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"We often get asked about what the future holds for Train Simulator Classic, and it's always something we're thinking about too. We speak to Senior Producer, Steve Dark, about his vision for the simulator's development moving forward.
Hello everyone! For those that don’t know me, I’m Steve, the Senior Producer for Train Simulator. Whilst I have only recently taken up the role, I have worked at Dovetail for over 8 years. However, my passion and involvement in Train Simulator goes back right to the very beginning of the software.
Like many of you, I came aboard on the first day that Rail Simulator hit the market and have bought every version since until joining Dovetail in 2014. I spent much of my time in the software making my own things and modding the published content to meet my own expectations in how that content should work.
The thing I love most about Train Simulator is the freedom it gives you to be creative, to tinker and make things your own, to collect and build something that you can truly be proud of. No other piece of software gives you that level of customisation or to build a collection that can satisfy whatever you might be in the mood for that day.
Train Simulator Classic: Our Vision
Train Simulator’s ecosystem is about so much more than the content we make, it's about the contributions of the entire community. Those who work to meet or exceed your expectations with some of the most advanced add-ons ever made for Train Simulator by developers such as Armstrong Powerhouse, ChrisTrains, Just Trains, ATS, Aerosoft and High Iron Simulations are just a few of the big names contributing to the ecosystem.
I personally feel Train Simulator’s strength is that it provides a unique platform to bring out the creativity in anyone who has an interest in trains or railways/railroads, whether you’re creating scenarios, routes or trains, or just tinkering and modifying something someone else has created. No matter who you are, or what you do, everything you create for Train Simulator is all a contribution to the wider ecosystem and it’s that ecosystem that is Train Simulator’s legacy that will continue onward for as long as there are those out there that want to play and enjoy the work that everyone has put in.
So, I’m sure you can see that Train Simulator isn’t going anywhere. As you all continue to invest in the software, so too are we, and I’m here today to outline some of what our investment in the core technology is going to look like as we move into Train Simulator’s future.
Stable & Intelligent Core
Perhaps the most important aspect to the core software is to ensure it is stable. Train Simulator is a highly advanced and complex piece of software - it was cutting edge at the time it was made. Over the years we have patched and upgraded things, added new things along the way and used it as a testing platform for some experimental things. It’s all those things that we want to tidy up and clean out. Anything that is no longer being used is going to be removed. In so doing, it will lead to much cleaner, leaner and robust code, and consequently, become much more stable.
An area we’re looking to improve is how the software communicates with you, the player, when things aren’t going so well. Right now, the software is only capable of showing one error message irrespective of the problem you’re seeing. We’ll be building in more granularity to the User Messaging System so it will give you better contextual information on what’s gone wrong instead of just the same message over and over again. Over time, we’ll extend this to include even more intelligent functions and messages that will enable you to understand more about what’s going on under the hood without having to deep dive into LogMate logs.
We're already well under way with this part of the work and are making good progress. There’s still a long way to go but our plan is to deliver phased updates to you when they're ready, with the first update planned to come to you in the coming months. We’ll continue to keep you informed on progress and give you details on when you can expect to get involved.
Performance & Optimisation
As part of our thinking, we’re looking at improving performance on modern PCs. Train Simulator was built for the PCs of the early 2000s but, things have moved on from there quite substantially and it wasn’t something anyone could have predicted at the time. Our primary aim is to have Train Simulator be capable of using whatever resources your PC has available. This will give Train Simulator a new lease of life, giving more performance overhead enabling ever more complex content and stress-free play on modern computers.
Some of this work will be about optimising how the software handles certain tasks such as your collection of locos, routes, scenarios, and Workshop content. Some of it is about changing how the software does things such as important processes which are vital to how the software operates like streaming in a route or loading scripts.
As Train Simulator continues to grow and expand, the need for it to be able to handle the demands you place on it with large collections of content and support the substantial memory loads that are placed on it will be particularly important. So, with that in mind, we’re investigating the possibility of retiring the 32-bit engine entirely and going full 64-bit. This will include all the tools that you and we use to make content.
Enhanced Content Management
One area that Train Simulator doesn’t handle so well is your collection. Whilst it does a good job of loading everything you have installed; it doesn’t give you any control over it to curate your own content library. So, we want to build you a set of tools that gives you the power to manage your own collection, whether that means removing content you’re never going to play with or simply just organise your collection into categories that makes it easier for you to find the content you love playing with the most. It’s your collection, so we think it’s important that you should be able to manage it the way you want to, and with large collections, being able to organise it is paramount.
New User Interface
As part of the process to improve content handling and improve overall performance, we’re also looking at overhauling the user interface. We currently use Autodesk Scaleform to handle the user interface. Unfortunately, this is a bit long in the tooth these days and because of its reliance on Shockwave, it isn’t going to be suitable for our longer-term aim of putting the control over your collection in your hands. Scaleform was also retired many years ago by Autodesk so, we are no longer able to keep this updated with newer versions. So, we will be looking to embrace a modern web-oriented user interface which will better integrate with Steam and our own websites but, more importantly, enable us to develop the tools you need to manage your collections the way you want to.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, the best thing about Train Simulator is its flexibility in customisation. With a powerful new user interface, it will enable you to do much more than just manage your collection. It will include (for those with the necessary abilities) the option to customise the interface for your own purposes, use your own background music as well as choose from a selection of interface graphic and colour styles that suit you or, better yet, enable you to make your own and share them with your friends or the community. At the time of writing, there's still a lot to investigate in this area, so this is likely to be a longer-term goal. We may need to take this step-by-step, expanding the capabilities as we go.
DirectX Core Version
Finally, we know that a DirectX Version upgrade is something that has been heavily discussed over the last few years. Based on our research, this may not be something we can do easily as it may impact your entire collection of content as it will fundamentally change how not just content works, but how it is made. This will naturally complicate things for everyone, so we do need to be careful.
That said, we are looking to implement a DirectX 9 to DirectX 12 translation facility that will essentially give us DirectX 12 support in Train Simulator. At this stage, we don’t know what benefits this will give us in Train Simulator until we try it but we’re hoping you will all join us in testing it when it becomes available.
We will see how the translation works as we go but it may require an alternative solution that will need to be evaluated step-by-step. We’ll keep you informed on this.
The above is just the tip of the iceberg. There is no shortage of ideas on how we can improve and further develop Train Simulator. We have read and continue to read all the suggestions that have been coming in from you, our players, and we will continue to roll noteworthy ideas into our thinking as we move forward. We may not be able to factor all your ideas, but we can assure you that they are taken seriously and discussed thoroughly. So, feel free to keep your ideas coming on the forums.
One caveat we feel it is important to highlight is that we are only just beginning the journey to further develop the software, so there may be things we will need to tweak and adjust as we go. This means things on this article may not go ahead or may need extra time to fully realise, so this plan will need to remain somewhat fluid, as we have no idea what challenges we may run into. We’ll keep you updated on what, if any, changes there are and the reasons for them.
As mentioned earlier, the work has already started and is well under way with the first update planned to go in the coming months.
We hope you’ve found this article of some interest and it offers some reassurance that Train Simulator’s ecosystem is as vibrant and full as it ever has been and there is a long future ahead of us that we can all look forward to.
We’ll be back with another update when we’re ready to share more detail with you on the progress we're making. For now, we hope you all have a great Christmas and are looking forward to the great things ahead for Train Simulator Classic."
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