Ondrej has posted a public thread about the new version of the Blender 2.7 exporter here.
The 3.3 release is the first release where we (Laminar Research) have worked closely with Ondrej to build what we hope will be one of the future cornerstones of modeling for X-Plane.
If you are currently using Blender 2.49 or AC3D, I expect that 2.73 will provide the best way forward for modeling in X-Plane.
The new release has a few major features, all aiming to create a new modern work-flow:
- All animation bugs are fixed. (At least,we think - if you find one, please report it ASAP!) This means animation is WYSIWYG. Armatures are supported for animation as well as animated data block containers.
- The exporter understands all modern OBJ features, including ones scheduled for release in X-Plane 10.50.
- Instancing is handled via a single option with exporter validation, so you don't have to know how instancing works to get instancing.
- The material rules are validated, and materials are found automatically; you can simply model as you want and Blender will do its best to export it or tell you if there is a problem.
- Specular and Normal maps are 'merged' together from two separate sources. This lets you set specularity and normal maps in separate material channels in Blender for a more WYSIWYG approach. It also means no more messing with Photoshop to combine these layers.
The goal of many of these is to hide the idiosyncrasies of X-Plane's modeling format and provide a cleaner, more artist-friendly view of modeling.
Regarding instancing: the model we have adopted is the one we used internally on the 2.49 exporter: you (the artist) tag an export as either "instanced" or not.
- If instancing is on, the exporter writes only data to the OBJ that will be hardware-instanced by X-Plane. If you do something that cannot be instanced, like animation, you get an export error telling you what you have to remove.
- If instancing is off, the exporter writes the object normally.
The win here is that you don't have to know the (complicated) instancing rules; set instancing for the scenery objects you need to make fast in bulk (e.g. a luggage cart, a house, something that will be used many times in a small area) and you'll get optimal output.
Optimization - Coming Soon
The goal of the 3.3 release was to set up an environment where authors could work using the new work flow. We have not finished optimizing the OBJ output.
If you are using the existing 2.7 exporter for airplane work, the output should be similar in performance. If you are using the 2.49 exporter, the new output is (like the current 2.7 exporter) not as well optimized.
In a future update, we will tighten up the generated OBJ code; this should not affect anyone other than producing better OBJs.
The new exporter should be fully work-flow compatible with the previous Blender 2.7 exporter; if you find your existing project does not work, please file a bug!
Our plan is to create a migration tool for Blender 2.49 projects; this will forward-convert the datarefs on annotations, manipulators, and object properties from 2.49 to 2.73 format. This lets authors using 2.49 move forward to 2.73 and have a migration path for existing content. (This work is not started yet, but is planned - we have our own aircraft we need to keep working on.)