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Virtual trains in two dimensions (and in three?)

One of the extra shake-it-out-and-chuck-it-out items with the latest Radio Times, which I nearly did chuck out but then decided to take a look at, is one of those catalogues full of slightly stupid software for £49 “reduced to £39 SAVE £10”. But one of these software packages looked really good. It was a virtual train set. “Build your own landscaped railway”, said the brochure. I went to the edream.co.uk website to investigate further, and it said, of this build-your-own landscape railway (if that doesn’t get you straight there, click on “Hornby Special Edition 2002” on the right of the main page):

Adults and children alike adore model railways but how many can afford the money and space for their own set? Well, you can! This new 2002 virtual train set costs less than £20 and lives in your PC so there’s no clutter and no tidying up. Operate legendary engines ancient and modern from The Flying Scotsman to Eurostar around sprawling track layouts to whistle blasts and the clackety-clack of rolling stock as you switch points and pull up at platforms and sidings.

New 2002 Special Edition 2 CD-ROM Set – Our new 2002 special edition set has over 30 locomotives and carriages on 2 CD-Roms. That’s more than twice as many as the standard edition you’ll find elsewhere, all straight from the prestigious Hornby catalogue and most exclusive to Dream, in addition to 30 trackside accessories. There are famous steam locomotives, modern diesel and electric engines, Pullman carriages, tankers, wagons, platforms, signal boxes, bridges, buildings and trees.

Easy to use – There are 6 ready-to-play layouts to get you zooming round at will or riding with your engines. Or build your own layouts by simply dragging and dropping track, accessories, gravel, grass and trees onto your layout ? it’s that easy!

Perfect gift idea for 8 to 80 year-olds – An enthralling present for all of us who remember the train sets of our childhood or to introduce any child over 8 to the joys of this British classic.

I find all this very persuasive, and well worth a mention here in our, I trust, never ending series of capitalism great or what? stories. Obviously there are 12-year-old-boy websites where news of this software has been circulating for years, together with all kinds of blase complaints, criticisms and further suggestions, but me, and I can’t say this kind of thing too often about the wonders of capitalism, I’m impressed.

Even better than the happy stage that software like this would already appear to have reached, think what future decades of technological advance can be expected to bring our grandchildren along these lines, so to speak.

It’s only a matter of time before we can have three-dimensional events recreated in our homes. We’ll be able to watch cricket matches in miniature (not that we English would be wanting to do that just now) on something about the size of a coffee table, and things like the Ben Hur chariot race likewise. Our understanding of the finer points of sporting events will be vastly enhanced, as will our overall grasp of such events as the Battle of Waterloo or the latest London traffic jams..

And, if this currently available software is anythiig to go by, we will also be able to create our very own three-dimensional, absolutely as real, train layouts. When I was a kid I would have killed to get my hands on this sort of software at even the primitive stage that it’s reached so far, where all you can do is watch your trains through a computer screen. What I would have done to get a 3D train set, infinite in size (with no artificially much-too-tight curves) and with things like the Forth Bridge (opened in 1890 – a triumph of capitalism from an earlier time) right there in front of you, at any scale you want, well, move over Genghis Khan.

4 comments to Virtual trains in two dimensions (and in three?)

  • Mike Grant

    Go and have a Google for screenshots of MS’s Train Simulator; the graphics wee all over the Hornby effort from a great height and some of the customisations people have created are fabulous. I have virtually no interest in trains myself, but I’m almost tempted to buy the MS game. Though only if it’ll let me build my own version of the Breitspur-Fernbahn…

  • Dale Amon

    If you think that’s something you’ll be gobsmacked at http://www.x-plane.com.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    Sorry Dale, didn’t get the X plane thing at all. Is it a real plane, and are those real planets? That’s no use.

    Getting back to trains, as I think we should, does this train software also mean that you can play freely with other people’s train sets? That is the logic of the internet, after all. That would be a terrific advance. Could you download other people’s settings onto your machine, or internet connect to their layout?

    I think I’d better go and have a lie-down.

  • Dale Amon

    Yes, they are simulated airplanes, on a simulated ENTIRE EARTH (or Mars), complete with the all the navaids in their actual real locations; the ability to not only simulate an aircraft but to design new aircraft and TEST them. Not game level, but the real physics. They model the torque of engines and the problems you have with an engine out in a twin on takeoff; the whole thing works over the internet as well and they run flyins to LAX and the like.

    The system is so good you can use it as part of your flight training.

    He’ll be coming out with a combat version. Already in the works, a bunch of different stores and cockpit controls for them already done (but not distributed yet); and he’ll be simulating real damage. Like holes in your wing and ailerons shot off, engines seized up… you name it.

    X-Plane is one spectacular global project. It’s commercial but has an entire community working on the addons.


    And you can order it over the internet for quite a reasonable price.

    Unfortuneately it does not run on Linux so I’ve never been able to play myself.