Trainmaster Review

Trainmaster deserves a special mention in any history of the train simulation hobby. The programme can trace its origins back to the late 1980's when it took the form of a fairly crude text based presentation. Over the years significant upgrades took place and when I first discovered Trainmaster in the mid 1990's, it had graduated to offering a side profile view of your trains progress, a graphic of the cab controls and a respectable sound set based on a North American General Motors diesel locomotive.

The main selling point of Trainmaster was the superior physics and train handling routines the simulation offered. Not surprisingly, there was pressure on the developer to make further improvements, in particular the inclusion of a "proper" cab view and scenery rather than the crude profile display. This was eventually taken on board by Corporate Strategies and in late 2000, Trainmaster 4 emerged. This added the much requested cab view with a very ambitious and quite good looking graphics engine. This was marred slightly by a few glitches, most noticeably tunnel rendering which could be seen underneath the terrain. Although an upgraded version was eventually released, there was a little disappointment that Trainmaster 4 recycled the old control stand and sounds from Version 3. It seems likely most of the money went into the graphics engine rather than overall presentation. With hindsight, a much simpler graphics engine (perhaps akin to Zusi) would have been more appropriate to the product. Trainmaster 4 shipped with four routes, all North American including the section of Denver and Rio Grande Railroad through the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies.

Trainmaster 4 Screenshot
Operations retained the excellent physics programming of the earlier versions, but there was little or no interaction with the working railway other than random signalling difficulty. The trains followed a preset course on each route with no AI traffic or other dynamic features to breathe life into the scene. Specimen timetables (for passenger operation) were provided in the printed manual but there were no activities or scenarios to follow, just choose your train and drive the route. No career mode just a graphic of your engineer's "licence" being torn up if you passed a red signal, or a tombstone if the train derailed. The programme did not ship with a route editor which limited the appeal somewhat, though the publisher did offer to supply one on request.

It is regrettable, though perhaps not entirely surprising, that Trainmaster was not the success it deserved to be. It launched only a few months before Microsoft announced their simulator, closely followed by Auran's news that they were developing Trainz. The mass market that subsequently built up around the hype of these two programmes, for the most part never even bothered to look at let alone support Trainmaster. Perhaps more could have been done to market the programme, but one suspects the advertising costs would have outweighed the extra revenue. And for all its notable achievements, there were too many little glitches and issues to have offered it up to a publisher for a wider retail release. Back then, the train sim had not established itself as something which could sell to a mass market and the North American setting for the routes and trains limited the target audience.

The Trainmaster programme was bought out a couple of years ago by P.I. Engineering who are in the process of developing a new version of the simulation. This was being done in conjunction with a professional version of the programme designed to cater for real railway training needs. Unfortunately, from the train sim hobby point of view, PI announced in May 2006 that the "entertainment" version of TMTS had been postponed indefinitely, so they can concentrate on the pro version. Read into that what you will, but while wishing the developers every success with their venture, I will be very surprised if we ever now see a new version of Trainmaster for the home use market, particularly with the likely competition from the recently announced Microsoft "World of Trains".

Trainmaster Original (Raildriver) Site

Trainmaster TMTS Site

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(This page created 12/09/07 and last modified 12/09/07).