Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New simulation platforms: Microsoft Flight and Lockheed Martin Prepar3D

The past few days have been very interesting for flight simulation enthusiasts: from one side Microsoft has released a new video of Microsoft Flight, from the other Lockheed Martin is close to release the Prepar3D simulation platform, which is based on Microsoft ESP technology (that is basically the FSX engine).

Let's start with Flight. The last video released by Microsoft is the first one that shows what appears to be in-game footage (the previous ones were clearly pre-rendered CGI "teasers") and shows a Boeing Stearman taking off. It is very interesting because it seems to use an evolution of the FSX engine, with better shadows and some nice touches like the blending between the runways/taxiways and the sorrounding grass and ground (unless it is a photoreal texture, but I do not think so). Apart from that, it seems very similar to FSX, so it may well be that Flight is an evolution of FSX, with better and more efficient engine and better graphics - and hopefully good chances to have (some) backward compatibility. And, some more missions (with more attentions to beginners) and Live features. That is what I hope, at least.

Microsoft Flight website HERE

Another interesting take is Lockheed Martin's Prepar 3D. This environment is built upon Microsoft ESP simulation technology, which is basically Flight Simulator X. The interesting thing is that Lockheed Martin has added some features, like, apparently, better water modeling -including water depth and the possibility to go underwater e.g. for submarines- sensor modeling and better terrain modeling for continental USA. Priced at $499 it is intended as a semi-professional generic simulation tool, but it is basically an FSX-derivative and the add-ons seem to be cross-compatible.
Prepar 3d website is HERE.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Taking a break from FSX

I am sorry but I have to take a (small) break from FSX development.
Currently my job is absorbing much of my time - and honestly I do not want to spend the whole day in front of a computer screen.
I simply have no time right now - I hope things will get better in the next weeks.

Here is a the status of the projects I'm working on - and my thoughts:

F-35B - 80% of the external model is done - but the quality is not homogeneous, meaning that some areas look good while some others are barely acceptable. The fact is that it is extremely difficult to convert the model due to the high number of boolean operations I did (i.e. "cut and paste"). Each operation introduces and error - and some errors have been introduced by the mesh optimization algorithms I've applied...
In the end, I am not sure what to do. It is not good enough for release, but it is a little too good to go directly to the trashcan...

F-35C - As I thought, this is even more difficult than the -B. The first attempt in modeling the new wings looked ugly and was scrapped.

T-45C - This is looking very good. The new external model is much better - although it is only 50% done - and very efficient in terms of resouce usage. It is probably the best work I did in terms of compromise between visual quality and fps performance.

F-14D - The external model is almost done, although it still lacks wing animations. It looks great but it is a frame rate killer. As for the cockpit, I have not decided yet which part can be carried over and which ones should be redone. Redoing usually means better quality - but, of course, much longer lead times...

Right now I am thinking to close the F-35 projects (I've been evaluating some minor updates to the A model...but dropped them as nobody would have noticed) and work only on the T-45. But, as I said, I need to take a break for a while. I will keep you updated.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Back to work... project update

I finally came back home few days ago from a long (but very interesting) businness trip to the United States and I have to confess that, right now, I am struggling to find the motivations to work on FSX.It is not because of the recent announcement of Microsoft Flight. It is just the fact that add-on development requires inspiration. Even payware requires it, as, at present, my revenue for the F-35 is around 4 Euros per working hour. But again, the F-35 was a fund-rising initiative - this figure is just to give an idea of what are the earnings you can expect.
So, not much inspiration in these days. And Halo Reach and Fifa 11 on the X360.
Still here is an update of the projects I'm working on... In detail:

  • F-35A Lightining II - Finally some Air-to-air configurations images have been released to the public, sporting an impressive load of 12x Amraam + 2x Asraam... And I would really like to add this configuration to the F-35A, along with some other minor fixes. So, most likely a further update is inbound. Also, I've tried to add specular and bump maps to the cockpit model...and quickly overshoot FSX framebuffer limitations. There are workaround for this, like splitting the polys in different framebuffers as I did for external models, but this will impact the frame rates, so I'll probably drop this feature.

  • F-35B VTOL version -I've started making one, and it is not looking that bad. Will post some details in the next few days. Yes, I know IRIS is making one - but I simply could not resist. Then I have no idea when and if it will be finished.

  • F-35C CATOBAR version - I've started this one too...but blending a completely new wing to the existing model is very complex. The first attempt was really ugly. I will try again, but it is harder than I expected, so I am not sure it will ever be good enough for release.

  • T-45C Goshawk - Fuselage and wings 3d models are done and they are MUCH better than the previous one. I'm also trying to keep the polycount low with some success. Also I've redone the main landing gear and it is closer to the real thing (and finally retracts correctly).

  • F-14D Tomcat - Professional 3d data is looking great, although it is a frame-rate killer. I honestly have no idea when I will be able to complete it. Also, I've seen that Aerosoft has started their own F-14A project, which, for Tomcat fans like me, it is great news. I wish all the best to the Aerosoft team - I am sure that they can deliver a spectacular Tomcat. They are good designers and if their F-14 turns out to be as good as the F-16 I will surely purcahes it. As for my rendition...well, I am quite happy with it right now - but again it take a long time before it is ready.

  • Unidentified Aermacchi project - well, not much work so far. Likely to be the first Aermacchi for Flight (just joking!)