View Full Version : Building cities

June 24th, 2012, 09:39 AM
When building a medium to large city how many baseboards from the tracks seems to give the best effect of distance?

What is the best way to "populate" the distant skyline that won't kill frame rates?

I'm sure I'll be asking more questions later but I would like to hear some of your techniques.

If you like I can post present screenshots.


June 24th, 2012, 01:12 PM
I, too, am contemplating a route including a medium to large city, so this is a topic to which I've given a great amount of contemplation. My current thinking is that the greatest proportion of viewers are interested in railroads, and will be giving the modeled railroad parts of the route the most attention. A trainz baseboard is 720 meters, or somewhat more than 2100 feet. Assuming a single track right of way, running down the middle of a baseboard, then there would be about 1000 feet of space on either side useable for buildings. 1000 feet would be a bit less than two city blocks, in most large US and Canadian cities. I'm quite comfortable with a using about two blocks on either side of a railroad right of way as a satisfactory setting for the trains to run through.

But the right of way intended to attract the most interest will not always be in the middle of the baseboard. Sometimes it will be at the far edge, and since I would still want at least two blocks beyond the railroad, this would mean an additional baseboard on the far side of the route, with a bit more than another four city blocks.
The level of detail of the buildings on any baseboard containing right of way, then, should (at least in my opinion, have the highest level of detail; more distant (more than two blocks away) buildings would be considerably less detailed.

Also, I have perceived that how much detail needs to be put into more distant items, is the density of structures in the immediate vicinity of the viewer, and the point of view of the virtual viewer. Many of the places where one might be inclined to use backdrops or backdrop objects, the backdrop is going to be past the draw distance, anyway, and in other cases, the viewer will have an apparent position which causes nothing but the objects in the immediate vicinity to be visible. There are many places in Dallas, for example, where some of the iconic structures of the downtown cannot be seen because of the buildings across the street.


June 24th, 2012, 01:42 PM
You have to keep in mind how cities are built, and how the railroads intereact with them. In the old days, the railroads went right into towns whereas today they're on the outskirts. If this is an older city, then the station and yard will be surrounded by buildings, or at least will run through the area. In the western cities, the yards are more spread out, and not even close to the cities. The cities themselves have track along the edges because they have the room to do so. Up where I live in the Merrimack Valley, the railroads had downtown yards and lots of branches feeding the textile mills. There were tracks that ran through the industrial canyons in Lawrence along the North Canal. Cities too don't just end, but seem to fade into the surroundings. They start off with lots of suburban houses, cul-de-sacs, and condo developments which eventually give way to some industrial buildings and commercial areas. This eventually leads to the concentrated downtown that then spreads out again to the similar structure on the oposite sides. I hate to say it, but similar to a leaf pile if you've ever raked leaves before. In the older cities, there maybe large spreads of older homes located near the old mills. These were the homes for the workers that toiled away in the old mills. The owners lived outside of the city away from the pollution and noise. These could be mini-communities unto themelves like the Acre, Belvidere, Ayer's Village, Collinsville, etc. These are areas around Lowell and Haverhill MA; both once big industrial centers. Today the mills are empty, but the houses are still there. Belvidere is nothing but big mansions from the great heyday of the textile mills. The Acre is the opposite. You wouldn't, or as I should say, shouldn't walk in that area alone!

So this presents an issue for us. What do we include, or what do we not include. Gven the studders we are prone to in this program,. we have to compromise quite often to keep the program useable. In general I keep the area to about 3 baseboards, meaning the track, railyard, and other main railroad stuff is in the middle with room for landscaping on either side. I also put larger buildings where I want to block views. In one of my cities, I also put in some hills as though the rails were in the valley. This particular area is under my minimum at one baseboard width. With the hills, mills, and track centered, there's no way of knowing how shallow everything is.

For buildings I keep the more detailed ones nearest the tracks, and less detailed boxes with images on them for the distance. Using a lot of long-block buildings helps too because you can get a lot of buildings for nothing regarding frame rate hit. I noticed too that since I've swapped to Speed Treez and their relations, I have had less of a hit on the framerates due to the GPU-driven rendering versus CPU-driven. This makes a big difference because the CPU no longer has to fathom out geometry for flip board trees, and can concentrate on the buildings which are nothing more than cubes for the most part.

If you're going to include off the mainline areas of interest, you need to use angles and close buildings. You don't need to have a lot, but enough to hide the obvious gaps. For this you can use blocks of mills, warehouses, and other tight corners to move into. Avoid those spline warehouses and mills. They'll kill the performance, and honestly I never seem to get them to look right.

I would like to add too that in general splines are a killer, and sadly in cities they're a must. I avoid fences unless I really need them, and keep power lines, except telegraph lines to the minimum. Grass clumps are okay, but don't go crazy with them. In fact I've put them and taken them out. They look okay, but also can be a frame killer when used with the thickness that they should be. A clump here and there just doesn't cut it for the areas I model, so rather than deal with studders, I've removed the grass and used a lot of textures instead.

Anyway, I hope this helps.


June 24th, 2012, 05:19 PM
Generally speaking, I find that modeling 2 baseboards either side of the track is more than enough. I'm modeling rolling New Enland countryside with lots and lots of trees and no difficulty attaining that illusion of depth which adds so much to a scene. The same goes for cities and towns. Only in coastal scenes, where penninsulas and islands viewed across water (like Gloucester, Mass.), can add to that depth, do I 'stretch' out the scene. The density of buildings/scenery applied to an area is very much a function of what your machine can handle.
I am running a oc'd (4 Ghz) i7 cpu with a GTX 570 gpu (1.2 Gb vram) on a Win7-64 OS. I am modeling in TS12. I have experienced very little in the way of stutters and bumps; and I'm packing on assets after asset! This includes splines, which model the grassy marshes so common to this coastal area. I am using TS10/12 assets almost exclusively. TS12 has handled the route wonderfully, so far. In my opinion it is the best functioning offering to date. I continue to be surprised at just how much stuff I can throw at it! However, splines are a frame rate killer, and it's a trial and error thing as to how many can be applied. Generaly I use about a half dozen different ones, over and over.
Of course, use common sense in applying assets, as mjolner and JCitron have pointed out. The wise use of asset repitition applied with some thought goes a long way to adding density and depth......and takes the load off your machine. I use the same tree spline at 200 yard as I do at 2 boards distant.

June 24th, 2012, 07:20 PM
I agree with the two baseboards rule of thumb, and has been pointed out already real estate is expensive and structures in even very large cities tend to encroach on the right of way to the point where you can't see large vistas anyway. There are some areas of course where it would be appropriate to use back drops, even small ones to fill the gaps. I think the hardest part is getting the right appearance from the long approach to the city itself.

June 24th, 2012, 08:45 PM
Since the route I am building has a large city, this thread is interesting to me and the advice given is good. But one more idea is water - bays, ocean fronts, fjords, large rivers.

Think of some of the most scenic cities and what they have in common (Cape Town, Hong Kong, etc): water, city, mountains.

June 24th, 2012, 10:08 PM
Seattle comes to mind. A very scenic area. Or the valley of the Columbia River.........
For a short line; how about the cross isthmus railroad between Panama City and Colon; very scenic; and different!
All off topic, but certainly not off map!
Thai1on is modeling Tennesee, I beleive. Long on stills, hills and history........short on seaports!

June 25th, 2012, 08:31 AM
Wow, thanks for the help these tips are very handy. Seeing that this is a TransDem generated route I have a lot of real estate to trim away I just wanted to make sure I have enough to give the illusion of depth.

Yes this is an old city so the railroad comes right into the middle of town. I fact I have 3 lines coming in and leaving in a general n/s direction that funnel into the local station before branching back out again. The idea is to give some Kentucky towns a big city feel with an industrial base to take advantage of the rich resources to support a large volume of rail traffic.

Here are a few shots, any ideas?

L&A northbound approach.


PRR northbound approach.


N&W northbound approach.


The L&A makes it's turn north while the PRR and N&W run a little further west before making their northern turn.


The PRR and N&W part ways.


June 25th, 2012, 09:00 AM
Looks pretty good, especially the fourth shot, it will get even more claustrophobic when you add the street lights and fences and such!

June 25th, 2012, 09:13 AM
Those pix look great Mr. Thai1on! I hope my cities and towns come out as well.
Sorry, I said you were modeling Tennesee. Well, Kentucky is like Tenesee;:)...........but with horses, right!