competition has dropped out over the years.
- Extensibility of the software, Users have continually pushed development of key new feature capabilities keeping the programmer's busy. Hence Trainz continues to add new neat features.
- A major part of that is the wealth of payware and freeware available in Model Railroad design and implementation in Trainz.
Add it all together, and the product longevity and success is understandable. Today's driving experience is much unchanged from the Train UTC (v1.5) improvements added in Trainz second year. Don't like the hotkeys, remap them in their ini file. Surveyor's tools, controls and capabilities are still much like the original well planned interface in Trainz 1.0, while today's CM operates with improvements, not jarring changes just like CMP, but for measured improvements. The same can be said for most aspects of operating Trainz—they've gotten better without needing to master new alien aspects so unlike far too many new software releases.
Trainz's major strength? Trainz stability over time with gradual user-prompted improvements software upgrade to software upgrade. This is proved beyond doubt in its backward compatibility. Original Trainz assets developed for the Beta version along with a covey of model railroading enthusiasts, still find their way into innumerable routes with amazing regularity. There is much to choose from, and a lot to learn, but losing a favorite and having to unlearn the old operations and relearn new skills is not a likely circumstance a Trainzer needs to worry about. That keeps the users happy as they can focus on creating new and interesting assets, not on how to adapt to the irritating and unnecessary changes in a newest release because someone decided to change an user interface.
Errors, Faults, Faulty assets, Bad Content, Faulty content are all synonyms in Trainz-speak for the same situation:
An asset was always (rare) or has become somewhat incompatible with the newer Trainz release preference for organizing model data, and needs some data adjustments. Some were uploaded/distributed with malformed components, or one got corrupted—often these represent first efforts by young Trainzers eagerly seeking to share and get feedback without the sense to find another way to share the beta-test file. Good News is these won't be found because you downloaded a quality route and they hitch-hiked into the download as dependencies... bad assets wouldn't find such a place!
The later case are two real faults, the first is progress coupled with some carefree programming philosophies and decisions. User/computer engineer Frank Bartus and others knowledgeable about computers have been vocal about these cases in the forums and back channel discussions. This class of fault is programmer created, where specifically the read-in software (pre-processor stage) should be translating old data models to the new data model (desires of N3V's programmers) organization and turned up the heat (Since July 2013) to have them correct the situation in forthcoming releases. Similar vocal outcrys and letters to N3V management have spurred a much greater and obvious result in cutting off errors from ever download, by 'Cleaning up Faulty Content' on the Trainz Download Station itself. With over 300,000 assets, this process, while long under way, will take a lengthy time is still be ongoing now that TANE Community Edition (was released in the expected Nov-Dec 2014 ETA) and the main release finally reached market in May 2015[note 2]
- Still, most Faulty Content can be fixed with relatively simple editing operations, mostly involving a process to run a PEVtool or two (or a series of such via a single batch process), any of which takes only a few seconds— followed by a text file edit or two. With a little practice, most common faults follow the same patterns and can be assessed and fixed in less than five minutes.
- A far lesser number have a guessable fix or (A "By Guess and By God) solution. These are the less than 1 in 10 faulty assets with one or more missing referencess, which are susceptible to finding a replacement texture to list in a texture.txt file to substitute. This is in fact a very similar process one might use in one mode of reskinning an asset to give it a different appearance.
- A smaller amount below that sampling has a locally incurable flaw, needing either binary editing or if by some means it has an corrupted mesh, discarding the asset entirely. Some texture errors are in fact in internal mesh references, and again, the asset creator is the best recourse.
- In each seemingly unresolved problem, once you've registered with Planet Auran find your way to the content creator's forums and search there. Failing that, make a post therein for help.
- If nothing else, someone with enough experience to be sure there is no solution will confirm your 'this should be discarded' notion.
- Asking for help is not the same as asking for others to solve your problems. If you do post for help, be sure you can detail 2-5 things you've tried and failed at first then give as complete a picture of what you did and saw as possible.
- Always include the asset's kuid and your Trainz build code version, as well as the colloquial 'TS10' or whatever. The more you help yourself, the more help you'll get and fastest when you ask when stuck. The failures are learning experiences too, and will stand you in good stead by building asset know-how and your confidence.}}
- where else are you going to find well over 100,000 plus high quality digital RR assets and over 2500 routes?" — or is it 367,000 plus as Content Manager may report? The latter number includes assets which have received multiple upgrades, those which have been superceded by TrainzBaseSpecs in another KUID, and so the actual number of desirable useable assets... is high enough no one knows a tithe of them. Add in over 400 privately run Trainzfan websites offering content, and just looking at assets could take a user all day, every day, for months upon months. Good luck with that! Perhaps tilting at windmills or shoveling the ocean with a spoon into a bucket might prove more feasible... perhaps.
- All TANE releases available as of mid-August 2015 are really extended Beta Test versions. The Developers forums deal with weekly bug fixes and upgrades and a Service Pack is likely by mid-autumn 2015. Given Auran/N3V's staff cut back in June 2015, and prior history, a drastic new technologies release like TANE will likely require multiple service pack releases. Trainz, TS2004, TS09/TS10 co-developments all took FOUR service packs counting UTC as a fourth for Trainz.