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Review: Step by Step Guide to Route Building
Author: Michael Vone, Publisher: Abacus Inc.
Reviewed By Peter Peddlesden


Having used Microsoft Train Simulator for the last two months I was eager to learn about creating new routes. I was therefore very pleased to hear that Abacus Software, Inc. were to release 'The Step by Step Guide to Building Routes for Microsoft Train Simulator'.

The guide costs $14.99 for the downloadable version (A 6.8 megabyte Adobe Acrobat PDF file). It contains 197 pages in full colour and with many illustrations and screenshots to help you follow along.

After quickly and easily registering online, you install the guide with the registration number and the installation creates a new folder 'Abacus' in the 'Program Files' group. In the 'Abacus' folder a new folder is created called 'GuidetoRouteBuilding' and this folder contains all the files.

You are recommended to read the file 'ReadMe_First.rtf' before proceeding.

You will need a copy of the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to read the guide, you can get this from Adobe's website - full instructions are given to you when you purchase this book.

The actual guide is a Portable Document Format (pdf) file that when you open it up displays in two page wide format. I find this slightly annoying because even on a seventeen inch monitor the text is too small to read. I switch it to single page for convenience and readability.

Having opened the guide and set the document to single page I began to read. This is a well laid out document and is written in a way that most people should be capable of understanding what is happening and what comes next.

There is a thread that runs right through the guide that will take you quickly through the rudiments of building a route interspersed with pages of great detail on certain aspects of route building. The first instruction in the guide suggests that you follow the thread (ALL THE BLUE BOXES) to create your First Route and then use the greater detail pages to get a better understanding of what is going on.

Having followed the suggestion I created my first route by following the blue boxes through the 'Route Geometry Extractor' RGE into the 'Route Editor' RE and completed the laying of all the required track (Page 107 of the guide) in just under six hours.

This guide does require that you concentrate on what you are doing at each stage as it is very easy to miscount the number of track sections required (I miscounted twice and ripped up several metres of track and relaid it).

One recommendation that pops up time and time again in the book is to save your work and make backup copies of the route folder outside of the Train Simulator directory structure. I would endorse this recommendation whole heartedly as it can save a considerable amount of rework if you do make a serious mistake.

The guide makes the creation of the route extremely simple as it covers a considerable number of different possibilities for track formations. Most if not all the combinations you might want to make are covered. Given the limited track sections available in Microsoft Train Simulator, the author of the guide (Michael Vone) has covered most bases.

Having laid all the track the guide then moves on to the tidying up of the terrain around tunnel entrances etc. It moves on to showing how to shape general terrain for hills and mountains. These ARE long and laborious processes and even on this small route can take a couple of hours to get it right. Again, the whole process is clearly explained and well documented. The time spent here getting the terrain right is repaid many times over by the visual effect it creates when you drive your train along the route.

Now comes the fun part of adding all the railway furniture, signals, mileposts and speed limit signs etc. I spent about an hour playing around at this stage putting signals and mile markers all over the place, great fun.

The last sections of the guide cover the placing of other objects on your route. The placing of forests, trees, bridges (good fun getting this right, it took me three attempts), level crossings etc and then into changing the terrain textures. Again, time spent here getting the terrain texture right is time well spent for the visual effect at the end when you drive the route.

The final two sections deal with the importing of objects and sounds in to your new route and how to use them once imported. This is probably one of the most important aspects of the route creation. I spent another four hours tinkering around with imported objects and sounds. Getting the objects in just the right place for visual benefit and then placing the sounds just right to get the audio feedback right.

Remember, laying track is only ten percent of a railway. The other ninety percent is the terrain, the railway furniture and objects, near railway objects and the sounds.

Overall I spent around twelve hours going through the guide and it was twelve hours well invested. The quality of this guide is excellent and congratulations are due to the author, Michael Vone, for aiming it at the right level. It is an extremely good guide for the beginner and an excellent reference manual for the old hand at route building.

I would thoroughly recommend it to all Train Simmers. Rating 96%.

By Peter Peddlesden
Onehouse Model Railway



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