We’ve talked a lot about “immersive chaos” here over the years – regarding airport scenery files in X-plane, not current events in Washington, D.C. – but perhaps now’s as good a time as any to delve into the visual elements of such chaos…if only to have a common frame of reference going forward.
Above, a ramp shot at Icarus Software’s LEVC Valencia, Spain, and if you want to get right down to it, this is one of the best ramps in X-plane. It’s crowded, full of movement, and the place can, at times, feel overwhelming…like driving your 737 in heavy freeway traffic…yet this is just one such area where chaotic elements can be employed by scenery developers to good effect. Anyway, we’ll concentrate on just a few files today, files that do a particularly good job developing a sense of almost out of control chaos on the ramps.
Above, here’s Valencia with all settings MAXed out, and the IXEG 733 (bottom) is running anywhere from 10 to 16 FPS. Note first the ramps. Dirty? Not really…just well worn by time and careless mechanics. There are almost a dozen jets on the ramp, as well as dozens of support vehicles – some fixed, some scurrying about, all just as immersive as can be.
The building textures at these settings are revealed in good detail, as are the ramp markings and, of course, all that clutter.
And it doesn’t matter where you look, relevant detail is right out front – in the pilot’s field of view.
And night or day it commands your attention.
But…is that a good thing?
As a scenery developer this is an important question to ask yourself, yet the reasons why may not be immediately apparent, so let me backtrack a bit. If you were reading the blog six or seven years ago you’ll remember this, too.
We talk about immersive chaos and its use in XP as a training aid, but how is this so? Why is it even important?
Well, let’s assume you’re working for an airline and you’ve just been through ground school for your first airliner, perhaps a Rj or some small airliner like a 737 or A320. You’ve got your sim time out of the way and passed your written, and now it’s time for your check-ride. There will be an examiner along for the ride tonight, as usual, and – as usual – you’re a little nervous.
These check-rides almost always happen at night, usually after midnight, and frequently with an aircraft that’s just been through periodic maintenance. There are usually a half-dozen or so pilots along for one kind of check-ride or another, and each of you will get to spend the required time behind the controls – being “examined” – over the next 2-3 hours. It is, needless to say, stressful.
So finally, here you are behind the yoke, on final approach at an airport you’ve only flown into a couple of times, and the first issue you have is picking out your assigned runway through the clouds. There are two parallel runways but from ten miles out it’s hard to make one out from the other – and the examiner breathing down your neck is only making things worse. You get things sorted out but by the time you’re on short final you notice all kinds of stuff down there that wasn’t in the simulator – things like cop cars with flashing lights, maybe a dumpster fire or any one of a million neon signs blinking away as you pass…and about that time you realize you’re off the localizer AND the glide slope you realize you just blew your checkride.
Why? How’d that happen?
Because you lost your concentration on short finals. All that bothersome chaos outside caught your attention – for just a few seconds – but that was all it took to blow it, for your examiner to mark you up and send you back to the sims for another week or so.
And that’s the value of this stuff in X-plane. Distractions, particularly on final approach, are a fantastic training aid, yet these are the types of scenery elements almost no scenery developer adds. Fred, over at NAPS, has done so for years, but not all the time.
Of course, the other place such distraction comes is handy as a training aid is while taxiing up to the terminal building. It’s the kind of day-to-day chaos that airline pilots face without breaking a sweat, because they’ve learned how to filter out distractions while keeping an eye out for more important, or potential threats.
If you’re just starting out, this kind of immersive chaos is an invaluable training aid – because it can help you begin to filter out the nonsense while developing an eye for real threats. Ever think about how you’d handle a deer running out on the runway just as you hit V1? Or a Cessna 150 crosses the runway 500 yards ahead of you on your take-off run? Or, God forbid, a fuel truck? What would you do, as happened to one of us one night, if a bunch of teenagers ran across the threshold as you started your flare – in a 727? And some of them were buck-naked…
X-plane, or any flight sim for that matter, is, first and foremost a training aid. Scenery developers should keep that in mind as they work out such details, because the things you add should be there with more than mere decoration in mind. Everything you can think of to add to the pilot’s visual work-load is a plus.
Below, here’s Valencia with bare ramps. Dull? Yes. A good training aid? Hardly? Yet the IXEG 733 is getting 40FPS down there under these conditions. And there’s something wrong with this picture, if you get my drift. Routine ground clutter shouldn’t take up too much valuable framerates.
Icarus also makes a payware KSAN San Diego, and this file is decent but not particularly well done in the chaos department, and even routine objects on the ramps are placed a little thin. Still, this is a good file, and about to become much more useful, too. John Wayne has something to do with that, if you know what I mean…
But yet, they missed one of the biggest opportunities to make a world-class training site here at KSAN when they failed to flesh out all the details under the approach to runway 27. This approach is as famous as Kai-Tak’s once was, so why this happened I have no idea…
The opportunity missed it a simple one. Fill in the area between the end of the runway and what XPs auto-gen fails to fill-in up to the top of the hill in Balboa Park. Why? Because the final approach comes right down over the rooftops here, and some of the parking garages very close to the end of the runway are five stories tall! Yet XP just doesn’t handle this area well at all…
It looks okay from this vantage point – but try another…
And, here’s the overhead view, from Google Earth…
And even these views from the freeway fail to convey how intrusive those parking garages are, and how tall the apartment buildings up the hill seem to be when passing over. Oh, the runway is just over the top of the roof of that little gray car, just below, and behind that palm tree.
Use your imagination for a moment…and fill in this area with densely packed commercial and residential buildings, gas stations and fast food joints, flashing lights and tons of street lights. More lighting on top of the parking garages, too. Then we’d have something worth using more often as a true training aid…aside from being fun-n-n-n.
As I said, this was a lost opportunity. Maybe someone will fix it?
So, how about Mr X? Aren’t his freeware files full of immersive elements? Well, check out his KSFO, and you answer the question for yourself…
It really doesn’t matter where you look. Mr X knows what he’s up to, and his airports are the best because he simply takes the time to get the smallest details in place. And it’s these small details that make all the difference. The odd thing? Framerates don’t suffer at his airports. Wonder why? Optimization. His own scenery library. Doing his homework.
And another thing…take a look at the inter-terminal tram below. It’s not some static relic; no, the trams are circling around the airport, and they add to the overall success of the file.
The funny thing about it? I just reviewed an expensive payware file that has such a tram system, and it’s all show and no go. I wonder why that is? Framerates maybe?
Fred over at NAPS is an accomplished master at turning his ramps into immersive playgrounds, and let’s look at one of our favorites.
KECP Panama City, Florida
Welcome to KECP // Northwest Florida Beaches Intl Airport, Panama City, Florida. Even with rendering options dialed way back this one still has plenty of objects on the ramps, but dial-up options and this one looks beautiful.
There are people running between gates, all kinds of trucks and carts, and the terminal is well modeled. Buildings are made in SketchUP, not Blender, so textures are not “baked” – and maybe not as “pretty…” – but they get the job done. And, NAPS files are freeware, so keep that in mind.
NAPS files are full of little diversions, and so they make excellent training files. Another thing to consider? Most are located in Florida, so it’s easy to develop a regional network of airports to use for your training flights. Some are perfect for doing touch-n-goes all afternoon, while others are more suitable for regional airline OPS. NAPS offers a one-stop shop for all kinds of files in the southeast US, including Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.
Now, one last thing to cover before signing off today. We talked about extraneous scenery elements yesterday in our look at ENBR Bergen, particularly interior elements that aren’t visible from the cockpit. These things exist, in our mind, anyway, to take away performance while giving nothing back to the pilot. Yet…yet…can interior elements be added that enhance the pilot’s experience?
Well, maybe so. Let’s go back to LEVC Valencia and look over that main terminal again.
It’s not readily apparent on your first trip to Valencia that parts of the terminal building’s interior have been completely modeled. And dramatically so, too, though, again, it’s not particularly easy to see, especially if rendering options are turned down.
So let’s take another look right about now…and look close, behind the glass…
When you pull up to gates 54-57 you’ll be parked outside this dramatic, metal-roofed concourse, and if you look real hard you’ll begin to see the interior is completely modeled, right down to the…
…CRJ hanging from the ceiling!
There are people, chairs, gates and check-in desks, what looks like a Starbuck’s type coffee-shop too, and it’s all visible – but only just.
At night you can just make out the CRJ hanging around up there, while during the day…
…it’s a bit more is visible. Because of the sun’s intense heat in this region of Spain heavily tinted glass is employed to keep temperatures down, hence all this activity isn’t particularly easy to spot – unless you know where to look, that is. Could the developers put more light on a few elements to make the effort stand out more?
This part of the terminal is, by the by, one of our favorite buildings in XP. When the sun hits the metal roof just so, it’s a sight to behold…even in XP!
At any rate, Happy Trails, y’all. Thanks for dropping by, and we’ll see you again soon. C