updates: the engine in motion

For the past few months I’ve been working on a pretty big project to convert the sim into a 3D environment. In the first preview video I showed you that the sim was going to be a flat 2D/2.5D picture of the cab, with a view that’s like operating the engine from the tender seat.

Well, all that has changed and the entire project is slowly being converted into a 3D simulator very similar to the popular train simulators out there. Now, I have to put my disclaimer again that I’m not aiming to compete with those games and sims out there because I have a completely different intent than what they achieve. My simulator will very largely focus on the operations and physics of a particular steam engine(s) itself, so if you’re looking for a “digital train set” sim/game then those exist to fulfill your need.

But if you’re interested in learning how a steam engine really works, including…

  • how opening the throttle too quickly can cause water in the boiler to draw into the cylinders and stall the engine
  • how managing the fire correctly for each phase of the day, like idling at a station or starting a heavy train
  • speaking of starting a heavy train, how to manage the throttle so as not to cause the drivers to slip… and if they do, what you can do about it (…when the fire goes out due to a vacuum caused by the rapidly moving pistons!)

…then, okay, this is the simulator for you!

So, the 3D aspect is a bit of a bonus and it will certainly give you a very realistic perspective of being in the cab. There is much more to do but I want to highlight some of the features that are coming your way.

Here’s a start: check out how the sunlight coming through the cab windows hit the valve wheels, shining brightly and laying their shadows onto the boiler. The shadows are also in realtime, which means that they’ll move properly while the engine is moving and when the valve is operated. I’m also spending a lot of effort “painting” photorealistic textures onto each surface and device in the cab. In this shot, check out the subtle rusting on the pipes and the scratches/buffs on the boiler jacket. Indeed, you’ll get an authentic feel like you’re right there in the cab of a well-used but well-maintained steam engine.

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It doesn’t end there. Even the subtle movements of the gauge needles have been considered. Take for example, when the engine is moving. The forces of the tracks (roads) get transmitted throughout the engine and get translated into vibrations. In this animated shot, check out the very subtle “wiggle” of the needle as the engine rolls down the track. Watch carefully and you’ll see that the gauge frame is also vibrating a little bit. In the sim, you’ll see the whole engine vibrates that varies with the speed! (The animated picture is quite large in file size, so if you don’t see it just open it in another window here).

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As before, the vibrations get transmitted everywhere. Imagine what would happen if you have a bottle of water in your car as you’re driving. Well, it happens in the sim, too! The movement of the engine can make reading the water level a bit challenging. You’ll have to be careful to not read (too much) into the level when the engine is accelerating or decelerating, because the water level will read too high or low due to its inertia.

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What about draining the water glass due to clogging from sediment buildup because you either didn’t use water treatments or you used water with a lot of impurities? Or if you close the top (steam valve) and the water in the glass starts to rise due to the cooling steam at the top of the glass creating a vacuum? Yep! It’s modeled. (Thanks to Mowsefan at Burnsland for the information on that!)

The heart of the simulator has also been extended quite a bit since the last video preview. Check out all these options, spread out over 5 different pages, that’ll allow you to control control and customize your engine to your specific liking and needs. The menus are not done yet either—there will be additional options to add in the future, too. (Click on the picture to get a larger size that’ll let you see the text better).

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I’ll have to devote some other time to discuss what those options do, but for now I think you get the idea of what I have planned.

The beauty extends beyond the cab’s interior, too. Here’s a small part of a fictional track that I’m using for building and testing the engine. Grass, flowers, and small shrubs and trees all make a part of a realistic scene outside of the cab. Oh, and they’ll react to the wind and weather, so on a windy day you’ll see the grass blowing and the trees sway… or even when you open the blowdown valve you’ll see the grass sway away from the escaping steam!

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And finally, you will have a dynamic sky! It’s just so pretty that I’ll let the pictures do the talking. But let me just say that the sun, moon, clouds, and weather are all dynamic. You can have a clear sunny day or a foggy or a rainy day. It’s all customizable in realtime or you can just let the dynamic time and weather engine handle it all. Oh, and the celestial objects, including the sun, moon, stars, and planets are all accurate depending on your chosen date.

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That’s it for now. Not a very long update but I feel like it’s a big one; at least it’s a big step for the sim for sure and it took a lot of work to get to this point. I hope you enjoyed it!