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A quick look back at Microsoft Train Simulator and how it influenced a non-Microsoft series

Microsoft train simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator was one of the company's earliest software products. It also produced some spinoffs, like Microsoft Space Simulator and Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator, which was the subject of our feature on Saturday. However, there was another spinoff that technically had just one game released but had a direct link to a series that began in its wake and has continued to this day.

We are talking about Microsoft Train Simulator, which launched on PC in June 2001. Unlike the other Simulator games, this title wasn't developed in-house by Microsoft but instead was made by UK-based Kuju Entertainment. The game lets players control a number of trains on different routes around the world. You could keep your trains going in simple commuter travels or take control of the engines for more complicated freight missions. Kuju made an effort to make both the trains and their routes as accurate as possible.

The reviews of Microsoft Train Simulator were very positive, and in 2003, Microsoft Train Simulator 2 was announced, which was again going to be developed by Kuju. Microsoft showed an early version at E3 that same year, which added features such as animated people and turntables for the trains.

However, later in 2003, it was reported that Kuju was no longer developing the sequel and that its work had been sent to Microsoft to continue its development in-house. As it turned out, Microsoft later decided to cancel work on the sequel, and that decision was made public in April 2004.

Microsoft train simulator

Three years later, in 2007, the company announced a second attempt to make a sequel to Microsoft Train Simulator. This game, developed in-house, would have used the same graphics engine as Microsoft Flight Simulator X. In addition to updated graphics, the game would have had a global rail system for players to control their trains. Four of those routes would get the highly detailed graphics treatment.

In 2009. Microsoft shut down its Aces Studio team, and with that, the second attempt at a Microsoft Train Simulator sequel died with it. However, the original game's developer, Kuji, decided to keep making a similar game. In 2007, it released the Rail Simulator, which was published by Electronic Arts. It included four detailed routes where players could operate with several scenarios or in free-play mode.

The biggest feature of that game was a world editor, where you could create your own routes, trains, cities, and more. It also supported downloadable add-ons. However, reviews for the game were mixed, with many of them stating that there was very little help from the developer when it came to learning about both the game and its editing features.

After the release of the Rail Simulator, Kuju decided it was finally done creating virtual trains and locations and shut down further development of those kinds of games. However, a number of Kuju team members chose to depart the developer to form a new team. In 2009, that new studio was officially announced as RailSimulator.com. Later that year, it released what was basically a sequel to the 2007 Rail Simulator game called Railworks.

The team continued to update the game regularly, with RailWorks 2: Train Simulator in 2010, followed by RailWorks 3: Train Simulator in 2012. The Railworks name was removed with the release of Train Simulator 2013. It has continued to be updated with new content to this day and is now known by the name Train Simulator Classic on Steam, as it ditched the yearly branding.

The development team, which changed its name to Dovetail Games in 2013, has also launched a second train sim franchise called Train Sim World. The first game in the series launched in 2017. The latest game, Train Sim World 4, was released in late 2023, and it is available for the PC, along with the PlayStation 4 and 5 consoles, and the Xbox One, Xbox Series S, and Xbox Series X consoles.

While Microsoft never released a second Train Simulator game, Dovetail has certainly taken up the slack with its own efforts, and it's not a stretch to say it might not have started without the launch of that first Microsoft Train Simulator title over 20 years ago.

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