Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Future Projects .... Decisions....decisions LOL.

I've made some tentative plans as the best way to move forward in the coming months.

Firstly I'll stick to WW1 aircraft for now. I have some interwar aircraft planned but will leave then for the time being as with the Defiant & Luft '46 aircraft. I'm still after decent reference material on the Defiant BTW.

I will also do one other freeware aircraft in addition to the Snipe, mainly for the experience and feedback. It has been an agonising (lol) two days trying to make up my mind and reviewing dozens of possibilities. I have decided to move forward with a Sopwith Triplane which will be freeware. The reasons being that I have heaps of reference material for the Tripe; I have already started one, way back in my OFF days LOL (just the cowl and front fuselage); and I can re-use many parts from the Snipe in the Tripe too (instruments & guns). The triplane has replaced the Sopwith Baby as my final freeware project before moving on to other things. I've had difficulty obtaining good reference material of the Baby interior to date and it will probably cost a few dollars to obtain such. The Sopwith Triplane is planned for FS X only, at this date.

I have tentatively planned my initial payware releases...... some time this year.... can't say when. I can say they will be 2 well known WW1 fighter aircraft, one British and one German. I'm not sure if should name them at this stage....... or should I? ;) I think it will be safe to name these even if I have competition. However I'll wait and see if news of this percolates around the web. These will be followed by a couple of late WW1 German fighter fighter aircraft that were just being introduced when the war ended... not Fokkers (though a late war Fokker will also follow - hint rotary powered. Also another famous Fokker too.). A French aircraft has also been well researched and I am more than happy with the mesh, and will follow these late war Germans. A second French aircraft, a two seater, is also in the works and I will be laying down the mesh shortly. Going into 2008, the Bristol Fighter will be revisited with a Bristol Fighter pro pack. These are all tentative plans subject to change. Much depends on the demands of real life.

I hope to tackle some of the less well known aircraft of WW1 also but much depends on how all of the above goes.

FS X is the planned platform for these at this stage. I still hope to finish the Snipe for CFS3, that will most likely final CFS3 release if I do.

At this stage I do not plan to build 2D instrument panels for FSX aircraft. They will be virtual cockpit only featuring 3D gauges (i.e.) smooth, as in the FSX Biff.

I am starting the Sopwith Triplane immediately and bring that up to the stage I am at with the Snipe i.e. mapping the VC then switch back to the Snipe, alternating between the two.

This should keep me quiet for a while ;)



Friday, February 23, 2007

FS9 Biff - 2 to 4 Blade Prop

A recent post at Sim-outhouse asks the question can one change the texture of a 2 blade prop version of the FS2004 Bristol fighter to a 4 blade prop version. Yes one can, but it's a little bit more complicated than just swapping the texture around. The 4 blade version has its own mdl and as the flight dynamics differ slightly from the 2 blade version, exists in a seperate folder.

To add a 4 blade prop version of any variant of the Bristol Fighter, requires that part 4 of the FS2004 Bristol Fighter package be installed. (f2bfs9p4.zip)

In this instance the user wants to see a 4 blade version of the Dutch BR401.
  1. Copy the texture folder texture.BR401 from ......\Flight Simulator 9\Aircraft\AeroplaneArt_Bristol_F2B_FS9 to .......\Flight Simulator 9\Aircraft\AeroplaneArt_Bristol_F2B_FS9_4BP
  2. Copy the texture Prop_brisfit.bmp from one of the other 4 blade aircraft to the ...\AeroplaneArt_Bristol_F2B_FS9_4BP\texture.BR401 and overwrite the existing texture in that folder.
  3. Edit the file Aircraft.cfg in ..\AeroplaneArt_Bristol_F2B_FS9_4BP\ and add the following entry after the [fltsim.1] section.
title =Bristol F2B BR401 4P
sim = bristol_f2b_4p_fs9
model =
panel =
sound =
texture =BR401
panel_alias =
sound_alias =
kb_checklists =Bristol_F2B_check
kb_reference =Bristol_F2B_ref
atc_id =
atc_id_color =
atc_parking_types =
atc_parking_code =
ui_manufacturer = Bristol Aeroplane Company Ltd
ui_type = F2B Mk.1 'Biff'
ui_variation = "BR401 - Luchtvaart Adfeling 4 blade Prop"
description = "Your own text goes here."
visual_damage = 0

The above entry will point to the correct visual model and textures.

On successful completion of the above you should then see the 4 blade version in the aircraft selection menu and in sim.

PS: It's also possible to change other aircraft using similar methods. e.g. D8084 was later repainted and I think had a 2 blade prop. So that can be easily changed using these methods (A restored Bristol F2B, now with Peter Jackson in New Zealand, was completed in the later markings of D8084)

A quick note on Bristol F2B props (some of this mentioned in my SOH reply). Initially Bristol F2B's could have left the factory with either a 2 or 4 blade prop. They could additionally be changed in the field. Tests were carried out by Bristol to see if there was much difference between the two. It was revealed that the 2 blade version performed better and was more manouverable. However the 2 blade version was prone to overheating. The RFC couldn't make up their minds either and instructions were issued at one stage to standardise to 2 blade in the field, however many 4 blade props remained in service during WW1. After WW1, 2 blade props appeared to be standard on the Bristol.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Polycounts Revisited

I notice a new forum at Military Meshes devoted to low poly modeling. The topic of polycount limits comes up frequently at design sites such as FsDeveloper.com and Freeflightdesign.com forums. So what are the polycount limits when it comes to creating virtual aircraft for the MSFS & CFS series?

Firstly I would urge the reader to purchase a good book on creating content for computer games. My bible of the last 2 years has been 'Game Art: Creation, Direction and Careers' by Riccard Linde. This book put me right in a number of areas and dispelled a few myths about model creation that I had encountered across a few web forums. Additionaly I would also recommend 'Creating Art of the Game' by Matthew Omernick. Perhaps not as comprehensive as Linde's book but useful and enjoyable none the less.

What are the technical limitations of creating aircraft for MS simulators?

For CFS3 I think there is a limit of 64k indices per object in gmax. An aircraft model scene can contain many objects. It's unlikely that a well designed model would ever reach such limits. Models of 200,000k triangles are technically possible but not practical as one would encounter graphic card memory and bandwidth limitations. Counts of 70,000+ triangles are feasable and possible in the top level LOD and the aircraft will remain functional in the context of a combat sim such as CFS3, provided, and this is important...., provided the remaining LOD's are modeled in accordance with CFS3 SDK guidelines and examples. More sensible counts are in the 30,000-50,000 region and ideally in the 20,000-30,000 region. It's useful to be aware of these limits. A reasonable external model could be modelled using less than 30,000 triangles, but details such as engines, wires, rigging, struts, guns, crew, fixed undercarriage, floats, and exterior cockpit details can quickly exceed the triangle count of the main airframe if not careful.

Additionaly in CFS3 there is only a slight difference performance wise between an aircraft with a polycount of 5,000 and that with a count exceeding 60,000. The lighter model peaks at higher fps in CFS3 however there is only an approximate difference of about 3-4fps when it comes to average fps in the external view. When it comes to virtual cockpits I have found that triangle counts of about 80,000 are feasable, though counts much lower than that are preferable. Part count, animations and textures are important in determining performance in the virtual cockpit. The triangle count in the CFS3 Bristol Fighter was higher than I would have liked but that was due to it being a two man cockpit. Feedback on the perf of the CFS3 Bristol Fighter has been positive, with comments that it is light on the frames.

FS 2004 is the most limiting flight sim to model for. The makemdl compiler from the FS9 SDK has a limit of 64k vertices per module. i.e. 64k in the interior model and I would guess the same in the exterior LOD 400 module. The FS9 compiler also optimises and welds vertices closer than 4mm, though there are possible solutions, involving more work. I find that FS9 does a poor job on small round parts regardless of the resolution.

FSX on the other hand is absolutely beautiful to model for. At this time I know of no technical limitations of the export tools with vertex counts. I would say that modeling practices used for CFS3 could easily be applied to FSX with the added benefit of FSX materials system. With the overall perf issues in FSX one should always be cautious about going too far.

Feedback on perf of the FSX Biff has been positive... so I appear to be on the right track. After all it's all about pleasing the users.

These days with modern graphics cards polycount is not as critical as it used to be. Factors such as design of the mesh, textures, uv maps, part counts and materials all come in consideration. Indeed I would view part count and texture bandwidth as being more critical than polycount.

In a future article I hope to touch on some mesh creation techniques useful in the creation of virtual aircraft.

In the meantime I'm off to have a break for a couple of weeks.



Footnote: While there is considerable lattitude as to polycount in the current FS Sims.... always design for the smoothest and most detailed mesh, however aim for the lowest poly count possible to acheive that result. - Rob

Download Stats

This morning I decided to check the download stats on the various versions of the Bristol F2B and received a few surprises.

FS X version - first released on 2 Feb 2007 - Total downloads of Part 1 - 5,108
FS 2004 version - 1st released on 18 Feb 2007- Total downloads of Part 1 - 1,835
CFS3 Version - First released 30 March 2006 - Total downloads (11 mths)- 6,103

I was really surprised at the CFS3 version numbers. However the CFS3 version stats are for 11 months. It will be interesting to see how the FS versions fare after a similar period of time. Almost half the downloads of the CFS3 version are from Simviation with Sim-outhouse a distant second. Also the best month for downloads of the CFS3 version at Simviation is the current month. Thus the FS versions have brought renewed interest in the CFS3 version.

I am really pleased that the FSX version has exceeded 5,000 in less than 3 weeks though downloads are definitely slowing down, and in the case of Avsim to a trickle.

These figures are very useful to me as an indicator of interest in WW1 Aviation and also show that interest in CFS3 is certainly not dead and will help plan future projects. It would be difficult to translate the above to payware success, as many variables would be involved and probably less than 10% of those who download a freeware aircraft would pay for it. In the case of CFS3 probably very few indeed. Of course a modern 'tubeliner' would attract 10 times the downloads but would require a significant team to produce.

Food for thought :)


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Virtual aircraft creation...... some ruminations.

Continuing from my previous post - a major factor in deciding new projects is the availabilty of appropriate reference material, both visual and technical.

When it comes to WW1 aviation we are fortunate enough to have Windsock magazine and Windsock Datafiles & specials published by Albatros publications. Most datafiles have an 'in detail' section many of which are invaluable when it comes to fuselage internals, cockpits and small fittings. There are other resources around too which I'll touch on in a future post.

However there are many vintage early vintage aircraft that do not have any known internal details at all. There is no known reference anywhere. Thus comes the vexing question do we model these using similar aircraft as a reference and create an artist's impression of what the aircraft interior may have been like, or do we not model them at all. Artist's impressions are commonly used in other areas of historical illustration so why not aircraft? Some of the attitudes in FSland are paradoxical. Many 2D panels out there are pure fiction yet are highly regarded so why not virtual cockpits? Indeed some aircraft creators have left the hobby because they feel they can't create suitable virtual cockpits. Cockpit creation is somewhat demanding and time consuming so this is perhaps understandable.

My own philosophy and attitude is that if there are no known references and one has enough information from similar aircraft then an artist's impression is permissable, provided it is made known that the cockpit is an artist's impression. There are a few ancient German aircraft that I am considering which fall in this category and probably a few British. However I am always amazed once I start a project on the information that becomes available. This situation also applies to aircraft that existed as designs only such 'Luft '46'. Plausible researched artist impressions are valid endeavours IMHO. How else would one represent them?

Additionaly creating virtual aircraft doesn't yet have the 'cred' that creating a hires 3D model for rendering, gathering material for a painting or creating a superdetailed scale model, would have. At least outside the FS communities. You should see the look on people's faces when I tell them I've been spending much of my time creating virtual aircraft..... absolute lunacy.... why would you want to do that?... Tell people about 'payware' aircraft and then observe the look of incredulty on their faces..... who'd want to buy an aircraft for flight simulator?.... what's a flight simulator? .... what's payware? What's this dude been doing? etc. Thus I observe that other researchers and artists are less forthcoming when it comes to assisting virtual aircraft designers than if they were seeking research information for a detailed scale model or a painting. Attitudes will change hopefully as MSFS slowly gains recognition as a development platform.

Anyway available reference material is a significant determining factor in deciding what to model. While I am covered for most WW1 types that I am considering, material for the period 1919-1938 is incredibly difficult, at least when it comes to cockpits. Then the question arises how much time and money does one spend trying to track references down?

On top of visual reference material comes technical reference material, usually in the form of aircraft manuals and pilots notes. Again many are difficult to track down especially prior to WW2.

At times it's almost a 'Catch 22' situation. One can spend hours and days sourcing reference material only to find that it is unlikely that there will be sufficient to simulate the aircraft in question. So deciding which aircraft to research is important also, if time (and money) is a consideration. One has to decide early in the endeavour whether a project would be worthwhile pursuing.

So I do find it a little bit frustrating that there are some wonderful historical aircraft that I am unlikely to be able to create to my satisfaction. The material probably exists somewhere in a collection, company archive, museum or government records somewhere in the world but would be costly or incredibly time consuming to research. Those who grumble about the cost of payware aircraft...... they're really getting a gift given what they cost to produce both in terms of research, books and the time taken to create the aircraft. Add-on aircraft for Flight Simulator are the ultimate 'loss leader'. If it were not for the passion of their creators they would not exist at all.

Having said the above I do enjoy the research side of this activity and have gradually aquired a small library in the process. At the same time do I take the easy path and move to more modern aircraft for which data is readily obtainable? Decisions, decisions.... ruminations right enough.... ;)

Hopefully Microsoft will be successful in getting the MSFS series accepted as a platform and not just a simulation game. I also hope that MS will expand their simulation series with the return of CFS. Hopefully next time around CFS will model aircraft systems and allow the creation of new animations and also employ the same set of SDK tools used as used for Flight Simulator.

Perhaps, in the future, virtual aircraft and scenery creation will come to be viewed as a valid endeavour rather than the passion of eccentric enthusiasts. Though I would add that a touch of eccentricity possibly helps ;) .



Looking ahead......

After the intensity of finishing off both the FSX & FS9 versions of the Biff I am having a bit of a break from serious aircraft creation. I'm still doing a bit of research & reading, visiting my meshes already started and maybe a bit of skinning, in otherwords dabbling, but only when I feel like it.

I'll resume working on the Snipe sometime in the next two weeks. I face the challenge of instrument lighting in the FSX Snipe and have a number of strategies that I want to experiment with. I also hope to simulate fuel management in the Snipe once I have a clear idea of how this worked in aircraft such as the Snipe. Additionally I would like to program and animate a blip switch in the FSX Snipe and also chocks, so that it doesn't race forward when started. Ideally it would be nice to have an animated groundcrew swing the prop but that might just be a bit too ambitious at this stage and would add to the poly count. In the interim I might skin the external model which was mapped back in October. If I decide to continue with a CFS3 version, I'll also have to make the lods at some stage, very necessary in a CFS3 aircraft, and of course damage modeling for that version too. Needless to say the FSX version will be first. I have not planned a FS9 version at this stage as that will involve a lot of work.

After the Snipe?? Well that's a $60,000 question. The great unkown to me is the time I will have available for these activities this year, combined with my desire to go 'payware' at some point. Unfortunately payware aircraft, even if successful, are not enough to both pay the bills and put food on one's table.... at least not WW1 aircraft or warbirds. There are many many aircraft that I would like to do so I will have to choose wisely. Of course if I won lotto or was otherwise richified I'd devote my time to making virtual WW1 aircraft with the occasional foray into aircraft of the 1920's & 30's and jet aircraft of the 1950's and '60's..... the occasional chopper maybe too. I've also received some feelers about doing 3D work on commission. In the meantime I am searching for work in my normal vocation (finance/admin) and things at long last are looking promising there, so I'll have a lot less time for all, this if successful in my normal vocation.

In closing this post I must say that it has given me enormous pleasure to see people really enjoying the FS version of the Biff. It is certainly more rewarding to model for Flight Simulator than CFS3 for a number of reasons. There is no systems modeling in CFS3, as in FS, nor the ability to create new animations. CFS3's convoluted aircraft container file system makes extra demands on modelers (the reason some of the FS Biff improvements are not immediately flowing back to CFS3.... maybe after I've had a break.) However it is the customer satisfaction combined with the people who have taken the time to say thanks that make aircraft creation for FS far more rewarding.

Thanks to all the people who've taken time to thank me.



Biff to appear on 'Igromania' DVD

The Russian PC Games magazine 'Igromania' contacted me for permission to inlude the FSX Bristol Fighter on their cover DVD and, of course, I was happy to give them such.

It will appear on the March 2007 edition cover DVD.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Saturday, February 17, 2007

FS9 Biff on Sunday

I'll upload the FS9 Biff's either to Sim-Outhouse or Avsim on Sunday AEST (GMT+10). I was going to wait until I had set up my new website, but that looks like it will be a big job.

I'll post the links in the morning.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

FSX Biff uploaded to Simv & a mystery at Flightsim.com

I've just uploaded the FSX version of the Bristol Fighter to Simviation. Hopefully it should appear there within the next 24 hours.

I was going to do likewise at Flightsim.com and lo and behold it was already there. The phantom uploader strikes again! This has happened to other people also. There's no point in requesting its removal as I would have to upload again. However I will drop the webmaster at Flightsim.com an email and let him know.

Part 1 of the FS9 version of the F2B will be uploaded to Flightsim.com this morning. (Not taking any chances on someone else uploading). The other parts will be uploaded as I complete them. Actually it is with reluctance that I release an FS9 version. Definitely not as nice as the FSX version. I'm not the only designer who has encountered this problem with FS9.

It will be interesting to see how download numbers of the FS9 version compare with FSX... just over 3,000 of the base package to date between Avsim & Flightsim (just over a week). Downloads at Avsim of the FSX Biff have all but stopped. Interestingly the guys at Avsim forums who whinge at the lack of freeware 'native' FSX versions of addon aircraft have yet to notice the 'Biff'. I would say there appears to be a very low awareness and interest of WW1 aviation all round compared to Airliners and WW2 aviation. We'll see how things are after the FSX and CFS3 Snipe is released. I am not making any definite plans for anything else at this moment.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

FS 9 Biffs......

........ will soon start rolling off the production line. I have been doing some work on the FS9 (FS2004) version this weekend.

I have to say after doing the FSX version the FS9 version is something of a comedown, primarily in the cockpit area. The Biff was designed with CFS3 in mind and the limitations of the FS9 export tools were not known to me. This is very noticable in any cockpit round parts..... instrument bezels etc.

If I were designing for FS9 from the outset I would have adopted a different approach and made more use of textures. Anyway we have to move on and FSX is the way forward so that's where most of my focus will lie in the future.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Download links for the FSX Biff

The Bristol F2B for FSX is now available from Avsim.


A few people have downloaded it already and the initial response has been enthusiastic.




Thanks again to everyone for their comments. I must say it gives me a great buzz to see people enjoying something that one has created.

A Sopwith Snipe will still be produced for FSX and hopefully CFS3 and will still be freeware.

Well as they say..... on with the show. We'll see what the coming months bring.



Biff for FSX uploaded to Avsim.

Yep at long last... the first 2 of 4 parts uploaded to Avsim. They should appear in the next few hours. Off to bed..... it's late.