Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Zombie Flight Sim in back from the dead. in "stoopid here did some tinkering, broke FSX and had to reinstall from scratch."

Yes I finally fell foul of the worst side effect of Tinkeritis, breaking the sim.  You see one of the first add-ons I bought was the Greek Airports Project "Rodos 2010", in order to complete my original flightsim goal of replicating the flight from Manchester to Rhodes Diagoras (one of the few times I've actually flown in so-called "real life").  The problem I ran into was that due to the length of the flight, taking off mid-afternoon from Manchester often saw me arriving (when I didn't run out of fuel!) at Diagoras after dark.  Then for some reason I found the frame rate dropping through the floor as I got onto final approach... I mean serious slide-show, 1FPS levels.   I lost at least one otherwise perfect flight that way.

So before I tried that flight again, I did some serious googling to try to find out what could be causing the catastrophic loss of framerate.  And it turns out to be a known bug with the Rodos 2010 airport.  Something in the airport's (or more likely the Rodos town) lighting causes a conflict with the FSX Acceleration pack, leading to...well the opposite of acceleration.  The developer's solution?  "Well, we only said it worked with Service Pack 2, not acceleration.  So don't install Acceleration and use SP2 instead."

Right..... Never mind the fact that Acceleration came out over five years ago BEFORE you created the Rodos scenery.... never mind that the most commonly available version of  FSX these days is the Gold box which comes with Acceleration, and any new players are likely to have gone ahead and installed it before buying your airport... the simple fact is that Acceleration represents the "final" patched version of the sim.  SP 2.5 if you like.  It's pretty outrageous for a developer to refuse to support the final patch of a product and instead insist that customers back-rev their installls.  Especially not after five years.  And they seem to be quite irate when people ask why they still haven't patched their product yet ("We said we only supported SP2!")

But the GAP Rodos is a very good terrain, and the representation of Old Town and Ixia looks so much better than the freeware offerings or the other payware Rhodes (by an outfit called "Live In FSX", about whom I can find very little information or reviews).  Giving up Acceleration means giving up the air-race missions (which I don't do) and some aircraft (which I don't fly) so I decided to try uninstalling Acceleration and installing SP1 and SP2 in its place.


Anyway I bit the bullet and did a complete re-install of FSX.  Sure enough, Rodos by night is giving me a buttery smooth 25-30fps as I fly over Old Town.  But I'm not 100% convinced that SP2 is entirely as stable as Acceleration.  And at some point I'm going to run into an aircraft that requires Acceleration not just SP2, at which point there'll be another choice to be made.

But all is not doom and gloom.  A recent household expenditure turned out a bit cheaper than I'd allocated funds for, which coincided with a company called TropicalSim offering a 40% sale on their sceneries.  This included a bundle of 32 airports, mainly in South America and The Caribbean, for what worked out at around £2.80 per airport.  I succumbed, so my payware airport collection just increased in size by 1600%

On the whole they're nice.  Okay.  Not mind meltingly awesome like the best from Aerosoft or OrbX, or quite up to UK2000 standards either.  The airports in the bundle tend to be slightly older designs, which is OK for the most part, but... well this morning I simmed a flight from Manchester to Bilbao (LEBB) in Spain, the first significant flight I've done since the reinstall and one that was mercifully uneventful.  On arrival, I found myself routed to General Aviation parking for some reason, and found myself surrounded by.... well, see for yourself.

Look closely, and you'll see how blocky and unfinished the static aircraft are.  I mean, from the cockpit window, we're talking serious Lego builds here.  And not the modern funny shaped bricks either, the good old "ages 3-5" big chunky bricks too.  Now I understand the need to keep static models fairly lean and FPS friendly, but dayum, those things were nassty.   Fortunately it was only a couple of minutes work to locate the BGL file for the static aircraft and disable it.  I'd rather have empty aprons than those... things.

I don't know what's involved in creating a static aircraft BGL, compared to creating an AI traffic BGL.  Some googling is required, and if it's not too much work I might see if it's possible to replace these with some nicer looking AI aircraft and take the possible FPS hit.

Finally, speaking of AI, Just Flight have today released the upgrade from Traffic X to their new product, Traffic 360, which not only expands on the old version (which I have) but adds in the "Plus pack" add-on-add-ons which adds military and general aviation traffic.  Since I was re-installing anyway I've held off reinstalling my AI traffic till it was released, so as I type this I've just finished the 900MB download and am eagerly awaiting the activation code from Just Flight.

(hit refresh)..... nope (hit refresh)..... not yet (hit refresh)..... still nothing (hit refresh)..... uhuh... this may take some time, catch you later, okay?  (hit refresh)..... (hit refresh)..... (hit refresh)..... (hit refresh).....


  1. I'm taken back to our Duke3D Build days in which we'd try our darned'est to give as much detail without killing the frame rate. The main problem I remember was if you could get far enough back that you'd see too much intricate stuff at once and the frame rate would hit the floor.

    But you're quarter of a mile above the ground taking it all in!

    It's almost like you need some way of flagging model complexity to alter the design as you get closer. Those lego brick planes look fine from a distance and lessen the sterility of that concrete pavement.

    Sadly I think the only real solution to the problem is to throw more horsepower at it until the rendering engines get more elegant.

    1. Actually what you describe already exists - it's a function called Level Of Detail. In some of the 3D modelling/rendering apps I use, it dynamically alters the poly-count resolution of models depending on how close or how far the object is in the shot.

      Flight Simulator X also supports LOD, but I'm not sure whether it works in the same way or just affects texture resolution.

      The problem with those lego brick planes is that they're in a place where you're almost certainly going to be up close and personal with them i.e. in the parking area. So they really need to be a little prettier.

      Funnily enough, flying over Manchester airport, which is the best quality airport I have, I saw a really crappy, boxy looking airplane shape off to one side of the runway, as bad if not worse than the lego planes at Bilbao. I thought "Blimey, the designer must have been having an off day with that one!" But when I swooped down to take a closer look, it turned out to be the wooden mockup used for firefighting practice!