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My Take On Career Scenarios

Discussion in 'Community Submissions' started by dwtrain21, Jul 2, 2018.

  1. dwtrain21

    dwtrain21 Member

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    Scenarios are the bread and butter of Train Simulator. They give us something to do other than just drive around aimlessly in Quick Drive scenarios or to endlessly explore in Free Roam Scenarios and they save the time and trouble of those of us who either don't have the know-how or the time to write scenarios of our own, and with the Workshop there's just about an endless amount of custom-built scenarios to choose from to keep us occupied.

    For quite a few years now, DTG has added a lot of weight and importance to a particular type of scenario: the Career Scenario which has a point system, to the point that no Standard Scenarios are ever released with DLC from DTG (Back before TS2014 then-RSC would release a mixture of Standard and Career Scenarios). Some people like them, some people tolerate them, and others aren't completely sold on Career Scenarios. Why is that?

    I've been around the block in various train simulators and while I don't believe I speak for the entire community here, I can think of a few reasons why some people might shy away from Career Scenarios.

    1) Most Career Scenarios are simply Time Trials
    Most of the Career Scenarios that are created these days can easily be described as a time trial. There are plenty of scheduled checkpoints to hit, and you get points for hitting them on time and you lose points for falling behind schedule, and in a lot of cases you can hit the time targets so easily that by the time you get to the end of the scenario you can be several minutes ahead of time. Just this morning I played a scenario on the Helper-Salt Lake route called "Winter Deliveries" in which you take a loaded coal train from Provo to Midvale. The scenario begins at 18:54 and your scheduled arrival time in Midvale is 19:20. Running from end to end at full throttle and obeying all the speed limits I easily kept to time - I wound up being around 7 minutes early once I stopped at Midvale. I was so early that all of the AI traffic outside Provo had not even begun moving before I passed by - they began moving several minutes after I was gone.

    2) Most Career Scenarios can simply be completed by running at full speed
    Related to reason number 1, some career scenarios which according to their difficulty rating are supposed to be "hard" are actually quite easy because the strategy boils down to this one simple task: run your train at full speed. If you run your train as fast as you can (without exceeding the speed limit) you can easily beat any scenario. An example of this is the scenario "Climbing out of Kingswear" on the Riviera Line in the Fifties in which you take a worn 57XX tank with 7 coaches from Kingswear to Goodrington Sands carriage siding in the rain. On the outset it looks to be a challenge, but honestly it's not that hard for someone like me who has spent a large amount of time driving steam locomotives in various simulators because it still boils down to the time trial mindset: just run as fast as you can and you'll still hit all the time targets with time to spare and score top marks. It may be difficult for someone new to Train Simulator but once they get the basics down and know how to get that Pannier running the challenge is gone.

    3) The timed markers can actually deviate from real railroad practices
    This one mostly applies to American scenarios. While we do have plenty of time-sensitive freight such as trailers, double stacks, and perishables to move here in the States, freight trains over here do not typically follow a schedule, the only exceptions I'm aware of being CN and CSX which practice precision railroading which means a train leaves the yard at the exact same time every day no matter how much or how little cargo it's actually carrying. The rest of the time the mindset generally is "Just get the train here as quickly AND SAFELY as possible" (emphasis added). Scenario writers have tried to replicate the "get here as quickly as possible" part but ignore the more practical "AND SAFELY" part. Good example: "Through the Storm Over Sherman" on Sherman Hill using the GTEL.

    This scenario is supposed to be the toughest one, the piece de resistance, the magnum opus, the final boss if you will for the scenarios that come with the GTEL (which now comes standard with Sherman Hill). In it you run a train of covered hoppers from Granite to Cheyenne in a blizzard, the likes of which I've never seen before in Train Simulator. This one honestly is hard as the time targets are tight, visibility is poor, and it's all downhill so controlling your train at speed is the name of the game. It is doable, but it is highly unrealistic. "How so?" you may ask. Simple: the time targets are completely inappropriate not just for the type of train you're running but also for the situation you're in when you begin the scenario. For one, you are a unit drag freight and while I question the logic of starting a train of covered hoppers at Granite, a gravel pit which should be using gondolas, drag freights like this are typically at the bottom of the scale as far as timings and priority go. Dispatchers don't put too much priority in unit trains - the only thing that matters about unit trains is that they get to their destination at all. Then there's the blizzard to consider. With high winds and poor visibility in real life the railroad would not expect you to hit the same types of time targets as presented in Train Simulator. In such weather conditions they expect drivers to use good judgement in keeping the load safe. To that end when the weather is bad and visibility is poor drivers are to travel at a speed at which they can stop within one-half of their visual distance. In this case I cannot see clearly for more than 73 meters, or close to 240 feet, with the lights on. That means that if this were a real-world scenario I would have to travel so slow that I would need to stop within no more 120 feet. That is DEAD SLOW and would make it impossible to meet the time targets put forth in the scenario, and to be right real honest the dispatcher may actually have me sit there until conditions improve. If this were real life and I ran into Cheyenne according to the schedule put forth in Train Simulator I would have displayed such a lack of judgement and taken so many risks from Management's point of view that I would at the very least face a suspension and quite possibly be fired, especially since I could have damaged that newly-restored GTEL that should be part of UP's heritage fleet rather than pulling a revenue freight. The same sort of thing happens in other places like the Norfolk Southern Coal District which has nothing but coal drags. Adding time targets to these scenarios makes it feel more like a race and less like a real coal drag as again dispatchers don't put a whole lot of priority on coal drags - they just need to get to their destinations.

    So far it looks like the big glaring issue with Career Scenarios is their time target aspect. There are also times when it seems like the scenarios were an afterthought and don't indicate much if any creativity or understanding of railroad practices. Like for example the two-part scenario "The Fast and the Fruit" in DTM's Southern Pacific SD45T-2. In this two-part scenario you take a fruit block from Roseville to Colfax:
    -The entire train is just 30 reefers, a caboose, and 3 SD45T-2s (overpowered much?). The train could stand to be longer given this is the US.
    -The third loco is behind the caboose and has no crew aboard, indicating that it is an umanned helper and therefore should be controlled by DPU technology - a technology which did not exist until the unveiling of the Dash 9 in the early 90s and which was never applied to locomotives such as the SD45T-2. Given the time period there should be a driver in the cab of the helper unit.
    -Roseville, the major classification yard for the Espee's northwestern region, is mostly empty.
    -We travel up Main Track 1. Even back in the days of the old Espee Main Track 1 was designated for WESTBOUND traffic. We are an EASTBOUND train in this scenario and thus should be traveling up Main Track 2. Why are we traveling up Main Track 1? Is Main Track 2 closed for maintenance? Nothing's explained so I can only guess that the author thinks Eastbound trains travel on Main Track 1.
    -There are no AI trains, making the scenario feel empty.
    -Part 1 ends with us stopped at Bowman to wait for a passenger train. What passenger train would be passing us at this time of day? Did anyone actually look at an Amtrak train schedule (Amtrak would be operating passenger trains at this time)? Why did it have to be passenger, seeing as no Amtrak equipment comes with either Donner Pass or the SD45T-2 pack? Why not wait for another freight train?
    -Part 2 begins waiting for the passenger train which comes from IN FRONT of us. Why is the passenger train coming down on our line? There's a whole other main track over there that the passenger train could have used and there's nothing on it since there were no AI trains last scenario.
    -Now seeing as this is an Espee route and an Espee F7 and Espee passenger cars come with the route I'm expecting the passenger train to be made of that equipment. I'm surprised to see that the whole train is made of UP equipment. Why is it made of UP equipment??? UP hadn't acquired the SP yet so it didn't run trains over Donner Pass like this, and even if this is supposed to be some form of the City of San Francisco it would still have been behind SP power.
    -Still traveling up the wrong line with no explanation as to why.
    -Still no AI trains besides the passenger train at the beginning of the scenario. I'm starting to feel lonely.
    -The scenario ends at Colfax with a crew change. Why am I coming off the train here? I just started my shift! The crew change point isn't until Sparks, and I know I didn't wait for like 7 hours at Bowman and thus I'm not out of work time by the time I get to Colfax. For that matter, why was this split into two scenarios? They both feel really short and honestly I wouldn't have waited too long at Bowman for the passenger train anyway and the run could have very easily been run as a single scenario.

    So what can be done to make Career Scenarios more appealing to players? I'm no expert, but here are my thoughts on improving these scenarios.

    1) A slightly different level of challenge
    So far the main challenge in a lot of scenarios is the question of how fast a player can get from point A to point B. Why not shake things up a bit? G-Trax did just that in their scenarios for the Bessemer & Lake Erie. The scenarios mainly deal with freight trains, but to make the scenarios more true to life they began every freight train scenario with the player having 1000 points. Your score was based on how well you played through the scenarios, not simply how fast you can complete tasks. Players had to avoid things like wheelslip, applying the emergency brake accidentally, speeding, they had to manage in-train forces, and they had to whistle at every railroad crossing as whistle markers were placed on all of the crossings, and there were virtually no time targets. Players could focus on everything they needed to do to keep their score up without the pressure of a ticking clock. These scenarios were some of the best that I've seen in a while. This is closer to how the job works in real life.

    2) Time targets have a place, but know that place
    Now to say that all scenarios should not have a timekeeping aspect would be wrong. There is a place for timekeeping. That place is in passenger train scenarios, especially in high-intensity commuter service such as on the Chicago-Aurora route or on similar routes. If someone wants to make timekeeping a thing for freight trains then do so for a freight train where timekeeping would make sense, such as a high-priority intermodal train or similar. Drag freights such as manifests or unit trains (grain trains, coal trains, oil trains, etc.) should not be expected to hit as many time targets.

    3) Think outside the box when switching
    A switching scenario typically has a long string of pickup and dropoff commands which tells you what cars to get from which track and where to put them. It provides a type of roadmap that would be simple for anyone to follow. Switching scenarios therefore aren't so much difficult as they are time consuming, but there is a way to make switching scenarios a bit more puzzling and require more strategy. A command I see being neglected more often than not is the marshaling command. The marshaling command simply tells a player to put certain cars at a certain place. It doesn't tell them where the cars are in the first place, it doesn't tell them in what order to put them, just get the cars to the appropriate siding. A marshaling command challenges players more as players now have to look for the cars in the instruction and pay closer attention to the running number printed on the side of the cars, especially if cars from the same cut have to be sorted onto different tracks in different cuts, and they have to plan out their switching maneuvers based on the location of cars within individual cuts. Switching then becomes less about a player's ability to simply follow an instruction and more about an individual's ability to solve puzzles.

    For example, let's say we're in Whitefish on Marias Pass in a switching scenario. In one part of the yard there are three cuts of cars, one from the Columbia Falls local, another from the Kalispell local, and the last one from local industries in Whitefish. In another part of the yard are two other cuts of cars, one from a Westbound train and the other from an Eastbound train. The cars from the two mainline trains need to be sorted into cuts for local delivery in Whitefish as well as cuts for the Columbia Falls and Kalispell locals and the cars from the locals need to be sorted into West- and Eastbound cuts of cars for the mainline trains to pick up later. Marshaling would make this exercise more interesting because now the players have to mix and match cars from multiple cuts to create a single new cut of cars and they have to figure out how they're going to go about it rather than simply following a lengthy outline of pickup and dropoff commands.

    4) Show off lua scripting
    Mostly these days career scenarios feature lua scripting, but its application is mostly to display html messages or write recorded messages. More can be done with lua scripting, however. Lua can be used to activate cinematic cameras, any of the cameras assigned to keys 1-8, it can be used to track a player's performance, limit speeds, trigger early success or early failure of a scenario, lock or unlock controls, and interact with individual controls, like say simulating a jammed regulator in a steam locomotive by restricting it to a range of 100% to say 95% open. There are a lot of things lua can do to add more flavor and challenge to a scenario.

    Say we're on a coal drag on the Soldier Summit route starting from Summit. It's already hard enough to get a heavy train down to Provo from Summit, but we're about to make it harder. Say sometime down the hill the scenario author places a marker and when the player crosses over it it triggers a message from the conductor back in the caboose stating that he sees a car with a hotbox and requests that you stop the train. The player stops the train, and the scenario writer sets up a command in the lua script that looks out for when the train speed reaches 0, and when the player train stops this triggers another message from the conductor stating that he is going to get out and inspect the damaged car and instructs the driver not to move. The scenario author writes in the lua script a condition that monitors if the player moves the train during this time, and if the player does move then the scenario ends in failure. Once the conductor gets back into his caboose another message is triggered where the conductor tells the driver specifically which car is damaged and requests that you contact the dispatcher to report the problem, triggering a set of messages between you and the dispatcher in which the dispatcher instructs you to proceed at no more than 15mph to Detour and set out the damaged car at Detour Track 143 and the script allows for the train to move. Now there's a challenge! Here you are stopped on a steep grade with a heavy train. It's hard enough to keep a coal drag under control on this section of line, now you need to keep it at 15mph or less, and to up the stakes the scenario writer could add a condition that monitors the train speed from this point that gives the driver a warning every time the driver exceeds 15mph and if the driver exceeds 15mph 3 times the scenario ends in failure with a message stating that the axle on the damaged car burned off due to excessive speed and the car derailed. Once the damaged car is set out the writer can write a condition that tells the script to stop monitoring the player's speed and the player can continue on their way to Provo and beyond.

    Those are just a few comments and suggestions I have for Career scenarios.
     
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  2. Sunscreen

    Sunscreen Guest

    Great post. Ive turned off career scoring in ts2018 as its so ridiculous. Ever since ive been concentrating on safe driving with minimum or no hud and its sooo much more fun. Especially in tsw on gwe this approach completely changes the gameplay. If train companies dont allow crashes, why are they willing to accept the creation of circumstances that make them inevitable? Its a strange game play solution thats for sure. Again, great post OP.
     
  3. ARuscoe

    ARuscoe Well-Known Member

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    Most people I see complaining about the career scenarios complain that the scores don't add up. There's one on the Medway valley lines which maxes out at 1200 points so if you get less than the 1000 max something is seriously wrong...
    Agree that there are probably much better things to do, especially in freight, than "get there on time" but don't know if the tools are there in game right now.
     
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  4. LastTrainToClarksville

    LastTrainToClarksville Well-Known Member

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    Excellent ideas regarding career scenarios. Like Sunscreen, I keep Career turned off most of the time -- it's just a nuisance; the only exception occurs when I'm testing scenarios for others. Although my preference would be all Standard scenarios (plus Free-roam and Rail-fan), I know that quite a number of folks love those points and stars, so perhaps scenarios could come in both Career and Standard versions, which would be very easy to do.

    I'm also in favor of dwtrain21's notion of including a variety of realistic LUA instructions, which, by the way, can include voice as well as text. The latter would present translation problems, but surely DTG could find human volunteer translators.

    One of the best posts ever, dwtrain21!!!!!!!!!
     

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