= About This Site =
It’s hard to believe that Microsoft Train Simulator (MSTS to enthusiasts) has been around since 2001 — Ten years, as of this writing in 2011, is well past the expected useful lifetime of any single major version of a software title. A train simulator is most definitely a “niche” market product, for certain. A new, improved “MSTS 2” was started twice — once in cooperation with KUJU, the original creators of MSTS, and then again more recently by Microsoft’s own ACES game programming studio. Neither the first MSTS 2 attempt or MSTS 2 as envisioned by ACES would have been compatible with the original MSTS. ACES’ version of MSTS 2 would have built upon work pioneered in Microsoft Flight Simulator, so at least there were standards for the graphics and physics engine in place to build a solid train simulator upon. Sadly, economic troubles forced even the Microsoft juggernaut to curtail some operations and the entire ACES studio was closed down, ending the MSTS 2 project even as it was entering beta development.
So, amazingly, after ten years, MSTS is still going strong. It’s hardly a modern application by any stretch of the imagination, yet enterprising enthusiasts have created content and enhancements that have kept MSTS as the mainstay of PC-based railroading simulations. The way ahead, for now at least, is promising as MSTS continues to get both free and commercial content created for it. Perhaps even better, the Open Rails project offers a development path for open-source development of a new-generation train simulator which will be backward-compatible with MSTS. There is likely to be much still ahead for train-sim enthusiasts.
Long a model railroad hobbyist and railroad history lover, I jumped on MSTS not long after it was introduced. I had to install it on a family shared computer, as my own was a Macintosh that I needed for work. Sharing a PC, plus work and family responsibilities kept me initially from delving as deep into exploring just how much could be done with the MSTS foundation then. Still, I read the forums, collected information and excellent freeware, and when possible picked up some of the fine commercial “payware” routes to lay aside and then try later whenever I could. There was a period of job changes and moves when I mostly had to set MSTS aside until a couple of years ago.
Today, I find myself looking out on a changing landscape for MSTS. New users are picking it up and can benefit from the experience of folks who’ve been tweaking it for a decade. Rolling stock models and routes are being taken to new levels of detail and realistic physics. With my model railroad projects on more of a hold than I anticipated, I’ve taken up more of a hobby in MSTS than before, rediscovering all that I had collected over the years. Sometimes I post on the forums when I can be helpful; more often I try to do what I’ve always done, which is to note and catalog useful information along the way. Now I’m stepping out a little bit to offer up this site — a collection of things I’ve learned about MSTS over the years. Some will be links to incomparable sources of excellent information, others will be summaries and extracts of things I’ve gathered and discovered myself. There may be some editorial comments, too, separate from the main factual section of the site. If you spend any time on the forums at all these days, you’ll certainly find opinions! I generally try to avoid the arguments; I tend to keep my opinion to myself most of the time on the forums as I don’t want to fan the flames of argument. All too often, forum threads get locked or deleted when opinions escalate to argument. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad. Since this is my personal space, I’ll take my editorial stand where I like and invite you to consider it, that’s all. Hopefully, you might find something interesting and useful.
-Eric F. Conrad