Revisiting the RailDriver in Open Rails With Experimental Monogame and RailDriver Support

Open Rails development has been coming along quite well, particularly in testing the adaptation of the Monogame framework. (Monogame is the open-source adaptation of Microsoft’s XNA4 platform.) The Monogame platform brings some significant performance improvements, with better handling of memory and DirectX that makes Open Rails perform better and run more smoothly with large, complex routes and scenery than ever before. (Note, however, that the monogame implementation requires Windows 7 to run. It can’t run on Windows XP.)

It’s already been decided that Monogame is the way ahead for Open Rails, since it’s an open, actively developed platform for modern computers. A large portion of the development work this year has been in preparing and testing the Open Rails code base to move onto the Monogame framework. It might not seem as ground-breaking as, say, the introduction of working turntables, but in reality it’s even more important, since it moves the core software off of the old closed XNA framework which will eventually go end-of-life and onto a modern, open-source platform which will continue to support modern computers and operating systems.

Along the way, the source code repository has moved to GitHub, which makes it easier for developers and experimenters to create alternative forks of the project, and for those changes to eventually be folded into the main branch of development, if desired. That’s how the Monogame project began, as an independent fork to test the possibilities. After much testing and hard work, the Monogame fork’s progress is steadily being integrated into a new “Unstable” branch alongside the ongoing “Experimental” branch of Open Rails. This is in preparation for the eventual migration to Monogame for the main and Experimental branches.

There’s also a fork of the project that overhauls RailDriver support in Open Rails. Github user and Open Rails experimenter “perpetualKid” has been working on improving how the RailDriver is handled. The sluggish response of the RailDriver controls has been addressed. Control response is now quick and accurate. The improved RailDriver code includes the ability to re-map the RailDriver’s buttons and controls, just like the existing ability to re-map the keyboard inputs. And there’s a built-in calibration system that works hand-in-hand with the improved control behavior.

Continue Reading…

Open Rails Updated to Version 1.3

The “Stable” version of Open Rails is now at version 1.3. This will be the official release version until the next major one, which tends to occur at roughly yearly intervals. If you’ve been using the frequent “experimental” releases, you’re already running with all the features in 1.3, and the “experimental” branch will continue to add new features and bug-fixes as they’re developed instead of waiting for the major version roll-up.

Some highlights from Version 1.3:

  • Working transfer tables added to complement working turntables
  • 3D cabs can now support mouse control
  • Timetable operation can support splitting and joining trains
  • “Evaluation” of completed activities is working (Frequently requested feature to carry over from MSTS)
  • Activity operation now supports extensions with additional, external files and randomization of events in activities
  • Car spawner (road traffic generator) upgraded to support animated people in scenery
  • Environment sound improvements – curve and switch sounds in routes, cab radio chatter support
  • AI trains can open and close doors at station stops
  • Improvements to vacuum brake simulation
  • Improvements to steam locomotive exhaust and steam effects from rolling stock
  • Various improvements for creating upgraded content beyond MSTS standards
  • Improvements to timetable-based operation
  • Improvements to signal scripting
  • Wind resistance of trains can be simulated

For anyone new to Open Rails, the original Edinbugh-Glasgow demo route is available from the “Content” section of the Downloads pages on the Open Rails website. Additionally, the Australian (New South Wales) steam-era Great Zig Zag Railway freeware route is conveniently linked from the Open Rails site.

And finally, TrainSimulations (Formerly Streamlines) is also offering a starter route for free, which is based on their BNSF Scenic Subdivision. It contains the route and a smaller selection of locomotives and rolling stock, complete with activities ready to try.

These are complete routes including all necessary locomotives, rolling stock, and activities to operate — no additional downloads (or pre-existing MSTS files*) are needed.

Links for these are available on the Open Rails website, or try the links here; however they are subject to change over time.

* Remember that many freeware routes have dependencies which require equipment, scenery, and track assets from MSTS. Open Rails itself doesn’t require them to run, and the sample routes mentioned above are entirely self-contained and don’t have these requirements. It’s recommended to purchase and have an install of MSTS if you want to take advantage of the wide range of pre-existing MSTS content and MSTS-derived content in Open Rails.

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.

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…

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!

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.

Clearing Trees on Tracks in Open Rails

Beginning with Experimental versionĀ  x.3369, it’s possible to clear trees appearing on the tracks in Open Rails. Not every route has this issue, but you’ll know it when you see it — Trees appear too close to the rails, in between the rails, in tunnel openings — anywhere a tree has no business being. If you run the same route in MSTS, the offending trees are nowhere to be found. So what’s going on?

When a route is built in the MSTS Route Editor, it’s possible to create “forest regions” — simple boundaries that define an area for trees to be automatically populated. If the tracks fall too close to, or even inside of, the boundaries of a forest region, MSTS will automatically suppress the trees that would intrude on the tracks. Open Rails doesn’t use the same method to separate trees from the rails, so some routes will display trees intruding on the tracks.

Early attempts to apply an algorithm to find and suppress tree/track conflicts where a forest region intrudes on the tracks could remove the trees, but incurred a heavy impact on frame rates. A recent re-evaluation of the methods has finally resulted in a successful means to prune away errant trees without adversely impacting frame rates or causing any other problems with scenery objects.

Read more in the “Tutorials” section…

Route Riter Final Version – 7.6.26

Route Riter has been, and still is, the must-have utility for maintaining an MSTS installation. Mike Simpson, the author, stopped updating it with version 7.6.26.

Another programmer and trainsim hobbyist convinced Mike to release the source code to him for continuing development. In itself, that’s not a bad thing.

Unfortunately, a couple of bad things have subsequently happened.

First, the follow-on version of Route Riter (7.7.x) initially garnered reports of installation problems and bugs.

Second, the programmer who holds the source code became involved in some unpleasant and retaliatory behavior at Elvas Tower and TrainSim. It very nearly caused Elvas Tower to shut down the forums. Since then, accusations have flown, bad behavior has blossomed, and in general a dark cloud has settled over the MSTS/Open Rails world.

Right now, as of the date of this post, the only version of Route Riter that is positively known by the trainsimming community to be reliable, simply through sheer numbers of satisfied users, is version 7.6.26.

The download page for the newer version, not released by Mike Simpson, contains a “Buy Now” link for US $20.00. The download, however is free. The current programmer apologized in a forum post that there was a problem with the web page’s shopping cart function. However, the problem has not been corrected yet.

Version 7.6.26 can be downloaded from Mike Simpson’s website HERE.

If Mike’s website or link ever goes away, the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has cataloged the download. Here are two working links which will let you download Route Riter 7.6.26:

Link 1, based on the latest version of Mike’s Site: Wayback Machine Link 1

Link 2, based on an older version of the site — which may compose better in your browser: Wayback Machine Link 2

Currently, I can only advise using version 7.6.26. Subsequent versions are NOT authored or supported my Mike Simpson, Route Riter’s original author. Subsequent versions have not been extensively tested in the trainsimming community, and, as such are not widely trusted.

Editorial Note: Route Riter version 7.6.26 and earlier is the work of Mike Simpson and no one else. Any DMCA-related claims pertaining to version 7.6.26 and earlier are solely in Mike Simpson’s hands. No other parties should be allowed to lay any claims to version 7.6.26 or earlier. With respect to version 7.6.26 and earlier, this website does not recognize any DMCA claims from any party other than its creator, Mike Simpson. Rights to subsequent versions may be held by other parties. This post does not link to any subsequent versions. The MSTS Roundhouse does NOT endorse any version of Route Riter beyond 7.6.26.