Reviews

Keep Your Strategy on Track to Build an Empire with the Latest Game from Loki








Review tycoon
Railroad Tycoon: Loki’s view of Montreal.


Railroad Tycoon II — Gold Edition


Loki Entertainment Software


http://www.lokisoft.com


$49.95


Like Loki’s first port, Civilization: Call To Power, Railroad Tycoon II isn’t a shoot-em-up-style game. It’s all about strategy, using your head to build an empire. But unlike CivCTP, which did include characters that would battle, this game is pure strategy.

Railroad Tycoon II Gold Edition, which goes for $49.95 if ordered from the Loki Web site, is a combination of the standard Railroad Tycoon II game plus the Second Century Expansion Pack. The packaging contains one CD, a fold-out reference guide, and a 100+ page user manual. A reference card for the Second Century Expansion Pack is also included. Although the manual contains quite a bit of information, it really doesn’t take you beyond the absolute basics of game play. The fold-out reference card, however, comes in quite handy when you need to look up important game information.

The Second Century Expansion Pack is a collection of 18 new scenarios divided into three distinct historical eras. The scenarios don’t change the way the game is played, but they do provide new terrain and city maps. These maps not only determine the layout of the world in which you build your railroads, but they also determine the rules of play.

You need about 350 MB to install the complete distribution of Railroad Tycoon II. This includes the classic game, the Second Century expansion, and movies for both. Fortunately, Loki’s games can be installed into their own directories so that if you tire of them in the future, a simple rm -rf in that directory will free up loads of extra disk space.

The installation can be run using the setup.sh script from the CD, or you can unpack the gzipped tar files manually. Unless you’re having a strange compatibility problem with your particular Linux distribution, the setup.sh program should run just fine.

Railroad Tycoon II has one major drawback — it requires a 1024×768 display. That means you can’t run it on a laptop with an 800×600 resolution. It runs with either 8- or 16-bit displays, meaning low-end graphics cards will work. We recommend a decent video card, though, so you can truly appreciate the tremendous graphics in this game.

The packaging says that glibc2.1 and a 2.2.x kernel are required. We checked with lead developer Sam Latinga at Loki, and he said that they found better performance with this configuration, but there was no technical reason it shouldn’t work with glibc2.0 and a 2.0.x kernel. Linux Magazine labs loaded it onto a stock Red Hat 5.2 box (glibc2.0 and a 2.0.36 kernel) without any problems. So if you have an older distribution, you should be able to run the game.

To evaluate the game we set up a test box running Linux-Mandrake 6.0 on an older Cyrix 686 running at 200 Mhz with 64 MB of memory. The game will work with your display set to another host, but we do not recommend doing so unless your network is fairly fast. First, the network can bog down screen updates. In a few tests we ran using a networked display, there were times when the screen updates took up to 30 seconds to complete. It was usable, but only if you’re truly patient. We ran the game with the display set for a networked monitor (instead of the test monitor), because it had a huge 21-inch screen running at 1152×864 so we could play and take notes at the same time. However, after playing the game for a time we switched desktops (using FVWM2′s pager), then switched back. The game would not completely refresh the window, and the parts that required event processing to continue play wouldn’t accept key or mouse presses.

The problems here turned out to be the network, not the game. We ran the test on a 10 Mb/sec Ethernet network, which we felt was representative of many small networks. This caused a bottleneck for the game display. 100 Mb/sec Ethernet is the norm these days, and such bottlenecks may not be a problem on faster networks. With the slower 10 Mb/sec network, the animated portions of the display — which are constantly being updated — begin to lag behind and pile up. Eventually the game got out of sync and game play was no longer possible. After switching back to the locally connected test monitor to run the game we had no problems. Moral: if you run the game display across a local area network (LAN), be sure it’s a fairly fast connection. Keep in mind that this relates only to setting your display to a remote monitor. Networked game play — playing other players on a LAN — works just fine.

Game Play

The game itself is easy to follow. As well as the traditional long-term-strategy campaign, the game can be played through a variety of short scenarios, which can run anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours. The scenarios can be continued after you or one of the computer players reaches the specified goals, which helps for learning more about the game. This is a nice feature, since the short scenarios are a great way to learn how to play before setting off on the more complex long-term campaigns.

Railroad Tycoon II is a realtime strategy game whose goal is to build a railroad empire by laying tracks between points on the maps where resources exist (such as farms, mills, and mines) and scheduling trains between these points. You need to add train stations near the resources using one of three different-sized (and different-cost) stations. Around the stations you can add all sorts of buildings and development, some of which is necessary to keep trains running properly and some of which helps increase revenue. Old steam trains need sand and water at some station along their routes or they break down. Electric trains, available from the Second Century expansion, are more efficient and non-polluting.

You gain wealth, which you need in order to win a scenario, by making the routes efficient and transporting cargo where it’s needed. You can also manage your personal and corporate wealth through the stock market. Your corporation’s ability to grow also depends on having the right Manager — a person you hire from a short list of candidates. In later years it’s not the number of trains you have but the efficiency with which they are run that speeds the growth of wealth.

Game play is handled entirely with mouse and keyboard interaction. Graphics are excellent on high-resolution systems. Zooming in, you’ll get some very detailed terrain maps. Town names are clearly visible and easy to read. And the detail on the tracks and trains is outstanding. However, if you’re on an 8-bit display, the terrain won’t look quite as good, and it can be difficult to differentiate the buildings on the maps (housing versus farms versus mills and so forth) without zooming all the way in.

AI in the game isn’t all that obvious. You get the occasional train wreck and train robbers. Trains will break down if you don’t have the right buildings, a roundhouse for example, at stations along the trains route. Computer players are intelligent wealth builders, but not all that fast at laying track. They’re good at managing resources of the few trains and routes they build.

Game sound is good. It doesn’t get overly annoying, although the sound of trains is pretty constant in the background. Interestingly, the sound depends on what part of the map the display is showing. If you’re over a busy, heavily trafficked area you get a lot of train sounds. If you’re over open terrain, forests, or water, you get wildlife or water sounds.

The movies included with the game are pretty good. They play primarily in a small window on the lower right of the window. Unlike in other games, the movies aren’t designed to take center stage. Instead, they simply add to the overall effect of the time period and terrain. Most of the movies in the early years of play (the 1800s) are in black and white. All of the movies are real video, not computer 3D animations.

The game can take a while to get used to, especially if you spend too much time working on your railroad empire. The trick seems to be to keep close tabs on the stock market as well. Buying more stock in your company seems to help boost the stock price, which in turn boosts your personal wealth and can allow you to actually win one of these short scenarios.

On the original test system, the Cyrix box running Mandrake, the game locked up on two separate occasions. Once we learned that we could run on an older distribution we loaded it on a newer Pentium II box with 256 MB of memory running Red Hat 5.2. Here, the game did not lock up. It appears the problem may have been in the test hardware. Sam Latinga at Loki said that a few reports of locking up had been reported but they hadn’t seen the problem on Loki’s test systems. The lockups could not be reliably reproduced on our test system, so it doesn’t appear to be something that happens very frequently.

In any case, the lockups didn’t detract from a truly enjoyable game. It ran well on the slower test system we had set up. It’s disappointing that it doesn’t run on an 800×600 monitor. But if you have a full-size display, this game will provide many hours of intense strategy play.




In A Nutshell


Rating: 4 Penguins


Pros:

* Compelling game that can be played in 30 minutes

* Incredible graphics without the need for hardware-accelerated 3D

Cons:

* Requires 1024×768 display so it won’t work on most laptops

* Remote display not suitable for
10 Mb/sec Ethernet






Michael J. Hammel authored Artists’ Guide to the GIMP. He can be reached at mjhammel@graphics-muse.org.

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