BVE: A View From the Cab
By Alfred Barten
"Next stop, Times Square. Please stand back of the closing doors." These are familiar words to New York City subway riders. They're also part of the first train sim, the Flushing Line for BVE 2, to really catch my imagination. (See screen shot below.) I'm convinced that sounds are the most important part of any sim when it comes to conveying realism, and this route by Ernie Alston has it in spades. As the string of Redbird subway cars heads out, lurching and screeching around the tight IRT (Interboro Rapid Transit) tunnel curves, I know I'm there as much as I ever could be without actually being there. And that's the joy of train simming.
The Flushing Line was the first of many enjoyable routes I've explored in BVE 2. Since it was one of the first made in the west right after the sim was discovered here, it suffers from lack of curved tracks, using the straight lines that were standard fare before people began creating special curved track sections to replace the straight ones. Also, Ernie had created a large amount of buildings for his route and didn't want to further tax low spec systems, so he omitted people from the station platforms. They can be added, as in the screen shot shown here, with a little bit of knowledgeable work.
The beauty of Ernie's route, in addition to the great sounds, is that he chose one of the more varied of New York's many subway lines. The run, which faithfully follows the prototype, begins underground at Times Square, ducks under the East River, surfaces in Queens and rides as an elevated until it reaches its terminus underground again at Flushing Meadow. In the process it goes through rapid grade changes and sharp curves, giving you, the operator lots to do.
In BVE, the whole object is to meet a demanding timetable - arriving on time, leaving on time (never too early), stopping within a few feet of the designated stopping points, obeying signals, and managing the changing train dynamics as the grades change and passenger load varies. Also, you are expected to give your passengers a smooth ride, free from sudden stops. There's plenty of needed skill for you to develop. You will also need to become thoroughly familiar with the route - something every engineer everywhere must do.
BVE is all about realism. So what if it's limited to cab view? This very limitation keeps you focused on your objective, and a well-designed route will demand your full attention. The cab-view limitation also enables route designers to create realistic scenery, as these scenes from Mike Goetz’s Blueridge will attest. Since the buildings and scenery in general can only be seen from certain angles, the route designer is freed from having to model all sides and views. This in turn saves precious system memory, enabling BVE 2 to run on systems with a 233 MHz Pentium II CPU.
BVE 2 has limited screen resolution, which is another reason why it can run on low spec PCs. The maximum resolution is 640x 480 pixels. You can however, run in full screen mode, which lets you fill the screen with the image. The newer BVE 4 runs at resolutions up to 1024x 768 pixels.
Although I especially like BVE for transit systems - subways and trams - where I'm kept busy, BVE has been successfully used for mountainous narrow gauge lines, heavy freight, and high-speed passenger runs. You will also find BVE routes and trains available from contributors around the world, on all continents (except the polar caps, of course).
And guess what? It's all free, including the game. The one catch is you can only get the game by downloading it from the creator's web site. Since the game is free, there's a code among third-party developers that their work will also be free. Bear in mind though, that free does not mean you can take someone else's work and call it your own. All work is copyrighted by its creator. Only the creator can declare it public domain or give it to someone else before the copyright expires. It also is improper to distribute someone else's creations without their expressed permission.
BVE is the creation of Takashi Kojima, a Japanese graduate student who goes by the nickname Mackoy. He released the first version of the game in 1995, when he was only 14. BVE 4 was released about a year and a half ago and raises the bar in terms of realism and system requirements. The most noticeable change is the interface, which is now full screen at a resolution as high as 1024x768. The interface is also a lot cleaner, though I confess to liking the older one with its information panel on the right and comfort bar on the bottom. These are gone from BVE 4.
If you'd like to climb into the cab for a real experience, give BVE a try. You'll be glad you did.
A Few Things You Should Know
Getting started. Go directly to Steve Green’s web site, trainsimcentral. There you will find instructions on where and how to get BVE, how to install it, and how to operate it. You will also find some other useful things, including links, utilities, and a GP38 train.
NOTE: If you have trouble installing your downloaded BVE file (I did), change the file name from bve2.6.3en.zip to bve2_6_3en.zip (the difference is two periods have been changed to underbars).
Next, go to Uwe Post’s BVE-routes web site. There you will find routes listed from around the world along with screen shots and links to the sites where you can get the routes and associated trains. You will also find lots of other useful links.
If you would like to get the Blueridge route or the Flushing Line, go to my Downloads page at Virtual Railroader.
There are two forums where you can ask questions and keep up-to-date. Both are part of multi-platform forums. In the UK there is uktrainsim and in the US there is train-sim.com.
You can also find guides and downloadable objects, trains, and instructional routes at my BVE Works in Progress. The material on downloading and installing is dated, but the object and route creation material is still useful.
File structure. The file structure is important to retain and useful to be aware of. It will also be self-evident after you install BVE.
Change a train. Each route calls for a specific train. If you want to run a different train on the route, you need to open the route file with a text editor, such as Notepad or WordPad, and change the train folder name that is called for. If you want to retain the original entry for future use, place a semi-colon at the start of the line. (In BVE, a semi-colon marks the start of a comment, which continues to the end of the line.) When I installed Blueridge I found the specified train was F40PH, but I wanted to use a train that had a full-screen cab view. I therefore changed to a train I already had, in this case the older GP38. Below is the revised code. You’ll find it very close to the top of the file.
Another way to change trains and do a lot of other things is to use the BVE Route Randomizer by Oskari Saarekes. You can get here.
Basic operation. Complete operating instructions are at
The following key commands will get you up and running.
||Z increase power
||Z increase power
||A decrease power
||A decrease power/increase brake
||< decrease brake
||> increase brake
When you first try to run a train, you may find nothing happens, even though you set the direction to Forward, released the brake, and advanced the throttle. That’s because the train is required to remain at the station until a specified amount of time has transpired. Many cabs have a light that goes on to indicate it is time to go. Before that the train can’t move.
You may also wish to check my “Crib Notes: BVE 2” article at the VR Reading Room.
©2006 Alfred Barten. All rights reserved.