MSTS Tips and Tricks - The Basics
Around the world, there must be very few railfans who would not have heard about Microsoft Train Simulator, known in short as MSTS. MSTS is a three-dimensional photo-realistic train simulator, allowing the user into the cab of a steam, diesel, or electric locomotive, along with freight or passenger train formation. You can drive the train along realistic track, following signals and a few basic rules along the way. This feature has made this game an addictive among many railfans, who may not get a chance to 'footplate' a real locomotive.
I have listed below a few tips and guidelines which can enhance this 'realistic driving' experience while playing with the MSTS game. It should be noted that while Microsoft (and Kuju who originally designed the game) have made it as trouble-free as possible, being early in this genre of 3D train simulation, there are quite a few bugs and errors which come in between you and an immersive 3D experience. I have touched upon a few as needed. Also to be noted is that many aspects of this game have been designed with an open architecture, which allows other enthusiasts, and 3D model developers to provide very good add-ons in terms of more locomotives, rolling stock, complete routes and scenery. This aspect has come in very handy in developing region-specific content like the Indian Railway add-ons by Ronald Kappel (Roni) and a few others as well.
Many freeware routes that we can download from the net require all the six default routes to be installed. This inflates the disk usage to over a gigabyte of precious disk space on our working disk. The six default routes are needed only during the installation of the new route. You can remove or backup any of the default routes that you do not need after the installation. The routes are found in the Routes sub-folder under your MSTS folder.
The default installation and the six routes feature the following five camera views:
- '1': Inside Cab
- '2': Lead loco outside view
- '3': Trailing car outside view
- '4': Roadside view (also called railfan view, here the camera is fixed and anchored at the lead loco of the passing train)
- '6': Shunting view fixed on the end car, useful when coupling to other locos, consists etc.
In addition '7' brings up a yard view, which can be defined at any location we want in a route. Of course you need to edit the route in the route editor and place a 'yard' definition at the required places.
A modified camcfg.dat file is available here: http://www.silogic.com/SDA/SDA.htm#camcfg which enhances all the above views. E.g., in yard view, using CTRL, SHIFT, ALT, and arrow keys, one can pan the entire route leaving the active train to itself!!
And yes, '5' brings up the passenger view in many train formations. This gives a feeling that you are travelling as a passenger inside a compartment. As an example the passenger view from a 3-tier sleeper compartment (designed by Suresh Sridharan) is available here: http://www.irfca.org/users/ronik/msts/down.htm. You need to have the sleeper coach in your train formation (consist) for this to work.
You can take a screen shot whenever you come across a beautiful scene while driving a train. Just press the PRINT SCREEN key while still inside MSTS. This will leave a file scrgrbN.pcx file in the default MSTS folder. Here 'N' increments everytime you press PRINT SCREEN. starting from 0, e.g., scrgrb0.pcx, scrgrb1.pcx..., etc. If you quit MSTS and re-enter again, pressing PRINT SCREEN will overwrite scrgrb0.pcx, scrgrb1.pcx, and so on. So once you quit MSTS, please save the PCX files to some other name and format say JPG (which is also less space consuming). PCX files are readable on many popular image editors. (MS Paint cannot read PCX files!!!) Here is a sample screenshot showing a WAM-4 in action:
MSTS loading speed
If there are too many active routes in the MSTS installation, it will take a long time for MSTS to load all the routes, when you start MSTS. Normally you will not be using or playing all the installed and downloaded routes at any time. One way to de-activate a route is to rename the route's main .trk file (named something like routename.trk) to some other extension (say routename.OFF, in this example). This way MSTS when started will only load the needed routes and will be much faster. Of course when you want to use the route you will need to rename the file back to its original .trk name.
Trainsim loading without a CD
Go to www.microsoft.com and download and install the MSTS v.1.2 upgrade. Your CD may already be at that version, but for some reason when you install the patch you no longer need to have the CD in the drive. ;)
Save, Save, and Save
This is an adage which you should follow religiously when playing or developing content for MSTS. Otherwise it would result in indefinite amount of frustration. For example, while playing an activity with complex switching and shunting, try to save after every successful step, say completing a consist from loose coaches. Otherwise you may end up on the wrong track, cross a imminent red light or even derail. Then you have to do all the operations again.
While inside a route press F2 to save. This applies even more when working with activity or route editor, where MSTS has an habit of crashing (particularly the route editor) on the slightest of mistakes!!
MSTS tutorials and other links
When you install MSTS, also install the optional tutorial package. There are a collection of tutorials on the MSTS route editor, activity editor, and a host of other aspects from adding a new shape to your route, to changing the cab view of your favourite locomotive.
The engineers' handbook (trainsim.pdf) installed in the default train sim directory also has lot of basic operation details.
There are also the following sites that have lots of tutorials on various aspects of the MSTS operation:
- steam4me: http://steam4me.railpage.org.au/trainsim/tutorials
- MSTS tutorials by none other than Ronald Kappel: http://www.ronaldus.com/asmallworld/irtsforum/index.php?board=7.
In an another article covering more advanced topics I will cover some aspects of activity generation and route building. Till then, enjoy!!