In a previous post I noted that we weren't attempting dynamic ambient occlusion inside the 3-d cockpit, due to problems of quality, availability, and because it wasn't really better than what authors do now: prepare the AO offline using a high quality render in their 3-d modeler.
I've been thinking about this a while: while I like to get up on my soap box and shout that X-Plane is not like a first person shooter any time we get compared to a AAA console title, there is one case where X-Plane kind of is like one: inside the user's aircraft.
First person shooters often specialize in rendering highly controlled, closed, constrained, claustrophobic environments in ludicrous detail at very high framerate. To achieve this, they take advantage of optimizations specific to those closed, controlled environments: lots of things are pre-computed, pre-baked, and pre-calculated.
X-Plane's scenery engine mostly focuses on throughput; once you climb through 500 feet you can see everything at an airport, so we just try to draw really fast. But the inside of the aircraft is different. Baking at least part of the interior lighting is pretty much a standard practice. We provide object-kill datarefs to let authors script their own culling algorithms to squeeze framerate out of a confined space.* We define sound spaces within the aircraft that can change how sound effects are filtered.** We let you mark which parts of your aircraft receive interior and exterior light. (This feature is called "light groups" in a regular 3-d game engine and it's very common, particularly in older forward-rendering engines.)
All of this stuff is a lot more like a game with a 3-d level editor than the rest of X-Plane. Techniques that focus on interior spaces are a good fit inside an airliner.
Better Baking: one of the features planned for our next-generation modeling format is to allow multiple UV maps for a given model***. We can then add an ambient-occlusion texture to an object's shader and you can bake your aircraft interiors at a much lower resolution than you albedo textures.
For example, you could use a high-res repeating texture to draw the seats inside the aircraft, copy-paste the seat down the cabin, and then unwrap a second UV map that covers the entire cabin uniquely. Bake to this second UV map, down-size the texture to super low res (it's ambient occlusion, "soft" is okay) and you'll get high-res detail with unique correct lighting queues all over the aircraft. This is a standard work-flow for 3-d game engines and seems like a good fit for aircraft interior.
Edit in the Sim: we can take another clue from game engines and provide editing of graphical aircraft information inside X-Plane. We already do this for the particle system - the editor is built into the sim itself.**** The advantage of editing in the sim is that you can see your work exactly how it will look in real time.
* Engines that focus on interior spaces often have techniques like portal culling built-in and tools to precompute the information for this culling automatically.
** This is part of the new FMOD SDK - we will get this documented around or shortly after 11.0 goes final.
*** I realize this isn't very "next-gen" in the world of rendering engines - it's just the next major modeling revision for X-Plane.
**** The particle system isn't documented because it isn't quite finished yet. It's shipping in mobile, enabled on desktop, but it is not running the default effects right now.