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Development Timelapse - Building an airport in Flight Simulator X

Posted by Gaiiden, in Personal 28 February 2013 · 914 views

timelapse fsx flight simulator
I used to develop games - that's what got me involved with this website. Ironically, I then stopped actively developing games to pour more time and energy into GameDev.net. About 3 years ago I decided it was time to get back into making games, however I came across an enticing alternative that still used a lot of the skills I had developed while learning to program and design games - developing 3rd party products for Microsoft's last great flight simulator, Flight Simulator X. Whether it was ignorance, lack of foresight, or uncommon good will towards man, MS never exerted any control over add-on products to Flight Simulator and so an entire market was born entirely from enthusiasts looking to improve the scenery, aircraft, graphics, sounds, ATC - almost anything thanks to the SimConnect API that let people hook up external programs to the Flight Simulator program at runtime. It's not a huge market by any means - flight sim is a niche genre and serious flight sims are even smaller than that - but there are publishers and developers out there that are full-time workers in the 3rd party industry. You won't get rich but you'll get personal fulfillment out of improving a product that you use. In fact, it was this market for FSX and its predecessor FS 2004 that was the main reason Flight was such a huge flop besides its "arcade-y" design as MS tried to tightly control the 3rd parties this time around - and they all told MS to take a hike.

So I started with freeware development, working on improving areas around my home state of New Jersey using an existing popular photo-scenery commercial product as a base. My previous experience with programming, structuring game systems, design - all this came in handy to let me quickly pick up the tools and also understand how FSX operated. MSE Airports, the website I started for freeware development, gave me the experience and skills necessary to move on to payware projects, and not just my own airports but working with external companies as a contractor. I'm currently getting paid do develop airports for FranceVFR, which has some amazing scenery products. Someday in the next year or so I hope to work with the amazing folks at FTX when they start developing scenery in my area.

Anyways, besides GameDev.net this is what's taking up the majority of my work hours when sitting at the computer. It's not straight-up game dev but the parallel is close enough to keep me more than satisfied. Plus, the Flight Simulator community is just as great as this one and I enjoy interacting with the other developers and simmers. We're even planning an online developer conference modeled after the #AltDev conference held last year. I also have an idea for a development tool that will get me programming again soon.

So I wanted to share with you all a timelapse video I made while creating an airport. It's practically level design, really. This project took me just under 12 hours over 3 days, and some airports take upwards of 20-30 but the majority are around this size or smaller. Each and every airport is laid out differently so while the design has to match what's there in real life as closely as possible things do need to be modified from time to time thanks to constraints within the simulator. AI is the biggest factor, as the AI system is largely a black box you can only debug by observing behavior in the simulator, and no doubt thanks to budget constraints during development and the complexity of airport operations the FSX AI does not like to work the way airports are actually designed to work! But this makes each project a unique challenge and keeps it all relatively fresh from project to project.

I used Chronolapse to capture an image of my screen every 5 seconds. These images were stored as high-res PNG files (7,289 of them totaling 4.41GB) and then I went through them all to remove any that held the screen for several images without changing (probably while I was off referencing on another monitor) and also some screens that caught me in other programs or one time when ADE crashed - stuff that would jar you out of the rest of the time lapse within ADE. I then loaded all the images in Sony Vegas Pro 9 for final editing. The video plays at a rate of 10 images per second, although some repetitive sections you'll notice are sped up (to 30 images per second).

Okay enough of me babbling - on to the goods!