Written by: TrainSim-Steve
In early December 2016, we commenced our Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul Beta with more than 15,000 owners of TS2017: Pioneers Edition qualifying for access. More than 2,000 of you registered on our dedicated forums with around 500 providing us with your thoughts on how we can improve Train Sim World for you.
Following the end of the Beta, we collated and catalogued all the feedback raised and identified the areas that needed to be addressed. We have since been working through this feedback and I’m now here to share with you a recap, and outline on how we are using it.
Before I go into this in greater detail, we advised earlier last year that Train Sim World will only release once it is ready. So with this in mind, we have taken the decision to move the release date into March. I’ll be back with another update at the beginning of March with more news about the release date and pricing.
One thing was clear from all the comments and feedback we received was that you were incredibly positive about Train Sim World. Many of you voiced words of support for the new software and spent some time thinking about how this, very early version of the software, might look when we bring more content in the coming years and suggested add-ons that we should make for it.
You also shared with us your thoughts about how the software might be further developed with a range of features that you felt would add to the experience. However, the bulk of the feedback that we were looking for and received was in areas that needed improvement, and here are the key areas we’re now addressing.
Top most on the list of feedback given was those of you who were experiencing performance issues over a variety of different computer configurations. We knew this would be a concern among you as there had been very little done to optimise the Beta. However, the one key benefit to a Beta process such as it was, is that it gave us the opportunity to see how well Train Sim World would work on the variety of platforms out there in the real world and challenge whether our minimum and recommended specifications were appropriate and valid. Matt Peddlesden, Senior Producer for Train Sim World, explains:
“There’s been some surprises with frame rate. Not that some people had some challenges with frame rate, we were expecting that because we’re only part way through the optimisation process, but it did surprisingly well on low-end machines. We had people coming back with 8 or 9-year-old computers that were outside of our advised minimum spec and they were enjoying the game on max settings, though they weren’t getting huge frame rates, and we didn’t think it would work at all. So, that’s been positive to find out that more players could play than we thought possible.”
“Where it didn’t do so well was on the high-end machines. The people who have got nice high-end rigs with top nVidia or AMD graphics cards actually weren’t seeing the kind of performance they should have been expecting and that’s one of the key areas we’ve been looking at.”
A key part of the Beta was about understanding who was experiencing the problems and what kind of hardware were you using to give that result. Fixing the problem, however, we knew would come down to optimisation and Matt explains more about the optimisation process:
“We go through a process called Optimisation and Profiling, where we run the game under a range of different conditions and we see how it does. This highlights the bits of the code that are bad and we take those bits, dig into them and we fix them.”
“We look at how the physics engine is working and see what we can do to make it work more efficiently and be less demanding. There’s elements to the physics which may be running that don’t need to be and we can detect when they don’t need to run and switch them off, saving us lots of CPU cycles.”
“There’s also the graphical side of things and we ask ourselves lots of questions – ‘If you’ve got a thousand wagons in Cumberland Yard, what does that look like, where are the problems with that and how does Unreal scale with those kinds of numbers?’ It’s working out where we need to change how we do things so that we can bring the frame rate up.”
“The Art Team have also been looking at how we create the art and how we’re dealing with materials and textures. Could we make use of smaller textures that do just as well, could we be cleverer with the way we use our textures and share them? And so forth. We’ve already made some big improvements by finding some textures that were significantly larger than they needed to be and have shrunk them down so you don’t see any difference other than the frame rate is better and the computer is doing less work than it needed to do.”
The optimisation process is still very much in progress as I write this but we are all confident the Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul final release will deliver frame rates more akin to what you would expect from your hardware. Ben Laws, Lead Programmer, sums up our activities on addressing performance issues:
“We’ve been focusing on getting the best performance we can from any set of hardware, whether that’s high-end or low-end, with the settings scaling to the system that you have. We want every player, on the lowest to the highest spec, to get the best performance we can get out of it.”
Very early in the Beta, we started to receive reports that you were experiencing game crashes. This turned out to be a key tech that we had included which managed the physics for the refuelling hoses. Our team were able to look at this during the Beta process and released a patch. Unfortunately, this fix didn’t help some of you overcome the root cause of the issue, which was directly related to a CPU dependency that was hard coded to the tech for the hoses, something our team was unable to overcome. However, a solution has been found since the Beta in removing the tech and implementing an alternative method.
In Train Sim World, a new HUD was introduced that was radically different from what you had become accustomed to in Train Simulator. The team were keen to find out how you got along with that change. Many of you provided us with some feedback about how this affected your way of playing. Matt tells us more about this:
“What we found in the feedback was that everyone really liked the new HUD, which was fantastic! However, there were some bits that were missing and we knew they were missing, they just hadn’t gone into the code at the point of the Beta. But what was really great was that everyone picked up on all the bits that we already knew was missing and asked us where they were.”
“The good news is the missing items, things like the next speed limit, the current speed limit and where the next signal is, are all in or are going in at this moment. We’re also going to add an option so that you can see what the state of the next signal is, whether it’s red or green. Some players just want to know this, though it’s not something that you would realistically know, but it’s something that the casual players want to be told because it makes the experience easier and, if they use this option, the rewards they’ll receive will be reduced. You won’t be forced into using this feature either, we’re going to make it so you can turn it off if you want. You can have a more casual experience where you don’t have to pay quite so much attention to what is going on, if that’s what you want to do, or you can turn all these assists off and go completely hardcore.”
Very early into the Beta, you told us about a ‘ghosting’ or ‘blurring effect’ you were seeing while you were playing. This was previously known to be a side-effect of the default anti-aliasing mechanism called Temporal Anti-Aliasing (TAA). TAA works by using data from the previous frame to improve the quality of the next frame, and without using lots of extra processing power, can significantly improve the visual quality of most scenes.
Train Sim World does provide a range of other anti-aliasing options such as FXAA and screen percentage settings that will let you tune the game to suit your taste and our team remains committed to investigating other options for anti-aliasing. I’ll continue to get some updates on this from the team and will report once a solution has been found.
Also in the Train Sim World Beta, a couple of new options for the cameras were introduced and you shared your thoughts on these and Matt goes into more detail:
“In the existing Train Simulator, you have a thing called a boom camera on the number 2 and 3 keys which is where the camera stands out on an invisible pole and you can spin the camera around the focused rail vehicle. We didn’t have that in the Train Sim World Beta. We received a lot of feedback from people who missed that camera so we’ve added it in for the final release.”
There were thoughts about how the camera behaved while you’re sat in the cab too and Matt continues:
“When you’re in the cab and the train is rocking around, you can see the train rocking around if you look at other rail vehicles but you didn’t feel that sense of motion while you’re in the cab, so we’ve now added physics to the camera so as you go over bumps and joints and things, you’ll get a sense that the train is rocking around. It just makes you feel a little bit less attached to the train and looks quite realistic.”
At the time of writing, this feature is still undergoing some further work to refine it but the team is aiming to have this in the final release version.
Finally, there were several comments relating to the camera getting trapped inside rail vehicles which our team also fixed during the Beta with the patch that was released part way through the process.
Using Unreal Engine has given an unprecedented level of control over the audio and has allowed our Audio Team to experiment and bring a greater diversity to audio than has ever been possible. The Beta has given you a taste of what is being delivered in this area but some of you were able to provide our team with more detailed feedback about things that weren’t working particularly right. Adam Rose, Senior Audio Technician explains:
“Thanks to the Beta, we’ve had a lot of really good feedback and most of that feedback was around things that might be missing, that weren’t loud enough and that sounds were dropping off a bit too quickly as you move further away. This feedback has all been helpful to us and we’ve been addressing these issues. It wasn’t a fully mixed audio experience in the Beta and I think that’s the key thing that we take away from it. We’re in the process of doing the final mix, as this is normally the last thing we do once we’ve got all the sounds in and fixed the problems that have come up.”
“I’d like to thank all the players that have fed back to us, it’s been useful for us to understand more about what our players want in audio. We’ve taken all feedback on-board, fixed the problems and put them into the final mix.”
Finally, among the main concerns were lots of feedback about how the brakes were working on the trains and that they weren’t quite to your expectations. Ben, explains more about this:
“One of the problems that people were having was that the braking system was too powerful. The underlying physics were correct but the values we put into it were wrong. So, it was quite a simple job to fix it, which was good because it meant that we could see that the physics were working in the right way, it was just that we didn’t input the right values in the first place. The brakes now work more appropriately, we think this is a significant improvement and totally changes the way you drive the trains in that you have to think much further ahead.”
So, this is all I have for you for the time being. On behalf of all our teams, I would like to thank you all for your feedback on the Beta. I’ll be back with another update at the start of March where I’ll go into more detail about the release of Train Sim World: CSX Heavy Haul. In the meantime, I’ve added two more wallpapers for you to adorn your desktops with and don’t forget to look out for Gary Dolzall’s articles over the next few weeks as he delves deeper into the fascinating history of Sand Patch Grade and the featured locomotives ■