Re-re-re-vitalised simming

Over the last eight years, once a year,  I've reviewed the state of flightsim, and my role as a developer, but up until this year I've always found it easy to decide to continue on doing what I do. This year I've changed my mind few times, deciding early in the year that the lack of any work on a real, viable replacement for FSX, combined with the demise of the PC, meant that I'd be mad to continue to rely on scenery development for my livelihood. Then around mid-year, after a look at the job market, I decided that developing scenery is still a great way to spend my time, even if flightsim has become a bit of a dinosaur. Now, towards the end of the year, flightsim suddenly seems to be alive and kicking again.

Some of the reasons for this are based on my own circumstances, finally, for the first time in a long time, having a computer system which does FSX some justice. I've been rediscovering FSX, and it was actually better than I imagined it would be. I've discovered the joy of payware aircraft, although my budget is very limited, so I was thrilled to receive the S22GTSx Turbo as a prize courtesy of the NZFF screenshot competition, and of course Carenado. I've said before I don't have much of an imagination, so I only like to fly the sort of aircraft I could fly in real life, if I took the time to learn:), and flying in the sim is a vastly superior experience with a nice, responsive aircraft like this.

Another discovery for me lately is the DX10 version of FSX, which hasn't really been possible on my old system. Now I can see what all the fuss is about, and although there are a lot of issues, I would certainly like to explore the current solutions to get this working well. I will look at DX10-compatibility in all future projects, and I may look at updating Real NZ Nelson for DX10, once I've finished NZWN.

But it is possible that before I can find the time to do all this, FSX may end up obsolete, with the up-coming release of Prepar3D 2.0. And that's the real reason why flightsim appears so revitalised at the moment. If the published feature-set of the new Prepar3D delivers what it promises, then from a scenery developer's point of view it would be a huge leap forward -- from a retro hobby relying on an old simulator no longer being developed, to a vibrant, modern sim which takes advantage of today's hardware, and is continually being improved and developed.

I just can't wait to explore the possibilities for NZ airports in P3D, I've always thought that New Zealand's unique 'Antipodean' light is a major visual aspect which FSX had the ability to display, but the performance hit was too much for most people. It'll be great to see if a DX11 lighting system will finally give our airports the light/shade which we take for granted in reality. I've always tried to include 'real' shadows in previous projects, and I normally recommend that people try my scenery with shadows turned on at least once, just to see NZ as it really is. I've never been a big fan of 'rendered' shadows, they are great for screenshots, but not so good for anything else. Some major developers have explored shadow-switching to represent different times of day, but that seems a lot of work for very little return. Much better to have a sim which renders real shadows, so I have my fingers crossed for this in P3D.

There is one other reason why I'm re-committed to NZ scenery development, and this has to do with my original goal when I started doing this a decade ago. The driving force back then was the LINZ aerial photography project, which began releasing aerial imagery of New Zealand, which I used for the original FS2002/FS2004 Real New Zealand scenery. This was ideal for FS2004, as the 2.5 metre/pixel resolution images could be nicely resampled to FS2004's fixed resolution of 4.8 m/px. However it wasn't so great for FSX, whose default landclass texture resolution was 1.2 m/px, and can cope with photo scenery up to 7 cm/px. And anyway, the LINZ project was shut down three years ago, and the project became Kiwimage, a joint military/government collaboration. After some time it became clear that it wouldn't be possible to source any of this type of imagery for some time, so I kind of gave up on the idea.

Now, though, there is a lot of nice, high quality imagery beginning to appear, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand Licence. The images I've used for the new Wellington scenery are available under this licence, and it is likely that by the time I finish Wellington I'll be able to source another quality area to base a major payware project on. Most of this imagery doesn't match the Wellington resolution of 10cm/px, but it is still a lot better than the old 2.5 m/px LINZ images.

I know that a lot of people have issues with photo scenery, but this is really what I do, and I can't imagine building scenery without a nice photo scenery base. If you think that photo scenery has too many limitations, then hopefully the new Real NZ NZWN will change your mind...

Speaking of NZWN, development is still 'ongoing', which is marketing-speak for not much to report. Just a couple of airside screenshots of the terminal area this month. I've broken my rule about modelling inside terminals, although the goal is to have something which shows through the glass frontage, for a realistic 3D look, not something you can walk around in... The previous Real NZ Wellington terminal had a photo-frontage, relying on a custom cube-map reflection for a bit of life, whereas the new one will have a higher-resolution cube-map combined with transparency. I haven't yet got around to creating the night texture, but the idea is that this would give a nice 3D effect as you taxi past the terminal.

I can't wait for the Carenado 1900D, which would be perfect here, in the meantime I've resurrected my old FS2004 PMDG version.

wgtn_tarmac02 wgtn_tarmac01

Screenshots are from the as-yet unreleased Real NZ NZWN, which is not to be confused with the existing Real NZ Wellington Intl and City.

Some overdue tidying-up in FSX

At the moment I’m deeply into developing, which means that FSX needs to be as streamlined as possible to speed up testing. I’ve had to remove a few long-time favourites, including GSX  (Ground Services for FSX) and Ultimate Traffic, as these have an impact on loading the sim. I guess I could have just disabled them somehow, but it wasn’t really apparent how I’d do that, so I just uninstalled them.

GSX is particularly annoying when the sim loads, as it will recompile its database whenever it sees a changed airport file, which is nearly every time I load FSX at the moment. Ultimate Traffic pauses the sim for moment to inject the AI aircraft, so that had to go.

However I will put GSX back, as it is such a cool utility, and it has the potential to add a lot to an airport like Wellington.

I certainly didn’t want to go back to default AI, so I downloaded the freeware FTX AU AI package. This is very nice, especially at an airport like Wellington which I’m working on at the moment. It includes a good range of locals, including Vincent Aviation and the Life Flight aircraft, plus a great set of GA craft for the aeroclub. Each AI aircraft has a well-thought out parking code, so it’s easy enough to put them in the proper place. At the moment it actually does a better job than Ultimate Traffic, although admittedly it has been a long time since I updated the UT flightplans.

This morning I ‘sat’ at Wellington airport watching the AI, and although it’s still early days with the development of NZWN, it is certainly shaping up to be a great little airport, even if I do say so myself. The FTX AI just adds another touch towards realism. AI has always been an issue when developing airports, as there is really no easy way to add traffic to an airport, even though customers expect it. Creating a range of flightplans for a single airport can be tricky, you really need a complete, NZ-wide (and further) solution, and FTX does that.