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The Cambrian Route - A Seaside Journey

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  • The Cambrian Route - A Seaside Journey


    The Cambrian Route - A Seaside Journey


    By Fafner (18 June 2003)








    "The Cambrian Route"


    Add-On for Microsoft Train Simulator

    Developer: 3D Train Stuff, Inc.

    Version Tested: 1.2 - .TRK May 15, 2003

    Price: $29.95 US



     




    Don't I Know You From Somewhere?



    No, you don't. We aren't awash with MSTS routes for Wales, let alone
    the Cardigan Bay region. There have been an attempt or two at
    creating the narrow gauge line Ffestiniog, which appears on the
    system map as a connection at Minffordd. (Spelling of some place
    names in Wales and Borders Railways timetables differs from that of
    the route map.)






    A freeware add-on route exists of a portion of the GWR system in
    South Wales, from Swansea to Carmarthen. Talyllyn Railway, a narrow
    gauge line close to the Wales and Borders Railways Tywyn stop is
    available. Nothing in the way of a connection at Shrewsbury for
    Machynlleth, which would be a valuable link for passenger operation
    devotees. Not much for the Welshman.



    Seems no one with the nerve to open Route Editor has been here
    before. Thus, 3DTS-UK breaks new ground with this add-on. The portion
    of Wales and Borders system modeled runs from Pwllheli to
    Machynlleth, with a connection at Dovey Junction for Aberystwyth.
    Roughly 73 miles of track, depending upon how the trackage east of
    Dovey Junction is counted. A single track line with numerous
    platforms, yards and service trackage.



    Do not for a minute think this is a neglected line, overgrown with
    weeds, running only an occasional short freight train. Not at all.
    Wales and Borders runs regular passenger service. A 2003 summer
    vacation timetable was recently published. Passenger service is
    frequent, the facilities and equipment are modern. If you miss a
    train during daylight service hours it is probably your fault.



    CD Package

    Cambrian Route CD package comes with the installation .exe, a BMP
    graphic of the route map, another BMP of gradients. No extras.



    Installation goes smoothly: If you have autostart enabled,
    installation should begin immediately. Otherwise do an exe hunt from
    the Run command line, or Explore the CD, double click on the exe. No
    problems encountered.



    There are 25 activities to use with Cambrian, more about these later.
    You will also have on the order of 30 new consists. Checking the
    route revealed no missing texture files, nothing called out in shape
    files which was not present and accounted for, similarly the consists
    are all solidly tied to appropriate activities, finally the consists
    themselves check 100% for accuracy.



    Equipment: Basically you get one 2-6-2T tank engine, the Churchward
    design as improved by Collett, in three flavors. You also get a DMU
    Class 101, in "Blue", "Bluegrey" and "Green". "Night" versions of the
    DMU's provide interior as well as exterior lighting, with the steam
    loco it amounts to lighting the cab. Paint schemes and weathering
    seem to be the major differences between the motive power models. The
    DMU's have interior views, the freight brakevan has a view from the
    rear of the car covering a 180 degree FOV.






       


       






       


       




    Also furnished are "30 pieces" of rolling stock - if empty and full
    versions of the same cars are counted separately. Otherwise eighteen
    or nineteen, all are freight of the typical British two axle type. No
    passenger cars. MSTS default GWR coaches might do (they are in the
    Pendennis folder), at sixty feet and under they compare favorably to
    the DMU length of 75 feet. Pulling the GWR coaches with the Class
    4575 might or might not be "authentic". Plenty of rolling stock is
    available in the file library.



    Milepost data are not furnished; we decided to provide it for you.
    Most mileage data pertain to station platforms, resulting in
    fractional "mile posts", the figures are derived from platform stops
    and the Activity Editor:








































    Pwllhelli 132.25
    Abererch 131.01
    Penychain (Butlins) 129.48
    Criccieth 125.09
    Porthmadog 120.12
    Minffordd 117.93
    Penrhyndeudrath 116.63
    Llandecwyn 115.78
    Talsarnau 114.74
    Tygwyn 113.95
    Harlech 111.13
    Llandanwg 109.13
    Dyffryn Ardudwy 105.60
    Talybont 103.99
    Llanbedr 108.01
    Barmouth 100.60
    Fairbourne 98.34
    Llwyngwril 95.40
    Llangelynin 93.30
    Tonfanau 91.07
    Tywyn 86.75
    Aberdovey 85.02
    Penhelig 84.03
    Abertafol 82.49
    *Dovey Junction 79.10
    Machynlleth 75.03

    *Dovey Junction 79.10
    Borth 87.50
    Aberystwyth 95.50



    The Crown Jewels?







    Cab view of the included DMU.


    Way back when, during our HO layout building days, most of us were
    pressed for space. The lucky ones had the use of an entire basement
    for their scale railroad empire. Most of us didn't, plus there was
    the matter of available funds. We taught ourselves a fondness for the
    "little gem" category of layout. Branch line, well used equipment,
    short consists, way freight for lack of a division yard the size of a
    small city, connection to a larger road.



    Cambrian fits pretty well into the little gem category. Electrified
    it never was, isn't now and likely never will be. No ICE express
    screaming along at 150 mph. Steam until the very end, it fits the
    tank engine methodology which dominated this kind of line. Before
    automobiles and trucks the line would have been critical to life in
    the towns it served. Not everything came in and went out via
    watercraft.



    Cardigan Bay, opening on St. George's Channel, separating Wales from
    a place called Ireland, is beautiful in a soft, comforting way. The
    Cambrian Mountains are not the Matterhorn, no towering snow covered
    peaks. They are more in the way of gentle rolling hills. Cambrian
    Route Guide, Wales and Borders Railway, claims "The Dyfi Estuary
    marks the gateway to some of the finest coastal scenery in Britain
    ..."








    Meet at Criccieth--freight whistles off as DMU tucks into platform siding.


    Over the years, mining in Wales began to shut down. Finally, no mines
    were in operation, changing the economic base drastically. Bathing
    beaches and narrow gauge railways replaced soot and tailings. Coastal
    Cambria became a prime vacation destination. Cook's European
    Timetable Advance Summer Planner assures us of a dozen or more trains
    a day Birmingham - Machynlleth; from there all stations on the
    Cambrian route map can be reached. Cambrian Route takes all this in
    stride. You will see row upon row of vacation cottages. Buses waiting
    at stations for disembarking vacationers. Barmouth Bridge will always
    be a tourist and rail fan attraction.



    The star here is clearly the route itself. Scenery is as good or
    better than we have seen to date. There is more to it, however, as
    there usually is when a real accomplishment comes along. Packing 3D
    objects with high poly counts into a scene can be visually
    impressive, at the same time it can be a frame killer. Frame rates
    are important, naturally, but they are not be-all and end-all when it
    comes to results. If a CPU - graphics card combination is set up
    properly, the frame rates can drop to rather low levels - 15 or 16 -
    if stuttering is absent the rendering will be smooth. Provided, that
    is, the designers did not overload the scene. A 3D application of any
    kind which runs well only on high end machines leaves most of us on
    the outside, looking in.



    The art of successful 3D animation is making the scene look good, at
    the same time keeping the load on the system within reasonable
    limits. The term "art" is not used casually. More than technology is
    involved. We are referring to a subject which is stock in trade for
    the theater designer: Utilizing aspects of stagecraft to create
    illusion. Your impression and response to a given scene in "real
    time" is not based on a count of every blade of grass or tree leaf.
    Your eyes see everything, but your brain can handle only a fraction:
    An automatic filtering process takes place, based upon elements which
    have become visually relevant. The experienced stage designer -
    theater or cinema - knows about these keys and uses them. Skillfully
    done, you do not notice what is missing - you aren't looking for what
    isn't there, rather you are concentrating on a fairly small
    collection of key items. Your response is based upon them. You expect
    to see certain things.







    Meet at Criccieth--Freight waits as DMU approaches.


    The clever 3D designer sets the scene in the same way. You don't need
    masses of high poly count objects; you need the important ones. Done
    properly the system load is reduced, smooth flow is maintained even
    when frames drop to low levels, the results are equal to a more
    "realistic" packing of the scene. In some ways the results are
    better, however this involves stylization, which is beyond the scope
    of this review.



    We need only to know the 3D work in Cambrian Route is exceptional.
    The setting works in nearly every case, in almost any direction you
    will be looking. There are a few places in rural areas where trees
    and shrubbery crowd in on the track. Full 3D objects would be piling
    on, we've seen this happen in forested areas. We know what it does to
    our frame rates. In these situations "flats" (a theatrical term) are
    used in Cambria; 2D objects representing trees and shrubs. They look
    best when seen from cabview angles or from the passenger view. But
    the impression you get, even outside the cab, is not confined to that
    of a "cutout": The designer "covers" a given area by backing up a
    flat of trees with a shorter one, placed at an extreme angle behind
    the main element. Viewing it as you roll past, you are not aware of
    two flat surfaces; you have to study the group before it becomes
    apparent.



    Pulling in to most any town on the route gives us a sense of
    "arriving" - there it is in the distance, then somewhat larger, then
    we see just enough to be convinced it is Barmouth, or Harlech, or any
    of the other towns. Larger communities are best presented from a
    distance; if we persist in popping up to see everything, perhaps we
    won't be impressed, but we will also understand there is a limit to
    how far building up an area can go in any 3D program, certainly MSTS
    is no exception.



    Here are examples, screen shots done as the train approaches Barmouth
    from the south. Note that in the third image, the one where the train
    is adjacent to Barmouth platform, just enough detail is present, no
    more than necessary. Yet nothing seems to be missing. Human figures
    are placed in such a way to create an illusion of depth. Another
    notable feature is the track itself: Look closely, you will see these
    are not the shiny, impossibly new textures which are present in the
    default routes, themselves slavishly copied into add-ons. This track
    looks more "real" than the default, one reason being the reflective
    quality has been flattened. The effect is similar to the replacement
    track textures many of us are using.






       


       




    Not surprisingly, frame rates maintain a workable level throughout
    the approach, slowing for the platform and stop. Not high. Workable.
    Look again at the third image; there are a fair number of objects
    present. The frame rate here was no different than the first approach
    screen shot. Stuttering should not occur.



    The reader may have noticed something different about the human
    figures. They are 3D. Who said it couldn't be done? The people who
    can't do it. There are double-decker buses with lighted interiors.
    Road vehicles have headlights, some also have tail lights. The
    headlights do not project light, apparently they cannot in MSTS,
    instead they are done with "glow material", which works well enough.
    Using road vehicles a certain way will make the viewer think the
    headlights are on: During Cambrian night sequences, as you run
    through a road crossing the street lights will be on. As you are
    passing, a car will pull up at just the right time, into the circle
    of light under the street lamp. The illusion is clever and
    convincing; unless you are paying very close attention you will
    believe the car has functioning headlights. This is the creation of
    effective theater.



    Not only would any route set in the Cambrian which lacks castles be
    incomplete, it would be inconceivable. Harlech is the famous one,
    here it is in the rain, then again at night. Does it rain a lot in
    Wales? Yes, it does. The good news is Harlech Castle is not melting
    in the rain.






       




    Neither has the imposing structure at Criccieth been neglected. We
    see it in the distance, from Criccieth station as the driver waits
    for signal clearance:








    We were sailing along, on Moonlight (Cambrian) Bay:








    Up till now, snow and snow storms have not always been convincing in
    MSTS. Snow in WALES? Dylan Thomas in his "Child's Christmas in Wales"
    had something to say about snow. Here, the 1982 blizzard is suggested
    as the setting for a group of passenger activities. No one wants to
    say how much snow. To the Welsh, the snowstorm of 1982 was blizzard
    category, closing schools to the delight of the students, shutting
    down much of the Cambrian coast, making the trains run late. If you
    live with snow, if you have experienced heavy snow storms, you will
    recognize what has been accomplished in Cambria Route. Here is the
    Phwllheli DMU run against a gray sky - followed by the same train
    entering snowy Barmouth. Rendering was solid for all snow scenes.
    Still pictures do not do justice.






       




    Night scenes have not been neglected. Buildings and platforms are
    lighted in a convincing manner. Two examples; the first shows night
    action at Dovey Junction, the second lays out Aberystwyth in the
    distance as our train approaches the platform. Keeping an eye out as
    you pilot your locomotive through the night, you will see churches,
    light coming from behind stained glass windows. These touches
    individually are minor, most of them. Taken together, the illusion is
    compelling.






       




    There's no business like show business ...



    Where's the Action?







    The little mill grinds upgrade with a consist. Tough going, requires muscular fireman.


    Nothing special in the way of knowledge of British railroads or
    railroading is required to play and enjoy Cambrian. A few words might
    puzzle an American: "Fitted" refers to a car having vacuum or air
    brakes, "unfitted" means only hand brakes. Enforcement of safety
    appliances throughout the U.K. apparently came slowly. Some
    "unfitted" freight cars would have been found in the freight
    activities set in the 1960's. We are warned not to exceed certain
    speed limitations when this is the case, since there appears to be no
    specific penalty for overspeed, the warning is rhetorical. "Shunting"
    is generally understood to be the equivalent of "switching". You will
    be able to figure out the rest on your own. No need to spoil the fun.
    Railroading is the same everywhere; locomotives are coupled to cars,
    flanged wheel meets rolled steel rail. Cargo and passengers are
    transported from one place to another.



    Cambrian comes with 25 activities. Nine are passenger, the remaining
    freight. Mainline is single track, thus meets ("passes") are staged
    on station or yard trackage. Follow directions exactly: If you leave
    a yard earlier than scheduled or without dispatcher clearance, you
    may have an ugly surprise in the form of a cornfield meet. Each of
    the 25 activities was tested. If variation seemed possible, the
    activity was played as many times as necessary.







    Cab view of the included steam locomotive.


    Passenger activities fall into two groups of four, connected by tasks
    assigned and time by way of the "shift" principle. The easiest group
    is a daytime set - 3DTS Mach DMU shift 1-1 thru -4 - a good
    introduction to railroading on the Cambrian. 1-3 begins action at
    Dovey Junction with stops at nearly every platform on the line.



    Driving the DMU Class 101 may be a new and different experience. The
    gear shift (E and Shift - E) makes for interesting motoring. If you
    have driven the default Flying Scotsman, you will know the braking
    system: 100% Released down to 0%, then Running takes over from 0% to
    100%, which then flips into Application. After a time, it will be
    like marriage. You get used to it. You may not like it at first, on
    the other hand you will come to know what to expect. The DMU will
    resist braking when running at any appreciable speed unless you
    disengage the gear box. Banging the A key to cut off power, changing
    the transmission to neutral and applying brakes all at the same time
    will improve your eye to hand coordination. Reversing the Shift - E
    and E via Keyboard Options may help; it is easier to press E to
    disengage than the default setup. Once DMU application braking cuts
    in, stopping will occur rather quickly. If the platform is long
    enough such as in the towns, you can coast until reaching the start
    of it, then brake to a full stop. The shorter rural platform stops
    are trickier. Per the old story, with violin case under our arm, we
    are told the way to Carnegie Hall is " Practice, practice,
    practice."



    The second group of four passenger activities - 3DTS Pwllheli DMU
    Shift-1 thru -4 - is set during the Great Welsh Blizzard of 1982.
    Figure on running seriously behind schedule, also figure on seeing
    excellent environmental effects. Visibility varies, getting down to
    a few yards. Finally we get some use out of checking Fog Table in our
    graphics settings. Passenger activities are rounded out with a short
    night run from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth.



    Passenger operations fans looking for a break from high speed rail in
    congested urban areas will like the Cambrian activities. Confining
    meets to the stations and yards, which must be done, ought to
    simplify writing activities. Extra rolling stock is available in the
    file library, such as the Class 153 DMU "Heart of Wales".



    ooOOOOOoo



    Freight activities are made up in groups of four to represent working
    shifts, same as passenger. There are more of them, some are difficult
    to complete because of switching. Most of the problems center on MSTS
    coding: For reasons known only to Kuju, using a locomotive front
    coupler is an adventure far beyond what it ought to be; in real life
    the train does not crash because the crew used the front coupler.
    3DTS cautionary note "Train Simulator sometimes crashes when coupling
    with the front coupler. You are advised to save the game before
    coupling, just in case this happens. " may be overly optimistic.
    Inevitable is the way some of us view it, furthermore saving doesn't
    always work. Some players claim they use the front coupler frequently
    and without problems, though they don't say if they use if more than
    once in the same session. The topic has been covered in depth on the
    Train-Sim forum, such a thread is current as of mid-June.



    Many switching activities in Cambrian are wisely written to use only
    the rear loco coupler, with these we encountered zero operational
    problems. When it came to using the front coupler, considerable
    testing revealed something we might have guessed: We got one chance
    and one chance only to use the front coupler, if for some reason we
    were kicked out of the session - running a signal will do it - it
    made no difference if we had saved. The session was irretrievably
    corrupted. Made no difference if we didn't save. Theoretically, if we
    save before the first use of the front coupler, leave the session
    after first use without saving, when we come back it should be as if
    we never used the front coupler, correct? Not so. Save or no save,
    once the front coupler was used from that point on the activity had
    to be completed without leaving. The other option is to delete all
    save files for the session and start over from the beginning. These
    tests were run, each and every occurrence, with a full system reboot,
    not just restarting the sim.



    This is certainly not the fault of 3DTS-UK or anyone other than Kuju.
    If there are players who use the front coupler regularly and get away
    with it, more power to them. Neither is 3DTS to be faulted for
    including the disclaimer: Our test system is plain vanilla WinXP
    Home, we had problems with the front coupler. Others with the same
    system might get different results. The point is, we simply do not
    know what is going to happen.






    MSTS seems to become confused during an extended period of switching.
    The fixed paths are there all right, as are the reverse points (you
    must be sure to move the loco over the reverse point - each time this
    is done it must disappear from the Track Monitor). A few turnouts do
    not align properly after the loco has moved back and forth several
    times, when they don't you throw the points manually.



    Instructions in a couple of the freight activities - the "Briefing"
    section - are not as clear as they might be, here too some players
    won't mind.



    Watering the little loco can prove to be tricky. Requires lining up
    with the water spout at a precise point on the boiler, as the image
    indicates. We have highlighted the area where the spout has to be for
    the water to turn on. Plan on five or six minutes to water up.
    Coaling is similar, you will have to learn the precise place to stop
    the loco. Coaling from a manual facility takes a very long time.



    There are no lack of choices: Don't run the activities with switching
    in them, run only those which involve rear loco couplers, run only
    passenger. The line is admirably suited for passenger operations.
    Realistic timetable operation is possible, following the Wales and
    Borders Railway system. This URL:


    http://www.walesandborderstrains.co.uk/eng/travelling/documents.php


    - will take you to the Wales and Borders website. There you can get
    a dandy system map, lots of timetables and promotional literature,
    including a travel folder in PDF format.





    You can Google Churchward and Collett or -


    http://www.steamindex.com/people/churchwd.htm


    - is a starting place to learn about these extraordinary men.
    Histories of GWR - Great Western Railway - abound, those on websites
    tend to be skimpy. Naturally, almost all the sites will sell you
    books on the subject they are promoting, most are hardbacks in a
    price range out of the question for people with limited income.
    Locomotive rosters, picture galleries of stations, that sort of data
    are common. The stories behind the great railroads are not easy to
    find anywhere, when located they tend to be limited publication, high
    priced items. Libraries in larger communities might be a good place
    to look. Locomotive rosters, picture galleries of stations, similar
    material is easy to find.



    Conclusion And Summary




    Test System



    Processor: AMD Athlon XP2000+ (no overclocking, Cambrian does not like it)

    Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-7DX+

    RAM: 512 Meg DDR266

    Graphics Adapter: Visiontek Ti-4400

    Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 40GB ST340016A 7200rpm

    Soundcard: Turtle Beach Santa Cruz

    Speakers: Monsoon M-1000

    OS: WinXP Home (all unnecessary Service turned off)

    Direct X: Version 9

    Graphics Drivers: nVidia Official 44.03

    Graphics Control: RivaTuner 12.4

    System Parameter Monitoring: Sandra 2003



    Early response to Cambrian Route has been favorable for the scenery
    and setting, prompting commentary along the lines of "Sets new
    standards ... first time I have recognized a region when done in MSTS
    ...". Cambrian isn't just a girl in a pretty dress. As much as good
    looks means, which is a lot in graphics, same as that knockout girl
    you want personality if you are going to date her more than once. We
    see it here, enough to keep us coming back. Operationally Cambrian
    could be quite interesting. One of the included (short) freight
    activities uses a World War 2 setting; this could be the motivation
    for mixed freight and passenger in heavier than normal traffic.
    Modern timetable passenger operation is something to look into.



    Is Cambrian worth the price, $29.95 US? Scenery and setting alone
    make it worthwhile; the quality is quite evident in this department.
    Rolling stock is limited in variety, however it is excellent; better
    to do a few items and do them well than turn out cookie cutter cars
    and locos. No short cuts such as frosted windows - you get the full
    Monty. Good detail, poly count within reason.



    The only quibble might come in freight operations, and that depends
    upon how you feel about switching. Some of us are not big fans of
    banging about freight cars, chugging down the line and banging them
    around some more. Others love it.



    We can have it either way with Cambrian. Can't ask for much more.




    Fafner

    fafner@flightsim.com




    Visit
    publisher 3D Train Stuff

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