Return Journeys and How Route Files Work
We often get asked about return journeys. While they aren’t impossible in BVE, they aren’t as easy as they ought to be. This subject isn’t one that can be quickly answered. You may find this to be a bit of a long read. It will be worth it though as it explains how this works.
Let’s set the scene. We’ve all been there. You drive a train in BVE and you reach the end of the line. You take the key out from the desk, flick the lights over to tail lights and leave the cab. Sometimes this is the end, but other times you would look to “change ends” and drive back. This is especially so with London Underground routes. The terminus is seldom where your shift ends. More often than not you’d work that same train back as far as a crew depot. You’d then get relieved by someone who would work that train forward. The same can be said for mainline routes.
Much to everyone’s frustration… you reach the end of the line and can’t go back. It’s as if you’re permanently stuck going in one direction!
Why does TS2020 have return journeys but BVE does not?
To put it quite simply, the way the two simulators process a route are entirely different. Most train simulators store a route as a network of railway lines. You can access any siding, any platform and go whichever way you want at junctions. Both cabs work on the train. The signalling can correctly display the right indication for whatever you decide to do. A route is quite literally a massive atlas of that network that the author has built. You decide where to start, and the simulator places your train in that spot. For BVE… this unfortunately isn’t the case. Part of this is due to the sheer age of BVE.
The best way to describe how BVE handles routes is they are single journeys. As you know, in the menu you pick a route file (which is usually done as a CSV file). This route file contains the details of that journey, which BVE translates into the 3D environment you see before you. It is all done by text, listing co-ordinates as to where to put things. A good author can make a route look like this vast network, just like in other simulators. A lot of that however is trick of the eye. From start to finish, you have to tell BVE what to place where and in reality, it can only place 1 railway line for the player to drive along.
BVE handles routes as if they are single journeys
Modules – They made our life a lot easier!
We honestly can’t remember when the developer added this feature to BVE. Whenever it was, certainly made our jobs a lot easier. Without going into detail about them, we’ll give you the basics.
Originally, everything about a single journey had to be written in a route file. This was where the problems started. Say you wanted to make some improvements to a section of your route. You have two separate journeys that use that same stretch of track. To do this, you had to change that same stretch of track twice in each route file. Now, in TS2020 for example, you could change a section of route and it would instantly change it for every journey that uses that section.
If implemented properly, BVE can now do this too! This is where modules came in. They allow you split a route up into a series of sections. Text files that can be called upon as required. When you write a route file (or journey, as we’re calling it here), you put that journey together by adding the modules you want. Now we could have a choice of which platform to arrive at. That is only a very small example. With modules the list of possibilities is endless.
A lot of legacy content for BVE was made before modules existed. Indeed, some of our earlier routes were made when modules were in their infancy. The Waterloo & City Line was the first time where we included a choice of platforms. It was also the first to include return journeys.
Now we’ve explained how modules has expended what BVE can do, we can move onto return journeys.
Why are return journeys so rare in BVE?
Keep in mind what we just said about route files being single journeys. To write a return journey, the developer needs to write that exact journey again. The difference being that they are now going in the opposite direction. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Every object has to be capable of being rotated 180 degrees. Surface sections of route can be done quite easily if built thoroughly enough. In the case of London Underground routes, you need to able to see what happens underground. More often than not, the opposite tunnel does something completely different to other one!
Until modules become common place, the time and effort needed to write a return journey wasn’t worth the endeavour. While we certainly can’t speak for other BVE developers, we can understand their choices.
Does this mean we aren’t even considering return journeys? No, it doesn’t. We are considering return journeys.
At BVE Western Region, we like to do things differently
It’s all about co-ordinates. Without going too much into the finer detail, there is a reason why they’re important. You see, in order to go back the way you came you need to reach the end first. This is so you can enjoy the flexibility of accessing different platforms or different directions as junctions. To attempt to make a return journey before you’ve reached your destination would mean that none of the co-ordinates line up properly in the modules. This would create an unmanageable mess that wouldn’t justify the means.
The other problem you now have with return journeys almost goes back to the days before modules. The outward and return journeys would be two separate modules. With that in mind, the intention would be to get everything finished on the outward trip. This is so that when we do that return journey, it is almost a case of copy and paste.
As negative as that just sounded, trust us, it isn’t. We have every intention of producing return journeys once we reach the end of the line. We’re that serious about doing them that they have always been part of the plan. While it may not look like it, all of our routes are deliberately built as such to allow for return journeys. Once everything is built, we can spin things around and write all the modules required for return journeys. We just can’t do them yet.
We have done experiments on writing return journeys. All you need is a calculator and many cups of tea. We can confirm they are indeed possible to do. With the success of our more recent experiments, we are happy to reveal our plans for our existing routes.
Our plan for return journeys
The Central Line
At the moment, our Central Line only runs as far as Liverpool Street. We have always intended to extend this line further than this. As for when you can expect to see return journeys, it won’t be for a while yet. The plan is to eventually go as far as Epping. Rest assured, the moment we see the buffer stops (and that piece of track that goes towards Ongar that isn’t used anymore) we want to build out the westbound lines!
The Jubilee Line
Now the beauty with the Jubilee Line is it doesn’t have any branches (apart from Charing Cross). While there are plenty of stations with multiple platforms, it is a fairly straight forward setup. We’d very much like to do return journeys for this route. Unfortunately though, this won’t be able to happen until we reach Stanmore. Like the Central Line though, we fully intend to write the return journey!
The North London Line
This route is where you’ll be seeing return journeys a lot sooner. As we said when the North London Line was released, we certainly aren’t finished. The plan is to extend it to North Woolwich. A return journey back to Richmond will follow once a small upgrade to the line is complete.
So there you have it. That’s how return journeys, and indeed route files work in BVE. As for when particular routes are going to be extended, please don’t ask us for specifics. We just wanted to explain why we haven’t already done return journeys. They will eventually happen and frankly, once they’re done, celebrations will be in order.
Just to be clear, the next route to incorporate return journeys will be the North London Line. This is because North Woolwich was indeed the terminus and so this allows is to go back the other way.
While it may be a long time yet before the Central and Jubilee Lines feature return journeys, we can at least say they are going to be extended. You can of course follow our progress on Twitter.