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Scenery (tool) designer

Published on: Author: arno 3 Comments

NL2000-LogoAs many of you probably know I am a member of the Netherlands 2000 Scenery team for almost 15 years already. Or actually I should say I was. Because I have decided to stop working as a part of the team.

This decision has nothing to do with the team, they still make a great freeware scenery of the Netherlands (go check it out if you don’t know the scenery). I have made the decision because I don’t enjoy creating scenery as much as I did in the past.

What I enjoy is finding new ways to make scenery and making tools. Within the work I did for the NL2000 team I couldn’t give those aspects enough attention and with a small child at home I could not combine making tools and scenery at the same time anymore.

So I have now chosen to focus on what I enjoy most and that is making tools. So I’m no longer a scenery designer, from today I am only a scenery tool designer.

Creating elevation data

Published on: Author: arno 4 Comments

This week I did some work on creating elevation data for our Dutch NL2000 scenery. I would like to share the challenges and solutions I encountered.

For the NL2000 scenery we have been looking for replacement elevation data for quite a while already. The default FSX elevation data is OK, but it is not really detailed. Although the Netherlands is not mountainous, it would be nice to see more detail in the hills and dunes.

Our first challenge was to find source elevation data that we could use. Given that it is a freeware project we we looking for free or contributed data sources. Just this week I found at that the Dutch government has made 25 meter resolution elevation data available for free. So this sounded like good news. However an examining the data a bit more, it turned out that certain parts of the data were not filtered. This means that the data does not only contain the terrain there, but also elevation points that belong to buildings and other structures. When I tried this elevation data in FSX, especially the cities turned out to have a lot of noise in the data.

So this did not look good. But fortunately a vector file was provided that contained the areas were the data had not been filtered. So using this vector data it should be possible to replace the elevation data in those areas with another source. But where to find another source?

In the end I decided to use the vector data set of the Netherlands that the government has also made available. This vector data set does contain contour lines and elevation points. So how to turn this data into raster data so I could merge it with the other set?

In the end it turned out that with GDAL this was not so hard to do. Using gdal_rasterize I could make a raster burning in the elevation data of the contour lines and elevation points. And with gdal_fillnodata I could fill the parts in between. Here are the scripts I used:

gdal_rasterize -a hoogte -a_nodata -32768 -ts 10000 10000 IsoHoogte.shp test.tif
gdal_rasterize -a hoogte HoogteOfDieptePunt.shp test.tif
gdalwarp -t_srs "+proj=latlong +datum=WGS84" -srcnodata -32768 -dstnodata -32768 test.tif test_wgs84.tif
gdal_fillnodata test_wgs84.tif test_wgs84_fill.tif

The results of gdal_fillnodata are not perfect, sometimes you can see some artifacts in the elevation data. But since I mainly wanted to use this data to replace elevation data in cities, it was not a big issue. Most cities in the Netherlands are relatively flat.

So how did I merge the two? With GDAL again. First I burned a big negetive value into the elevation data based on the vectors of the cities. And then I replaced those parts with the other dataset. Here is the script again:

gdal_rasterize -b 1 -burn -1000000 stadspolygonen.shp ahn_stad.tif
gdal_calc -A ahn_stad_wgs84.tif -B ..\top10\test_wgs84_fill.tif --outfile ahn_merge.tif --calc '(A==-1000000.0)*B + (A!=-1000000.0)*A'

The final GeoTIFF could be put in FSX very easily with resample. So that resulted in nicer elevation data for the Netherlands. As NL2000 team we are still testing the new data, but it might end up in a future update of the scenery.


Follow me

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Last week I finished the model of the new railroad bridge near Zwolle for the NL2000 scenery. It was the first bridge model I made with SketchUp and it was an interesting experience. As most modelling tools SketchUp provides a lot of operators and I had not used all of them in my previous objects. One of the tools I have learned to appreciate more with this bridge is the follow me tool. As you can see in the screenshot below the bridge is partly curved and there is also a small side road (of course a bicycle path here in the Netherlands). So how did I make this all?

I started with the main structure of the bridge, that crossed the actual river. I used a photo taken for the side to trace the correct shape of this part of the bridge. Afterwards I extruded it to get the right depth and cloned it to get the other side. Then I drew the railroad between these two structures. Now the follow me tool became useful. Because there is also a big part of the bridge that goes over the floodplains of the river. And these parts where partly curved. Besides that there are slopes for the trains to slowly increase their height above the terrain. For these parts I first drew a (curved) line for the right path and then used the follow me tool to extrude the railroad and the sides of the bridge along that path. To add the side road I also used the follow me tool again. I just drew the contour of it and then “follow me”-ed it along the entire bridge.

At the bottom you can see a screenshot of the finished bridge in the scenery.

It’s the scale, stupid

Published on: Author: arno 1 Comment

While working on the next update of the NL2000 scenery, I have learned some interesting things again. For this update I have worked on the road bridges we have in the scenery. These objects have been in the scenery a couple of versions already, but with the road traffic that FSX has added it became quite clear that the cars were not driving over the bridge, but through it. The solution for this was to add a platform to the road surface of the bridge. Adding the platform was easy, that could be done with ModelConverterX in a few seconds. But to my surprise that did not always give the desired result.

For many of the bridges the cars were now flying through the air. How comes? It turned out this was because the bridge had been placed with a scale smaller than 1. The road traffic is using the platforms as they are when the bridge is placed with scale 1. So in this case the platform was too big, hence the cars in the air. These bridges have been placed with the small scale, because they were designed in the time that integer vertices in SCASM made it necessary to use small scales to be able to have detailed objects.

So once I understood that, the solution was quite easy. All I had to do was scale the bridge in ModelConverterX as well, so that it could be placed in the scenery with a scale of one. That means that in the next update of the scenery we will have some nice road traffic using our bridges.

A few days later a related problem occurred. In a certain area all of the autogen trees were suppressed, but there was no big object nearby that could cause this. After some searching we found out that it was once again a bridge with a small scale. Guess what? The autogen was suppressed in the area covered by the bounding box of the object at scale 1, even though we placed it in the scenery with a smaller scale. So once again the solution was to scale the object in ModelConverterX and update the placement to use scale 1.

So what was the lesson of this all? You’d better use scale 1 for all your objects. Not doing so can give some quirky results in FSX.

FSWeekend wrap-up

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So this weekend was the annual FSWeekend in the Netherlands again. Just like the last couple of years I was present again at the NL2000 and FSDeveloper booth. It is always amazing to see in how many ways people can enjoy their flight simulation hobby. It ranges from flying in clubs to building cockpits at home, making addons and much more. And this weekend is not only about Microsoft Flight Simulator, Falcon 4, X-Plane and FlightGear were also well represented again.

The best part of the event is probably talking to all the visitors. After so much online contact, it is nice to see the face behind the forum name. Especially at the NL2000 stand we always get a lot of questions from our users.

On the Saturday I gave a presentation together with Francois Dumas about using SketchUp to model to FS. We got a nice crowd in the room and hopefully we have inspired some people to start building their own house. It’s fun to do.

On the Sunday there were some other interesting presentation as well. First from FlightGear. Unfortunately this one did not attract such a big audience, but it was really interesting to see how this simulator has grown over the years. Maybe visually not at the level of some of the other platforms yet, but the fact that it is open source and completely community driven gives this simulator a special place for sure.

The final presentation was from Austin Meyer about X-Plane 10. Some of the features in the scenery really look impressive. It’s a pity the simulation hang a couple of times during the demonstration. If they really want to hit their Christmas release some work still has to be done, but he mentioned the beta only started recently. I asked about their development tools and SDK, from the answer it seems these are not so mature yet. Hopefully we get some more information about this soon, since I am very interested to see what kind of platform X-Plane 10 can become for addon developers. For sure I will be keeping an eye on it and will try to add some more support in my tools for this simulation as well.

Autogen suppression

Published on: Author: arno 4 Comments

In the previous post about the ground polygon wizard of ModelConverterX I already mentioned that the tool also helps to prevent the exclusion of autogen by your  ground polygons. I forgot to post some screenshots to illustrate this with that post, so here they are.

They show Gilze Rijen airport in the Netherlands as developed by the NL2000 team. And you can clearly see what the benefit is of having autogen on the airport as well.

Ground polygons and autogen

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Just before my vacation I already posted about the ground polygons wizard for ModelConverterX. Since then I have been working more on this feature and it is almost ready for inclusion in the development release. This wizard allows you to export your ground polygons without the FS2002 GMax gamepack, ModelConverterX will take care of converting them to the right format to behave as proper ground polygons. At the moment I am doing the last testing and removing some minor bugs.

Parallel to this I am also enhancing the output of the ground polygons wizard to prevent suppression of autogen by these ground polygons. For this I am using one of the airfields of the NL2000 scenery project as a test case, Gilze-Rijen (EHGR). The basic technique to keep the autogen seems to be working, but there are a few bugs left that I need to fix before this can be released as well. So hopefully I will have more news in a couple of days.

The past FSWeekend

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This weekend it was the yearly FSWeekend again the Aviodrome aviation museum in Lelystad. I was there at both the FSDeveloper and NL2000 stand. I think it was a good event again, with a lot of people visiting, especially on the Saturday. It was always nice to talk with the users of the NL2000 scenery and to answer their questions.

In the FSDeveloper stand we demonstrated the usage of SketchUp. It was interesting to see that many people knew about SketchUp or had even tried it before. But most of them were not yet aware of the possibility to use it for FS. So let’s hope we encouraged some people to start making some scenery as well. It was very nice to meet the FSDeveloper forum member Robystar at the weekend. Together we manned the FSDeveloper stand and it was interesting to see the scenery projects he has been working on with SketchUp.

Other interesting people I met are Markus Freyt (the author of openVFR) and Andras Kozma (the famous developer, who I still associate with his LAGO EHAM scenery). And of course it was interesting to meet Lefteris and his wife again. So all together a very successful event again.

Duplicate attached objects

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This evening I was working on a bug in the NL2000 scenery, the lighthouses did not have a light at night. It seemed that during the conversion to the FSX MDL format the attached effect was lost. Since adding I am too lazy to add all those effects by hand again, I added two new features to ModelConverterX.

You can now duplicate an attachpoint in the attached object editor. This can be useful if you need one attachpoint for day and night and another for dusk and dawn. In the effect parameter editor I have also added two more buttons to add the presets for day/night and dusk/dawn parameters.

NL2000 v4.0 release

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Over the last three years the NL2000 team has been working hard on making their scenery compatible with FSX and many improvements have been made to the scenery during these years as well. Tonight was finally the moment of the release, the new version is now available for downloading. Given the huge size of 32 GB don’t hold your breath while downloading. You can find all details here.

Compared to the previous version I design less parts of the scenery myself. My involved was mainly with technical advice and with converting objects to the FSX format. In the end that was what I started to develop ModelConverterX for.

I hope you enjoy the scenery!