Sunday, April 30, 2006

Crew Figures in Virtual Cockpits?

There is currently an interesting thread and poll at Sim-Outhouse on the subject of limbs in virtual cockpits in OFF aircraft. Initially the no's were out in front and now after Winding Man showed some examples in his nice little Nieuport Bebe the yes's have had a bit of a catch up. Though the poll is neck and neck at the time of writing.

As a designer the verdict is very much out for me on this issue on whether to include this feature. As a user I am ambivalent. Many sim users object to crew figures in virtual cockpits and indeed will shy away from downloading or purchasing aircraft with this feature, especially FS2004 users. The question I ask myself as a designer - will inclusion of figures in the virtual cockpit stop people downloading ar flying this aircraft - will anyone not download this becuase I do not include a crew figure? As not having crew figures is the present norm most people would download an aircraft without crew figures whereas the converse may deter.

I did give consideration to this issue while developing the 'Biff'. I converted a gunner character from the CFS3 gmax SDK into a WW1 Sidcot suited character. As I work primarily with 3DS Max 8.0 I ran into problems UV mapping the posed character exported from Gmax, as the cumbersome export process via the FS2002 SDK does not preserve UV co-ordinates. I resolved to create an all new completely unposed character from the ground up. This is scheduled for this Aussie winter i.e. June-August.

I also gave consideration to using the articulated character as supplied with the FS2004 SDK Curtiss Jenny. This character is animated and the pilot's arms and legs move with the controls. Microsoft only implemented this animation in the exterior of the Curtiss Jenny and chose not to implement in the Jenny's virtual cockpit. Anyone who has the FS2004 SDK can easily import this character into other aircraft including CFS3 Gmax models.

The reason I chose not to use the FS2004 Jenny pilot in the Biff was that it would have looked ugly in the virtual cockpit and I had already decided to create a new character. If I release a version of the Biff for FS2004 I will probably use the Jenny character in the external model.

One of my CFS3 aircraft this Aussie winter will probably feature animated crew figure(s). I'll probably ommit them from FS virtual cockpits. unless I receive requests for their inclusion,

Anyway Microsoft were first on the block with animated cockpit characters in their sims. I look forward to Flight Simulator X and its animation system.

FS2004 animated pilot.