Ultra-Wide Monitors and Open Rails in Full-Screen

Open Rails is a much more modern application than MSTS, and is quite capable of displaying at much higher resolutions, up to the capabilities of your computer’s graphics card. The most recent experimental versions since X3925 have included updates and bug fixes in the way that OR handles the view from 2D cabs and the way that it handles stretching and scrolling up and down in 2D cabs made for the original MSTS 4:3 aspect ratio. This has made a noticeable improvement in handling 4:3 cabs on today’s most common monitor aspect ratio of 16:9.

Monitor technology is moving on, however, and ultra-wide displays are becoming more common for desktop setups. Open Rails handles them quite well, and delivers impressive visuals on them. An ultra-wide monitor, such as the fairly popular 3440 x 1440 size will give cinematic views in the outside cameras and work quite well with 3D cabs in full-screen mode.

The trouble, however, is with 2D cabs, most of which have been designed for MSTS’ original aspect ratio of 4:3. When displayed full-screen in Open Rails in stretched mode, they’re too distorted to be usable on an ultra-wide monitor. In non-stretched mode, they’re too limited in the vertical dimension; you have to use the arrow keys constantly to move the view up and down to see the controls and then move back to look out the locomotive windshield to see the tracks and signals. It creates the effect of sitting with your nose either in the controls or pressed up against the windshield.

Fortunately, there is a workaround. Much like making MSTS cope with high resolution screens by changing the Windows desktop resolution, the same can be done for Open Rails, but without resorting to drastic downgrades to resolution which can cause blurry text and edges. First, make sure that your graphics card’s control options are set so that scaling is performed on the GPU, and the aspect ratio preference is set to maintain the original aspect ratio — not to stretch or fill the screen with the image. Then, use Windows’ Display Settings options to change to a resolution with a narrower (lower number) horizontal resolution — the first number in the combination — but that has the same vertical resolution — the second number in the combination.

For instance, if the monitor’s native resolution is 3440 x 1440, you can change to 2560 x 1440 for a 16:9 aspect ratio or 1920 x 1440 for a 4:3 aspect ratio, without changing the vertical resolution and therefore no loss of image quality. The image will simply be a narrower viewing area set in between vertical black bars, or “pillarbox” mode, as it’s called when displaying traditional 4:3 images on modern high-definition televisions. Similar resolution options are available on the smaller 2560 x1080 ultra-wide monitors; in such a case simply choose the narrower horizontal resolutions which still have 1080-pixel-high vertical resolutions.

The one drawback to all this is that Open Rails doesn’t support user-selectable resolutions for full-screen mode, unlike most modern games. OR’s full-screen mode only runs at whatever resolution is selected for the Windows desktop, so you have to change Windows to your preferred resolution and then launch Open Rails, and change it back when you’re done. It’s not known yet if this can or will be changed in future releases of Open Rails. I’ve at least offered the suggestion; only time will tell if it’s a feasible addition or not.

High Resolution Monitors and MSTS Crashes

It happened — you just upgraded your monitor, or perhaps you moved your MSTS installation to a new laptop or desktop computer, and… Nothing. MSTS crashes back to the desktop instantly when you try to launch it. But it was working perfectly before, so what happened?

Changes are, you encountered the most recent difficulty with MSTS versus modern computer hardware. The high-resolution monitors that are frequently built into laptops and included with desktop computers are capable of displaying resolutions that MSTS simply doesn’t know what to do with.

The type of monitor doesn’t matter. It could be an extremely high-DPI (Dots Per Inch) laptop display in an ordinary aspect ratio, a 4K desktop monitor, or a large ultra-wide monitor. Any of those types run at native resolutions far beyond what MSTS expects. With the BIN patch installed, the highest resolution MSTS can cope with is 1600 x 1200. Chances are, if you’re getting an instant crash-to-desktop with a high-resolution monitor, you’ll find that if you go to the display settings in Windows, the resolution is set higher than that. (The resolution that Windows labels “Recommended” is your screen’s native resolution, and it’s the default setting.)

Just choose a different, lower resolution of 1600 x 1200 or lower and then try launching MSTS again. If all goes well, it will launch. If it does, then you can go back and try different resolutions until you find what looks best. You may find some resolutions which are viewable but still too large. They’ll cause dialog boxes, like the exit confirmation box, to display incorrectly.♦

When you’re done running MSTS, you’ll have to go back to the display settings and change them back to the “Recommended” setting to get a clear-looking display of your desktop and regular applications. Windows 10 will usually be able to return all your desktop icons to their original locations. Older versions of Windows may leave them all grouped together from right-to-left.

♦ You’ll get the best results if you go into your graphics card’s own settings (Nvidia control panel, AMD Catalyst control center or Intel Graphics Adapter settings) and find the options for screen scaling. Set it so that scaling is performed on the GPU, and set it to maintain the aspect ratio. This will help keep the image from being distorted or stretched. Remember that not all resolutions will work well with MSTS, and not all will scale well. It takes some experimentation. Also, of course, many versions of Intel graphics won’t work at all with MSTS, and some implementations of AMD drivers and Catalyst Control Center need a patch to work with MSTS. Nvidia graphics chipsets are still the most reliable for MSTS as well as many other older DirectX games.

A Bit About the “Wayback Machine”

The Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine” archive of the Web is what I consider to be a very valuable resource. Sites come and go, but if they’re successfully archived by the “Wayback Machine”, they’re still viewable and the information they contain isn’t lost.

I’ve been concerned about the effectiveness of the archive for several years, though, due to it making pages unavailable when a new version of the page either contains an explicit prohibition in the page’s “robots.txt” directive to search engine spiders, or if the file is missing or incorrectly configured. It caused a large number of previously-archived pages to be hidden from view for several years. Often, the simple presence of a “parking” page on an old site’s domain could cause the history of an old site’s domain to be effectively locked away.

Earlier this year, the Internet Archive has, thankfully, taken action to change the “Wayback Machine’s” behavior with respect to old sites versus the “robots.txt” file. Many sites which had been blocked from displaying their archived copies are now working again. Of course, it can only archive publicly-accessible content; content behind login prompts such as forums and members-only areas of websites can’t be archived, just as they generally can’t be indexed by search engines.

For MSTS users, that means that archived copies of long-gone MSTS-related pages are becoming available again. Some of the archives are complete, or nearly so, including freeware downloads on some pages. For instance, the freeware USRA Light Mountain by Train Artisan is a popular base component of various freeware steam locomotives found in TrainSim.com’s file library. It’s once again available here on the “Wayback Machine” after an absence of two years or more.

I’ve also added an automated snapshot feature to my own blog here so that it can be more reliably archived by the “Wayback Machine” — that way, information here is less likely to be lost, if the site were to ever shut down. (Not that some things, like the variable image at the top of each page, may or may not display correctly due to JavaScript and WordPress behavior. The information in posts and articles should be archived safely, however.)

RailDriver Review

The RailDriver desktop cab controller from PI Engineering has been available for quite some time now. Although it’s been reviewed before, most of those reviews are older or are focused on using it with Trainz or Train Simulator 20xx (formerly Railworks). I finally purchased one for use with Open Rails, and thought I’d share my impressions and add a newer review to the mix.

Read more in the Opinion section…

i7 PC Build: Tech Notes

Every new custom PC build is a bit of an experiment. You may know all the specs of the components, but once it’s all assembled, it’s time to find out if your expectations were correct, or if there are any hidden issues to work out. The PC I built in the earlier accompanying article began by running completely within my expectations, then quickly exceeded them, and all at a rather reasonable cost for a high-performance computer.

I’ve assembled some more details on the components and choices surrounding them in another article.

Read more in the Tech section…

Intel Z170 “Skylake” I7-6700K PC Build

Late last year, I finally built a new custom PC for sims and gaming based on the latest Intel Z170 chipset and the Intel “Skylake” series I7 processor. The new machine is intended to be cutting-edge now, and should remain upgradeable and provide excellent performance for the next five years or more. There’s been a lot going on with it — not only was I creating a custom build based on some very new parts, but Windows 10 was also new on the scene, so there was much to do in the way of “dialing in” the new system. What follows is the full-step-by step of the hardware assembly. If you’ve never built a custom PC, or if you have and are just curious, have a read in the Tech section.

Click here for the full article…

Fifteen Years of MSTS

Microsoft Train Simulator is turning 15 years old, and it’s still going strong. Not bad for software that’s officially listed by Microsoft as “unsupported” by Windows Vista and later versions. But it’s still possible to run it in Windows 10 on its own, and Open Rails will keep MSTS content alive for the foreseeable future.

How far have we come? Well, just for fun, here are a couple of screenshots. (Click the images to see the full versions.)

The first is the original MSTS Marias Pass route, from the cab of the default Dash 9.MSTS ShelbyNext is the same spot on Marias Pass 5 (A more modern re-worked version of the Marias Pass route) from a modern cabview of the Dash 9, and taken in Open Rails.Open Rails ShelbyQuite an improvement!

Elvas Tower Clarification…

Aside

Elvas Tower Clarification…

There’s been some confusion with respect to availability of the Elvas Tower forums, as that’s where a large portion of discussion of Open Rails goes on.

The Elvas Tower forums are currently open and readable to anyone; you do not have to be logged on with an account.

Registration for new accounts is currently not open.

Disclaimer: I have no connection to the operation or administration of Elvas Tower. I simply report the current state of affairs around the MSTS / OR community.

Open Rails 1.1 Released

A new Stable version of Open Rails (v1.1) is now available at the Open Rails website. The download link is here on this page.

This version adds several MSTS compatibility features, such as refilling steam locomotive tenders from water troughs between the rails, support for speed limits in temporary restricted speed zones in activities, better brake functionality, improved sound handling, better handling of cab lighting in tunnels (night mode switching), and more.

There are also numerous improvements and additions to features specific to Open Rails, many persistent bugs fixed, and overall underlying improvements to the application code to allow for future development.

If you haven’t tried Open Rails, or if v1.0 wasn’t quite close enough to an MSTS replacement for running trains, it’s well worth trying out this latest version.

Note: Currently, there is an alternative route editor in independent development, but there is no replacement for the Activity Editor or other MSTS built-in editors yet. Open Rails provides an vastly improved environment to operate trains in. Creating and editing MSTS content still requires the original MSTS toolset or other third-party tools.