I was discussing plugin-controlled prop discs with a third party developer. The developer wanted to know if custom prop disc control would end up inside Plane-Maker. It may end up doing so, but I don’t think this would be nearly as useful as it would seem. What follows is my explanation to him of why this is.
Let me draw an analogy: when it comes to systems modeling, using a plugin is to Plane-Maker as using Blender is to using Plane-Maker.
Users who cannot use Blender are frustrated because they cannot make something as nice as those who are building planes out of OBJs. Sometimes they ask for more features in Plane-Maker, like: more stations! This new editing mode! Make the UI better!
But…you tell me: will Plane-Maker’s UI ever be as flexible and powerful as Blender? And if it ever did get to be that good, would that have turned out to be a good use of LR’s time, when Blender is already available?
The motivation for OBJ-based airplane geometry via third party tools is that what users want to do cannot be easily generalized into a few simple cases. Every plane is different, so a truly flexible platform is needed.
The prop disc (and other systems modeling problems) are the same way. In developing the prop disc graphics, I spoke with a number of third party developers who had already tried to push prop discs as far as they could go, were using plugins, were drawing themselves, as well as 25 other crazy hacks. I also spoke to our internal art team. And what I found was: no one had any consensus on how the prop disc system should work. Everyone wanted to tune a very specific set of behaviors to their peculiar art assets.
That’s what drove me to put it into a plugin. When we need an equation or a strategy we reach the point where we need more flexibility than Plane-Maker can exhibit. A plugin can encapsulate a strategy or technique in a way that Plane-Maker radio buttons cannot.
Consider what would happen if custom prop disc parameters were built into Plane-Maker. Everyone would have to wait until Austin implemented the prop disc algorithm they wanted. How would this be bad? Let me count the ways?
- How many algorithms do you think Austin has time to code? Not more than he has fingers on his right hand. Only the five lucky third party developers who get their algorithm coded will be happy with this.
- Austin code exactly what you want? Don’t get your hopes up.
- , what you asked for wasn’t what you wanted? We can’t change the behavior now, that would break compatibility!
- oh…your email got eaten by a spam filter? Too bad…no custom prop disc for you!
- Sorry, we don’t have a release vehicle lined up for the next 3 months. You’ll have to wait.
This problem is already happening across pretty much every aspect of systems modeling: airplane have unique, quirky systems which are usually useful for exactly one plane. It is not even remotely sustainable for X-Plane to code these things one at a time with a set of check-boxes. We might as well have a pop-up menu for every airplane ever invented, and simulate every single airplane inside the sim itself. Imagine the development costs…if a single high quality MSFS add-on sells for $30-$50…
Think of the prop disc via plugins situation (and the strobe lights are the same way) as an experiment in generic instruments for systems. By transitioning to a generic abstaction for instruments we’ve let a lot more users do exactly what they want with a small, high performance piece of code. The original instrument strategy (one of everything) reached a point where we simply couldn’t meet user needs in a cost-effective manner.