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:
Trainz Simulator 12
Train Simulator 2012 (RailWorks 3)
Model Train Simulator 2011
Trainz Simulator 2010
Trainz Simulator 2009
Rail Cargo 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which it's incredibly easy for the careless or ill-informed to buy a) a product they already own, b) a product that's outdated/overpriced, or c) a product with a name very similar to the one they intended to buy.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.