The Flare Path: Thumping Great Thumper Fan

Newly released German coach sim Fernbus Simulator has spent the week hiding my car keys, flicking rubber bands in my direction, and thumbing through my favourite books with jammy fingers. Exasperated by its anti-social antics I’ve put it aside until TML improve controller configuration facilities and patch away the most infuriating bugs and performance issues. Instead of a Fernbus impressions piece radiating frustration, today in FP you’re going to get a Train Simulator 2016 article radiating admiration. Today I’d like to talk about why Armstrong Powerhouse’s new Class 205 ‘Thumper’ has just elbowed out a very miffed Su-25 Frogfoot from my All-Time Favourite Sim Steeds top ten.

The ‘Thumpers’ – so called because of their characteristic engine throb – were first generation British diesel-electric* multiple units that spent their remarkably long working lives (1957-2004) beetling around the unelectrified bits of the Southern Region. Not swift, glamorous or of especially distinctive appearance, they might seem an unpromising subject for sim immortalisation. Other attempts at modelling SR multiple units in TS2016 have produced largely forgettable DLC like the Class 415 and Class 422 EMUs. What’s different in this instance is this add-on has been crafted by a dev as devoted and obsessive in their own way as A2A Simulations or M-R-Software.

*Electric traction motors powered by a diesel engine

Armstrong Powerhouse, best known for their highly-regarded sound packs, have reproduced the Thumper with Rembrandt-like honesty and attention to detail. The wrinkles, warts, bristles and dimples that other TS add-on artisans routinely exclude are present, and the difference is transformational. Step into the cab and I’ll show you what I mean.

We’re about to perform an extremely unusual task in train simming – a full (optional) cold start. First, I cursor my way to the battery box to de-isolate the battery. Now it’s back to the cab to set the brake lever to ensure it syncs with the main reservoir once the engine is running. Okay, time to turn the all-important master key in the power handle base. Next we run the oil priming pump by moving the reverser handle to the ‘EO’ setting for thirty seconds or so. Fancy rousing the 600 bhp English Electric power plant yourself? Step through that door into the engine compartment (press the left arrow key three times) and you’ll find an oil pressure gauge and a row of three buttons. Assuming the needle on the gauge has reached at least 20 psi, press the ‘engine start’ button and, fingers-crossed, the old girl should splutter into life.

Naturally, there’s still plenty more to do before we exit the depot. That big wheel over there is the handbrake. The battered cabinet behind us contains the train heating controls and saloon lighting switches. The one in front hides the lovely hand-cranked headcode rollerblinds and the naked bulbs that illuminate them. That telephone gizmo to the right is a nicely modelled Cab Secure Radio unit (On routes set-up for CSR we use that to communicate with signalmen). Everything you see around you can be pushed, rotated, flipped, or opened, and this abundance of tactile protuberances together with the kind of pleasing patination so often missing from TS2016 cabs, ensures the 205’s cockpit begins soothing and spell-weaving the second you step into it.



And the Thumper looks and sounds just as good on the outside as it does on the inside. Supplied in eleven different liveries, the units boast bespoke door animations and body sway physics.

In a station when you dab the unload/load passengers button, instead of every door swinging open at exactly the same time, portals open and close randomly. Though the boarders and alighters responsible for the unpredictable chorus of clicks and slams are invisible, peering back down the length of the train it takes precious little imagination to picture the parent struggling with the pushchair, the dozing nightshift worker who’s woken up in the nick of time, the sprinting commuter who’s almost cut it too fine.

Dissatisfied with TS2016’s default and decidedly bogus body sway (The sim simply jiggles your view around) AP have implemented something far more plausible. Snaking through points or scuttling along at speed, carriages rock independently. It’s a small thing, but the devs seem to understand that small things matter in a sim as low-intensity and atmosphere-reliant as TS.

Unsurprisingly, given the studio’s track record, audio is outstanding. Apparently, the myriad growls, purrs, whistles, hisses, clicks and chimes that musicalise every journey, were hewn from over 120 hours of recordings (Here’s an example of AP’s sound gatherers at work). Because Electric Train Heating subtly influences engine note, it was necessary to record two sets of engine sounds – one with ETH on and one with ETH off. In a genre where devs frequently recycle and substitute sound effects, the commitment to audio authenticity is startling.

Given that the simulated four-cylinder English Electric 4SRKT Mark II warbles so mellifluously, it’s mildly disappointing it isn’t more audible from the prototypically-well-soundproofed cab. Yes, I could drive with my head out of the window all of the time, but that seems a tad undignified.

And if I drove with my pate permanently in the slipstream I wouldn’t be able to…

A) Read the ammeter (Pushing the traction motors too hard can overload them, causing them to shut down )
B) Enjoy the bespoke condensation effects
C) Keep a note of my splattered fly tally (Drive in the summer and, now and again, unfortunate insects explode on your windscreen)

The 205 Pack might simulate fly fatalities and have what it takes to revive a lapsed love like-affair with TS2016, but in one area it does disappoint. My crest visibly fell on discovering that I couldn’t play any of the six “highly realistic & engaging” included scenarios – all of which utilise either the DTG Brighton to London or DTG South London route – because I didn’t own some of the following dependencies:

AP Class 365/465/466 (Met-Cam) Sound Pack
AP Class 456 Electric Multiple Unit Pack
DTG BR Class 73 ‘Gatwick Express’
DTG BR Class 421
DTG BR Class 423
DTG European Community Asset Pack
DTG Southeastern Class 465
Thomson Interactive Class 455

While I’m perfectly happy to beetle about in Quick Drive mode until less demanding user-made scenarios begin appearing, a few structured challenges wholly reliant on route assets would have been most welcome.

* * * * *

This way to the foxer

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14 Comments

  1. Da5e says:

    This is not the Thumper I had hoped for :(

  2. Gothnak says:

    Stupid question Tim, did the winners get announced for the big Foxer event? I assumed i hadn’t won, but i’d have liked to see how many people got the answers right for each question. I saw you put the answers in the original thread, but i think i missed the results?

    • Tim Stone says:

      The winners were notified on the Sunday afternoon following the column. Number of names that went into the hat for each quiz: Missing vowels (23), Rivers (36), Where am I? (5), Anagrams (23), Manuals (21).

      • Gothnak says:

        Ah, thanks Tim…

        No mysterious email in my junk box… bugger.. :).

  3. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    Those graphics are right in the uncanny valley between looking like a game, and looking like a photograph.
    What sort of specs do you need to run TS2016? It looks like the textures are pretty high-res in places so I’d assume lots of graphics memory would help.

    • Premium User Badge

      modzero says:

      Actually there was an announcement for completely new Train Simulator yesterday, and the screenshots are pretty and somewhat past uncanny valley: link to imgur.com (except for trees, trees look terrible in games). Also, you’ll be able to walk around the trains “properly”. I’m unreasonably excited.

  4. Stugle says:

    That’s a great write-up. Rationally, I know full well that this type of game is not for me, but whenever there’s a Flare Path like today, I always spend a few happy moments daydreaming that yes, I could really do this and get lots of enjoyment out of it. :) Anyway, I’m vicariously enjoying it right now, which is a far better way to go.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Ben King says:

    Also not the Thumper I was looking for, yet this article has totally convinced me to put Train Simulator 2016 on my wishlist…

  6. KastaRules says:

    I was gonna say that thanks to the attention to details, this it is the first DLC I see which is worth the money… then I read the end of the article “you cannot play any scenario unless you buy a gazillion other DLCs” and I changed my mind.

    Not that I play train sims anyway.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    Oh my god! That sound. There’s something about it…

    … Should I invest into trainsims as well now?

    • Premium User Badge

      modzero says:

      Depends? There’s TSW coming next year (with early access any moment now), it has a new engine and it’s going to be incompatible with all the old stuff (the tears of the anti-DLC crowd are going to be delicious). Also, the early access thing is supposed to come with TS2016 and a bit of extra content, so depending on the pricing it might be worth it.

      Source: link to youtube.com.

  8. Little_Crow says:

    I knew train folk were a breed apart when it came to this level of obsession over detail, but I had no idea the level of effort extended so far.

    £20 seems more than fair for the lengths they’ve gone to. It’s not my bag, but how about an interview with the Armstrong Powerhouse guys?
    I’m weirdly interested in all this.

  9. Blake says:

    I used to play Trainz before Auran sort of began hurling out a release after release with very little improvements and I pretty much spent most of the time in the map editor, which was absolutely lovely back then, when combined with a strong modding scene we had here where I live.

    Rail Simulator, when it came, was audio-visually stunning, but I don’t remember it letting me edit or create maps, which kind of put me off and I never picked it up again.
    They ever added that, or is it still a pure Eisenbahnfahrzeugführersimulator?

    Also Trainz was a bit less depressing when it came to missing dependencies, sure, you spent as much time just looking for them as playing, but in the end, you rarely found payware and it was one of the easiest games to mod.