Saturday, April 07, 2007

Because it's cool, that's why!

An amazing new discovery! FSX SDK (available in the Deluxe version) includes a scenery object placer tool. This fact was brought to my attention in a comment on one of the forums. The comment also pointed out a very helpful guide, available at Avsim (search for Essentially this is an interactive, WYSIWYG tool that lets you place any existing scenery object wherever you want. If you have FSX deluxe, and you install the SDK, then you have all you need.

You place objects by selecting an object from a list and clicking the Add button. The object will be placed wherever the view crosshairs are at the moment. You can then manipulate the object further: rotate, translate, scale etc. In addition you can assign other properties, for example at which level of scenery complexity is necessary before your object will appear. This last feature is handy because the default autogen airport buildings do not show up unless the complexity setting is set to dense. Finally, you can save and compile the scenery. Full details are in the guide I have mentioned.

What does this mean to me? I can finally indulge in scenery design, something I've long wanted to try, without any addons and without a lot of tricky hand coding. Now I can try to make my local airport look something like its real-world counter part. I'm not going to be a stickler for absolute accuracy; I'll be happy with getting it pretty close. Mainly what I'm looking for is some static aircraft parked in the right place, and some old-looking hangars. Some cars in the parking lot would be neat. Maybe some trees placed too close to the runway, as they are in real life.

The first image shows a quick proof of concept. Nothing is really in the right place, but it gets the idea across. Yes, I know its a lousy screenshot, but that is because I had the scenery sliders set very low to help performance while I used the scenery tool. The second shot shows a test of whether the added objects are crashable (they are!)

But what does this really mean? Why do I want to start down this path when I don't even have enough time to fly? Will this really enhances the experience of "flying" that provide so much relaxation to me? I must be very careful not to let this side project become a time drain. I've done some reading on scenery design, and I know there is so much more to it than this kind of thing (afcads, excludes, flattens, etc. etc.)

This gets back to the dichotomy between "tools" and "toys" that I've discussed here from time to time. Scenery can easily become a toy, that is, just fun stuff to look at. And scenery design could become a sort of puzzle, where the satisfaction comes in getting things to arrange exactly as you wish. But scenery could also become a tool. If I get those trees placed right, then I will be making this small airport more like the real thing, and I may have to sharpen my pilot skills some in order to keep on making decent landings. A few static airplanes will force me to taxi around in a more orthodox way.

However, I think the scenery design I am likely to do tends to be more in the toy category. I really should not spend too much of my very limited spare time on this, when I could be "flying" more. But in spite of this I can't resist giving it a try. When I search my soul about this, the answer comes down to, "Because its cool!"

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