Locomotion: The Sequel
By Alfred Barten
A L&PS interurban with mail car trailer around Chicago, c.1925.
When Chris Sawyer released his Locomotion in 2004, a full ten years after its popular predecessor, Transport Tycoon, fans of the old were disappointed. They had hoped for something more than what is largely a graphic update to the old favorite. Many hoped for a cure for the old ills and perhaps some great new features. Chris's approach, however, was to simplify, to streamline. Anyone who's followed Microsoft through the years - and just about every other software house for that matter - will find this approach contrary to the norm. For me, a person who never really got to know Transport Tycoon or any of the other corporate-based train sims until I discovered Locomotion last year, Locomotion stands on its own. Comparisons with Transport Tycoon and the patched versions that have followed at the hands of third-party hobbyists (I call them this not to suggest amateurism in any form, but rather to acknowledge that these are not commercial products for legal reasons), are moot. For me, Locomotion has what I like. Trains snake around generous curves and I can build trolley empires. Both capabilities are dear to me and absent in the extended family. Locomotion also adds multi-player capabilities, though I see little mention of it on the forums.
The question of simplicity reminds me of a dice baseball game I created as an adolescent. It was a game of chance using a pair of dice. It was simple. Play a game or two and you had the rules memorized. My friend and I played the game by the hour for a number of years, keeping elaborate records. The game gave realistic average stats, but not individually tailored stats. I tried creating a more elaborate game using three dice, which offered more possible outcomes and enabled ranking individual players so they performed more as they did in real life, but the game became too complicated. What was gained wasn't worth the effort. So when it comes to Locomotion and its lack of features, I have to ask "What does it matter?" The game is engrossing. It keeps me up way past my intended bedtime. It's like a good novel you can't put down. So what if the critics gave it a so-so rating? It does what I want it to. Hats off to Chris Sawyer!
A L&PS interurban enters Louisville, c.1927.
Locomotion, as a corporate-bsed strategy sim, follows the same general pattern begun by Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon back in 1990. You begin with a landscape that has natural features, towns and industries. Your job is to provide transportation. Where RRT only dealt with railroads, TTD and others since have added other forms of transport, including road vehicles, planes and boats. Still, trains are the backbone of Locomotion. (In fact, the boats in particular are a bit disappointing in that they seldom take the most direct path from port A to port B, choosing instead to hug the coastline and sometimes getting lost.) You are given a certain amount of money, as a bank loan, and must build your empire from there. Depending on the level of play you choose, your competition will be troublesome or irrelevant. What keeps the game going is that industries and businesses have their own lives, which you can influence by the service you provide, but which you can't ultimately control. This will force you, just as it does with real railroads, to be flexible, to adjust routes and consists to changing needs. You will in time become just as adept at tearing out old track as you are building new.
The fact that there are so many of these sims available - still! - is that we as individuals have our likes and dislikes, and no two games are exactly alike. One thing I like about Locomotion and its TTD family is the use of signals. This means that two trains occupying the same track cannot pass each other, in either direction, without a passing track and signals. (In Railroad Tycoon and Transport Giant, trains simply pass through one another, a form of simplicity that doesn't appeal to me.) The signals are basic, which is to say simple, which in turn keeps you from building some track configurations exactly as you would in real life. You will find in time that some patterns of track are more successful than others; that's how it is. Passengers in the game don't seem to know or care where they are going, but industries do respond to the service you provide. If it takes too long for your train to reach a supplier and get its goods to their destination, you will find the supplier has little interest in doing business with you. It's touches like these that lend realism to the sim and keep you thinking about your next step. Something else I like about all these sims is that you get a rapid response to your actions. Lay some track, build a few stations, buy a train and you are in business - immediately. You can sit back and watch the train or you can plan your next move. The landscape always looks "finished" - it's never a sea of plaster or an untextured grid.
Perhaps the key to keeping any game alive through the years - though some board games such as Monopoly are the exception - is the work of third-party contributors, the "modders" as they are called. Modders expand the limits of the game, devising utilities that add features or permit add-ons to be created. Several utilities have made it easy to build new landscapes (see my article "Creating a Scenario and Map in Locomotion") and convert Microsoft Train Simulator rolling stock shape files to something the Locomotion modder can relatively easily turn into Locomoton rolling stock. Thanks to modders, we now have a wealth of custom Locomotion rolling stock that greatly enhances game play. One of my favorites is the London & Port Stanley No. 2 interurban car by Vanel (available here ) created from Wayne Campbell's MSTS version (see my article "Wayne Campbell's London & Port Stanley Railway" in the November 2005 issue of Virtual Railroader here). The L&PS car is the ultimate in flexibility, and thus is great at the outset of a game. It carries passengers and mail, can run in multiples, and can haul a few freight cars. I use it to service stock and grain farms while also carrying passengers. If a farm or food processor goes out of business, my route will still be carrying passengers and mail.
A log train delivers timber from the forest to the paper mill while another train carries paper from the mill to the printer.
Locomotion comes with a demo, which runs by itself. All you have to do is watch. In case you don't yet have the game, you can download the demo from the Atari web site. The game also comes with a complete manual. Once you get going, you will probably want to visit one or both of the independent forums, Transport Tycoons Forum and LocoForums. From there you will probably want to visit some of the sites that have third-party add-ons, such as Steve's Locomotion Cache and AMI Trains. You'll find other sources embedded in the forum message threads.
Article an screen shots (C)2006 Alfred Barten. All rights