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Musings of a Long Term Player About Recent Direction

Started by Banksie_82, July 21, 2017, 05:48:47 AM

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I thought I might share my thoughts with anyone who wants to listen. The following isn't complaints, and nor is it trying to offer solutions, just a different point of view from someone who isn't as involved as most of the voices here.

I have never been very active on the forums, but I have been playing Simutrans pretty steadily for the last 10 years.

I remember when I first started playing Standard, it was a steep learning curve. But coming from OTTD, the additional features and level of reality was well worth the effort to learn.

After a while some of those exciting features seemed too unrealistic, such as passenger destinations and not worrying about travel time. What really annoyed me was not being able to build dense mesh networks, because passengers would always, randomly, prefer one route over another. But then there was experimental, shining like a beacon.

Initially, Experimental required another leap of effort to learn the new mechanics of the game. Because I started playing fairly early in Experimental's development I could learn individual changes as they were implemented, and didn't have to do it all at once. My companies were always successful, often times too successful where money became a non-issue within a year or two of game play. This may be a combination of balance and me being good at the game. None-the-less, I still thoroughly enjoyed playing.

However, the recent changes (in the last year or so, since Extended) have been another story. Granted, I took a break from the game for over 6 months at the end of last year and so didn't keep up with the piecemeal improvements. I understand that the intent is for more realism, particularly with respect to economic balance, but I sometimes wonder if that is at the expense of a fun game, and ultimately, players.

I'm not too proud to admit that I'm finding it difficult to play the game as it currently stands.

The current signalling system is impressive from a technical, programing, point of view. But I feel it somewhat assumes that players know how signalling works in real life, and therefore they just need to apply that in the game. Apart from the people who regularly comment here, I'd guess very few people know how it works in real life. I don't, and I'm a civil engineer – who has worked on real life rail projects. The help files and videos are good, but they still can't get around the fact it requires significant effort on the part of the player to understand how to use signals. I'm persevering because I know how good the game is, but I'd guess many people would find it too hard and give up. Still, if something happens in the game that I'm not expecting, I'm not quite sure if it is me being dense or a bug in the code, leading to frustration.

The realism of freight and passenger numbers is good in theory, but in practice has substantially reduced the number of things moving around the map than was once the case (I'm willing to concede that this could be my fault and not using appropriate map generation settings). People (and by people, I mean me) play the game to build transport networks, the busier and more complex the better. Most of what I have played recently has been a bit... bland.

I don't know if some other change is also partly responsible, but the reduction in transport numbers also results in a much lower profit margin (pending balance issues aside). My understanding is James wants to reduce this even more. I now seem to spend a lot of my time with 'fast forward' on until I have enough overdraft available to build something new. I agree that this is very realistic, transport companies aren't commissioning major infrastructure assets every month, but it's not the most exciting way to spend my limited Simutrans time.

Other features, while individually are a fantastic addition, together make the game quite a difficult one to master. In my opinion, additional considerations the player needs to make add an exponential amount of complexity. This is far from a complaint on my part, it will keep me more interested for longer, but new players might become overwhelmed.

I will be forever grateful to James and the other developers for their effort in creating and improving the game. I fully expect to still be playing it in another 10 years. I just hope that there will be lots of people enjoying it with me. 


Thank you very much for your feedback: it is always most useful to have the views of long-term players. From what I can tell from the above (and please let me know if I am mistaken in this regard), there seem to be two separate, specific issues: (1) signalling; and (2) the quantity of passengers and goods. It would be helpful to discuss each in turn.


I should note that I have not yet completed the series of video tutorials (having taken the view that the priority is balance). Is it with the signalling systems for which there are yet no video tutorials (being token block, track circuit block, cab signalling and moving block) that you are having trouble? Video tutorials are planned for all of these methods, but because only I am doing not only those but most other things, there is a considerable backlog of work.

If you are having problems with understanding the signalling systems for which there are video tutorials (drive by sight, time interval, time interval with telegraph and absolute block), can you let me know in more detail what is not clear so that I can try to improve the documentation further?

I should note that, without the reform of signalling systems, it would have been difficult to balance the game in due course, as the cost of signalling would not have been able to have been modelled accuretely; moreover, it would also have caused problems in that the actual speed and capacity of railway lines depends on the signalling in large part, so this, which also critically affects balance, could not be modelled in a way consistent with the changes in technology beween different eras, therefore making balancing impossible.

The number of passengers and goods generated

Can I ask you to be more specific about the issues that you have encountered here? It would be helpful if you could upload a saved game so that I can see whether there are any problems. May I ask whether you have changed any of the advanced settings (i.e., those that must be changed either in or the advanced settings dialogue in game)?

Generally, the aim is to have a realistic number of passengers and goods, but a realistic number should mean that, in reasonably densely populated areas, there is a great deal of activity. I should note that the passenger generation settings for individual buildings have not yet been fully balanced (for most buildings, this is inferred from the "level", which can sometimes give incorrect results). You might find that there are not enough jobs for passengers, resulting in reduced commuting activity and, in the long term, reduced town growth. This I will need to rectify by specifying lots of data in individual buildings, but this will take some time.

Another important thing is to generate enough industry when the map is generated. Generally, the number of industries should be a multiple of the number of towns (each town generally has more than one shop or factory, after all). I have rencently changed the map generation dialogue so that, whenever players change the number of towns, the number of industries change in proportion to the number of towns to keep up. In former times, the number in the industry generation number in the map creation dialogue was expressed in terms of chains each containing multiple industires, so it is possible that if you generated a map with this figure based on what you were used to using from older versions, you would have had too few industries, resulting in not enough goods transport or jobs for passengers, resulting, in turn, in insufficient passenger journies and also insufficient town growth.

I should note that the change in the map generation settings from industry chains to individual industries is a change merged in from Standard.

Does this assist in addressing the issues that you raised?
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Good points made, Banksie.

My maps seem to grow in bursts: expanding the network, fine-tuning, expanding, fine-turning. And often I find that, after a phase of fine-turning, there are new funds available to expand the network again. It's rare that I spend much time on fast forward, though I may switch the speed to 1.5x or 2x in early years with slow transport.

As to the signals: when I started with Extended a few months ago I knew almost nothing about signals too, and probably still know almost nothing, but with the nicely written help texts I was able to figure out signalling methods that work on my lines. I cannot judge whether I use signals like a real railway, but I'm happy enough when my signalling does the job.


Hi James,

While, yes, those two things are what I'm personally finding take a while to learn, the general thesis I was going for was: with so many recent changes, and a seemingly narrow focus on realism, the game is 1) becoming harder to learn (bad) and 2) becoming harder to master (good). Also, I'd like to pose the question, 'is such a narrow focus on realism necessarily the best for fun gameplay?' Bearing in mind different people find different things 'fun'.

I think I have found myself back at the 'learning' stage with respect to signalling in particular, and some other game concepts more generally. I can only imagine how hard people are finding it who have never played Extended to date. I don't have answers to this problem, and as a general rule I prefer complexity, it keeps me interested. I think I raise it more to bring it to your attention. 

The signalling will just take time to learn, an effort I'm happy to commit to. Unfortunately my Simutrans time is limited to only a few hours a week. So it will take a while. I have mostly learnt one type of signalling so far but I don't even know the proper name of it (the one with the semaphore and mechanical signal box).

The videos and help files are great, and without both I don't know where I'd be. However, I still feel that they start with the assumption you know a small amount about signalling in real life. It becomes a very difficult task for people like you, James, to 'dumb down' the tutorials enough, but not treat people like idiots. I'm willing to think about this further, from a totally ignorant point of view, and perhaps contribute something myself.

In terms of number of passengers and goods, it may well be the case that my map settings were a bit off. I have not changed any settings that are not in the 'New Map' window or 'Climate Settings' one. Also, I'm somewhat use to the old settings, with rampant town growth, where it was quite a challenge to fit all the infrastructure you needed into the space available, I found that sort of thing 'fun', even if it wasn't realistic.

Perhaps I could make a request for anyone that has a save game of a well-developed map to post it here? It would be great to see many of the new features used as intended on a busy system.


Thank you for your replies. Different people indeed find different things fun - the reason that I develop Simutrans-Extended is precisely because I wanted to develop a version of Simutrans for people, like me, who find a high degree of realism fun. It is something of a niche indeed, but I suspect that there are quite a few people with this preference, even if they are a small minority of people overall.

As to learning - the plan is to have more video tutorials covering more basic aspects of the game in the future, but balance is the priority (and I am somewhat reluctant to publicise the game too widely until at least a rough balance is achieved lest many people try it, find it wanting, never come back, and tell lots of people that it is unbalanced and does not work properly).

As to the signalling tutorials, I believe that the working method that you are using is absolute block. May I ask - can you elaborate on what was unclear after watching the video tutorial on that working method? It would be very helpful to know specifically, as there is really nothing that I can do without specificity. These things would be very helpful to know for the purposes of improving future tutorial videos.

As to rampant town growth, that was a very big problem in the past (it was actually a bug), which ruined online games, as, over hundreds of years, the entire map would just become one large town, which made no sense and is contrary to the balancing assumptions (which assume a generally realistic state of affairs) of the game.

May I ask - what were your map settings and when did you generate your new map?

Interestingly, computer games are increasingly being played by people with only a short amount of time every week to dedicate to them. One of the ideas of the multi-player game is that players will be able to focus just on some specific fragments of a national transport network while other players work on other aspects of it, and each player will be able to make use of the economic effects of the other players' networks, so as to make the amount of time that each player has to spend to work on and participate in a very large, interesting, complex transport network much less than if a player would have to do it all alone.

Once the passenger and mail classes feature is finished (or at least more or less finished), I am minded to start a new online game to allow for a new long-term test of the game at its present state, and you might want to have a go with that: the game will start in 1750, so you might found a stage coach company or perhaps a canal company, concentrate on one area or one or two types of transport, and let other players develop other areas.

Edit: Incidentally, if you think that it would help to learn a little more about real life signalling, have a look at this video, which is covers absolute and track circuit block signalling.
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Just to add my two cents to this interesting discussion, I believe that this game can be very appealing even though it is difficult. The key being to learn and then master something new. I like flight simulators, and I am trying to learn how to fly  a very detailed aircraft with most of its systems modeled, namely the 737-800. It takes around an hour for me to follow the checklist and even start the engines before I can finally go flying, however, I have still not learnt how to properly land the plane so all my flights ends up wrecking it in some degree. The point being that it is fun to me to learn something difficult and then master it, like the signals in Extended.

I was revisiting the help files, and had (for a long time, in fact) thought about a document that help with initial placement of the signals. I would like to describe the most common situations, like double tracked line, single tracked line, dead ends and so on and then which working methods could/should be used along with where to put the signals. What do you think?
Btw, is it possible to link to the internet from the help files? Then it would really be close to hand to link to your videos!


Quote from: Ves on July 25, 2017, 08:47:46 AM
I was revisiting the help files, and had (for a long time, in fact) thought about a document that help with initial placement of the signals. I would like to describe the most common situations, like double tracked line, single tracked line, dead ends and so on and then which working methods could/should be used along with where to put the signals. What do you think?

This is a good idea indeed - this would be very helpful for new players, I am sure.

Btw, is it possible to link to the internet from the help files? Then it would really be close to hand to link to your videos!

This would, I think, be very difficult to implement as it would require some fundamental changes in the UI code, including the adding of an entirely new interface of opening the default web browser for which there is currently no provision at all. This would probably need a separate implementation for each platform (e.g., Linux, Windows, Mac) on which Simutrans operates.
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Incidentally, in terms of town growth: the rate of town growth can be adjusted by altering the following settings in either (for all new games) or the advanced settings dialogue (for the current game):


Each of the three settings apply to different sizes of towns. The lower the numbers, the faster the growth, so reduce these numbers if you want town growth to increase. I have increased the default setting for these figures somewhat on the passenger-and-mail-classes branch of the pakset, which should lead to somewhat of a higher growth rate in towns when that branch is merged into the master branch.
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Hi James,

Sorry for the delayed reply, but as I said, I don't seem to find much time for Simutrans as I'd like anymore.

I agree with you that a high degree of realism is fun, I play Extended over Standard is for that very reason, which in turn is far more realistic than OTTD, for example.

With respect to signalling, I was very comfortable with the old system, but to be honest it wasn't a major feature of the game. So any gaps in my knowledge of the new system (either from it being missing in the education material or me not absorbing it properly) was filled with what I would do in the old. Needless to say, this resulted in errors and frustration. Also, the new system, rightly so, requires more infrastructure and cost than the old, I was frustrated that single track wasn't as efficient as it once was, and double track is needed in far more circumstances (including being the only option early in the game). In short, I had to overcome old habits, which goes against my first argument that the game is becoming too hard for beginners.

In retrospect, perhaps starting fresh, never having played Simutrans before, would be easier. But there are so many other things to get your head around at the same time, I doubt this is the case.

I'd be happy to spend time going back through the help files and videos to see if I can identify any additions that would be helpful for someone just starting out with the new features. I just need to find the time to do that.

An online game would be an excellent learning tool, if only to have a look at how other people do things in actual game play.

I have since started a new map, with significantly more industries. The potential transport options, including the opportunity to exploit economies of scale (such as many lines using the same way or depot) makes the game a lot more playable, in my opinion. I think my settings were in the order of 5 - 10 industries per city. I have not yet added passenger transport to my network, so I can't comment on that, but is more industries expected to add more passenger trips or are they only dependent on number of residential buildings?


Thank you very much for your feedback: that is most helpful. It would indeed be very helpful, if you could find the time, if you could highlight any shortcomings in the documentation that you might find.

I am glad that you are finding starting a new map with more industries helpful. I will have to look for a way of guiding players to choose to start with more industries without constraining their choices unnecessarily when I have time.

As to the relationship between industry and passenger transport, passengers will always start from residential buildings, but they will travel to (and return from) commercial/industrial city buildings, public buildings, industries and player buildings. Thus, the more industries that there are, the more places that passengers  have to visit or go to work and the more attempted passenger journeys that are likely to be successful, all other things being equal.
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Would this map of a game I've been working pretty extensively on be of any help for perspective on large, profitable networks?

My margin is about 30%, but i'll concede it's inflated by my air network. Probably more like 5-10% with just rail and road networks. It also took a lot of trial and error, not to mention careful signal placement, especially with the choose signals and when to use 3 and 4 light signals and how permissive signaling works. There's also other profitability rules I learned the hard way, such as how essential electric rail is needed for profitable suburban routes given the high cost of steam trains

I've thought about taking some time to supplement James's videos with a little more information and documentation on the signals, especially from the perspective of someone who spent nearly three years playing on extended to figure out the signals and actually run a profitable map.


As far as I am aware the economics of Simutrans Extended paksets are not balanced. As such it might be impossible to make profit currently, or too much profit can be made.

I have raised this issue repeatedly as it is critical for the game to be playable. However Simutrans Extended is apparently lacking the required features to balance the paksets.


Laos - if you are able to provide anything in the way of documentation or tutorials, that would be most appreciated.

Dr. Supergood - the work on features necessary for balance is underway (such features being accorded high priority, second only to fixing bugs), and work on the feature for passenger and mail classes is at an advanced state, only some work on the UI and pakset implementation for rail vehicles being outstanding. The other main features necessary for balance are the maintenance features discussed here (somebody has expressed an interest in working on this as is apparent from the thread, but I will have to work on this myself if he has not started by the time that work on the passenger and mail classes feature is complete) and inflation (so that, for example, urban steam rail services can be profitable in the 19th century but unprofitable by the mid 20th).

Incidentally, only some aspects of the pakset are not balanced yet: see here for a summary of what is and what is not balanced so far in Pak128.Britain-Ex.
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