After a lot of trial and error, and several rounds of optimization, I got a profitable transport business running over three decades on a 3x4 map. An island of that size, to be precise. Since this is plain original TTD, not OpenTTD, I had to use an island rather than customizing the game to allow for such tiny maps, like SpComb did. Luckily, towns don't build onto the coastal tiles in TTD, so everything remained within the 3x4 rectangle.
Here's the scenario I used:
In case you wonder how I built that scenario: Exploiting a bug in TTD that lets towns use larger city centers than normal (fixed in TTDPatch 1.9.1 alpha 25), you can demolish town buildings that are under construction in the scenario editor, and repeatedly expand the town until the desired tiles are occupied by the largest office block that exists in TTD (population: 220). These yield a lot of passengers in the early months of the game, which helps with getting out of debt quickly.
In the game, I then built a single cheap bus that goes back and forth between a regular bus station and a proxy station that has its station sign diagonally across, but is actually located just next to the first, for extra income. Kept an occasional eye on the town's road construction and demolished it whenever it occurred to leave enough room for city buildings, and that allowed me to get into the 21st century with a small profit.
Later, inflation kicks in hard and makes it really tough to keep the business up. In the 2000s, the town also decides it's a good idea to build a lot of warehouses, fountains, smaller office blocks and what not, which yield very few passengers. But I would argue three decades of profit count.
So I'm wondering: What other types of TTD challenges can we come up with? What other TTD records can we set?
Here are the rules by which I went:
1) No cheating or savegame editing.
2) Obey the rules set by the original, unmodified TTD. No TTDPatch or other tools allowed.
3) No AI. (This is because their company value can be exploited by buying and selling shares for profit, even on a 0x0 map.)
4) Any difficulty setting and game options.
5) Any scenario that can be built with the scenario editor.
Highest income from one single delivery.
The company should probably be profitable too, but individual vehicle profitability doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is how much money is added to the company bank account at one single cargo delivery.
The map can be constructed in the scenario editor, but the company must have built the route and vehicles doing the delivery on natural game terms (no cheating, patching, etc.)
My idea was to create a very long map, on which a very long train would deliver sub-tropical Wood, that being the cargo with the highest payment rate. However, I could not place any lumber mills, neither in the scenario editor nor in the actual game. I just get a message that the industry should be placed "in rainforest areas", but what exactly counts as a rainforest? I have tried to place them both in high and low terrain, but to no avail.
I'm currently trying to achieve the earliest possible date on which I can get a positive net bank balance (positive bank balance after all loans have been repaid). At first I though the fastest would be to run a one-way bus line with a pre-built road and then sell the bus again, but there's a faster way! Will post the end result with the fastest I can do soon.
Same rules as with the minimal map above: Original TTD, no cheating/editing, no competitors, any difficulty/scenario.
With busses and a pre-built road, I managed to do it in just under a month (31st January 1950), avoiding the first maintenance and interest payments. But then I tried with a long passenger train, and that was a lot faster. The current record stands at 15th January 1950.
Tricks involved: Diagonal route to maximize the income (TTD calculates distances in the Manhattan metric), "Go to depot" to avoid long loading/unloading times, a scenario with a city consisting mainly of the large 220-population office blocks for an immediate full passenger load, track destruction behind the train to get some money back, and of course a lot of pause/unpause.
I'm not quite convinced this is the earliest date possible, though. There might be a better way to arrange the stations (for example making the first one also 1x1 to maximize the fraction of diagonal tracks in the entire route). Can anyone beat my time? Maybe coal could also be better than passengers.
This might be fun to try also with a random map instead of a prefabricated scenario...
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