The Sky Is The Limit

shaded dem terrain

I thought I’d talk a little bit about this new project. Technically it’s not all that new since the idea of it has been floating around for a long time and through the years I have taken it off the shelf, dusted off the dust that seem to accumulate on things not touched for some time. For various reasons it has ended up back on the shelf waiting for a better day.

I love aviation and flying so I guess it should be no surprise that I have always wanted to make a flight simulator. Of the modern aircrafts, the F-16 is a definite favorite and that is what this project is about. An F-16 fighter flight simulator. A high flying goal? Maybe. A flight simulator of any kind is not a trivial project but it is doable.

I can say a flight simulator has a very different set of problems and challenges compared to your typical game and the terrain is probably the trickiest of them. If you take a typical FPS game for example, a level might be about the size of your local neighborhood. This is overall pretty easy to deal with from different viewpoints. Modeling a game level of this size is not too difficult, neither is texturing it or adding details, etc. It also works well from a pure technical viewpoint. Floating point precision is not an issue at these relatively small areas.

Compare this to a flight simulator where the terrain can be the size of a country or even the whole earth. Manually modeling a country sized terrain or building the whole earth quickly becomes impractical and simply impossible. Sure, you don’t model every strand of grass or shrub as you might do for an FPS game but the amount of data for even a half decent looking flight sim terrain is just staggering. In a flight simulator you are also usually looking for realism and this includes a realistic terrain to fly over so it’s a different problem that requires different solutions.

The only way to really tackle the terrain creation is by trying to automate as much as possible. If we go back to the FPS again, there you can fire up your 3D modeling software and start blocking out a game level and after a little while you might have a basic rough draft of a level that you can try out. With a flight sim you might have giga bytes of elevation data that will form the base for your terrain. The problem is how to transform this data into a practical workable realistic looking terrain that the computer will actually be able to render.

So what I’m trying to say with all this is that the challenges of making a flight sim are very different from other typical games and there isn’t much out there you can start from and use. Since you want as much as possible automated the ideal would be to dump all the data into a piece of software and out comes a great ready made terrain. That doesn’t happen by itself though.¬†Especially in the beginning a lot of time is spent on research and testing various methods and ideas to see what is doable and what works and if it can produce the results you are looking for.

With all that said, the work continues on the simulator project and hopefully I will eventually be able to show you some real results. Until then, please keep reading the updates on this project.

 

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