Posted by request:
I know that this question probably has been asked 1000 times already, but I figured I would give it a 'fresh' go. I put the word best in quotes above as in the meaning "best for my use".
So with that in mind, lets move on:
I was thinking about getting into V-Scale or virtual railway simulations.
For my background, I have taken an interest in model railroading and while I have started to get pieces together to start an N-scale layout, I have not begun as of yet. I recently sold my house and my current space allowance has been curtailed. So a model railroad isn't in my near future. I have heard about Microsoft's train simulator and after seeing a demonstration on a full scale train simulator at a train museum, I figured I would be interested in virtual railway simulations for the computer.
What I am looking for:
I am mostly interested in steam trains, so obviously the program I choose should have quite a good selection in steam trains. However, I don't mind a few older diesels as well (e.g. GE catfish).
Having the controls in front of you in cab view also leads me to the next thing I am interested in. I would like a more 'hands on' approach and would like to use real train controls hooked up to the computer. So I would like a program that has this ability. With hands on control also leads me to another question. Does any of the train simulators support a split screen? Thus can you have a view of the controls and gauges on one screen and the front window view out another display?
What program would best handle this?
I am mostly interested in AMERICAN routes only...specifically the Pennsylvania & NY rail road lines. I am mostly familiar with the North East US prototype railways so this is where my interest lies. So I would like some good detailing in the scenery and would like to easily point out highly recognizable features and destinations (e.g Altoona's Horseshoe curve).
Sounds have to be accurate as well. I don't want to change engines and have the SAME recorded whistle (or horn), bell and chuffing sounds. If I select a loco, I would hope that the associated sounds that are on the prototype are faithfully reproduced in the simulator.
My main interest is the cab view of the train. As such I would like to see good details in the scenery and cab details. However, I am also interested in seeing the train 'move' from outside the cab as well.
Unlike my requirements for the cab an scenery, I am not too much of a stickler on extreme detailing of the outside of the trains. But some detail is warranted. I would say I would like to see details mostly on the steam locomotives as they have the most moving parts.
Do any of the programs offer tasks and exercises such as switching?
Now before I go into my program choices I figured I would post my system specs and you can tell me what will (or will not) run on my system:
Dell Dimension 4600
Intel Pentium 4 2.8ghz processor
2 gig ram
2 500gb 7200rpm SATA hard drives
ATI Radeon 7600XT video card with 256meg ram
M-Audio multichannel sound card (SB compatible)
Windows XP Home Edition (SP2)
Now for my choices (and first impressions based on my readings):
1) Microsoft Train Simulator
1) Train Simulator
The first choice was Train Simulator. I only briefly looked into it and it is a 'dated' program by today's standards. Also since it is Windows 98 based, I wondered how it would fair on a Win XP system. After reading some recent reviews on the program, it does seem that it has issues with Windows XP. When checking out MSTS on line at Amazon, I see the program is still available and that they even have the program released in Win XP variants by Xplosiv and Atari. Once nice thing I did find out about MSTS is that you can hook up various external controls and THAT is a major plus. Being an older program I do have my reservations as how the program looks overall. I would say though considering it is older, it should run pretty smooth on a newer machine. I am hoping I would be correct in this assumption.
The program's price is very attractive as I see that it sells between $10 and $20. But there are so many versions out there, what would work best for me.
2) Trainz Railroad Simulator:
This program is newer and it seems to get the best reward in terms of looks. The engines and rolling stock look stunning, however, the cab and scenery is just OK. I have read reviews and supposedly there are quite a few problems with getting Trainz to run smoothly. Even in You Tube I can see the jerkiness in the program. However, since that is an internet transfer, there is only so much detail you can see on You Tube.
Supposedly this program can also interface to train controls too.
One major downside to Trainz (that I read about) is that you can only register it once. So that rules out buying a used copy. While that isn't a major issue, I do have a problem with some programs that only allow you to put it on one computer. Is that the case with Trainz?
Also I noticed that there seems to be a lean towards diesel trains here.
Unlike a true train simulator, Trainz seems to be a simulation of a model railroad. So I am not too sure I would get into that. Can it do real life proto type routes?
Trainz is also the highest initial cost.
3) BVE (Boso View Express).
The big draw here is that this is a Freeware program and it is the minimal investment of all. So this does fall into the "it can't hurt to try it" school. However, outside of cost in money is cost in time. Since this program only allows cab views, it does present a compromise right off the bat. Thankfully the best feature I want, which is the cab view, is what this program seems to excel at. Version 2 seems to be limited graphics wise...especially the 'in cab' view. But version 4 fixed this. The cab interiors are great.
Scenery seems to be a mixed bag. It looks to run pretty smooth (even on You Tube), but it seems to be 'lacking' detail wise.
As of now, I don't think BVE allows the hookup of external controls. Also I have not seen much in terms of steam trains
But I did come across this video:
This is absolutely fantastic. The tracks and scenery look really good here too.
My biggest complaint with BVE is that sometimes when you have a passing train, the exterior of that train looks very 'cartoony' and unrealistic. This is minor though and I can live with it.
So as it stands now I am having trouble selecting which one I should try.
Any pointers or suggestions would be appreciated from those who have used these programs extensively. If there is a program outside of these three that is worth mentioning (and fits my criteria) then please do tell. I am sure there is more out there, it was that these three came up in most searches.
1) Must run smoothly on the above Dell system (no choppy)
2) Has to have a cab view with detailed interior
3) Good scenery with recognizable landmarks on North-East American Routes
4) Good selection of steam engines and older diesels
5) Can be interfaced to external controls.
6) No repeating scenery.
7) Must install properly with as little "hoop jumping" as possible
8) Having tasks or something to do (such as switching) will help as I would like to do more than just run a train down a track all day.
Well, I think that about covers it for now.
Thanx in advance for any advice.
That is it. Do you have a word limit on your posts? Could that be the problem? I don't understand why something short can post, but this will not post.