Posts categorized “Tools”.

Problem reporting

user: He, your tool does not work.

me: What do you mean? What are you trying to do and what goes wrong?

user: When I import my object it crashes. You need to help me, I have to convert this object.

me: What is the error message you get at the crash? Can you maybe send me the object to debug?

user: Never mind, I fixed it already.

OK, this is expurgated a little bit, but this is how a typical user interaction about a bug in one of my tools might go. Both for the user and for me it is not an easy process. So I have made some to ModelConverterX now to make the progress of reporting bugs easier.

Every time you have a crash in ModelConverterX you will see the error handler screen as shown on the right. To help me fix bugs in the tool, I would like to ask that you send in the error everytime you have a crash (of course only once for the same crash).

But what happens when you send in the error? The tool will then automatically make an entry in my bug tracking system. In that entry it contains the error message and the stack trace that helps me to find what was going on. If you select the checkbox to upload the file that is causing the error, also the object you were trying to load will be attached to the bug report. If possible, please send the object as well, since that helps me a lot with debugging. And that’s all. No other information is being send about you or your computer.

So please use this function if you encounter crashes in the future. It will help me to improve the tool and it will help you to get a tool with less bugs quicker.

Correcting for the FSX curved earth

One of the main differences between FS2004 and FSX when it comes to rendering the earth, is that FS2004 assumes that the earth is locally flat while rendering the scene, while FSX uses the correct curvature of the earth as well. But this has some consequences for scenery designers. When you make ground polygons they are usually flat in the design tool, but putting them on the curve of the earth will mean that the ends will float in the sky. The ground polygon wizard of ModelConverterX does correct for this problem, by shaping your ground polygons to follow the curve of the earth.

But this problem not only affects ground polygons, also normal buildings or animated vehicles can have this problem. Therefore an experimental function to correct for this problem was in ModelConverterX for a while already. Over the last week this function has been expanded and improved and therefore it now has become a new editor: the Earth Curve Editor. You can load this editor by clicking on the icon with the picture of the round earth.

From this editor you can set the position of your object and choose what you want to correct. Entering the exactly altitude of the ground is very important to get the correct correction.

A problem in FSX noticed before is that attached effects are offset from the geometry, the further you get from the reference point. This is related to the curve of the earth as well. So there are two chooses for a correction:

  1. You correct the geometry to follow the curve. This will also correct the path of the animations and attached platforms. Attached objects, like effects, are not corrected however. Once the geometry has been corrected they line up again.
  2. You only correct attached objects, like effects. This correction will move them to line up with your geometry. But if your geometry is big, it will still float at the end. So in general it is probably better to use option 1 instead of this one.

This new editor is in the latest development release. I hope it proves to be useful and let me know if there is any feedback.

Bye, bye, performance indicator mode

ModelConverterX used to have a render mode called performance indicator mode. With this mode you could spot where the texture mapping or normals were not so optimal. The recent updates to the preview have removed that mode. But I have now added two replacements. One is called the Normal Inspect mode and the other TexMap Inspect mode.

In the Normal Inspect mode the colour of the object is determined by the normal, see the screenshot on the right. This means that as long as the normal is shared by different triangles smoothly you will see the gradually changing colour. If you see a sharp change in the colour, then the two triangles meeting there will have a different normal. Hopefully this helps to spot places where the smoothing is not as optimal as it could be.

The TexMap inspect mode works similar. It is meant to spot places where the texture coordinates are not shared optimally between triangles. The screenshot below shows an example. In this case the object is covered by a checkerboard with a varying colour. The checkerboard helps you to spot if texture mappings might be misaligned and the colour gives you an indication which part of the texture is used. So on the side of the church in the screenshot you see two types of blue, which means those polygons are textured with different parts of the texture.

The Normal Inspect mode is quite intuitive to use I think, for the TexMap inspect mode I am not sure yet. But I haven’t come up with a better idea yet. Hopefully these modes help you in making optimized models.

A bit buggy

The recent changes I made to the ModelConverterX preview turn out to be a bit buggy. To be honest that’s not a surprise to me. I am still learning the OpenGL shader language and also the fact that every graphics card might handle the shader code slightly different does not make the job easier. But I like the bug hunting and it helps me to learn more about the shaders as well.

So a big thanks to all the users who encounter these problems and report them to me. Your reports really help and I try to iron those bugs out as soon as I can.

And if the bugs really prevent you from doing what you want to do, please revert to the stable version 1.3 for the moment. The development has hardly any new functions, except for those preview changes. So you are only missing the bugs.

Updated ModelConverterX preview

The development release of ModelConverterX now contains an updated preview of the objects. It is now using OpenGL shaders, which as enabled me to add some cool new functions. Like showing bump maps and the reflection influenced by specular maps. Be aware that this is a big change, so it might have resulted a few new bugs here and there. Please let me know if you have any issues. And in case of big issues, you can always revert to the stable 1.3 release until I have fixed them.

Instant Object Studio – part 2

Since my previous blog post about the new Instant Object Studio tool I received a review copy of the tool (thanks for that Konstantin). So I am now able to answer some of the questions I still raised in my previous post.

When placing for example a roof on a box, the tool does not remove the top polygon of the box, altough it is not visible. So that means there are slightly more polygons than optimal, but for most objects that should not matter too much for the performance. Especially if you make sure it has the same material as other polygons in the model, in that case it ends up in the same drawcall.

Speaking about drawcalls, as long as you are careful about how many materials you use when modelling, the generated scenery objects can be very light on drawcalls. As an example I tried to model the house I did for my SketchUp tutorial again with this tool. This house only uses one texture sheet, so the generated model has only one drawcall.

I also mentioned in my previous post that I did not like the visually dragging and scaling of the textures, as that makes it hard to align exactly the part of the texture sheet you want. Especially when you put all your texture parts in one big sheet that can be tricky. But there is a function in Instant Object Studio to help you with that already.

In the material settings you can select that the texture should be stretched along the X and Y axes. With the Area button you can then choose the area of the texture you want. If you then apply it to a polygon, exactly that piece of the texture will be fitted on the entire polygon. Works quite neat I would say. It’s not as flexible as the UVW Unwrap editor in GMax, but I feel it gives me better control over where the texture goes than in SketchUp. Maybe starting scenery developers won’t appreciate this feature so much, but if you try to model with one texture sheet only I feel it comes in handy.

I’ll continue to test this tool more, as it seems to be packed with interesting features. Make sure to read the manual to learn about all the shortcuts and restrictions that can be applied. Next thing I will probably test is see how easy it is to make a building when you have a photo scenery showing that building. The object I made now is in the middle of the sea. But I think this tool can be really handy to trace buildings from photo scenery. I’ll share my experiences again after I have tested this.

Instant Object Studio

Flight1 has released a new tool, Instant Object Studio. This evening I had a play with the demo version and I must say I am surprised by the tool. After seeing the video I had the impression that the tool would be nice to make some quick buildings, but that it would be hard to make really detailed photo realistic objects with it. But after testing the demo version a bit I think I was wrong there. Since the demo version does not do export, I have not yet been able to see how optimized the output generated by the tool is.

Here’s a list of the positive things I have noted:

  • The concept of building your object inside FS is cool!
  • Making the geometry is quite easy. The different shapes snap together and after reading the maniual (yes :)) I found out there are some easy ways to fix the movement of polygons or edges along an axis. All that together makes it rather fun to model the shape you want. It’s a bit like SketchUp. Modelling geometry in SketchUp is also fun (more fun than in GMax at least).
  • When making a new material you have access to all the FSX specific settings if you want, but they are hidden under advanced settings.
  • It is cool how you can easily make your own texture using the generic templates. You can adjust colours and even overlay a second texture. Nicely done, only don’t get carried away as you might end up with a lot of drawcalls.
  • You have rather good control over the texture mapping. I think it is even easier than those clumsy pins in SketchUp. So even if you have all parts of your house on one texture (as you would try for good performance), it is not too hard to alter the texture mapping.
  • You can attach effects and control the amount of detail in the crashboxes.
  • The fact that your textures are directly saved in the format that FS needs and that your model is exported to BGL right away will be very useful for many people. It saves the steps to use BGLComp, ImageTool, etc. Especially for new developers that is very good.

Of course there are also some points I am not so sure about:

  • Although the manual mentions it is important to use as few textures as possible, the way you can make generic textures could tempt a lot of people to use much more textures than is good for the performance. If you only build one of two houses it is not going to hurt, but on bigger projects it will.
  • Although it is cool to work in FS directly, it also adds overhead. FS running uses more memory and CPU than the average modelling tool. And when making scenery you will often have a painting program and some other utilities open as well. I did not yet run into trouble, but I guess it could happen.
  • I would like to have more control over the texture mapping, a bit like a UVW unwrap editor where you can move each vertex of the polygon to the correct texture position. But that could be me, I am a control freak and prefer to have my mapping very accurate.

Since I haven’t been able to save yet, I can’t judge yet how easy it would be to adjust your model after you made it. For example if you made a mistake in the shape of the texture mapping. I’ll probably buy the tool so that I can have a look at that. And then I can check how optimized hte output is as well.

So all in total I think this is a very nice tool for people who want to build a few scenery objects or maybe their small local airport. Working with it is quite fun (which is also important). And from the functionality point of view I think it is similar to modelling with SketchUp. You won’t get the fancy animations, levels of detail and very complex shapes that you can achieve with GMax or 3DS Max. But on the other hand it is much easier to learn and probably more enjoyable to use.

ModelConverterX 1.3 released

Just a quick note that ModelConverterX 1.3 (stable version) has been released. It is the same as the development version of yesterday, but now with a updated manual. It will be the stable release for the near future, since version 1.2 was getting very old. You can read some more information here.

Ground polygon wizard upate

I have updated the ground polygon wizard in ModelConverterX. Two new features have been added to it in the latest development release:

  • You can now specify which layer and visibility are used by default in the options. This should mean that you have to change less values while working on your ground polygons.
  • An option has been added to convert the textures used on the ground polygons. This means they are converted to DDS (when using FSX) or DXT BMP (when using FS2004). Before you would have to do this conversion manual. In the screenshot on the right you see the options for the texture conversion. In the text box you need to specify the location where the new textures will be stored.

Hopefully these changes make the wizard a little more easier to use!

Reading X files

I have added a new function to ModelConverterX. It can now also read X files. This can be a X file generated by the FS2004 or FSX gamepack, but also a X file generated by another tool that does not contain the FS specific information. The following features will be read from the X file:

  • Geometry, normals and texture coordinates
  • Material settings (including FSX specific material settings)
  • LOD information
  • Animations

This new functionality is in the latest development release. Let me know if you have any issues with this feature.