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Last Updated 15-Sep-2002

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  ConBuilder  
Santa Fe's Big Blower 10,000hp turbine at idle. Note its tanker at top right in the picture.

While the installation of MSTS provides us with a free set of tools (Train Simulator Editor and Tools under Start, Programs, Microsoft Games, Train Simulator), unless you have a monitor capable of a resolution better than 1024x768, you can't access the Consist Builder which is a part of these tools.

Thankfully, Carlos Gomes has provided all Train Simmers with his free tool called the ConBuilder. By now you should have downloaded it from www.geocities.com/conbuilder/ or Train-Sim.com and have it installed on your system. Let's see why ConBuilder is such a useful tool.

• (15-Sep-02): Updated version of Conbuilder (version 1.5.1, conb_151.zip, 625kb, 03-Aug-02) is now available for download at Train-Sim.com. Note ConBuilder now checks that a loco's ENGine file has consistent names for the folder name and WAGON name in the ENG file - you'll be told if not (simply edit the offending ENG file with WordPad to fix the problem).


  Setting options  
National Rail's NR53/82 stand at the head of heavy freight consist.

At installation time, or later, there are two options you need to set:

  • the folder in which MSTS is stored, and
  • where you have WordPad on your system.

If you've already installed ConBuilder, use Program on the top menu and choose Options. For each item, open the folder tree to find where you've stored MSTS. If you've followed a normal installation, the path to MSTS is:

C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Train Simulator\

WordPad must be used as editor since you need one that can cope with documents in unicode-text format. WordPad is found in:

C:\Program Files\Accessories\


  Building a consist  
A close-up of the conscientious engineer of Metra's FP40PH-2M No. 191.

ConBuilder's first task is to create consists, i.e., train sets made of loco(s) and cars (either passenger or freight). Unless there's a consist, even for a loco by itself (loco durable or loco light), you won't see it in the list of available locomotives, either to explore a route or run an activity. Some installations of locos provide a simple consist but you'll always want to create your own according to your interests.

Use the Filter for locomotives and wagons (either from the Program menu item or the icon on the menu bar) to help simplify the lists of locos and wagons you have available - choose according to your needs. Just remember to set the filter back to All in case you later want to check a consist - otherwise it can be disconcerting!

Adding a loco or passenger or freight wagon is simple: just double-click your choice. Right-click a loco to reverse its direction. To delete a loco or wagon from a consist, double click it. Remember not to leave any blanks! Give your consist a name and description, and save it. When you start MSTS, choose a particular loco will give you a list of consists for that loco.

Note that you can have multiples of the same loco and the same freight wagon or passenger car in the same consist.


  Changing a consist  
Intercity 125 HST stands at Settle, about to depart for Carlisle.

Obviously you can change any of your own consists at any time. There is one exception: if you've saved an activity (such as exploring a route), then change the consist and re-load that activity, MSTS will crash.

What about the the player consists in an activity? Yes, you can change these. So if you're bored with an activity, either one of those installed with the installation of MSTS or one you've downloaded, you can change to a different loco set and/or passenger cars or freight wagons.

For example, you may have become bored with the "Run the Yellows" Acela Express activity on the NEC. You're free to change, for example, to a consist of a GG1 loco and other passenger cars. You'll still have the same challenge of carrying out the activity with the same AI (computer-controlled) traffic, signals and stops but there'll be more of a challenge by being in control of a different loco.

Just remember that the consist has to be saved under the same name as its original name so answer "Yes" to the "Overwrite?" prompt. As well, you can't change the consist of a saved activity and re-load it later.

And how do we find out which consist is the Player consist in an activty? Read on...


  Testing an activity  
With the block ahead now clear, your Acela Express rolls out of Philadelphia. On the next platform, another Acela has just pulled in.

Under the Program menu, there's an item under Test units called Activities (short for Test Activities). This option enables you to let ConBuilder check that you've got all the locos and wagons in varius consists installed from a packaged activity available on your system.

This feature is the most practical and powerful of what's available in ConBuilder. So, after you've downloaded an interesting activity and unpacked it, the first job is to ensure there are no missing locos or wagons in any of its consists.

Before testing an activity, ensure you've got All chosen in the filter setting. Choose the route and activity from the lists and click Test consists on the right. Any missing locos or wagons from any of the consists used by the activity will be reported on a page in WordPad. That will enable you track down what you need to install before you can run the activity.

Another option you might take is to note the offending consist and use Explorer to delete it or move it from your Consists folder.

A third option is to send the offending consist to the editor and replace locos and/or wagons with those you have in your roundhouse.

Note that when you want to edit the Player Consist in an activity (as talked about above to ease boredom or increase the challenge), use the activity tester to find it - it's marked as [PLAYER] - highlight it and send it to the consist editor to make your changes.

There are a couple more tasks that ConBuilder does but webWiz uses it as described above, particularly for testing activities.

When combined with the Activity Changer tool, ConBuilder can add a great deal of variety to your favourite activities.

Carlos Gomes, who wrote ConBuilder and puts out frequent updates and enhancements, deserves a big thank you. Carlos is Portuguese and doesn't speak much English so bear with a little lack of grammar in his help section.


  Testing units  
Departing Washington, Amtrak P42s #182 & #36 pass a cluster of HHP-8s on a siding.

ConBuilder can check your locomotives (engines), consists and wagons.

Because there are other files associated with a locomotive (a cabview if it's a driveable loco, graphics used for the cabview, sound definition files and associated WAV sound files), the checking process ensures all these files exist for each locomotive. This is a handy feature when you start up a locomotive and it doesn't have a cabview!

Similarly, wagons (both freight and passenger) can be checked for any missing graphics or sounds (wagons only have external sounds unless there's a passenger view with the 5 key). You can view a sample WAGon file and its shape definition file.

You'll probably find the consist test the most useful. We've already mentioned this test in relation to testing activities. Use the Send consist to editor to make any necessary changes when ConBuilder informs you a consist contains a loco or wagon that you haven't installed.

A good, practical use for the consist tester is after you install the NALW Genesis Packs to weed out those consists containing out-dated and early-version Genesis locos.

Finally, it would be a good time to now browse through a sample ENG file and a sample SD (shape definition) file. Note that both point to the loco's .S shape file (where all the graphics ACE files are collected): in the ENG file, look at the WagonShape line and in the SD file, look at the Shape line.


  Other information  
Amtrak P42s, in the Phase V colour scheme, stand at the New Carrollton station.

After a period of downloading and installing all the creative offerings from Train-Sim.com, you might start wondering how much disk space is now used by MSTS. ConBuilder comes to the rescue here - simply choose Program, Allocated Space.

At the bottom right of the information box, there's an option to Build lists of your locomotives and wagons. You can import these two text files into Excel, for example, to keep track of what your roundhouse contains.

Finally, Program, Big ones lists the most powerful loco, heaviest, longest, etc. By the way, the most powerful loco available is the UP DDA40X (6600hp) from Auran (at time of writing).



 
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