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Station Warp


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I've long been annoyed by a "feature" of the game with which you're all probably familiar: placing a station on sloped track will warp the track. The station's middle track cell becomes more level at the expense of cells before and after. Also, if the track-side is well above or below the track itself, the station can pull the track up or down with it.

The warp factor depends on station size. A large station on a tricky slope can turn a barely-tolerable yellow into a ruinous red. My epiphany today was to discover that, at least in version 1.56, station warp only occurs on initial placement, not when a station is upgraded. Therefore, one can minimize station warp in mountains by placing a small station and then upgrading it.

I haven't had time to abuse this work-around yet, so I'm not certain if it holds in all cases. However, I reloaded one troubling build a few times, trying a few different construction tactics on the exact same terrain. The upgrade definitely left the track in much better shape than the direct big-station build (enough to justify the $50k price tag).

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I've seen this happen, too.  However, I don't think it actually modifies the underlying grade of the track.

It does.

It may LOOK like it modifies it based on the obvious new shape of the terrain, but if you right click on the affected cells, the track grade is still the same as it was before the station was placed there.

Displayed track grade is a stored calculated value. Vertex elevation is the real underlying value.

What's displayed to the player when right-clicking or displaying all grades is sometimes stale data. Passing a build-track strip over the area causes the display to be refreshed. Reloading a saved game might also, but I am not sure.

Engines run on the real grades (track elevations), not stale display data. In fact, it was poor engine performance on "green" track that first brought my attention to this unfortunate "feature".

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Unfortunately this problem carried over into RT3 and it wasn't until the 1.05 patch that PopTop finally fixed it, almost. It did get about 80% to 90% better but the problem still reared its ugly head occasionally.

One advantage of RT3 was you could pause the game, Shift+E into the editor and using the terrain tool, fix the terrain (the track would adjust accordingly), Shift+E back into the game and be good to go. Well, sort of. The station may be a bit buried or sitting above the track unrealistically, but the trains would no longer have that hill to climb into the station.

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This is a well known "issue". Placing a station on sloped terrain or track deforms the track. Actually the same happens when a new building (house or industry) grows just next to the track. Indeed, the game will try to flatten, or at least smooth, the tiles the building is plopped on.

The track itself is affected too, not just "the underlying grade of the track", ie consider the track as having no "ballast" at all. That is the track laid directly on the soil surface. The grades reported in the "Track Grade Map", may be a little confusing, because of two reasons:

- Some internal "bug" (or other "feature"), which causes a value equal to 0.7 of the real one to be displayed (eg 0.5 becomes 0.3, 1.0 becomes 0.7, 1.5 becomes 1.0 and so on). I'm not sure what causes this (hovering the track laying cursor over or next to the track changes the values). The values appear to be saved into the game file, but not to affect trains' movement. Laying some track over the existing one, causes the actual values to be displayed. And this is the suggested workaround: lay a section of track over (costs nothing) - esp take care about the start at the end of the section - and then save the game, so as the correct values to be recorded.

- Track grade (it would be more accurate to say "vertex elevations") may differ among the two sides of the track (as if the track has some "cant"). This is easy to detect: bulldoze the station, select the straight track tool, and lay two sections of track, parallel and adjacent to your (actual) track. Then check if the grades of these sections of track differ. If you lay track over your (existing) track the values displayed will be the "average" of the two sides. Such track is in most cases ugly looking and affects trains too. I usually bulldoze it and smooth it out.

I'm very obsessed with track laying (good looking and efficient track), so I have developed some techniques for laying track and placing stations. In the case of stations, the whole thing can be simplified if the track leaving the station (at either side) is (or can become) flat:

- Flatten the middle track cell

- Flatten the cell where the (small) station is to be placed. If you are about to build a medium or large station in a single plop (rather than through an upgrade), flatten all those two or four cells too. In the case of sloped track this is not possible, so the way to go is flatten the middle track cell and station cell only and use the upgrade technique.

- Plop the station, or plop a small station and upgrade to the desired size.

Here are some examples of such stations (after the image pops up, click on the image again to zoom):

[table]

[tr]

[td]sh240001.th.jpg[/td]

[td]sh240002.th.jpg[/td]

[td]sh240003.th.jpg[/td]

[/tr]

[/table]

In all these cases the middle track cell, as well as the track leaving the station in one of the two directions, are flat. But as you can see, the grade of the track in the other direction is uniformly sloped.

I don't think that it's possible to make the middle track cell uniformly sloped too, in some trivial way. Placing a station nect to sloped track will cause track warp, and more specifically in its worst form, ie unevenly sloped across the track. However, if you are willing to do some modding, there is a way. Tools you will need, a hex editor and MS Excel. Here are the steps:

- First lay your uniformly sloped track (using gameplay techniques like stitching, subdividing and smoothing). Place a small station. This will cause track warp. Save your game, and make a backup copy.

- Make a small change on your terrain, eg like laying a single track cell (somewhere else) and bulldozing it. This should change the elevations of a cell or two. Make sure that the cells you changes do not have any trees. Save again.

- Locate the changed data. Of course, in order to minimize the changes the two files must be saved viewing the same area of the map (do not move, rotate or zoom) and in general keep everything else unchanged. This will result in the two files of the same size, differing only in some terrain elevations (locally), and of course in some company budget items. Using a program like WinDiff, or even the command-line utility FC (file compare), it will be easy to track changes. Elevation data are stored as two-byte integers, representing vertex elevations, arranged in rows. A difference of one unit results in a grade of 0.5 in a cell (or 0.3 diagonally).

- Now try to write a formula in Excel, to establish a relation between a cell's (X,Y) coordinates (the cell's NW vertex) and its location in the gamefile. Of course the formula will be something like this:

Offset = StartOffset + 2x( CellYx(MapWidth+1) + CellX)

where CellX and CellY are the "input" and MapWidth and StartOffset are constant. StartOffset must be found, and may differ amongst maps or saved instances, so the procedure must be repeated every time you do it. It's not really hard though, it takes some 10-15 mins to me.

- Verify that the formula is correct, by changing vertices of a few different cells in your map, using the hex editor. Eg raise vertices at (100,100) and (200,200) by 20 or 30 units, and reload your game. These certain vertices should look like needles ingame.

- Take a "clean" backup copy, and run the game. Check which vertices should be changed, and how much. Make the changes in the hex editor, reload the game and check if it's OK. Repeat this step as needed.

- Upgrade your station, if you want.

Now if all this is really worth, this is something only you can tell. And with a small "compromise" (accepting that the middle cell be flat) it can be avoided. All three examples shown in the pics above were made employing gameplay techniques alone.

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Nice pix. I notice that terrain graphics are "smooth" and the bright green grid is turned on. Do you usually play with those settings? I find the chartreuse grid irritating, so I rarely use it. Instead, I turn the graphics quality to zero, revealing each cell's edges and slope. It's not "cool", but it's informative (and much easier on my eyes).

BTW, I almost came back to add the bit about new industry buildings warping track. A &@#^$% cannery popped up right beside my track near Reno... high above my cut through the Sierra Nevada!

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There's no option for "smooth" graphics. My settings are 16-bit colours, and "High Memory Usage" (?). RT2 is a very old program, and its graphics requirements are easy to be met, even by a very basic graphics card, like the onboard chip of an old computer. As for the gridlines, I don't normally have them on, as they are tiresome to the eye. I turn them on only for track building; they provide a sort of a "guide", which makes it easier to see grades, imperfections etc. To toggle gridlines view press the [G] button.

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I didn't remember the actual name of the graphics option. I just know that I cranked it down because I prefer the blocky look, which makes grid lines unnecessary except in extreme situations. You should try it and see how the changing tilt of each cell's face can inform your track laying.

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I can't make the game feature this "blocky look". Changing the graphics to 8 bit, simply reduces the colour fidelity, as the graphics card can only display 256 colours. Can you post a pic showing this blocky look? They may actually be "artifacts", rather than an intentional effect. But still, why tolerate those inferior (imo) graphics, only to avoid the gridlines? They are very easily turned on and off (I only turn them on for track-building) and I think they provide a good means for track inspection. For example, take a close look at the Leipzig pic in my previous post; the lines along the grade are of course inclined, but absolutely straight too. Any imperfections on the track would be easy to detect. Is this possible, with the low-quality graphics you mention?

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