Tutorial: replacing Autogen Config Merger tool in Prepar3d 4.4

NOTE: When I posted this, I was pretty sure that all the autogen descriptions were handled properly by the new add-on.xml method, but with Prepar3d 4.5 this isn't the case. It seems that the default.xml file is not handled the same way, and by including this it will over-ride any other default.xml file, including the default.

This is a quick(!) post I promised. Recent Real NZ releases have used Arno's lovely Autogen Configuration Merger Tool (ACMT) to allow developers to include their own autogen. At the moment this is mainly a way to add more NZ-based trees. The 'normal' method of adding autogen is simply to drop in a replacement autogen config file, and that's what Orbx does -- every time you run FTX Central, it will dump any existing autogen config file and replace it with theirs.

To fix, this Arno at FSDeveloper.com created a tool which merges autogen descriptions so that any developer can add their own without the risk of having it overwritten. There just one problem with this: it runs whenever the simulator runs, and checks to see if anything needs to be merged. If so, it writes the new autogen descriptions, but as the simulator is already running, it still only 'knows' about the original descriptions. So the merger tool displays a warning onscreen, advising that to see the new autogen, the simulator needs to be restarted.

It is this extra step which some people find annoying. If you use FTX Central a lot -- and let's face it, it is a great tool -- then you'll see this message a lot.

Now it would be nice if Prepar3d somehow allowed us to just supply our own extra definitions, and have them work along with the default, plus any other developer's definitions. Well, Lockheed Martin have now given us this ability with Prepar3d 4.4, so here I'll show how to do away with the merger tool, specifically for Godzone/Real NZ scenery. This process would work for any developer, but you'll need to understand the process and figure the rest out yourself.

Some things you'll need to know:

  • This applies to Prepar3d v4.4 and later only, so if you have an older simulator as well, and plan to use both, you will need to retain the Merger Tool. However you can choose not to use it in Prepar3d v4.4 and later. I'll explain some extra considerations later.
  • If you only have Prepar3d 4.4 or later, you may choose to get rid of the merger tool completely, but you need to know if other developers are using it for any of your addons.
  • You can adapt this method for any developer, at your own risk.
  • There will be a patch for my scenery at some point, but at the moment this is not a priority, as I just have too much work on now.

Step 1:

You'll need to deactivate the Merger Tool within the simulator. To do so, run the simulator, and if you start on the main Scenario screen, click the 'add-ons' button.

If you normally bypass this screen and go directly to a flight, you can find this under the menu Options: Add-ons.

On the Add-ons screen, find the entry for the Autogen Config Merger Tool, and deactivate it by unselecting the tick box.

Now click OK, and you'll see this warning:

Click ok, then exit the simulator using the 'x' in the top right corner.

Step 2:

As this is aimed at Orbx users, you should then reset the autogen configurations to Orbx default, by running FTX Central, and choosing Prepar3d 4.4. This is all you need to do, you can now exit FTX Central.

Step 3:

Now you can create an add-on.xml entry which tells Prepar3d to use the Godzone autogen, as well as the default/Orbx autogen. As the VLC Libraries installation handles the autogen, we do that using the VLC Libraries add-on.xml file, which already exists.

If it doesn't, let me know:)

The VLC Libraries add-on.xml file is located here:

Documents\Prepar3D v4 Add-ons\VLC_libraries

The add-on.xml file is named as such, the same for any add-on.xml file. You will want to edit this file, but probably not just by clicking on it. Xml files may want to open in a browser, or something else, or nothing at all, which is not what we want. We want to open it in a text editor.

For most of us, this is Notepad. Right click on the filename, choose open with... Notepad. It that isn't an option, you may need to start Notepad (Start: type Notepad: enter) and drag the add-on.xml file into the notepad window.

Here's my add-on.xml file for the VLCLibraries. Note that yours may be different, in fact it probably will, and I don't just mean the paths. As the ACM Tool required an entry in the scenery.cfg file to work, my VLC Libraries installed didn't use a full add-on.xml method, just for the Effects. Later, when the merger tool was able to see add-on.xml-added scenery, I've moved all the VLC Libraries installer to the add-on.xml method. However you may not have this update yet!

Still, the first <AddOn.Component> block will exist, to add some Effects. So the simplest way to add the autogen to the add-on.xml file is to select the entire Effects block from the opening to the closing AddOn.Component tags, copy it to the clipboard, and paste it at the end of the file, although BEFORE the closing SimBase.Document tag.

Select this section and copy it
Make a space here, and paste

Now, you have the 'bones' of what you need for the Autogen. In the section you pasted, change the two references to 'Effects' to 'Autogen'. That's the Category and the end of the Path.

I've highlighted the changes you need to make.

Now you can save the add-on.xml file.

Step 4:

Just one more step. I told you this was quick... sorry, I lied. The Merger Tool knows enough about Prepar3d to know that if you add vegetation descriptions, which is a descriptions file called AutogenDescriptions.spb or AutogenDescriptions.xml, Prepar3d may or may not display 'dynamic' vegetation depending on the user settings. So Prepar3d now has two versions of the AutogenDescriptions file, one named as above, which includes the dynamic descriptions, and one with '_Legacy' added to the file name, which points to the older, um, legacy trees. You could just include one if you don't plan to change your current choice of setting, but it is simpler to deal with both. By default, and I mean that loosely, leaving the old Godzone descriptions filename as-is will only work if you have dynamic tree active, which is probably not what you want.

The merger tool changes both files automatically, but the new Prepar3d feature requires the new descriptions to have the exact file name for the added autogen. So it will need an 'AutogenDescriptions' file, and an 'AutogenDescriptions_Legacy' file. Note that these will also need a file extension, either .spb or .xml. These are very different files, so you can't go changing these around!

(I've mentioned both file types as different developers may use one or the other, but in this case my files have a .xml extension.)

To make sure you have the two files, open the folder which contains the new descriptions. In this case, it is the path you added to the add-on.xml file above -- for me, it is I:\P3D4addons\VectorLandclass\VLC_Libraries\Autogen, but for you it will be different.

Your file list may appear different depending on your settings, and you may not see the file extensions in some cases.

Now, you just need to copy the AutogenDescriptions.xml file. Hopefully you already have a favourite way to copy a file... if not, you can right-click on the file name and 'copy', then right-click on a blank part under the file list, and 'paste', or select the file and Ctrl-C, then Ctrl-V (Copy/paste) or ctrl-drag the file with the mouse.

Whichever way you choose, you will end up with a new file called 'AutogenDescriptions - copy.xml'. You will need to rename it to 'AutogenDescriptions_Legacy.xml'

Note the underscore, and the lack of spaces! This is another situation where you need to get it exact.

And that's all you need to do. Now, the autogen descriptions will be usable all the time, even when Orbx dump the descriptions back to their own set whenever you use FTX Central*, or even just look at it...

Some caveats -- what can go wrong?

Well, not a lot, I think, provided you double-check spelling etc. Note that the add-on.xml file is a type of computer code, so you need to get it exactly right!

If you choose to, or have to retain the merger tool, for example if other scenery you have installed requires it, you shouldn't do step 1. However this means that you'll still have the restart issue when the descriptions are added by the tool, and these particular Godzone descriptions will be duplicated within the system, once by the merger tool and once by Prepar3d itself. I don't think this is a problem, but to overcome this, you could change the name of the Autogen folder to something different -- the merger tool looks for a folder called 'autogen' but the native Prepar3d system can be called anything within reason, provided the add-on.xml file points to the right path.

As I said, this could apply to any scenery which uses the Autogen Merger Tool, but I'll leave it up to you to adapt it. Any questions, just ask.

*I have mentioned FTX Central, which is Orbx's tool to manage their addons, but I am aware that they are planning to quit the 'FTX' name, so when you read this, it may be called something else. If unsure, ask them.

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