Read a book...

Getting to know GMAX

For the last few years GMAX has been the official 3D modelling tool for Microsoft Flight Simulator. It's had a bit of an erratic history, lacking some real teaching resources when it was first adopted for FS2002. More recently, Discreet, who produced GMAX, was purchased by Autodesk, who promptly withdrew GMAX from the market. However Microsoft have convinced Autodesk to continue support for FSX, and have released an updated Software Development Kit for FSX which includes some impressive support for FSX features.

This is great news, because GMAX has always been the most powerful way to produce flightsim scenery (and aircraft). It has also had an image problem, being seen as too difficult, and with a steep learning curve. I've become more aware of this with the release of FSX -- not only do designers need to come to grips with the new features of FSX, but some who have used other tools now need to come to grips with GMAX (or its big brother, 3DS MAX) to fully access the newer features.

So now is the time to really get to know the GMAX way of doing things, and to really learn how to use its tools. Many forum postings show that many designers just don't know enough of the basic GMAX tools to really get stuck in to effective design.

What we really need is the ultimate GMAX resource on our desks. So now, when someone suggests a technique in answer to our queries, we have somewhere to look and find out how exactly to get it working.

For me, this ultimate reference has always been...

The GMAX Bible
Kelly Murdock; Wiley Publishing Inc.
The Bible range of books have been around for a while, and have a good reputation as software resources. One of the first things which struck me was the sheer size of the book -- 850+ pages, all crammed with text and diagrams. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean quality, but it is a good start.

The Foreword sums up the book, and the need for it, in a way which spoke directly to me:
"Becoming a world-class photographer or movie director may seem out of reach, but a tangible and even professional involvement in game development is much closer than you might think."

This is exactly the position I find myself in, in a relatively short time after deciding that I'd like to try my hand at creating my own New Zealand scenery.

Also from the foreword:
"All you need are the dedication to learn the mechanics of the game world; the freely available, powerful, and comprehensive gmax software; and this friendly, approachable reference work to answer any questions that appear on your way to game mod greatness.
"If you've ever played a game and thought you could do better, here is your chance. Take it."

The book itself works best as a reference guide. Simply read the introductory chapters, make a start in GMAX, and refer to the Bible as you need to learn something new. As you use each tool, even if you can use it sufficiently to do the job, it is a great idea to read the relevant sections in the book to understand how the tool can be extended, its limitations and the effect on other tools. This way, you are learning an incredible amount in little steps, which you get to apply to the job you are working on.

These extra insights into the tools are very useful to me, as some aspects of the tools would otherwise remain incomprehensible, even though the tool does what I want.

You could read the entire book, play with all the tools, and become the ultimate GMAX power user, but this would take a while, and in the meantime you could be creating great scenery which others would love to have!

 As a reference book, this can save you a lot of time. I don't mind experimenting with software to get where I want, but scenery design is time-consuming enough without having to figure everything out yourself from scratch.

As I said in the introduction, I've noticed a huge number of forum exchanges which go like this:

How do I do (whatever)?

Simple, just weld the vertices.

How do I do that?

Convert your object to mesh.

How do I do that?

As you can see, this is the sloooow way to learn to design. Designing scenery is complicated enough with the right tools, so having a basic understanding of all those tools at your disposal is a basic requirement.

It's this type of thing which makes the book invaluable. You don't want to spend an hour searching for a simple solution to every little problem -- consulting the book means that you are always going full-steam ahead, producing rather than scratching your head.

Remember that this book is just part of the simulator scenery equation -- it won't teach you simple things like how to add smoke to your smokestack, but it will teach you everything you need to know about building the ultimate smokestack, or whatever your scenery needs to make it stand out.


I admit I'm quite old-fashioned, in that I can't cope with online manuals, so a good book is worth its weight in gold. And this really is a good book. Every tool and technique is covered in depth, and just enough humour to make it easy to browse. The flight sim gamepack is covered briefly, but with not much really useful stuff -- use the book to make the ultimate model first, then go online to figure out how to make it work in the simulator.

I bought this book when I was first starting out with GMAX, but I still find use for it. It is great to get started with, but serves as a very handy reference even for experienced users.

You can purchase the GMAX Bible from Amazon by clicking here. It is available at the moment for US$30.00


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