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Tag Archives: Philosophy

I am such noob compared to many in the community, recently passing my 5th consecutive anniversary in this hobby. Despite starting out with a goal and a specific plan, 5 years later, I have not accomplished that goal. Perhaps worse than that, the strong energy of joyful naivety, of beginner’s mind, has greatly weakened.

 

For 3 or so of my 5 years, I kept records of all time spent related to the hobby and goal. The single largest use of my time, ostensibly in pursuit of my goal, was in scenery building. Scenery building was an accidental but necessary skill, or so I believed, to accomplish my goal. My time developing the Lemoore scenery (and other scenery projects) taught me, no matter what talent or skill I could manifest, that scenery design is not my first love in this hobby. The technical aspects of modeling and textures are beyond the time and motivation limits with which I work daily. I am more of an engineer than a designer and more of a geographer than a texture artist. First and foremost, I identify as “pilot”.

 

There is almost more change in the flightsim software marketplace in the last 3 months than the whole last decade. My scenery projects are showing their age and I am feeling the fatigue from not accomplishing my original goal. The net result is the projects need to be updated/ported/converted to the next generation of sims and I am not the developer to do it. Hell, I am not even a developer.

 

All my existing scenery projects have been terminated and no new projects are in planning, design or progress. The scenery development skills I have acquired will still be handy depending on the needs of my continued training. But, to repeat, I am “pilot” first.

 

Here is the specific status of the various projects in question:
1) Mississippi Ranges (FSX/P3D) — uploaded to MAIW
2) KNRS (FSX) — a streamlined version has been uploaded to MAIW
3) KNLC (FSX) — a streamlined version has been uploaded to MAIW
4) KNMM — pulled from download and retired because of intellectual property considerations
5) KNTU — pulled from download and retired because of intellectual property considerations.

 

All the downloads, WIP posts, etc. concerning these projects have been deleted from this website.

 

I am very appreciative that some folks in the community have initiated discussions to continue the longevity of a couple of these projects. We will keep you informed as things might develop.

 

I’ve come to know many scenery designers thru this process. To a person, all of them took my noob-ish questions with grace and warmth, allowing me to learn, very quickly, my own limitations. Some very well-known designers found out I was working on a given project and volunteered information critical to accuracy.

 

Community members of all kinds, former and current US Navy personnel, many specialists in arcane sim technology, and just plain nice people contributed to these projects. It was a very humbling and important experience for me as someone new to the hobby.

 

To everyone who took an interest, in whatever capacity, you have my thanks and irreducible gratitude.

Before getting to the results of our survey, it is very important to harsh out all the limitations in the data collection.

-The purpose of the survey was to assist me in deciding how to spend my time creating add-on sceneries for the community. We are in a transitional period for flight simulator development with many possible options for content generation.

-Overall, none of the questions were designed to be predictive in interpretation.

-The sample size is relatively small, about 30 people gave their time and thought to the answers. Given that my sceneries have been downloaded approximately 1000 times, a 3% sample size for a voluntary questionnaire is actually pretty good response.

-In no way were the results of this survey intended to represent the flight simulator community as a whole. It was published only on 3 weblinks, all closely affiliated with my personal flight sim activities. The most succinct way to state this is: the community (hopefully) represented in this survey is the community to which I feel most closely conjoined. Please apply this filter to any of my comments regarding flight simmers in general, or the unspecified “community”.

Question 1 hopefully quantifies an idea stated in a previous brain fart , namely that most flight simmers are using more than one simulator these days. Within the limits of the community that responded, easy to have predicted more skew toward DCS/P3D than to X-Plane as an alternate platform. This skew is repeated in other question responses as well. More interesting is DCS=P3D and it’s implications for the other elements measured by the survey.

Q1Question 1

Question 2 presented some pleasant surprises regarding online MP activity. Given how restrictive the ability to multiplayer in P3D is, most surprising was the high percentage of activity on this platform. The “Other” category had a lot (relatively speaking) of responses including many of the WWII and WWI combat flight Sims.

Q2Question 2

Question 3 was designed with the least amount of pre-conceived notion from me. It did not distinguish between MIL vs CIV flying or any other subtleties. Heartening to me to see 30% of my community say they use these resources. As I have mentioned in private conversations to many of my fellow flight simmers, real world military pilots are under ATC on every flight with most of their flight hours under civilian ATC.

Q3Question 3

Question 4 gets to the meat of the survey’s purpose. The most interesting elements here are DCS being the most widely used secondary platform and the low showing of FSX-SE as a primary.

q4Question 4

Question 5 is online equivalent of Question 4. This is the 3rd set of responses that highlight the P3D/DCS comparison. Note how in Question 4, 31% of folks reported P3D as their primary solo sim but only 14% reported it as their primary MP sim. DCS has a complementary presentation. In Question 4, no one reported DCS as their primary solo sim. In Question 5, DCS ranks very favorably as secondary MP sim platform. Lastly, Falcon BMS presents as a 3rd or 4th choice for solo sim but ranks very favorably as an MP sim.

q5Question 5

It should come as no big reveal that I will continue to develop sceneries for FSX for a long while to come. With the introduction of FSX-SE, FSX has at least 3-5 years left in it. If designed with some forethought, many of my FSX sceneries should go to P3D relatively easily. There may be features that do not translate or other limitations but the basic elements should convert well. For the USN MIL flight simmers, DCS may well be the next frontier. A lot depends on how much effort Eagle Simulations is willing to put in SDK or other “helper” applications.

A final note of appreciation and gratitude for all those who took the time to answer the survey questions. Thru messages and forum posts, I know that many of you are also folks who actively contributed to one or more of my scenery projects. Your support and interaction makes the process worthwhile.

 

Updated 01/10/2015 to reflect current simulator installs

(TL;DR Dinking with computers may actually be finished for a while. “All statistical models are wrong, some are useful” — George E. P. Box.)

We’ve had a new, more powerful, computer running for a few months now. And briefly mentioned some of the overall system design just a few weeks ago.

The new computer, running an Intel processor at 4.8GHz, is a big jump in performance and is our primary simulation system. The previous computer, an AMD processor running at 4.0GHz, is in use as a development/testing system.

The new computer should last 4-5 years based on the past five years of flightsim history (more about this in a minute).

Left largely unsaid was that neither of these computers were in their final configuration as of a month ago. In the last 4 weeks, we have reformatted and re-installed operating system/applications/add-ons on both of these computers twice. That is correct, a total of 4 re-formats and re-installs in 4 weeks.

Our task(s) were a bit less daunting than the average excruiatingly painful re-install because we designed our disk drives such that data, operating system, and applications were separated. Of course, apps and add-ons had to be re-installed, but we did not lose all the individual settings configuration when re-formatting the operating system drives. Along the way, we devised a way to mass activate several gigabytes of installed scenery files in FSX, FSX-SE, and P3D, but that is another discussion.

We can finally say “final computer configuration” after all the R&D that has been going on since May of this year.

The primary simulation computer (which we will call YUREI), is running Windows 10 operating system and has 4 simulation engines installed. Starting out as Windows 8.1, it was removed from our Active Directory domain and re-installed as a clean Windows 8.1 OS so that we could get the Windows 10 upgrade license.

The simulation engines installed on YUREI are:
1) FSX boxed edition by Microsoft
2) Prepar3D v2.4 by Lockheed Martin Removed and refund requested
3) X-Plane 10.36 10.40 by Laminar Research (via Steam)
4) DCS-World 1.2 by Eagle Dynamics/The Fighter Collection

Interesting to note, 3 of these 4 simulators are due for signficant upgrades any day now.

The development/testing computer (which we will call KITSUNE) is running Windows 7 operating system and has 3 simulation engines installed. Also installed are a variety of SDKs and development tools such as Sketchup, AFX, Airport Design Editor, GIMP, etc. Starting out as Windows 7, we did a clean install of Windows 8.1 only to see that many of the development tools would not work in our security environment. As a result, we formatted and re-installed it as Windows 7 for now.

The simulation engines installed on KITSUNE are:
1) FSX-SE by Dovetail Games (via Steam)
2) X-Plane 10.36  10.40 by Laminar Research (via Steam)
3) Rise of Flight by 1C Game Studios/777 Studios (via Steam)

These past few days have mostly been about performance benchmarking in P3D, the newest engine in the hangar. So far, the results are very good.

Mentioned in a previous screed, it seems we are living in a multiple sim world. We have had some very good, challenging and interesting discussions on Facebook and over chat about this idea, its ramifications, and not surprisingly, the future of flightsim. This discussion is taking place in many forums as well.

One of the viewpoints we read used Google trends to make a business case that a particular flight simulator under development should not confine itself to flight simulation. Although the business decision to make a multi-purpose simulation engine is very good (and being done by some other teams), the manner in which Google trends was used was very clumsy and un-nuanced.

Check out this dramatic looking Google trends diagram:

TrendsExample1We are way past our prime

Not only is the “Interest over time” in “FSX” declining but look at the yellow “flightsim” line. After the viewer catches their breath, they might want to look at the dates along the bottom. Of course, FSX searches were more frequent from 2006-2009. One to three years is the prime lifespan for most gaming software. The fact that “FSX” is a more common search term than “flightsim” says more about the longevity and legacy of FSX than it says about the decline of flightsimming hobby. Note also, that the trend analysis has “FSX” more or less stable over the next 2-3 years.

Further to this point, removing “FSX” from the search terms creates this diagram:

TrendsExample2More detailed

The “interest” in “flightsim” continues to decline and is predicted to continue to decline. However, “interest” in specific flight simulation products is on the rise. This is not say that there are the same number of people buying flight simulator software today as there was in 2008. In fact, we would say there has been real decline in the total number of copies sold between 2009 and today.

However (and if these “interest” statements hold any validity), the number of copies to be sold in the next 2-3 years is on an upward trend. Further, users are more educated about the products as shown by the decline in the generic “flightsim” “interest”.

All of this is relevant to me (yes, switching editorial perspective) primarily because of the scarcity of flight time in my schedule. I want to continue development of some scenery products but frankly, I am a pilot first. The results of my little survey and data such as these trends tell me where to focus my efforts. I will confess to some interest in iconoclasm of opinion based on the un-mensurated.

The increase in the number and quality of flight simulation platforms we are seeing is a direct result of the increase of desktop computing performance AND the development of 3d rendering engines that are separate and distinct software products from the simulation product. There are many parallels to this evolution in the history of computing. Beginning first with in the 1980’s with the transition from centralized mainframes to distributed desktop computers. Prior to the relatively low cost/high power of the desktop PC, only a large corporation could afford to build the hardware and thus they also developed the operating systems. In a natural fit, they also developed the applications. This is the model that created the giants of IBM, DEC, etc.

With the development of the desktop PC also came a much more radical and significant implication: the user or 3rd party developer could develop an application without being the company who built the operating system or hardware. Just ask Bill Gates how important this shift to accessible application development has been.

The mathematics of flight physics, the mathematics of graphical rendering, and the mathematics of digital terrain modeling have all been very well known since the 1950’s and 1960’s. Prior to less than a decade ago, computing power was the major limitation to the development of a flight simulator application.

Microsoft was able to develop the (then) pinnacle of flight simulation because they not only tackled the flight physics problems, they also created the DirectX graphics API (application program interface) standard. Direct X is what allowed a developer to easily make a mathematical calculation communicate with graphics hardware to display a rendered pixel. By making DirectX an open standard, not only was Microsoft able to develop graphics intensive applications, but other software developers could as well (if they programmed on Windows platform…after all, Bill G was no business dummy). X-Plane, as an alternative, uses another popular graphics API called OpenGL. While DirectX is only on Windows, OpenGL applications can be implemented on Linux and Apple. This is why X-Plane is able to run those other operating systems.

The rise of both PC and console gaming created a new software market for full blown graphics rendering programs. These rendering programs are the packaged and polished mathematics that can take an XYZ coordinate and translate it for DirectX. DirectX then can talk to any graphics card that understands the language to produce the rendered pixel. With this advance, a game or flight simulation designer could focus most of their effort on calculating in-game physics and action and less time on calculating a rendered pixel. AeroFly is a natural result of this evolution. This concept is taken to the next level by developers such as Outerra, who have created a complete world building platform that can be adapted to many simulation uses.

The trend to be highlighted is that application developers have increasingly been able to focus on the end use of the application instead of all the “nuts” and “bolts” to get it to display correctly. This trend being a direct result of software developers (with Microsoft leading this position) opening their toolboxes to other developers.

All software platforms can be grossly divided in to open and closed application systems. An extreme closed application system would be like the old IBM mainframes…IBM controlled the entire hardware, OS, and application ecosystem. An extreme open application system is more like the Intel/Windows application ecosystem. In terms of operating systems, no matter what your personal opinion might be, Apple is only 8% of total PC market share whereas Windows (in various flavors) is 88%. This spectacular difference in market share is not because of the relative age of the platforms, there were both created and first marketed with the same period. The difference is because you cannot build a computer running Apple OS without buying the hardware and OS bundled together from Apple. Where once Apple held first place in the mobile market with their innovative iPhone, for the last 2 years, Android is outselling Apple and has risen to 51% percent of total market share. This trend, again, as a result of the required bundling of Apple hardware and software.

This open/closed story is being played out in our (not so) little world of flight simulation. Microsoft flight simulator and derivatives are the most open flight simulation platform right now with X-Plane a possible tie. The open nature of ESP/FSX engine has allowed Lockheed Martin to focus on core platform and future oriented developments, instead of using money/time/people to work on content. LM has also extended the open nature of the engine by including bathymetry and improving the mission/scenario sub-engines.

X-Plane has a bright future and we are starting to see major 3rd party developer efforts. Laminar’s platform is quite good and at a base level is a much more modern product than ESP/FSX core engine. The tools Laminar provides to 3rd party developers are much more mature and feature rich than the hodge podge ESP/FSX/P3D SDK. There is a growing market share for X-Plane within the FSX community, with more and more FSX users “dual simming” with X-Plane.

DCS finally figured out that they absolutely must cooperate with 3rd party developers to expand market share. Although they are still struggling with the complexity of their platform. DCS is currently the “Apple” of our flightsim universe. An innovative, high dollar product that is still very closed and, despite their passionate fans, a relatively small market share compared to ESP/FSX/P3D. There is potential for much growth in DCS. But right now, they are making way more money selling the occassional new content to existing users than selling to new users.

Dovetail Games has proven there is a young and hungry market for general flight simulation. Reputably 200,000 copies sold so far, the Steam and Facebook communities for FSX-SE are filled with new folks learning about freeware and payware add-ons. Dovetail has promised a new flight simulator platform, rumored to be built on the MS-Flight engine. Many hard core FSX pundits have derided this MS-Flight heritage but I suspect these were the same folks that postulated no good reason to purchase P3D because it was (originally) just FSX in a new interface. The real challenge for Dovetail to outsell itself (FSX-SE), is to make the new platform very developer accessible. Dovetail had some issues with their add-on content paradigm early in the life of Train Simulator but seemed to have opened a bit. They will have to invite 3rd party development in a big way to get market share with a new product. IMHO the biggest issue with MS-Flight was poor vision and marketing from Microsoft. The MS-Flight core engine was, 3 years ago, closer to what P3D is now than their common ancestor FSX.

The wildcards in this arena of flight simulation platforms are not systems like AeroFly which will never amount to more than a very very, very small, probably first time buyer, market (sorry to burst your bubble AirDailyX). The true wildcards will be platforms like TitanIM, built on top of Outerra, that are being dual marketed for commercial and personal use.

As long as Lockheed Martin continues to sell to the consumer “educational” market, it will be difficult to them to fall to second place in market share.

For now, I would tell anyone who would listen: Fly mostly what your friends are flying but have at least one other sim. Finally, be prepared to buy a third sim.

March 21, 2012 was the first flight I recorded in FSX. The software had been installed for about 4 weeks prior to that, while I figured out the software menus, graphics settings, and many matters unrelated to flight training. The Iris T-6A was installed as my first airplane because that was the current US Navy trainer.

That first recorded flight was from JFK in New York city to Sikorsky Memorial in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The route and lesson came from this book: Learning to Fly with Flight Simulator. Several other of my early recorded flights were also from this guide.

KBOSFSX on a dual core Pentium IV computer by the way

Since March, 2012, I have not only recorded my flight time, but also recorded my other flightsim hobby related time. The difference between anecdote and science is the difference between “noticing” and “measuring”.

In round numbers, it breaks down like this:

Fight time            450 hours
Pit Building          340 hours
Systems work      150 hours
Social media        300 hours (desk only, does not include mobile device time)
Scenery design    520 hours
Total                   1760 hours since March, 2012

That is about 11 hours each week spent on this hobby. But only about 2.75 hours of flight time per week. And about 20% more time over 3 years spent on scenery design than on actual flying. In truth, all of the scenery design work occurred in the last 2 years. If pro-rated accordingly, I’ve actually spent a little over 5 hours per week in scenery design (with a corresponding decrease in flight time).

FlighttimeMay2015A primary characteristic of success is focus

Worth noting, that in 3 years time, a real world Navy nugget can go from 25 hours private flying time to FRS in an F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Every piece of expository writing needs a good opening line. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, there isn’t one for this tome. Nevertheless, I feel the need to codify a couple of sentiments regarding my scenery products.

First and foremost, my self-identification in this hobby is “pilot”. Starting almost 3 years ago with a pretty specific plan, my goal was to become a virtual pilot. Even before starting detailed sim training, it was evident, that to accomplish my goal, I would need a simulation cockpit. So design and build on the pit started very early in this virtual pilot’s career.

What I did not foresee, was the need for sceneries. In my naiveté, I assumed that anyone that wanted to be the best virtual pilot would follow the same educational track as the real world’s best pilots. (There is probably the equivalent of an academic thesis to be written on this subject, but, hey, I would rather be flying.)

To be fair, many of the sceneries existed in an older version of the simulator. These scenery products were juusst compatible enough and juusst descriptive enough for use by the casual pilot in the current simulator version. But those early versions did not satisfy the training needs of a more serious (read: obsessive compulsive) virtual pilot.

Armed with college education in mathematics and cartography, honed by 2 decades of professional work in digital photogrammetry, I dug into existing sceneries and found some good mentors/websites. The existing scenery development community is at a very high state of knowledge and technique. As a result of all these factors, it has been a seductively easy process for me to create sceneries, almost too easy.

But for you, dear reader and possible user of my scenery projects, there are some downsides. Ultimately, these sceneries are designed as training aids for my curriculum. And are freeware training aids at that. You will not see the inside of buildings modeled in my projects (a possible exception might be a hangar). You will see the best FCLP operations I can manage.

The most significant disconnect between my scenery projects and the community as a whole concerns AI and static objects in the scenery. Candidly, I admit to stoking some of this tension, again, by my naiveté and inexperience in the community. The previous version sceneries mentioned earlier were designed specifically for the purpose of AI and had become the gold standard of those sceneries for the community. Even though, the taxiway striping was incorrect, even though they had no FCLP capabilities, even though they did not have ATIS, etc etc.

And here is the “however”….I am not going to do AI or conversion of AI. There will likely be almost no custom static aircraft in any of my projects. It is an area of knowledge that does not meet my goal. Again speaking candidly, autogen will likely not make the cut either. Luckily there are community members who have volunteered to contribute autogen so that the final scenery project will be more like a general use product.

We can debate whether AI is a training requirement or not, in theory, but in my scenery projects it is not. For my training, I use online flying for ATC and interaction with other aircraft.

I am not opposed to making systemic changes to my procedures that facilitate the creation of AI by other contributors. I am VERY VERY happy to include the work of other community members in my projects and to help fully integrate them as integral working parts. But I am not the end user of these features.

All of my scenery projects have been community efforts. Despite all of my mapping/cartography/IT background, I am still very much a flightsim n00b. The feedback from all of you, whether specific pointed comments, casual conversations, or open forum posts, has been an integral part of the project process for me. To state it as explicitly as I can:

I do not have the real world experience to create the training products needed to accomplish my goal of becoming a virtual pilot. I will trade you my cartographic skill and time in return for real world knowledge of places and procedures. I will trade you my cartographic skill and time in return for knowledge of FSX and procedures. With all of our backgrounds combined into one of these scenery projects, we can create the best possible training aid AND general use product.

We are still alive and kicking. The mid-winter holidays hit our project budget pretty hard this year but things are moving along, just above stall speed and in controllable flight.

Likely, January of the new year will not show much progress. Just like this year, we have designated the month as a “no goal” while we recover, regroup, and reconsider.

Check out AviaScorp for some very active construction.

Looking back thru all the project docs and pictures, we found this little gem from April, 2013:

   Hardware              |            Software
Switch -> Bodnar -> USB -> Computer -> HID -> LINDA -> FSUIPC -> FSX

It’s a troubleshooting mnemonic for the controls bus/system.

While waiting for the project budget to replenish, we’ve been learning FSX scenery design. For our freshman project, we’ve chosen a very important but somewhat neglected NAVAIR facility. Like most of what we try to do, we needed the base for other reasons. With no payware and poor freeware alternatives, apparently it’s time for us to do some scenery.

Somewhat kitsch, but the uchi way, for sure: “Aim for the stars. Even if you don’t succeed, you will end up in the sky.”

In an earlier post, “Everybody’s got one“, we mistakenly stated that the brightness of the Thrustmaster MFD button backlight could not be controlled.

Thanks to the comments from Christian, we went back and RTFM a little closer.

The brightness of the button backlight CAN be controlled by pressing a multi-button combination on the MFD itself.

To any and all of our readers, please don’t hesitate to post your comments, questions, AND corrections! We appreciate them all.

Thanks Christian!

 

Some mid-year changes along with the system upgrades. WordPress added some more free themes for our (already) free website, so we picked a new one. The darker background makes the photos a little easier to see and hopefully the text easier to read.

We’ve also added a couple of new tags for easy sorting of all the information.

“System” will be tagged on posts related to computer hardware and software of this project.

“Operations” is a new tag concept for the site, one we did not anticipate at the beginning. As we progress out of the building/implementation of the project, we will be doing more posts related to how we are using the technology. Warning, likely to be some “Philosophy” co-tagging with these posts.

Please freely use any information you find on this site for your knowledge and enjoyment.

With unlimited free time and unlimited discretionary income, it is relatively quick and easy to research, design, build, and use a project like ours. The real challenges come when there are limitations on these 2 primary factors.

As we have intimated, work on the project (as well as actually “flying”), is largely constrained to a few hours each weekend; usually Saturday mornings. There is a subtle upside to this limitation. The budget can be spread out over a longer period of time with less bank account impact on any given project phase. The downside(s) are more obvious.

Projects like ours are complex and long term, human memory/attention…not so much. The implementation and maintenance of a project schedule keeps us on task, allows us to budget, and focuses our attention on getting things done when a phase goes “south”. The project schedule is not inflexible or immutable. It can, should, be reviewed and adjusted on a regular basis. “Life happens” as they say. The most important characteristic of the project schedule is that it be written down.

We had been planning (and had on the project schedule) for 7 months to do a systems upgrade in July of this year. Critical project path elements leading up to this systems upgrade were 1) getting the project moved from the shop into the house, 2) completing primary FTI. We were preparing to revise the project schedule when arggh… To date, we haven’t written down a new project schedule. Possibly a good thing.

We spent several valuable hours of the last 2 weeks in the unintended detour of FSX tweaking. This exercise generated a huge amount of valuable data looking forward into the systems upgrade. Unfortunately, it did nothing to advance the project schedule or primary FTI.

I sit here, today, with an injured PCL in my right knee. Saturday last, I was down on one knee, the right one, attaching one of the side console covers of the project when my knee crunched. 6 days later, it’s better but likely an orthopedist in my future. For sure, no heavy lifting, squatting, etc for a while longer. In the zero sum game of my free time, I will working to finish primary FTI while my mobility is less than 100%.

Tomorrow, Saturday morning, we will look at the project and decide what can be done for the month of June. And, we will write down a new project schedule.