Getting Started in V-Scale Railoading
By Alfred Barten
It would be great if, once we decided to try a particular train simulator, it would magically appear on our desktop and let us be off and running. Unfortunately, there's some up-front efforts we need to make to ensure things go smoothly.
First off we'll need to find a source for our chosen simulator. Of course, if you bought the simulator online or at a trade show, you can skip this part. If you're still wondering what the best source is, or if you're having trouble locating one, read on. One of the best known simulators, Microsoft Train Simulator, is no longer being developed by Microsoft. You can find it online (at Virtual Railroader, for example, or through a Google ad) or through an electronic boutique or big box retailer. Trainz is similar, except that you can also order direct from the developer, Auran. After that it becomes a varied answer. Many of the lesser known sims are available only from the creator's website. Examples of this are Bahn, BVE, and Rail3D.
I have a complete list of resources in my Train Sim Webfinder at VR Reading Room.
Buying Previously Owned Software. Beware! At least one simulator, Trainz, can only be registered once. If you buy a previously registered copy of Trainz, you will be able to install and use it, but you will not have access to the Trainz Download Station or be able to participate in the Forum discussions. Microsoft Train Simulator, on the other hand, has no such restrictions.
Acquiring the Sim
Check the System Requirements. Before you buy any sim, check the system requirements on the package. This may be hard to do with free sims that you download online, but you can always ask on a forum that's dedicated to that sim (more about forums later). If your computer doesn't meet the requirements, don't buy the sim unless you plan on upgrading. If your computer just meets the minimum requirements, bear in mind that the recommended requirements are going to be greater than the published minimum. This may be OK for awhile, but you can count on outgrowing these minimums fairly quickly if you find it's a sim that you like and use often.
Download. Most of the lesser known train sims almost certainly require that you download them from somewhere. In some cases, you will find yourself working with a website that is not in English, or is only partly in English. Many lamguages are translatable to or from English by way of Babelfish translators. Just go to the site, select the language translation you want, and paste in the address (URL) of the site you want translated.
Some sims - Rail3D is a good example - involve substantial downloads. If you're on dial-up Internet access, plan on downloading at night and going to bed with the download in process. If all goes well, you will awake in the morning to find the download successful. If it gets interrupted and/or times out, you may have ot repeat the process.
Broadband. My recommendation is to look seriously at broadband - cable or DSL - if you can afford it. I found that DSL costs no more than my old dial-up. DSL may not be best for everyone. The closer you are to a distribution center, the better your results will be.
Installing the Sim
If the instructions say to turn off other programs that are running, make sure you do - and that includes anti-virus and firewall software.
Setup. Most sims let you adjust program settings that generally play graphics against performance. If you have a high spec computer you can go for the high graphic rendition (high resolution, high detail, greater rendering distance and so forth). Otherwise you can use these settings to achieve smooth running at the expense of graphics.
Manufacturer. Games - and train sims can be thought of as games - can sometimes be frustrating to install. Sometimes the problem is an incompatible game card. Often it's a failure to shut off all other programs, including firewalls and anti-virus software. If you've carefully followed the directions that came with the sim and things are still not working, contact the manufacturer. Usually you can do this online. Manufacturuers typically have a Support or Technical Assistance category on their website.
Forums. Another possibility is to ask your question on a forum that covers your particular sim. I've listed a number of forums in my Train Sim Webfinder, including the following ones I visit on a regular basis:
Train-Sim.com. This forum is hosted by Nels Anderson and includes categories for all popular train sims plus some you may not have heard of. The dominant representation is for Microsoft Train Simulator. At the bottom of the discussion page is a link to the File Library, where you'll find thousands of third-party add-ons available for free download. Although this is an American forum, there are a great many non-North American members and representations in the File Library.
Trainz. The Trainz Forum is hosted by Auran, maker of Trainz. People from Auran are also active on the forum, effectively giving you access to the people who know best. Every registered Trainz owner is automatically a part of this forum.
Transport Tycoon Forums. This should be your first stop if you want to discuss matters relating to any of the various strategy sims. The forum is hosted by Owen Rutledge of the United Kingdom.
UKTrainSim. This forum is a United Kingdom counterpart to Train-Sim.com. It also has excellent reviews of various sims.
Some sims, such as Rail3D, have their own Yahoo discussion groups.
Generally, you can view postings by others on a forum without joining the forum. You will not be able to post questions or replies unless you sign up. This is always free and non-intrusive, but necessary to enable the forum owners or moderators the ability to remove unruly participants from the forum.
When using a forum, try to use topic headers (subject titles) that are reasonably descriptive. You're much more apt to get a reply if you do, and you'll be doing every one a favor in the long run because your topic will be more meaningful when someone does a search. For example, a topic of "Problem" says very little, whereas a topic of "Can't Install" gives people a clue as to what the topic is. A topic of "Can't Install Fab-Sim version 1.2" is even better.
Persistence. When it comes to computers, persistence is a key word for me. I have often had to install a sim over again because the first time failed. I have no explanation for why it would properly install one time and not another, but it has happened. The same goes for solving problems, though sometimes going away and leaving it for awhile gives you a chance to think of new approaches.
Whatever your sim you choose, getting started is mostly a matter of deciding to go for it. After that, there's plenty of help available - if you need it.
©2006 Alfred Barten. All rights reserved.