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The Future of Trainz

INTRODUCTION

Deciding the future of Trainz has involved an enormous amount of time and effort. What you are about to read is the culmination of input from the Trainz community, Auran staff members, Railroad companies and other interested parties.

Trainz began many years ago as an interest in making a model Railroad Simulator. Over the years the program has developed and evolved into what is now TRS2004. The decision facing Auran now is ‘Where next?’

Auran has come to the conclusion that the best course of action is to split Trainz into three distinct product branches. Trying to please everyone with just one product results in loss of focus and confusion. Splitting Trainz into three unique areas of interest will provide a much greater focus on what's required for each of the following core areas.

The first branch will continue down the current path. TRS2004 will continue for at least three more iterations; namely, a Service pack, then an Expansion Pack, and finally a 'Gold' Collection Pack.

The second branch will move toward a transportation simulator, similar in nature to TRS2004 but concentrating on all forms of transportation and with a much greater emphasis on economics and management.

The final branch will lead to Rail Simulator Pro (RSP), a full prototypical-driving simulator and that's the focus of this article.

OVERVIEW

Because all three product branches share many concepts and ideas there will be a considerable overlap in many areas of code, art and design. Therefore don't think for a moment that just because you have RSP that you won't have Surveyor, or that Tranzportation won't have cool looking locos, they will. All three product branches will inherit Surveyor, but will further extend it as best suits each product.

On the art side of things it will be possible to move most content between all three product branches with minor changes to config files and some alterations to the base model.

IN DETAIL

Work began here at Auran some 12 months ago on a variety of new technologies being developed for other products. A number of these technologies will make their way into RSP. For example, RSP will use Jet 3: a new and enhanced version that's reported to be able to run on Unix based systems and there have even been rumours of a 'Mac' version of TRS2004 appearing for OS X early next year. RSP will use a new terrain system, a new networking system and a new database system, all currently being developed for other products but which fit perfectly with the future direction of RSP. We are leveraging cutting-edge technologies from other Auran projects to provide the foundation for RSP.

RSP is a big project and we expect development to take a further two years. This is a significant commitment on Auran's part and not one that we've taken lightly. RSP will be fully designed on paper a good six months before RSP specific coding will begin. Unlike previous versions of Trainz, we will have a large amount of time to consult with various 3rd party groups and will be able to provide a much greater time for 3rd party content creators to ready products for RSP. We are currently reviewing our working relationship with 3rd party creators based on the TRS2004 project. More announcements will be made on this soon.

RSP will have something for all sim lovers but, rather than try and give a broad outline of all of its features, I've chosen instead to focus on three key areas of customer interest. They are 1: prototypical users; 2: model railroad users; 3: content creators.

First, prototypical users:

Those interested in prototypical simulation are in for a real treat with RSP, but first some background information.

Since the earliest releases of Trainz, Auran has been in ongoing discussions with a number of railroad companies about the creation of a PC based prototypical simulation that would allow these companies to perform driver training. Auran has decided to cater to this need and hence commence development of RSP. RSP will be a 'full on' simulator and those of you who know the flight simulator market well could best compare it to 'Elite' (www.flyelite.com).

In fact RSP will be so complete (and I'll detail just some of its features a little later) that we are planning to produce a 'Lite Edition' (Railroad Simulator Pro LE), to compete directly with MSTS 2 if and when it is released. I don't mean this in any derogatory sense, simply that we are building a 'commercial use' simulator with RSP and that's always going to be a step above a game.

RSP LE will likely be available in game and hobby stores as TRS2004 is currently. The full version will only be available directly from Auran or our local distributors (more on this later). This is primarily because the full version is going to be a much bigger and heavier box and the price point will be somewhat above that of a traditional game, hence game stores are unlikely to carry it.

If you're like me and can't stand buying a game that weighs nothing and all you can feel (and hear) is a lone CD moving around in the box then you are going to love RSP. We are intending to go all out on the documentation, including charts and other useful material. If you're worried about the price point, don't be. By moving to a 3 year product cycle (more on this in the 3rd party section of this document) we've actually lowered the cost per year. In fact the final price has yet to be decided but commercial use of a similar product will be in the tens of thousands of dollars range, so that gives you some idea of what you'll be getting for your money.

With regard to features, RSP is a super step up from TRS2004. First, the interface gets a full overhaul in both look and feel. The entire product is language independent and new language databases can be installed by a simple drag and drop operation and can include text, graphics and audio.

Surveyor is being revamped with some great new tools for helping to sculpt terrain. DEM importation will be standard, the grid resolution is much finer and you'll be able to place cantilevered track. The new terrain system being developed for RSP supports vertical surfaces, overhanging surfaces and even caves. Of course with this kind of additional terrain support it will now be possible to create underground railroads as well as elevated track (like monorails) in addition to normal track.

RSP will include full dispatcher capabilities, prototypical signalling (that is fully customisable by country) and even allow online play. I noted with some interest recently on the Auran forums that some 'hard core' proto guys showed little interest in online play, yet oddly enough it's one of the most requested features of the many railroad companies we've been talking to. They see online as an opportunity to place drivers in a 'real traffic' environment (as they put it) and one that can only help improve driver safety. However, if you'd rather play standalone you certainly can.

The dispatcher system communicates to the main game (or games in a multiplayer environment) via TCPIP so yes, you've guessed it, the person acting as a dispatcher can be located anywhere in the world.

Driver AI is being fully overhauled in RSP and is being broken into two unique components. Drivers will no longer attempt to path plan, they just drive and follow signals as required. Therefore, the AI functions for drivers have actually been reduced in complexity from that present in TRS2004. Since RSP includes full route planning both the signalling system and dispatcher can refer to the planned routes and act accordingly. The other area that AI will now be operational is when you don't have a human acting as dispatcher. In this instance the AI will take over and resolve route conflicts within bounds set during the route-planning phase. This two-tier approach to AI will resolve most of the outstanding issues with AI.

The scripting system that is present in TSR2004 will be fully replaced in RSP with a C++ API based system and Auran will supply headers that provide access to most of the internal game functions. Programmers are going to have a ball with RSP and you're going to be able to some amazing things!

Those of you who like to populate your routes with more than just trains, for example ships and cars, will also be catered for. Like TRS2004, RSP supports invisible track and you'll be able to place boats and cars on it. However, unlike TRS2004, RSP boats will follow the track but not be attached to it. Instead, they float above it based on various parameters, two of which are 'sea state' and 'tide height'. Boats and cars can now have intersections, and traffic flow can move from one track to another.

The track system itself is also getting a major overhaul and is moving to a Bezier curve based system. Those of you who are familiar with products like Corel Draw will already know how this works. In essence when RSP is operating in 'simple' track laying mode it will appear just like TRS2004. However, hold down the 'Control' key and you'll have access to the Bezier handles that will allow fine control of the curve radius. Additionally, you'll have complete control over ballast types, track type, and best of all, super elevation. Because of all of these changes people who like Traction, Trams or Monorails are in for a real treat, as all of them are possible.

Physics is one area that will be very different indeed. RSP will allow programmers to write individual .DLL physics files for each and every loco. These individual loco physics programs can sit alongside the inbuilt (default physics) system and will happily coexist. In other words, if you have a certain steam loco that spins its wheels differently, or a rack and pinion rail motor that requires some unique handling, then you can load up a full physics system for each. All other locos that are present on the same route can continue to use the inbuilt system whilst the other locos use their own specific systems.

The final major area is of course sound. Every track type and bogie combination will be able to have their own unique sounds, and they will be calculated per axle and tied to rail based events.

Second, model railroaders. Just because we're adding a bunch of new features for the 'proto' folks doesn't mean we've forgotten you.

Surveyor is probably the biggest difference between Trainz and similar products. The ease of use it has brought to route building is, I believe, without equal. Our goal with RSP is to make it even easier to use. Tool tips and better sculpting tools as well as a range of other features will take it way beyond where it is currently. Our aim here is to make the act of terrain and route construction a very easy and pleasurable experience. In fact, I believe we can improve it so much that some users may never even venture into driver.

Also, for those of you who prefer to use the DCC controller one will still be available. Both Trainz and the current version of MSTS feature a DCC type of physics system. This is because running a top-notch physics system on each and every loco and piece of rolling stock would be far to CPU intensive. Both products get around this by having a scaled down physics system for use on non-player controlled locos. The only real difference being that Trainz gives you access to the simple physics system via a DCC controller whereas the MSTS system is hidden from view. I wanted to point this out to people, in particular prototypical people, because having a DCC system present does not in any way erode the simulation side of the product. A DCC controller will be available as a .DLL plug-in. If you don't use DCC then just don't load the plug-in; save the memory and use it for another loco specific .DLL physics module instead. If you prefer DCC then load it instead. It really is going to be that easy.

Many of the complex systems of a real railroad are going to be made a lot easier for users to understand in RSP. For example, the way signalling is set-up and defined will make it much easier for users to correctly place and link signals. Even the dispatcher system incorporates some great time saving features which will provide a much better overview of what's happening on the route and how best to handle things. A lot of time and effort can be saved by providing visible and audible feedback during route construction and signal placement; this is an area we intend to spend quite some time on.

A much improved content management system will be built right into RSP and because of the nature of the .DLL plug-in system 3rd party developed code can now appear in-game and not as an external utility.

The good old KUID (that you've either come to love or hate) is gone in RSP. It's replaced by a GUID and uses a system similar in nature to many of the larger and professionally based content management systems.

Third, content creators.

For some time now Auran has sought to ensure that each version of Trainz read the content that was created for its predecessor. There has however been little formality to this approach and, as time moves on, taking this approach becomes more and more difficult. So we've decided to have an 'up front' defined period of compatibility for future products.

Each new product will be released on a three yearly cycle. In between major releases there will be expansion packs on a yearly basis. These expansion packs will be as close to 100% backward compatible as is possible.

Every three to four years a new product will be released that will not be backward compatible. This new product will only load content that is developed specifically for it and not content from previous versions.

Auran will detail (with each major product release) what changes are required to previous content to make them compatible with the new product. The work required to update content from the old version to the new may range from config only changes, to model updates or a complete rebuild. However, we expect that in most cases it will be somewhere in between.

For example, I can already tell you that any locos you've made using Indexed meshes for TRS2004 will only need some config changes and minor modelling changes (like the addition of a collision bounding box and some axle locations) to be RSP compatible. And yes, this does mean that we will now be handling collisions.

We've taken this approach because we want to be able to give a degree of certainty to the 3rd party development community that content they create will work for 3 years. Further, when a new version is released (3 years later) we want to encapsulate any changes that are required to make content compatible into a single content update. Having done that a creator will gain another 3 years and so on. We believe this will greatly reduce the work that is required by 3rd party creators and having a formally announced policy in this regard is a positive step forward. Third-party content will continue to be an integral part of our vision for all versions of Train and Rail Sim products.

DISTRIBUTION

Auran is in the process of setting up local distribution points throughout the world. Our long-term aim is to have distributors who maintain localised web sites and ordering systems in most of the major countries into which Trainz is sold.

We plan for RSP and RSP LE to be available via these distributors. RSP will likely only be available via this method. It will mean that you will no longer have to wait for shipping from Australia and that you will be able to order from a web site in your native language. Additionally, despatch, registration and support will all be available in your native language. We feel that this kind of service is essential given that Trainz is popular all over the world and in many different languages.

IN SUMMARY

Auran’s plans for Trainz, and in particular RSP, are indeed bold. We believe that there is a good, solid market for a top of the range simulation product and further that this product will be used by Railroad Companies from all over the world.

Our aim is simple, to bring the best Railroad Simulator even seen to your PC!







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