Monday, September 25, 2006 Portal

Developers for Microsoft Flight Simulator now have another useful resource

Formerly, has been re-launched by Arno Gerretsen and Nick Whittome to provide a common portal for all areas of FS development.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Model export in FS X Beta 3

As mentioned in a previous post the NDA on FS X beta testers has now been lifted. This means that beta testers are allowed to talk about FS X within reason provided we do not discuss the beta process itself or anything that may have been discussed in the MS Connect FS X beta forums. We can talk about our own experiences with FS X Beta 3 and also our experience with the Beta SDK tools.

I would like to mention a few things about the model export process using the tools provided with Beta 3. Before proceeding please keep in mind these are observations made in the beta and the final will probably differ and that much of the SDK was incomplete at the beta 3 cutoff.

The modeling tools provided with FS X beta 3 are Micrososft ACES own in house tools designed to work with Autodesk 3DS Max 7 which they currently use for production. These tools work well with 3DS Max 8 which I use. ACES are currently working on a gMax SDK to make these tools functional with gMax, which I believe will be available from FSInsider after FS X is released.

The Tools

The 3DS Max modeling export tools included with beta 3 include :-

  • Plugins - FSModelExp.dle and two .gup files. These allow a mesh created in 3DS Max to be exported as a FS x-file. This is a custom version of the DirectX x-file format, which includes meta data relevant to FS X models.
  • XToMDl.exe - this is a command line utility which converts FS x-files to the mdl format for use within FS X.
  • - this is a max script tool to aid the creation of FS X animations within 3DS Max - presently there is no documentation for this in the SDK.
  • - this is a max script tool that adds FS X material functionality to the 3DS Max material editor. Again as at beta 3 there is no documentation on how to use this.
  • - as the SDK says is a MAXScript plugin that allows you to attach special effects, library objects, visibility conditions, and set active mouse rectangles for use with virtual cockpits, to your 3D models. It also allows you to create landable platforms, remove crash boxes from parts of your model and attach beacons or other simulation driven objects to your models.
  • - a maxscript for creation of clouds - similar to that in FS9.
  • modeldef.xml - this replaces used in FS9 and fills a similar role in FS X. New animations can be added to this file by the modeler.
  • Other tools include a BGL compiler and mdl and bgl scanners. A testX.max example was included in Beta 3.

The Good News

Modelers will have the following reasons to be pleased with the new export process:-

  • Export within in seconds rather than several minutes. As can be surmised from the description of the above tools the export process as at beta 3 involves two steps - export to an x-file and compilation of a mdl file. These processes take a few seconds each even with large meshes designed for CFS3.
  • Vertex resolution. Modelers are no longer required to weld vertices at a resolution of .004 (4mm). This allows higher resolution meshes - particularly useful in virtual cockpits for small details.
  • Restrictions on model size have been removed. Makemdl in FS9 imposed a 64k vertex limit per model. Causing much in the way of grumbles with my Bristol Fighter when I initially attempted to export to FS9. XToMdl uses multiple vertex buffers and appears to have no practical limits as to model size. This means large detailed interior models are possible for those who desire to make such. Combined with the new camera system in FS X this will enhance the immersive aspects of flying in FS X.

What we don't know

At the time of writing we are still awaiting SDK documentation on -

  • FS X materials.
  • The new animation system.
  • Modeling information pertinent to aircraft modeling.

Hopefully this information will be in the final SDK or the GMax SDK when it becomes available. I anticipate that the new material and animation systems will take sim modeling to a new level.


It's early days yet and FS X has not yet gone gold at the time of writing. However for modelers these beta tools are promising and reveal much potential, and, as mentioned above, when the SDK is complete, modelers will be able to take modeling for simulation to new levels in the next couple of years.

It's absolutely awesome that MS ACES have adopted a new open policy and have declared a policy of working with the flight simulator community on a number of levels. At the time of writing this has yet to be outlined, though we will soon find out, with the AVSIM conference happening this weekend - including a Microsoft ACES presentation. Roll on the future!! :)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Coming Out

One of the reasons I have been busy for these past few months is that I have been beta testing Flight Simulator X. Microsoft have now lifted the NDA on their beta testers [within reason].

Anyway here are a few pictures from beta 3 of FS X. Please bare in mind that the final RTM version may differ.