October 11, 2012
The Train Giant: A-Train 9 & Shanghai DLC
The origins of the "A-Train" software line go back to 1985. Developed by Japanese developer Artdink, and through it's history published globally by various companies with versions on platforms as diverse as the PC, consoles, and handhelds, the series has maintained a steady following. The Train Giant is the English name for the latest release, A-Train 9, published by UIG Entertainment. While significant focus of the UIG published version is European, the title and it's DLC are available to US customers as well through digital download outlets such as GamersGate, who lists the title as DRM free.
This review is based on a sample provided directly from the publisher.
The Train Giant places the player in the role of managing the sole transportation company which serves any cities within the map's boundaries. Scenarios have the player starting with initial capital consisting of cash and transportation infrastructure, as well as rail, bus, and trucking vehicles. In addition there are a variety of third party businesses and properties which may be owned such as manufacturing plants, grocery stores, apartment buildings, or office complexes. The objective is profit. Success comes in optimizing transportation operations to eliminate waste, and in keeping an eye on profitability of investments.
Cargo rail, passenger rail, and highways make their ways beside the sea.
The documentation included with The Train Giant includes several parts. Most obvious is the PDF manual which covers the basic aspects of UI navigation and gameplay. This manual is well done and is a good starting point. The next part is the "Help" button found within the game menu. Clicking this will minimize the software and open Internet Explorer, which displays a local HTML help file. The details in this manual are brief, perhaps a bit thin, but they provide a greater depth on more specific topics than the PDF manual. Finally, and not as obvious, there are tool tip popups within the game when hovering the mouse over a button. These tool tips are sometimes very long, and provide interesting clues that I didn't find in either of the other two documentations.
Overall the documentation works. It'll give a player the basics after a brief search, and with some more digging you can piece together a bigger picture of a topic, say, like the impacts of building an office tower on the surrounding areas. But a more unified documentation would be welcomed. Something ideal could be browsed easily without needing to switch between the PDF, the game UI tool tips, and the browser based documentation.
The world presented within The Train Giant is a fully 3D rendering, and is navigated using pan / tilt / zoom camera system. This view system offers nearly any perspective desired, from high altitude panoramas, to street level looks at the smaller details of the city. The color coded menus across the top of the screen open dialogs which detail most aspects of gameplay and reporting the status of operations. These dialogs are treated as panes, so that the 3D world is still visible and can be interacted with while a dialog is open. At the bottom center of the screen is a clock showing the time of day, and the time acceleration bar. A setting of 1X has a day passing in a few minutes of gameplay, and faster up through 70X where the days fly by in only seconds each.
A Station Settings menu fully expanded.
Clicking on some buildings, infrastructure, and vehicles opens a small dialog which is connected to the object by a line. From here the player can check on profit or losses for the current economic period, or see the purchase or selling prices for businesses under consideration for such actions. These dialogs allow certain objects to be named for easy reference, as well as provide in depth controls where appropriate for operations time tables and vehicle routing. Also available is a scalable 2D map overlay in the upper right corner for quickly navigating a large map with several cities.
Within the World Editor, the visual display and navigation is much the same. While editing the terrain itself, a variable sized brush is shown as a circular overlay which raises or lowers the surface. Tools for creating roads, rails, and buildings are the same as well, although the editor mode also allows placement of buildings and objects not possible during gameplay. These include smaller residential and commercial sites, farms and gardens, and foliage to flesh out the user created map.
Using brush to make a small hill in the World Editor.
Sitting down to The Train Giant as a new player, the first hurdle was coming to understand the scope of my interaction with the simulated world. Working from a background in city building games, it's easy to mistake The Train Giant as one of the same. Looking at an area that I wanted to see become a center of office spaces, and having a variety of office buildings available for construction in the menus, going on a building spree to craft the desired layout seems to make sense. But it doesn't work that way.
The first reality of The Train Giant world is that the player doesn't build the majority of the buildings that populate a city. This city simulation grows by itself, based on the availability of goods. Goods in cargo crates are produced at factories, and stored on the factory storage yard. In order to be used, either by the player or by the city's simulation, these crates must be picked up from the factory yards and delivered to warehouses throughout the city. Delivery can be via trucks or trains, but they key is that where there is a stock of these goods in a warehouse, the simulation will build around the area.
Cargo being delivered to a small warehouse by truck.
This growth is automatic, with roads, houses, and businesses appearing slowly over time. The more goods available in an area, the more rapid the growth will be. But while the majority of the city building is automated, it does respond to the players actions. All those nice buildings in the construction menus serve not only to influence the kinds of automated growth in nearby areas, but they are financial investments as well.
Let's look at an example. Suppose I own a short passenger rail line with stations on each end of a small and largely under developed town. As a transit business manager I want to encourage use of my rail line. Looking at what kinds of buildings surround each station, I may recognize that one station is in an area more suitable to commercial and retail. The other with smaller homes nearby, would be ideal for some apartments to increase the population density. Doing nothing more than delivering a supply of goods to each area might see this kind of development occur, or NOT! Where I can influence this is by investing in a few properties that may spur similar development nearby. Building a new office complex and an apartment building near the appropriate stations will encourage similar growth or renovation in those areas. Perhaps might I benefit by greater growth rates in one of the two areas? This is where controlling the availability of goods comes into play, building roads and or truck infrastructure and warehouses as needed, and controlling the quantity of goods delivered as desired.
Thus the plan is set and some investments are made toward those ends, but there are more aspects to consider. Each of the two properties built are also owned investments of capital, and each may see individual profits or losses, perhaps for an extended period until the surrounding areas develop suitably. Delivering goods also costs money, and inefficient routes may be burdened with long drives or require several trucks on the route, if cargo rail service is unavailable or beyond the budget. For either trucking or rail, long runs with no cargo operate at a loss. Striking a balance among all these factors is important, as is being ready to realize that an investment could have been a mistake. Should that apartment building be experiencing unexpected losses which offset the improved passenger rail profits, decisions on whether and when to unload that asset are required.
This is the name of the game.
So it's within these ideas that most of the included scenarios are built. Varying terrains and sizes of towns and cities with problems needing optimizations for profitability. Players will need to manage the many small details of routes, departure times, and cargo distribution while still keeping an eye on the larger financial picture and planning for the future. Some of this can be trial and error, searching for just the optimum time for departures at a station. The map creator lets you do what ever you desire, from sculpting the landscape to building up the cities and their infrastructure. These creations can be saved and then played within the simulation itself, same as any scenario. Game progress is easily saved and loaded, and multiple save versions are possible for experimenting.
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