What Mini Metro can teach us about real life public transport

My friend Andrew put me onto the game Mini Metro – it’s a rather addictive (at least to me) game where you design and run a metro (or tram) system. The game provides station locations, and travel demand patterns, and you have to work out how the lines should connect them.

Gradually more and more locations and people are added. The game finishes when the system gets overloaded and the stations get too crowded.

The game is available on numerous platforms – I play it on iPad, which seems very well suited to it.

The game is really more like buses than metros. Why? Because you can easily change the routes, and if nobody is waiting or needing to alight at a station, the vehicles don’t stop. And vehicles can overtake each other anywhere.

The more difficult “Extreme” mode is more restrictive – you can’t change routes. You can’t even move vehicles from one line to another.

The game has various scenarios based in different cities – including Melbourne.

Mini Metro: Melbourne

Meanwhile in the real world

I was pondering what the game can teach us about real life public transport.

Frequency is good. In the game, passengers may have to change from line to line to reach their destination. If trains come through frequently, they’re not waiting for long, so crowds don’t grow too large.

Bunching is bad. In the real world it’s important to maintain even frequencies, and not let services bunch. This causes problems in the game too.

Diversity of destinations is good. The game creates different shapes, and may force you to have sections of line with the same shapes. This is analogous to lots of commuter stations which are a source of passengers, but rarely a destination. It means trains quickly become crowded in those sections.

A winning strategy in the game is to try and build your lines to have a mix of the station shapes – avoid the same shape multiple times in a row. This increases the chances of using your train capacity efficiently.

This is also true in real life – Melbourne’s CBD dominates train travel demand, but lines that serve intermediate destinations (for example Caulfield or Glenferrie which have university campuses, or Southland with its shopping centre) can mean some seats on the trains serve multiple passengers during one trip, making the system more efficient.

Passenger trips can be unpredictable. Sometimes the simulated passengers take unexpected routes to their destinations. So too in real life.

Lines with very busy and very quiet sections are difficult to manage. Capacity is wasted in the quiet section. You see this on Melbourne’s tram system – the CBD is very busy (in part due to the Free Tram Zone), but the suburban ends are relatively quiet (for the capacity provided), in part because many of them terminate in the middle of nowhere rather than making a logical connection to a railway station or other traffic generator.

Interchanges are useful, but challenging. If you can’t efficiently provide passengers with a one seat ride, then separate lines serving different destinations can help. But if something goes wrong, then queues of interchanging passengers can grow, overcrowding stations. If you want to see this in Melbourne, check the Federation Square tram stop in peak hour.

Station precincts develop over time. Part of the game has stations changing shape, such as from a common-or-garden circle to one of the rarer shapes. In real life, this happens – rail transport in particular often prompts development in the area immediately surrounding the station. It helps in the game because it adds diversity into a line – same in real life.

Playing Mini Metro at Caulfield station

Larger vehicles can help. In the game you get the opportunity to add carriages, which can relieve crowding. This is analogous to replacing small trams or buses with larger (such as is happening around Melbourne’s tram network at present) or introducing longer trains (coming sooneventually).

Crowding can develop very suddenly. Not to excuse government planning, but patronage growth can be unexpectedly fast, quickly overwhelming services. If the only fix is major infrastructure, this can take some time to resolve.

In Mini Metro, if stations get too crowded, the game ends. In real life, the government can get voted out.

The game is quite abstract, but good fun. Worth a look if you’re interested in such things.

transport Video games

PAX Australia – overall a success, but the public transport arrangements let it down

An article in The Age today notes that while there were a few issues, last weekend’s inaugural PAX Australia video game festival went well.

PAX Australia: XBox One demonstration

PAX Australia: Wizard Of Wor on the Commodore 64

We went along on the Sunday, and had a good time. We avoided the sessions with long queues, and instead saw an XBox launch event, played some games in the retro area, had some lunch, and looked around the expo hall.

Not being hardcore gamers, that satisfied us. And that’s I think where the planning for this event slipped-up.

Someone had obviously decided that most people would be staying all day, and the transport planning clearly reflected that.

The trains to the Showgrounds only ran every 20 minutes until 10:40am… then at an appalling 40 minute frequency until midday.

Trains to PAX Australia at the Showgrounds: infrequent, and delayed

Worse, we and others found there were train delays. The 10:04 was about 10 minutes late, meaning we spent 25 minutes waiting in the cold at Southern Cross. It then crawled to North Melbourne before finally getting up a decent speed the rest of the way to the Showgrounds. The 12:04 train was 20 minutes late.

At Showgrounds station there were long queues for the few Myki validators available. (We didn’t bother to queue — it barely matters on weekends when the fare cap is $3.50 anyway, and even on a concession fare, two 2-hour fares will get you to that cap.)

After 12:04 (well, 12:24 if that service was 20 minutes late) there were no trains at all until the late-afternoon. Instead people were advised to catch a tram back, with extra trams running.

The reality was that lots of people didn’t stay all day… while many may have come first thing in the morning and stayed until everything finished up, many others arrived and departed at various times across the day.

And what few extra trams ran were sporadic, resulting in the utterly predictable problem of the regular route 57 short (Z-class) trams being packed:

The tram coming back from PAX Australia

Apart from making many people who’d arrived by train find a different exit and stop to get home again, it was a slow crowded ride back into the city. Thoroughly unimpressive.

The PAX programme booklet noted the support of the Victorian Government, and I happened upon an episode of Byte Into It on Triple R last Wednesday which noted that PAX came to Australia because of enthusiasm from the locals — and to Melbourne specifically by that government support. Which is great.

But this kind of cooperation should include adequate transport arrangements. Public transport can and should do special events like this very well, but on this occasion, the system let people down. The danger is that next time more people will drive, clogging up streets around the venue. And given that special events are sometimes the only times people use PT, they may also be put off using it for other travel in the future.

How much extra would it have cost to run 20 minute trains all day? Surely not much more than the extra trams they ran all day, given the labour costs (drivers, and signalling people for trains) are the main cost.

If PAX returns to Melbourne, and I hope it does, if it’s at the Showgrounds again, they clearly need to do better.

Culture Melbourne Video games

Can you combine street art, classic video games and a Melbourne street map? Yes!

Can you combine street art, classic video games and a Melbourne street map?


Pac-man: street art map

CDH Art: “Using the familiar street art motif of retro gaming, I created a walking guide-map to Melbourne’s street art.”

Consumerism Video games

There goes my August spending money

Yowzers. It’s been 7 years since I bought the house.

And it’s been four years since I bought the car.

At the time I bought the car, the dealer I bought it from had just paid the rego, so it’s due every August. This year it’s $696.50.

Obviously because I bought the car in August, the insurance is also due every August. $369.05 (It can be paid monthly, but this is 15% more expensive.)

And… you guessed it… the house insurance is also due. $673.35

Can someone remind me, when/if I decide to upgrade the car at some stage in the future, not to do it in August?

  • I also just got a rates notice… happily the next installment for that isn’t due until late September.
  • A reminder why, despite their groovy advertising and the promise of cheaper premiums for people who don’t drive much, I don’t insure with Youi

Actually do plan to use a little spending money: to help fund From Bedrooms to Billions, a documentary on the beginnings of the UK video game industry. Nostalgia ahoy!

I’ve donated $100. And that was before I discovered the music they’ve used for the trailer — which starts at the 3 minute mark in the following video:

From Bedrooms to Billions – Teaser Trailer from GRACIOUS FILMS on Vimeo.

Retrospectives Video games

Retro Gamer edition 100

Yes, it’s true: I paid extra money to get a magazine about old video games sooner. I truly am a sucker for nostalgia.

Retro Gamer edition 100

But hey, it’s the 100th issue, with a reprint of edition one as a bonus!!!

PS. 8pm Saturday: Spotted today at my brother-in-law’s birthday barbecue, this tattoo of Rik’s:
Rik's Space Invaders tattoo

Movember Video games

Movember: any Modern Warfare/Call Of Duty fans want a limited edition USB drive?

Are these Modern Warfare: Call of Duty 3 “Captain Price” USB drives, sent out as part of Movember, really “limited edition”, or are there eleventy-billion of them out there?

"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" USB drive for Movember

Although I’d normally subscribe to the view that one can always use another USB drive, I’m wondering… would any of you MWCOD fans pledge a donation to Movember to buy it?

It’s still wrapped in plastic, and with a little box it came in. I’ll cover the postage to anywhere in Australia. Click here to see it bigger.

Anybody interested? What am I bid? (Leave an email address if you want it.)

Retrospectives Video games

Nostalgia overload: Back in the 80s…

Luna Park, Melbourne. Mr Moon is under restorationI was telling the kids about the days when arcade games were ubiquitous.

When we lived in Pine Avenue, Elwood in the early 80s, the local milkbar on Ormond Road had a Donkey Kong Junior machine, for instance.

But a short bus ride away in St Kilda was video game heaven. For starters, Luna Park (which in Melbourne was and is free to enter; unlike Sydney, you only pay for the rides), had a shed full of video games next to the Ghost Train.

In there I remember pumping my 20 cent coins into machines playing Donkey Kong, Popeye, Frogger, Elevator Action and Space Invaders. The latter was black and white, but with a colour overlay to give it a multi-coloured background.

A short walk down Carlisle Street was a laundromat with a Moon Patrol machine. The laundromat is still there, but these days shares the premises with solarium. Sign of the times?

Laundromat in Carlisle Street, St Kilda

Moon Patrol in the laundromat was great fun, for two reasons: firstly the machine was not in great demand, so there was rarely a queue. (The etiquette in those days was that if you wanted to play the machine next, you’d put your 20 cent coin on it; there was usually a spot where the screen met the console where a coin could be placed and it wouldn’t roll away.)

Secondly, it was one of the earliest games which would allow you to continue playing after losing all your lives, by putting in another coin. While I wasn’t the world’s best Moon Patrol player by any means, this meant that for 40-60 cents I could play right through the course (which went from A to Z), whereupon it would go back to the start, but with extra difficulty. Great fun.

Further down Carlisle Street, at the corner of Barkly Street, was a takeaway place with a Galaga machine. The takeaway place (or its descendant) still appears to be on the same corner. On my trip home from school in year 7 and 8, I’d often change from the tram to the bus at this spot, and play Galaga while I waited.

Carlisle/Barkly Streets, St Kilda

Other highlights around that part of St Kilda for a teenage geek included the computer shop on Barkly Street between which sold clone disk drives for the Commodore 64 (the Skai 64 drive, which I had, but which seems to have virtually faded into obscurity) and the two local newsagents on Acland Street, which sold all my favourite imported computer magazines, such as Commodore User, Compute’s Gazzette, Zzap 64! and later (when I switched allegiences from the Commodore 64 to a BBC Micro) Acorn User and The Micro User. Later when these publications got less mainstream, I ended up having to go into McGills (also now defunct) in the city to get them.

Further afield were Timezone in the City (apparently there are still a few of these around) and of course the Fun Factory in South Yarra (likely to be redeveloped in the not-too-distant future), where I sometimes played after school once I’d gone to Melbourne High… not to mention that one year rollerskating (also at the Fun Factory) was offered as a sport. I recall they had Joust, Gauntlet (great with four players), Gyruss and Dragon’s Lair (never my favourite).

There was also a place in Balaclava next to the railway bridge which, I recall, was called Sam’s Amusements. Mostly pool tables I think. They may well have had arcade games in there, but it looked way too scary, and I never went in there.

You may have worked out by now that I’m enormously nostalgic for the video games of this period. As it turns out, there’s a place in South Melbourne that sells multi-game versions of the old arcade games, in pretty authentic-looking cabinets, and there are others around Australia where you can buy them from about $1200 upwards. One day, maybe.

In the mean time, there’s always MAME.

Video games

Marino Bros: Not iconic video game characters

Marino Bros: Not iconic video game characters

transport Video games

Three brief PT things

Yearly: Beat the price rise

Just bought my new Yearly ticket via PTUA Commuter Club. It’ll take a couple of weeks to arrive, but it means I’ll beat the March 12th price rise.

PTUA Commuter Club Yearly plus membership: Z1 = $1090 (order by end of Feb; payment must clear by March 3rd). Will go up about 3% after that.

365 day Myki Pass (Yearly Metcards are no longer on sale): Z1 = $1170 until March 11th, $1202.50 after.

12 x 30 day Myki Passes: Z1 = $1332 (if bought after the March 12th price rise; Metcard prices are almost identical).

Myki gates at Melbourne Central

From what I’ve seen the new gates at Parliament and Melbourne Central work well most of the time, but when I went past, one was out of service (with a red light) and another was being problematic.

And at the end of the video you’ll see two fare evaders follow a lady through. There were no staff watching, so they appeared to get away with it.

First impressions after playing the free demo version of Cities In Motion

Cities In MotionQuite slow even on my recentish PC.

Very nice graphics. A few options to adjust settings, but nothing seems to really speed it up. Demo works on my PC’s 256Mb video card despite the system requirements claiming it needs 512Mb.

Clearly a lot of scope in the simulator for playing with different options, setting up routes etc.

Just a teensy bit clunky in some ways, eg having to lay dual tram track everywhere, and having to end all (tram/bus) routes in a loop.

Can’t see a way to create bus/tram lanes. My buses kept getting stuck in bad traffic.

Not totally convinced it’s a big leap forward over the old Traffic Giant game, but it’s only $20 to buy (online; don’t know about retail), and obviously is still under development, with an active user community/forum.

A bit of fun for any transit geek. Provided I can verify the full game will run on my PC, I’ll buy it.

(Some demo download sites require signup/membership — this one doesn’t)

driving Video games

Coolest Mini ever

Spotted in Centre Road, Bentleigh:

Coolest Mini ever