Friday, January 20, 2006

Simulated Train Crashes

A friend of mine told me he and his young daughter had a great time playing with Microsoft Train Simulator. They especially enjoyed watching the crashes. In case you haven't tried it, MSTS has the best simulated crashes of any train sim I know. When a train derails or runs off the end of the track, the locomotives and cars go tumbling through the air, crashing, and often burning upon landing. Wouldn't you just know it? Someone has a web site devoted to MSTS crashes. It's The MSTS Crash Site at

- Al

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Another LoMo Site

Oops! I meant to include AMI Trains in yesterday's post. It's a Locomotion site dedicated to British subjects (pun intended). Have a look at

- Al

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Set Your Sites for Locomotion

Here are a few sites for Locomotion fans. These are not necessarily new sites, just sites I haven’t mentioned before.

For starters, there’s ChrisTrainz for Locomotion ( You’ll find a number of Netherlands trains originally created for MSTS and converted to Locomotion.

Then there’s The Loco Railbuilding Guide ( where you’ll find illustrated guides by Albert Bos for easy and advanced users. These are nicely done and well worth a look.

Finally, there’s Locomotion UK (, which describes itself as “The ultimate resource for Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion.” This site has a bit of everything from downloads of Locomotion Demo and Patch to tips, news, messageboard, FAQs, etc. I find the vehicle database particularly useful, being organized by transport type and year.

- Al

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Complete Works in Progress

Saturday, January 14, 2006

It's A (Gasp) Bus Simulator!

Well, why not? We've found that with train simulators we can have all sorts of transport vehicles follow a path, just the way a train does. We've seen planes, boats, hot air balloons, love canal boats - you name it.

VirtualBus (Copyright 2002-2004 Marcin Kompanowski,
Adam Popio³ek, Kakish, Maciej Fidor, Qbasob) is available free at . You can also find it at . It downloads as a ZIP file, which extracts into its own folder. Look at the readme.txt file first. It will explain how to get started.

I've only had a cursery look at VirtualBus, but several things stand out. First, you have control of the steering wheel, which means you can drive off the road. Second, controls, such as steering, revert to default position once you release the key. In other words, right arrow turns the steering wheel to the right, but returns it to center once you release the key. When you finish or exit the route, you will see a summary of your performance (you're expected to arrive at each stop on time, leave on time, wait till passengers have gotten off/on, and not drive with the doors open).

Although I didn't try other buses or routes, there is provision for them. The view is from the driver's seat, and graphics are full screen 3D with the ability to rotate and raise/lower the angle of view.

This is a sim you can have fun with.

- Al

Visit my other web sites:
Virtual Railroader
Complete Works in Progress

Friday, January 13, 2006

Progress At TrainMaster

Now that Henk Plaggemars has taken over as chief Evangelist for TrainMaster, you can expect to see regular news from PIE as their new TrainMaster Train Simular develops. Henk has set up a screen capture page. The first shots are here. Bear in mind that this is a work in progress, and screen captures are taken during testing. I think you'll be impressed the detail and realism emerging in these captures.

- Al

Monday, January 09, 2006

Mechanik Remembered

When the history of train sims is finally written, Mechanik will certainly occupy an important spot as an early cab-view sim. It was an MS-DOS sim written by a pair of college students in Poland. Mechanik was just disappearing from scene when I became involved in train sims five years ago. It had been eclipsed by BVE, a more sophisticated cab-view sim written by a 14-year-old Japanese student a few years earlier and had just been "discovered" by the western world.

Christopher Lees has written a thorough how-to guide explaining where to get Mechanik and how to install and run it on current Windows systems. He is also hosting several Mechanik routes.

Visit Chris's BVE Cornwall site ( for the guide and the routes.

- Al

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Round and Round We Go

I've lived through enough calendars - 66 to be exact - to have discovered some of life's patterns. One is the recurring themes in my life - sports, trains, writing, music, art, sports, trains, writing, etc., to name a few. Some leave and return, others ebb and flow. My interest in railroads is one that ebbs and flows, while my interest in games is one that goes away for awhile and then returns unexpectedly.

I had completely forgotten until recently about the dice and card games I created over 50 years ago as an adolescent. Mostly they were about sports. My friend and I used our bubble gum cards to select team rosters; then we played schedules and kept reams of records. I never had any railroad cards - though I have since found some at train shows - so I never created any railroad games. I DID have a big stack of airplane cards and managed to develop a Monopoly-like board game whereby the planes were purchased for flying transport missions, which in turn earned money for buying more planes. I won't try to credit myself with anticipating the Tycoon games of the '90s, but but they did have transport and finances in common.

My interest in games was renewed when Microsoft released Train Simulator in 2001. Although train simmers, especially MSTS fans, abhor the term "game," train sims are guilty by association, and some - like the Tycoon-type sims - ARE games.

The recurring themes in my life can take the form of themes within a theme. Within the train sim theme are the various train sims that take turn coming to the fore. I've gone through long stretches of focusing on BVE, Rail3D, MSTS, Trainz, and Locomotion, while having more than a passing glance at a number of others. In the process I've learned to appreciate the special qualities that each represents. If I want to drive a rapid transit or commuter train schedule from the driver's seat, I choose BVE. If I want to build a rail network with lots of signaled control, I look to Rail3D. If I want to have some fun with train sim photography, I choose MSTS. If I want to simulate train operations using more than one train, Trainz is my choice. If I want to build an empire with trains and other forms of transport, I choose Locomotion.

My interests along each of these lines cycle with some frequency, thus I am glad to have all these sims at my command. I even cast a wistful glance now and then at my unfinished modeling efforts in O- and HO-scale, but that's a story for another round.

- Al

Friday, January 06, 2006

Do As I Say, Not As I Don't Do

I normally write about what I'm doing or thinking. Today I'm writing about what I HAVEN'T been doing - keeping my computer defragged. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, until it sneaks up from behind and knocks out your trusty PC just as you are about to perform some critical task. Such was the case as I started to assemble the December issue of Virtual Railroader. When my PC wouldn't boot up, I suspected a virus had snuck past my arsenal of anti-virus protection, firewall, and multiple anti-spyware programs. The repairman, however, was quite clear in his assessment: too much fragmentation of the hard drive.

I've always known that hard drives become fragmented in time as programs write and delete data. I've also known that this will slow down your computer. What I didn't know was that fragmentation leads to corrupted files. Moreover, I had never stopped to think about the excessive write/delete activity that takes place with games, especially full 3D "games" like MSTS and Trainz. In other words, train sims are big-time offenders.

The moral of this story is that defragmentation should be a regular part of your PC housekeeping routine, just like backing up your data. Consider defragging your hard drive at least once a month. If you run sims regularly, consider defragging more frequently. If nothing else, it will save you a lot of aggravation and possibly a costly repair.

- Al

Please visit our VR Reading Room at Virtual Railroader.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

News From TrainMaster Train Simulator

P.I. Engineering announced two new members have joined the TMTS development team. One is our old friend Henk Plaggemars, who many of you know from his work at Auran, developing and promoting Trainz. The other is Dan Toth, a training conductor consultant who will be providing technical input for the professional training side of the TMTS project. The full news article is here:

- Al

Visit our new VR Reading Room at Virtual Railroader (

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Try it Again, Sam

I had my first clarinet lesson last week. Since then I've been dutifully practicing, trying to play good quality notes from C to A. Today I took dead aim at the dreaded squeak. I practiced removing the instrument from my mouth, reinserting it, and trying to get a good note on the first try without hunting around.

Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!

After much experimentation - and a timeout to wrap some padding around my right thumb where the thumb rest was gnawing at my bone - I discovered I wasn't puckering tightly enough. That solved it.

The key word for this experience is one I've come to associate with computers: PERSISTENCE. I've spent many an hour through the years wrestling with computers - or is it software? Sometimes I've finally given up and asked for help, but more often than not I found the answer by keeping at it.

There's a balancing corollary to persistence, however. It's called taking a break and turning your attention elsewhere for awhile. It can do wonders for giving you a chance to come up with a fresh approach to solving the problem, just as wrapping my thumb helped solve my clarinet squeak.

So ... when you tire of banging your head against the proverbial wall, try kicking it for awhile, or doing something entirely different, like taking up the clarinet.

- Al