OpenTTD on Steam: What You Should Know Before You Play

In some sort of reverse April Fools joke, OpenTTD, the 2004 open-source remake of the 1994 game Transport Tycoon Deluxe, has come to Steam. Previously only being downloadable on their website, this April 1st, 2021 launch is big news for accessibility. Being a remake of one of the most influential tycoon games in history, it still gets updates every few months and has a dedicated community of mod makers (and plenty of public servers, if that’s your thing).

The game’s visuals are a step-back to nostalgic days and simpler times, when designs were mainly menu-based. What it lacks in visual grandeur, it makes up for in accessibility. Besides being on Steam, you can run it on pretty much anything and it’s file size is minimal. It also comes in at the low, low price of free, and has both LAN and online multiplayer capabilities. In a time of economic uncertainty where many people being stuck at home, a game like this is perfect to get and play with friends.

I’ve played the game on and off for a little less than 10 years; a few weeks at a time here and there when the fancy struck me, and the occasional multiplayer game with either friends or my younger brothers. I hope to get a game started in Heavyshelf community, but for the uninitiated, it can be quite intimidating. That said, the meat of the game isn’t all that hard to understand once you have a grasp of how it works. I hope this explanation will help with getting that long awaited group game off the ground.

Foundations: Resources and Factories

To begin, there are 4 maps to play on: Temperate, Sub-Artic, Tropical, and Toyland. Each comes with slight differences in types of industries and vehicles available. Sub-Artic includes paper and food among the industries. Tropical provides rubber, water, copper, food, and fruit but lacks the ability to create steel and the electric type trains. Toyland includes a lot of Christmas-related things: toys, candy, and such. Lastly, Temperate is what I would consider the standard map so, for the sake of the guide, it’s what I’ll be referring to.

This flowchart features all industries in OpenTTD. The goal of the game is to make money transporting one resource to another place to be refined or sold. Steel mills, factories, sawmills, and oil refineries have input(s) and output. These require resources to make other products or goods, which can be transported to towns for an even greater profit. Of course, you don’t have to fully refine a product to make money.

Making Money Using Vehicles

Transporting the goods is done with vehicles. These include road-based vehicles, ships, planes, and later on, helicopters, but the main focus of the game is trains. The progression builds from steam trains to diesel then to electric. Eventually, you can upgrade the rails, as well as buy monorails and mag-lev bullet trains. Generally, the later the vehicle was made, the better it is. Despite this, as with every economy, there is always the question of efficiency. Sometimes the cost of creating a new mag-lev line isn’t worth the price; such optimizations are up to you to discover and decide, based on what you think is best (or, as with most tycoon games, what is most fun).

To get started on vehicles, you’ll need to build stations for the vehicles to travel to and from. Road vehicles require either a bus station to transport passengers or a truck station to move other resources. Boats, of course, use a dock. Docks require a raised slope on one side and a water tile on the other. When building your stations, the highlight tool while building it will give you all the information you need to make sure that your station is in the correct area. After building a station, you should connect any roads or rails and build a depot. (If you build an airport, they have one included for free!) Clicking on the depot will allow you to purchase the requisite vehicle of that type: rail yards for trains, garages for road vehicles, hangars for planes, and docks for boats.

Vehicles in OpenTTD operate based on orders. Orders are simple commands that tell the vehicle where to go and what to do when they get there. They can seem a bit intimidating because they look a bit like code,but the actual commands are pretty simple. Additionally, once you have the list of orders built for a vehicle, it takes care of itself. Trains, of course, work similarly, but with one major difference: trains can’t pass each other if they’re on the same rail, so keep that in mind when you’re planning your orders and building your rail system.

Signals to Maximize Profits

If you want to jump into it right away, you should know enough now to have a bit of fun, but if you want to have multiple trains on the same track, you’ll need to learn how signals work, and that’s where the depth of things starts to take off. A block signal will block entry to a track if there is a train between it and the next signal. By holding [ctrl] while dragging the mouse in the desired direction along the track, it will build signals up till the next station or the next split in the track. Also, holding [ctrl] while building a station allows you to merge the signals together within a certain radius.

The other signals needing further explanation are the entry and exit signals. These are used to split off the track to create multi-track stations, or to connect a station to a track through to another station. The easiest way to set up a split with these is to place the entry signal in the tile before the split and the exit on the tiles right after the split. This will ensure a smooth design in minimal space and has less room for mistakes. After all, messing this up can sometimes result in two trains running into each other. The explosion will require you to completely replace the trains, as well as deal with the repercussions of losing any passengers, goods, and the conductor — all of which costs quite a bit. At the end of the day, you can’t forget about that bottom line.

Multiplayer and More

Sadly, OpenTTD currently lacks compatibility with the Steam invite function, but it doesn’t need a dedicated server. You can run a server and the game at the same time by heading over to the “Multiplayer” tab on the main menu. The only thing you need to do is figure out your IP to share with the other players and make sure the right port is open on your router — anyone familiar with hosting a private Minecraft server will know what I am talking about. Games over your local internet (LAN) should show up in the server list hassle-free. Lastly, like Minecraft, there is a dedicated server program for the game, if you want to have it running in the background; useful if you’re busy, or if you share a PC with others.

If, after reading all of this, you want to know more, I highly recommend the amazing wiki at It offers tons of information that’s otherwise impossible to pack into one cohesive article. If I have been able to convince you of playing this cult classic, who knows — maybe we’ll play together with other members in the Heavyshelf community.

Leave a Reply