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Monday, July 11, 2005

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Trainz impressions, Mac News
10:11 AM | Daniel Stegman | Comment on this story

On Sunday, July 10th I had the opportunity to attend the National Model Railroad Associations annual trade show in Cincinnati, with my six year old son, a big train nut. The show was last here about 20 years ago, so it was my first time going to the big show. Why is this interesting to Mac Gamers you ask? Because Auran Games was there, showing off their railroad simulator, Trainz.

I had read some blurbs about Trainz earlier this year, about how it was coming to the Mac sometime in the future. After looking at the screen shots, I was impressed. We had not too long before bought Railroad Tycoon 3, and were happy with it, but I wished for a more immersive feel to a sim. I always felt like I was watching from a tower with RT3, or a low flying airplane. I never felt like the engineer. Boy did Trainz fit the bill. The short demo I watched was incredible. Granted, this was on a PC, but it gave me high hopes for the mac version.

First off, apologies to the train techies out there. While I'm interested in trains, I don't know all the lingo.

In the demo, I watched as we sat inside a virtual steam engine, with all the controls accessible. You would open the coal chute, have the coalman shovel some coal in, and close the door again. Then, you would set the forward/reverse lever, then the break lever, and then apply some steam to the pistons. The train would slowly pickup steam, and you could see out the windows in the front as we started rolling down the track. The demonstrator then switched between several views, from the coalman and engineers interior views, to outside views alongside the engine or in the coal tender, to further away views more like RT3's.

That was very impressive, to say the least. It gave more of a flightsim feel to controlling every aspect of the train. I was reminded of A-10 Cuba in that everything had to be moved or switched by hand. But that was nothing compared to what came next. The demonstrator then proceeded to show me the terrain editor. We started with a blank piece of plywood, although it looked more like the Tron lightcycle landscape or the holodeck from Star Trek than a piece of plywood. But, belief fully suspended, I watched as he laid out a small oval with two bridges. Laying the track was incredible, as you would set points from which track would go from point a to point b, and it would develop bezier curves similar to what you would do in photoshop. Once set, he dragged them around a bit to form a more curved track. Then, he grabbed a landscaping tool that carved out a canyon like in SimCity 4. After doing that, he filled it with water, and then lowered the level so we had some shore on either side. Then he played with the water color, and chose the reflection mapping that it would use, a cloudy sky. He also played with some terrain painting, for grass and rocks, put in a few mountains, and a road, which was similar to the track laying. The crossings automatically went in wherever the track and road intersected. Cars automatically populated the road. Then he chose a black engine with a flame job on it, saved and started the simulation. Sandbox railroading, very cool. From what I've read on their website, I haven't even scratched the surface of what this software can do, such as controlling as a Yardmaster, Route Builder and Operations Manager. Personally I'll stick with Engineer.

All in all I was extremely impressed with the Trainz software. I can only hope the Macintosh version comes out in a timely fashion, of which they said it should be out late this year.

I can guess what I'll be buying for my son this Christmas...

Also, I spoke with a rep for a control attachment for Trainz (among others). He said they would most likely come up with Mac drivers for Trainz either when it comes out or within a month, depending on what they are provided by Auran. He hoped it would be out about the same time. At $150 US, it would be pricey, but it was a nice fit to having physical controls instead of virtual ones, although they were more suited towards diesel and electric engines, rather than steam ones.

Auran Games Trainz website
National Model Railroading Association
Buy Trainz

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