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 ;) .