There were a bunch of questions in the comments about the airport lego brick system.  We’ve talked about it a bit, but we’ve never really described the project in one place.  Tom sent out some pictures of the system as he was testing it, so I’ll repost them and explain what’s going on.

First, the basic idea: for the last few versions, X-Plane 9 has shipped with default airport layouts (built off of the apt.dat file) but no buildings.  The apt.dat file is an open source data file managed by Robin Peel; Robin integrates multiple public data sources and users submit their own improvements and changes.  The result is high quality airport layouts despite the lack of a good free global data source.

When we were first looking at new features we wanted to put into X-Plane 10, airport buildings were a high priority; we didn’t want the airports to be empty.  Thus airport lego bricks were born.  The idea is:

  1. Our art team builds a series of useful art components for airports (“lego bricks”), e.g. terminal buildings, hangers, light fixtures, trucks, etc.
  2. LR seeds part of the world with some initial buildings.  I don’t yet know how many buildings we will put down.  When an airport layout is automatically generated by Robin (just a runway and taxiway) we can easily put down buildings, but for a more complex layout a human may have to look at the layout and say “that’s where the hangers go.”
  3. WorldEditor 1.2 will have features to edit these layouts.  (Tom is using WED 1.2 now – in fact, the source is posted.  It’s my hope that we can get WED 1.1 out ASAP once X-Plane 10 is available.)
  4. LR or Robin or someone collects the placement data for these structures and integrates user submissions, as well as layouts that LR builds internally.
  5. The new data from all sources goes into X-Plane updates so that users get new layouts quickly.

The lego bricks come in forms you already know of: OBJs and facades, as well as a new “autogen point” file which I will explain in another post.  Here is a picture of WED 1.1 with a simple airport layout that Tom built.

The green polygons are forests; the gray polygons are facades.  In X-Plane 10 and WED 1.2 you can pick the wall types for each wall of a facade, so the walls are now color coded.  (When you select the facade, a popup menu has names like “wall with jetway” or “glass wall”.)  Placements of OBJs and autogen have real previews from the top down.

It is my hope that building these kinds of scenes will be easier than building the underlying pavement, because most of the airport elements are drag & drop objects, e.g. you just point and click; the facades are simply traced as outlines.  To build a layout using these parts you won’t need to know how to use a 3-d editor, hack an OBJ file, texture-map a 3-d mesh, and you don’t have to do your own texturing work.

But what do the results look like?


Not bad for point and click.  The airport lego bricks leverage the rendering engine enhancements in version 10 to provide a lot of detail without having to build a custom scenery pack:

  • Since X-Plane 10 has global illumination, light fixtures (either attached to a premade object or in one of the dedicated light posts) simply shine down on whatever is nearby.  Put an airplane under a light post and the results look correct – no render-baking required.
  • The version 10 facade engine is greatly enhanced; that terminal with jetways sticking out is a v10 facade, and it is in full 3-d.
  • X-Plane 10 features new shaders that add extra detail to surfaces – that’s where the grit is coming from in the driveway in the third picture.*
  • If the user enables shadows, 3-d casts shadows on everything else.  Put a car next to a building, and it will be in shadow, but only at certain times of day.

We have not yet built the submission editing and review process, but at this point the plan is to collect and redistribute overlay DSFs – they are the logical container choice for a bunch of OBJ placements.  We are not planning a special .dat format for these buildings.

A few other questions that have come up:

How will ATC data be handled?

Traffic flow information (e.g. where the planes taxi) sits inside the apt.dat file and will be collected as part of the regular apt.dat process.  Non-airport ATC data will be collected separately; more on that some other time.

Can this be used for custom cities?

No.  The scope is strictly airports.  We can collect placements for airports because:

  • Airports start out truly empty – the DSF generator clears them out.  So there are no conflicts with autogen.  For cities, we’d have to “coordinate” with the default buildings and roads, which gets complicated fast.
  • The number of “things” in an airport is small – maybe hundreds if you really get into detail, compared to hundreds of thousands for a city.  So it is practical to completely build an airport.
  • Because one person can build an airport, we only have to worry about conflicts between submissions – we don’t have to worry about merging several parts of a city.
  • The set of art assets we need for an airport is limited, so we can provide a reasonably complete library.
  • Airports are really important to a flight simulator, so it’s worth all of the effort on everyone’s part to do this.

Generally speaking, I would like to increase user involvement in all parts of the scenery process.  I get a lot of emails where people ask “how can I change X” or “can I fix this and send it to you”.  The scenery system needs to address both highly skilled authors making complex custom payware packages and casual authors who want to do a freeware pack or just contribute to the overall quality of scenery.  So we’ll be looking more at how we handle cities and OSM data in the future.  For now we have our hands full just getting OSM water and roads into the sim.

Can we use other objects, custom or from OpenSceneryX?

No.  The default layouts need to be built entirely from art assets that ship with the sim.  We think OpenSceneryX is great, but the goal of the airport lego bricks is to solve a small, specific problem in a self-contained way, so that people can download the sim and immediately see buildings.

How does this relate to custom scenery?

The lego bricks definitely do not make custom scenery unnecessary – they provide a general set of elements for airports, but I think users will continue to want partially or fully customized airports.

A good analogy is the default instruments: because X-Plane ships with over 900 premade instruments, a user can rapidly build a decent looking 2-d panel with no photoshop or dataref work.  But to make a panel that truly looks like the real plane (or to work in 3-d) custom work is needed – it’s more effort but the results are better.  Airports will be similar: generic layouts will look good, but custom work will look better.

(Could a payware custom scenery pack include generic elements?  I don’t know.  In the airplane world, if a payware airplane contains default instruments it tends to get poor reviews.  But I don’t see why a custom airport couldn’t use our lego bricks for some of the smaller elements like light poles and baggage trucks, if the main buildings were fully customized.)

* It is possible to make grit effects in X-Plane 9 in the same manner that it is done in MSFS: place a translucent overlay polygon with a high-frequency repeating texture on top of the surface you want to make “dirty.  Having this capability in a shader in X-Plane 10 improves performance – we can draw one layer of “stuff” and have all of the effects go down at once.

About Ben Supnik

Ben is a software engineer who works on X-Plane; he spends most of his days drinking coffee and swearing at the computer -- sometimes at the same time.

34 comments on “Airport Lego Bricks

  1. Wow this looks absolutely amazing already! I better start saving for a faster computer I’m starting to believe this might end up looking better than FSX.

    Love the screenies, and makes me wanna see it all in action and explore the world all over again 🙂

  2. Hi Ben,
    if I got this right, v10 will allow laymen to build smaller airports and share them with other people via LR-updates. Right?
    I´m not familiar with airport/scenery building yet* but I hink this could be very interesting and a wonderful way to share flightsim enthusiasm.
    My question is, if there will be kind of public database witch allows to see the “blank” airports, the “finished” ones and the “work in progress” airports, allowing the community to coordinate their efforts.

    All the best

    *But did a lot of LEGO-works in my youth;)

    1. You are right – people will be able to share layouts, and LR will wrap these into the updates.

      Re: database, I don’t know. We don’t have the infrastructure for this yet. I don’t know how important “in progress” will be – I suspect that the total number of hours to build a layout will be less than it takes for taxiways. (Taxiways can take quite a long time when people go crazy with signs and markings – but there is no “in progress” board for that yet. Maybe there should be.) Once v10 ships, I’ll have some time to talk to Robin about this.

  3. Ben,

    This is just fantastic news. I am very happy to hear that the team is incorporating the placement of actual scenery objects into the core product just the way the apt.dat updates have been in the past.

    This will not only address a major shortcoming of XP9 vs the Redmond products, but also completely leapfrog anything they’ve ever done in terms of futureproofing and scalability.

    We already have a small team of folks from PilotEdge crafting apt.dat updates for the airports within our CA/NV service area to get them up to snuff – to be able to have consistent buildings as well be baked into our user’s sims whenever they update will be just fantastic.

    Well done. I think I might rival the neighborhood kids for my excitement for Christmas this year!

    1. The blog said something intruguing, does the new version of WED perform the functions of both the old WED as well as Overlay Editor? Did I read that right? No more switching back and forth between 3 apps (WEB, OLE, and XP9) just to check and see if everything is lining up properly? Please tell me that is so.

      I am one of the people building airport scenery for // and would love to start building for the next gen of Xplane. I do wonder how much compatability there will be between 9 & 10, considering that much of PilotEdge’s target audience will be the FTD and smaller flight simulator markets that are currently running on XP9 (or that FSX derivative…)

      I guess I will need to download the new WED and play with it.


      1. WED 1.1 (in beta for months now) performs overlay editing. WED 1.2 will support the new X-plane 10 art asset types (like curved facades, facades with wall choice, lines of trees, objects with draped geometry, etc.).

        There should be complete scenery compatibility.

  4. Impressive Ben!

    Question about the facade with jet bridge: is it possible to accurately determine the positioning of each jet bridge, and how tall the terminal walls are?

    Also, it seems that you have different styles for the terminals (based on previous shots), is that true?


    1. Terminal walls: you can select the number of floors but not the exact wall height.

      Jetways: I’m not 100% sure. I think that you will be able to manually place a jetway object next to a wall. Tom has also built a wall that automatically makes a jetway (e.g. it comes attached) – I need to sync with him for what our final decision on this was. Pre-attached jetways have better visual alignment with the art asset, but hand-placed ones can get closer to real-world layout. In WED you can select wall types so you can easily make a “wall with jetway” for one section and a “wall with no jetway” for another part. We’re still finalizing the details on how this will ship.

      Styles: everything you see is in the library. There may be more stuff too.

      1. Re: the jetways. You can opt to make a wall segment a “jetway type” or you can make it a plain type and place a jetway separately. In the former method, you get no preview of the jetway location…this may change but I won’t speak for Ben here; however the wall is designed such that the jetway is just adjacent to the wall segment in WED so you have a pretty good idea of where the jetway will be based on how you create the facade in WED. There might be a back and forth here and there but I managed to get the results I wanted with a little messing about. The upside to using the jetway wall type is you get all sort of goodies with a single menu pull down…the jetway, ramp markings, GPU, cargo vehicles, ramp lighting etc. If you using the “manual route”, you’d have to place each one of these pieces individually…but you’d also get a preview in WED…so you really have some flexibility in how you want to approach it, each with pros and cons. I think “tinkering types” will probably won’t more customization while someone who just wants anything at their home airport can at least put up something plausible relatively easy.

  5. will major US airports, if not many of all airports have these lego brick features, or just a few default places, leaving once again xplane airports empty?
    i.e. O’Hare airport, New York, LA, etc..

    I do not code, build or any of that, I just want to know will most airports have detail on dvd vs users doing it on own

    1. I don’t know the exact answer, but the safe assumption is that “most” airports will not. You may have to run the free web updates to get more airports as the version release goes along.

      1. It’s a bit of a trade-off how we’re approaching this. The world is just too big and diverse to simply “do all the major airports”. As a long time user of xplane myself…equally bummed by empty airports in the past, I feel this method is a really good way to go. We make scenery creation easier to the point of inducing more community contributions and leveraging manpower. We’ve invested in technology that will form a better foundation for scenery quality. So while the x-world won’t be full….it won’t stay empty either IMO. This time around, we have really good tools and resources, something that lacked in the past. So it’s not a “once again” in the sense that it is ignored, it’s a strategy that we believe is very sound and a worthwhile investment.

      2. Ahh, ok, I will keep up to date. Why is it that most airports will likely be empty still? I thought this was a new feature for v-10, so it would compete with msfs in terms of visuals/ exceed x-plane standards.

        1. Because there are a huge number of airports in the world and we don’t have a way to synthesize terminal positions for arbitrarily complex pavement layouts.

          This is a major feature of version 10. But the data is going to get built up over the entire version run. The process will start in 10.0 and continue with each free patch.

  6. Will there be moving jetways that automatically attack to the plane like in FSX or are they just stationary objects? Also will there be moving vehicles at the airport? And how far along are the AI Planes and the smarter ATC?

  7. Hi, I was wondering if the land textures in those screenshots are from X-Plane 9 or 10?
    It looks like V9 to me.
    Also, I really hope that you guys release some new screenshots of X-Plane 10, it’s been a while and we need more juice.

  8. First question, will Xplane 10 clean out opensceneryX?,
    as noted there will be a default set of lego bricks, if clever developers create new lego can it be added to the default set?
    In the airbridges i find 3 basic types, 1. short haul aircraft (low) 2. long haul aircraft (high) and double airbridges (A380), the really annoying thing is parking a B744 at a gate that is too low or vice-versa.
    Final question, can you add art to the lego bricks by which i mean on many airbridge corridors I put the local airport logo (name) by changing the .obj .png (.Lit) files.

    1. I don’t know what you mean by “clean out OpenSceneryX”.

      We do not have any plans to accept third party contributions to the default lego bricks at this time.

      There is no way to modify the appearance of the jetways in the scenery system. If you want decals on the jetways, you’ll need your own 3d OBJ.

      1. Hi Ben, I mean if the new (robins) apt.dat in XP10 comes in would it clean out the apt.dat that has the opensceneryX data and replace it with the default scenery, you have mentioned that the current custom scenery will stay as is (including the opensceneryX addons), if not will we have to rebuild our custom scenery files to the new (clean sheet syndrome),
        I gather from your comment we can mix imported .obj with the default lego .obj? (those jetways again if I created them elsewhere)

        1. FlightTime56: these airport lego bricks have nothing to do with apt.dat. The layouts are going to be in scenery packs that ship with the sim, and the art assets will be in the library.

          If you install a custom scenery pack that uses OpenSceneryX, whether you made it for X-Plane 9 or 10, that custom scenery pack will take precedent over what ships with the sim. You don’t have to rebuild anything.

          Yes, you can mix OBJs from many sources, including multiple libraries, and including libraries from LR and third party libraries like OS X.

    2. Re the airbridges, we do have 3 heights based on classes of aircraft to handle low/medium/high situations. The heights were taken from airport planning documents and get ‘in the ballpark’ for most aircraft.

  9. Not bad for point and click at all. What are the specs for the computer that took those?

  10. Looks great Ben (and Tom). I hear what you’re saying re. no 3rd party contributions to the lego bricks (I like the name), but please consider a periodic submission process? That would increase the variety in look, so people don’t start to instantly recognise the ‘generic’. EG we might be able to select from 4 different ‘glass wall’ facades & associated other walls. Built by us of course

  11. I noticed that Open Street Maps has basic terminal layouts for a lot of the world’s airports. Is LR using this data to auto-populate the airports with buildings in X-Plane 10?

    1. We are not using that data. As I have said before, at this point we are only using road and water data from OSM; we are not using any of the many other types of OSM data yet.

      It’s not quick to use OSM data – OSM data doesn’t come on a silver platter. We have to write code to analyze, interpret, reprocess, and transform that data, and because OSM data can be literally anything that a user drew and uploaded, that code has to be very defensive about errors, non-conformant, and bogus data. There are often no standards for how features are mapped, or multiple standards or usages; sometimes the data isn’t specific enough for X-Plane’s purposes without a lot of enhancement.

  12. Looks great, will definitely yield a more immersive experience!

    Can we bang into things? Or does XP10 retain the XP9 intangibility? Not obviously that I want to, but it’s always a sharp reminder of bad aircraft handling if we knock into a building.

    1. I don’t know…we may tweak the “hardness” of objects in a patch once we get 10.0 out the door. My guess is: perhaps major structures will be solid – we definitely prioritize correct operations (e.g. you can land a helicopter on the roof) over incorrect ones (I crashed my 747 into a baggage truck and it didn’t catch on fire).

      We’ll have to look at performance, as well as the quality of collisions – X-Plane’s collision model for the airplane and solid things was not originally designed to deal with low-speed ground collisions.

      1. Do you think there will be a stage where the collision model is good enough to take out pieces of the plane? So, say you fly (at speed) by a hard surface close enough that hits your left wing and the sim detects that and removes the bit of the wing that collided? Could that happen?

        1. Maybe someday. There are a number of pieces of tech floating around the company that could help solve the problem, but it would be several steps to getting it all working in the sim. To make things more complicated, at least part of the problem (airplanes that contain skeleton info, e.g. which parts are attached to other parts) would require annotation on the plane, so you’d need authors to modify their airplanes.

          In the end, we may move toward that but I don’t think it’s the highest priority…we certainly don’t think destruction modeling is as important to the general purpose flight sim genre as it is to the combat sim genre, for example. (Those guys take blowing sh-t up seriously! And they put in some serious rendering tech to make it happen.)

  13. You guys should at least focus on really good default scenery for JFK,LAX,DFW,IAD,SFO,ORD. Don’t do every municipal,regional airport just the major international airports. and Also London Heathrow, Munich, Hong Kong

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