Disorient Express: Rail Sim Semantics

Ok, this is getting silly now – British railways ticket-pricing silly. No-one was happier than me to hear that DLC-fecund iron horse simulator RailWorks is soon to be blessed with another sizeable free update. Canted tracks, better rolling-stock physics, rainier rain, syrupier shadows, new locomotives, a new route… the list of improvements is longer than a fairly short Canadian Pacific coal train. Bravo RS.com! But why in Brunel’s name, did you have to use the update as an excuse to make the already baffling tangle of train simulator names even more confusing?

I’m an avid follower of the train sim scene and even I’m struggling to make sense of the nomenclature now. By the end of the summer, newcomers interested in trying gaming’s oiliest genre will find themselves confronted by this little lot:

Train Simulator,
Railway Simulator
Trainz Simulator 12
Train Simulator 2012 (RailWorks 3)
Model Train Simulator 2011
Trainz Simulator 2010
Trainz Simulator 2009
Trainz Railways
Rail Cargo Simulator
Rail Simulator
Rail Simulator Classic
Trainz Classics: Volume 1 & 2
Trainz Classics: Volume 3
Trainz: The Complete Collection
Train Simulator: RailWorks2

(and that’s ignoring the welter of add-ons and free sims)

Whether deliberately or by accident, the makers and publishers of realistic rail-themed entertainment have created an environment in which it’s incredibly easy for the careless or ill-informed to buy a) a product they already own, b) a product that’s outdated/overpriced, or c) a product with a name very similar to the one they intended to buy. The market is a maze.

What’s urgently needed is some sort of 1921 Railways Act rationalisation. I propose the following:

i) An industry-wide ban on the use of the word ‘simulator’ in titles. Back in the heyday of the civilian flight sim, companies like Looking Glass Studios, Laminar Research, and Terminal Reality proved it was perfectly possible to build brands without stating the bleedin’ obvious in big letters on the box lid.

ii) A similar ban on the use of Flight Simulator-style fonts. I’m not sure if it was those peddlers of super-prosaic Euro-sims Astragon, or Dutch tars VSTEP, that started the insidious Microsoft mimicry, but everyone seems to be at it these days. When many of the games bearing the distinctive lettering are crappier than a Street Cleaning Simulator gutter, you have to wonder why companies like RS.com  seem so eager to associate with them. I mean it’s not as if the world of trains is a wasteland when it come to typeface inspiration. GWR, London Transport, and BR utilized some of the most stylish text imaginable.

iii) A commitment to consistent monikers. This one’s crucial. If the average game emporium browser is to have any hope of navigating the groaning train sim shelf, it’s vital that nomenclature stays consistent. What relation does Trainz Simulator 12 have to Trainz Railways or Trainz Classics? Are the similarities between the screenshots on the Rail Simulator box and the RailWorks box entirely coincidental? Even if a confused punter has the gumption to ask a shop assistant, they’re unlikely to get a useful answer.

The US cover of RailWorks 3 suggests RS.com are already losing interest in the RW name. If, a year or two down the line, it winds-up in the same weed-invaded scrapyard as the short-lived Rail Simulator one, I’m going after RS.com with a shunting pole.

Thank heavens, the sensible souls behind freeware train sims stay loyal to their appellations. You wouldn’t catch, say, Michelle swapping the familiar OpenBVE name for some generic monstrosity.


iv) Dual feature lists. Want to slap a new name or number on an elderly sim and send it back out onto the shopfloor? Fine, but bear in mind you’ll be obliged to furnish the customer with the following feature breakdown. Under the 2011 Rail Sim Clarification Act, the back-of-the-box blurb will be split into two distinct sections. On the right, beneath a picture of a gleaming Hitachi high-speed train, details of genuinely new content and features. On the left, beneath a picture of a clapped-out steam loco, a list of the routes and rolling stock previously seen in past instalments.

v) In the event of industry resistance to the above measures, I’ll be using my immense personal fortune to fund* an army of full-time Simbassadors.  Dressed in distinctive cardigans and shorts these dedicated individuals will loiter in game shops offering advice to befuddled train sim punters.

“Excuse me madam, I couldn’t help noticing you were on the verge of purchasing RailWorks 3. Are you aware that RailWorks 2 is a fraction of the price, and can be transformed into RailWorks 3 via a free official download?”.

“Callow youth, before you buy that copy of My First Trainz Set, may I just point out that Trainz 2009 is cheaper and can be bolstered with shedloads of wonderful Thomas The Tank Engine add-ons “.

“Sir, from the green scatter under your fingernails, the hole in the instep of your left shoe,  and your downcast expression, I’m guessing you’re a railway modeller who, having fallen on hard times, has sold his OO layout and is now searching for a cheap digital substitute. Model Train Simulator 2011 might look like the perfect buy, but don’t be taken in. Its decidedly Deutsch content and awkward interface will probably leave you disappointed. Trainz remainz the best choice for the creative train enthusiast.” 

And so on.

Train sim title obfuscaters – You Have Been Warned.

 *To get round EU child labour laws Simbassadors will be paid in Lego Technic K’Nex.


  1. Devrey says:

    That’s not Lego, thank you very much.

  2. Eraysor says:

    So er…which train simulator should I actually buy?

    • drcancerman says:

      if you want realism and some nice stuff, like really wel done lines and nice graphics
      Railworks 2(since the update to the third is free)

      If you want to create anything, in an easy peasy editor, and I mean everything, from eltrains(elevated trains) to subways to bus routes(cant change direction, it’s on rails lol) . Doesn’t care much about graphics
      Trainz Simulator 12

      If you want the extreme in realism, and is not a graphics whore…

      I got all of them, except the Trainz 2012, I got instead the Trainz 2010(which came out last year), though they are not so different from one another, just some community stuff gets built in inside the DVD or main product.

    • Stuart Walton says:

      I tried BVE about 6 years ago, maybe more. After playing it I have a lot of respect for train drivers. Might give OpenBVE a look. :D

  3. stahlwerk says:

    Who needs Train Simulators, when the modern FPS genre provides a far more exciting experience of being railroaded?

    • Stellar Duck says:


      As for the actual games: I’d never play them but as is the case with Farming Simulator, Street Cleaner Sim, Bus Driver Simulator or whatever they’re all called, I’m delighted that games like that exist. They are not for me, by a long shot, but they show the breadth of the PC platform.

    • EOT says:

      Oooh burn.

    • DainIronfoot says:

      @Stellar Duck
      Train Simulators make a bit more sense to me.. most boys go through something of a trains phase (the enduring popularity of Thomas the Tank Engine seems to show that this is true, even today). You don’t hear about so many going through a bus stage or a street cleaner stage.

      It makes more sense to me to want to play at driving a great big steam powered monster to wanting to play at being a bus driver, farmer or street cleaner.

  4. Post-Internet Syndrome says:

    That’s K’nex you horrible blasphemer.

  5. BrightCandle says:

    If you are thinking “I will watch the video, something interesting must happen”. I can guarantee you all the real excitement happens in the first 60 seconds, once you’ve seen the train pull away that is as good as it gets.

    • Grinnbarr says:

      That’s exactly how I felt about the Railworks trailer.

      Still, someone must buy these games.

    • johnpeat says:

      I bought Railworks 2 (in a Steam Sale!!) because I was doing some video stuff and I needed some moving train shots – it seemed the obvious way to get em!!

      I’ve tried to get into it as a game but it’s hard work. I like the IDEA of controlling a train/sticking to the timetable etc. but the learning curve is vertical in places and the game itself isn’t the last word in user-friendly…

      I tried Trainz some years ago and it’s decades ahead in terms of making a layout but nowhere near as good at the driving bit – basically Railworks is a train-driver game and Trainz is more a ‘model train set’ for your PC.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      I also bought it in a sale, and I found it terribly unfriendly. There are no tutorials in the game, and the signs along the tracks that presumably tell you speed limits are not explained anywhere: even with the extra help turned on so the speed limit is displayed, it seems the speed limit sometimes changes when there’s no signs around…

    • pepper says:

      Goose, when you start up the game you get a screen in which you can select 2 manuals, one of them has the explanation of all the signals and lights in them.

      And yes, I have RW2 to, bought it for 2 euro’s and a bit at the past winter sale.Its a bit shy on content/scenario’s in places but its not bad for that price.

  6. HeavyHarris says:

    I loved trains as a kid, and part of me wants Railworks 2. But I just can’t help but feel like I’ll either feel like I’ve wasted my money, or buy way too much DLC

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Given at last check there was over $1000 of DLC available for this on Steam, I know what you mean.

      I picked this up last Christmas after years of tinkering with Trainz and despising it. Why?

      1) The graphic engine is crap. Though I’m not a graphics whore by any means. It LOOKS good but performs like crap. However, the BIG reason I’ve kicked Trainz to the side of the road is…

      2) THEIR GOD AWFUL DOWNLOADER! It’s horrendous, unituitive, and quite frankly, broken. You’ve got people making mods using other content on there, but the problem is going back up the chain, someone somewhere removes their item from the download station, breaking anything that ever touched it. There were some great Trainz 2004 routes, including one that randomly generated what you had to do. However I never got it working because it used some obscure module from somewhere by someone else who had released their item for others to use, but due to the nature of the download station broke a ton of stuff when they chose to take their ball home.

      Throw in how appalling the downloader itself is, how it seemingly broke completely if you had more than one version of Trainz installed. The fact that even with a proper subscription to their premium downloading service it still came down at almost dialup speed (though they’ve just upgraded this in the last week apparently) and the fact it’s easily the most horrificly designed service I’ve ever used…

      I decided “Bugger this!” and decamped to Railworks. The game runs far better on equal hardware, is more interesting, and to be quite frank is just more fun. You can put it in a sort of easy mode and it’s quite fun. I’m sure the hardcore mode would be fun, but I like just “forward, back, stop at the station” and it delivers.

      The free update is really exciting and I can’t wait.

  7. Alexander Norris says:

    I was under the impression that Railworks 3 uses the Flight Simulator font because it’s made by Kuju and is the sequel to Microsoft Train Simulator?

    • TeraTelnet says:

      You are correct; it was Microsoft Train Simulator, then EA’s Rail Simulator, then RailWorks. I suspect that they are trying to sneak back to using Train Simulator now that they think MS will not notice.

  8. Jorum says:

    Are there any good trainset games for kids?
    Basically a virtual toy train set, rather than full-on simulation.
    That Thomas Tank Engine link looks interesting, I’ll have to investigate.

    • TheLordHimself says:

      Transport Tycoon! I played that non-stop when I was 10.

    • Jac says:

      Used to love that aswell. There’s an open source version now called transport tycoon deluxe open source (funnily enough) that is immense. Supports absolutely giganticaps

    • Xercies says:

      The sandbox of Railway Tycoon 3 is quite good at that kind of thing as well.

    • somini says:

      link to openttd.org

      It’s OpenTTD, and it’s still being updated now, as well as adding A LOT of more content.

  9. Jake says:

    That video is so boring. Why is there no game where you drive a train around interesting places like underwater arcologies or space stations? This is like making a ‘walking to the shop’ simulator.

    • TeraTelnet says:

      we’ll make a fortune.

    • Was Neurotic says:

      The last, or one of the very last, things that the late great Peter Cook was working on before he died was a documentary for the BBC or Channel 4, I forget which. It was called “Peter Cook’s Hampstead” and would have been part of a series on various celebs and where they live. Cook’s idea though, was a thorough history and in-depth look at the twenty feet of pavement and road from his front door to his local newsagent. :D

  10. Ginger Yellow says:

    Is there actually a Ticket Inspector Simulator?

    • Magnetude says:

      I initially read it as ‘Ticket Inspector Stimulator’. Look at him sitting there, all alone. It’s the end carriage, look, no-one’s going to be passing through. Just talk to him a while.

    • Tim Stone says:

      “Is there actually a Ticket Inspector Simulator?”

      Not yet, but OMSI, the bus simulator, does a lovely job of simulating ticket selling.

      link to youtube.com

      (skip to 7.00 for ticket selling demo)

  11. Electricfox says:

    Good lord, Southern Belle…that takes me back.

    • terry says:

      Almost all I remember of that game is flipping about five separate levers and my engine exploding. I maybe got the train moving once but had no idea how to stop it again :(

  12. Shadowcat says:

    Clearly the developers needed your proposed “Train Simulator Simulator 2011” so that they could see how this was going to turn out before they went ahead and did it.

  13. pepper says:

    I disagree with you on OpenBVE, since it isnt just BVE in a open standard anymore. Not quite sure what their plan is but I can imagine the simulator itself still being called BVE but the framework/engine on which it runs has the generic name I’ve already forgotten.

    Ok, so maybe you do have a point.. Maybe..

  14. Torgen says:

    I have to admit that this article sums up why I haven’t strayed from my old Railroad Tycoon games, even though sometimes I’d rather just build a nice functioning railroad company with pretty graphics. That, and I could never live with sinking the vast sums into Railworks that they demand for their content. (read: “the wife would murder me in my sleep by strangling me with a mouse cord.”)

  15. metalangel says:

    The blame rests entirely at the feet of Auran, who could give seminars on how to absolutely wring the tits off something. Each version of Trainz gets released under at least three different names with differing content on the disc, not to mention slightly different international editions and collections and cheap editions you see on those “Games for everyone” racks in the supermarket.

    This would be bad enough, except the game is still filled with horrid looking models and scenery from the very first release back in 2001. Almost everything else of interest has been made by the community. The idea that you make your own layout isn’t bad, were the user-made content in any way organized. Searching through the horrible interface trying to find a nice building or fence or something that suits the little town you’re building is downright painful.

    Trainz 2012 is basically just Trainz 2010, but with one or two extra routes. If you want to build stuff, you might enjoy it, but for actually driving trains then Railworks 2, BVE or even the now-ancient Microsoft Train simulators are infinitely superior.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Auran are definitely the worst offenders, but I think RS.com and Just Trains must also shoulder some of the blame. I’ve just noticed that JT have recently released something called ‘Drive A Steam Train’ . From the screenshots I’m guessing it’s some sort of RailWorks spin-off but there’s no mention of that on link to justtrains.net. Come on chaps, let’s have some transparency!

    • metalangel says:

      Heh heh, that’s well placed for the crucial ‘retired dad’ market, who would never go on Steam or into Gamestation, but DOES get dragged around Morrison’s, who wouldn’t buy a full price sim focussed on diesel, but WOULD happily pay a tenner for the Bath-Templecombe route. My dad bought a copy of Trainz 2004 from one of those racks, an awful awful re-edition by Mastertronic that requires the disc to be in the drive (what, is it 1997 still?), and he found the game itself very underwhelming. Luckily, his son furnished him with a copy of MS Train Sim and the excellent Great Eastern addon by Making Tracks.

  16. identiti_crisis says:

    The only thing that really appeals to me in these games, aside from the obvious “boyish” trainset fantasy fulfillment, is the idea of “controlling” a hulking great steam boiler over hill and down dale just to deliver the mail.

    Those electric trains are boring: push lever, go faster. Bleh. No chance of rupturing a vessel there.

    So, yeah, which one do I get for my steam-powered kicks? (no, Valve, not you…)

    • Electricfox says:

      Railworks, Trainz is good but doesn’t really have the feel of controlling a big old steam engine as it was originally designed as a model railway type, OpenBVE is more diesel and electric, there are a couple of steam engines (made for BVE4 I think) but they don’t work as well as the diesel and electric. However Microsoft Train Simulator and Railworks have all the software geared to be able to simulate steam locomotives.

    • metalangel says:

      Definitely Railworks if you want steam. Make sure you turn off the automatic fireman, too, doing so is absolutely vital. If you don’t do it yourself, he won’t keep the fire big enough nor the steam pressure high enough, and you WILL slow to a pathetic crawl on the hilly Bath-Templecombe route.

      Electrics, especially the class 86 in the marvelous WCML addon, are not boring. They’re quite tricky to drive. Luckily I have a colleague who used to drive them who explained how it works (and he tried the simulator and said it was pretty accurate)

    • identiti_crisis says:

      Well, I absolutely did not expect a response, so thanks for the recommendation, advice and the broadening of mind!
      “Bath-Templecomb” rings a bell, so I’m not sure if I have one of those there Railworks alter-egos, or if I just forgot I already owned it (heh); I definitely remember the slowing to a crawl thing :P
      I’ll have to rummage in my abandoned retail-boxed-games collection to know for sure… EDIT: It’s Rail Simulator.

      Also, I forgot to congratulate the author of that K’nex video on his splendid speakers. I remember having some just like those circa 1997!

  17. IvanHoeHo says:

    To be honest, all I want is a modern version of Transarctica. Train sim + X3! *drools*

    Modern trains are a bit too charmless for me personally, since all the moving parts are hidden behind panels and such. Plus, if I wanted to look at badly rendered suburbia / farmlands going past, all I gotta do is go for a drive.