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December 23, 2009 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Looking for good train sim software/railroad creation games...

I know, I know- you'd think that a train simulator would be the most boring thing in the world- I mean, at least with flight simulators you can bank and fly all over the place, but a train simulator?! Meh!

However, I've developed something of a fascination with railroads lately, and think it'd be fun to find a good train simulator/railroad simulator. I've been to www.train-sim.com but the number of options are kind of confusing. What I'm looking for is a happy user's review of the best one to get as I figure among the teeming masses of MeFites there must be a few diehard train simulator afficionados to guide me. I'm seeking a combination sim and railroad creation game, and would like to:
  • Be able to freely lay out my own fictitious tracks and railroad lines anywhere in the world, either following well-known routes or inventing new ones- mostly in central Europe
  • Have a wide variety of train types (from early 20th century to modern high-speed rail)
  • A reasonably active user community of free and some pay add-ons and models (those appear to be found at train-sim.com, similar to flight-sim.com)
  • First-person driving and the ability to kind of "explore" my model railroad in-game, much like you'd explore something like this
  • Relatively recent would be good, since the graphics will at least be passable
  • Less important but desirable: be able to also have a "SimTrain" like quality of creating these fake railroads and crafting timetables and even budgets (provided there's still an unlimited money option)
There seem to be a number of options, the most recent and promising including "Trainz Simulator" and "Rail Works" (which may or may not be the same as Rail Simulator). I'd be running this either natively in Mac OS X 10.6, a VM Windows Vista/Windows 7, or rebooting to bootcamped Vista/Windows 7 as necessary. So platform shouldn't be critical, but native Mac would obviously be the best if unlikely option.
posted by hincandenza to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Auran is the reference in the field of train simulators. You can create your own maps/lines, + big community of users creating custom resources.


You might try to find earlier versions (train simulator 2006) to see it works on your VM
posted by bluefrog at 5:28 PM on December 23, 2009

That would be "Trainz simulator 2006" (might want to check ebay).
posted by bluefrog at 5:36 PM on December 23, 2009

Best answer: This is probably no good for the interest in real-life models of trains, but if you like thinking about the logistics of running a network of rails, Open Transit Tycoon is pretty much the gold standard. Google around for a copy of Transit Tycoon Deluxe to get the graphics and sound files.

It runs pretty much equally well on every operating system, so you should be happy with the OSX version.

There's also openBVE, an open source realistic train sim. As in, you're driving the train. It's not what I like, so I have no idea how fun it is. I hear it's a bit complicated to learn (IE expect to read a lot of manuals), but that just means it's authentic, I guess.

And I don't know how you feel about Railworks, exactly, but Rock Paper Shotgun acts like they like it. It was originally pretty expensive, but it looks to be about $50 on Steam with a bunch of added content. Of course, this means you'll need to either boot into Windows, or try your luck with Crossover or a VM. A bit pricey for a game in my opinion, but you sound like you have a pretty big itch to scratch.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:05 PM on December 23, 2009

Best answer: I've tried openBVE (that mccarty.tim mentions) and I think it's pretty good train driving sim in some ways. My impression of it is the actual train physics aren't modeled all that extensively, but that the controls, especially the various safety systems, are pretty detailed with some of the locomotives. Worth checking out even without consideration of the price (free).

The only thing I have to compare it to is Microsoft Train Simulator, which is a fairly old title by now. They seem to have gone into a little more depth simulating the train physics with this one. There's plenty of free user-created content for it, and there are some route-building tools included that do seem to work. It's a little quirky, but there's still a big community supporting it.

I think you might have trouble finding many titles that include both a good train driving simulation and a good railroad business simulation. It seems more typical for developers to go in one direction or the other with that. There's even a third category, which is train dispatching/signalling simulation, where you try to get trains where they're going without causing massive traffic jams.
posted by FishBike at 7:03 PM on December 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback, guys! The openBVE, while it's cross platform, doesn't seem what I'm looking for- at least, from reading the site it sounds complicated, and not so much about creating fake rail lines and watching the trains run their routes, but more purely the in-cab simulation.

I guess I should have stressed that what really fascinates me is not driving the trains, so much as playing "Google Earth Railroad Tycoon". Being able to lay out a continent-sized railroad infrastructure onto a semi-realistic map of Europe and Asia- not just a generic 'make your own world' geography- as if I had a ginormous model railroad in my basement, and then have the AI automate the running of trains according to timetables I can tweak and adjust.

Then I sit back, and zoom around my artificial world, watch the trains go by (such as this short preview from Rail Works), tinker with the timetables or adding new models, etc. The actual in-cab driving is not interesting to me, except in that it'd be neat to ride the rails as a passenger/driver without having to operate it- i.e., just one more cool perspective you can't get with the traditional model railroad.

Anyway, it sounds like either the Trainz or the Railworks products are the right choices. I'm not worried about VM; if it won't run on Win7 in VM- and my Mac is nicely beefy, 8 cores and 10GB of RAM- then I'll just dual boot like I do with FlightSimulator X. What I'm not sure of is how to distinguish between the two products: both seem to be very much happy to let me create these fake railroads and have nice screenshots of the trains running, but the "World Builder" is bundled with Rail Works whereas I'm not sure if it's a native part of Trainz Simulator 2010: Engineer's Edition.

Right now I'm leaning towards Rail Works- they sound like they have a good pedigree, a good game, a nice "World Builder" option, and the steam platform should make updates easy. My only concern is having no good option to upgrade to new trains/content without paying, or if the world builder doesn't let you create realistic routes going from actual cities, so much as "create some hills 'n shit in a fictitious 2d plane".
posted by hincandenza at 8:10 PM on December 23, 2009

Can't go too far with the Mac ports of the Railroad Tycoon series, unless I'm missing something in your question.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:43 PM on December 23, 2009

Response by poster: Popping back in for an update, for anyone who cares...

I looked more into that OpenTTD as well as Trainz, and it sounds like I probably want two products, as FishBike notes. While OpenTTD didn't really woo me, it's through that that I discovered Simutrans, which is open source, community updated, and cross-platform. Some of the community made maps are huge, spanning all of western Europe- which is perfect!

It's basically everything I was looking for *except* graphical rich and detailed. For that, I may go with Trainz (from reading Train-sim.com, it still sounds like the gold standard), which also has external free/shareware tools to create routes that import geodata and tiles from Google Earth, so as to make routes that look and act like the real thing. But the bulk of what I was looking for is making a model railroad business, with the option of being able to explore my virtual rail world. But again as FishBike pointed out, I'm not going to find the same product to meet both interests, and right now the former is more interesting...
posted by hincandenza at 2:07 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

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