AI planes face two major issues in X-Plane 11:

  1. AI aircraft are often way more resource-intensive than they need to be. Users are fine paying a performance penalty to load, say, a super detailed 3-D cockpit model for their own aircraft, but for AI planes, where you’re never going to be in the cockpit, there’s no reason for that sort of thing. A significantly “dumbed down” version of the same aircraft would allow users to load more AI planes at once, with no visible downsides during normal use.
  2. Many aircraft, for one reason or another, simply won’t function at all when used as AI planes. This is most commonly due to one of two issues:
    • reliance on third-party plugins (which only work for the user’s plane)
    • lack of support from X-Plane for flying aircraft like this (for instance, the X-Plane AI doesn’t know how to fly gliders, seaplanes, or rockets)

As a user, this is really frustrating, because it’s difficult or impossible to know in advance which aircraft will work as AI planes and which will either a) just sit on the runway, never able to take off, and/or b) tank your frame rate.

Coming in X-Plane 11.10: AI-Only and User-Only Aircraft

In the upcoming X-Plane 11.10 beta, we’ve added two new options to Plane Maker’s Author window: “supports user flight” and “supports AI flight.” By default, all aircraft support user flight, and do not support use as AI aircraft.

If a plane is configured for AI flight only, it will never be shown in the normal aircraft grid—only in the AI aircraft window.

If a plane is configured for user-flight only (or if it’s a pre–11.10 aircraft with no “supported flight type” info), it will be hidden in the AI aircraft window by default, but for the sake of backward compatibility with old planes, users will still be able to reveal them by checking a box labeled “Show aircraft without AI support.”

The upshot for aircraft authors

In the Glorious Future, we envision third parties shipping two versions of their aircraft:

  • one marked user only, which include all the bells and whistles, plugin-enhancements, and as much detail as possible
  • one marked AI only, which is stripped down for performance, only using plugin enhancements that have been tested in AI configurations.

The result will be a faster, more consistent, less error prone experience for users.

About Tyler Young

Tyler is a software developer for X-Plane. Among other projects, he was in charge of the X-Plane 11 user interface and the massive multiplayer implementation.

19 comments on “Improving AI Aircraft

  1. Brilliant! I put forth something like this very recently in a bug report – something like a file that would block an aircraft from being used by AI. This is better, especially making aircraft non-AI by default. The best payware aircraft are likely to have lots of 4K textures and these are real memory hogs if they start getting loaded for AI. 4K textures are a bit pointless when all you’re going to see is a dot in the distance! And the user also pays for the random AI selection of these aircraft with significantly increased load times. Good stuff Tyler!

    One other thing developers could do, in addition to using the new Planemaker feature, would be to take advantage of the OBJ8 level of detail functionality feature. I’ve only seen this done on Khamsin’s beautiful aircraft carrier.

    I have one other idea for the UI… time to file a bug report! (which should have a bug/feature radio button toggle 😉 ).

  2. I can’t stop eating up all the new stuff you guys are doing to rally the community online. Between these blog posts, the Live events, social media updates, and the YouTube videos, loving every minute of it. Keep engaging us, please!

  3. Would another option be that XP11 actively “dumbs down” the detailed aircraft (lowering external resolutions, stripping out the cockpit, etc). That way, developers have to do nothing and you can get all kinds of AI aircraft in the sim.

    Of course, my long term vision is that the sky is filled with a healthy and realistic balance of AI aircraft that resembles the area you are flying in. For example, if you’re in the LAX area, you’ll see a lot of commercial aircraft around, but if you’re Tokeka, Kansas, a few GA aircraft here and there. If you’re around Edwards AFB, fighter jets and blackhawks.

    1. We don’t have a good model for how we could dumb down AI planes well automatically. There’s just too much variability both in aircraft designs in general and in aircraft authoring techniques for us to do a good job of this. We expect (and hope!) that aircraft authors find it relatively easy to produce dumbed down versions themselves—and the aircraft authors themselves are in a much better position than the sim itself to know what’s safe to throw out and what needs to be kept.

    2. To be clear: ‘dumbed down’ in this case refers to less sophisticated systems modeling in the aircraft that doesn’t require a plugin. This isn’t easy because often the raw .acf does not function without the plugin, e.g. it depends on the plugin to keep certain systems going.

    3. Thanks for the info guys. As with a lot of these things, time will tell how successfully aircraft authors adopt it, I suppose. Hoping they do. I love flying with skies that are alive! It gets lonely up there. 😉

      1. would you consider providing AI friendly versions of the default aircraft? so that it would at least be possible to have some AI wherever you are flying.. I fear most developers will be very slow to update plus if you don’t own it, you can’t have it as AI.

        1. Uh… I think there’s been a misunderstanding. Most of the planes we ship currently (excluding things like gliders & rockets) are already AI flyable, and they will remain so in 11.10.

          1. Right – there are two issues – do they work right, and do they need a performance boost. We’re trying to keep one unified plane for ‘do they work’, so no new edition. We may SOMEDAY make ‘lightweight’ versions graphically, but first we have to analyze the perf issues and figure out what to do – the speedups might not require a new .acf. That’s on my TODO list for post-VR.

  4. is it possible to know about the new 3d water engine? is it coming to 11.10 also? any eta or comment on this? thanks!!

  5. Is is safe to assume that all Laminar aircraft will have AI versions in 11.10? I am thinking I would just stick with those for the time being.

    1. All the stock aircraft that can be flown by the AI will be marked for AI support. As the original post notes, that excludes things like the ASK 21, the Space Shuttle, the X-15, etc. (We will most likely not have stripped-down, AI-only versions of any planes yet, simply because the stock planes are already relatively light weight and “just work” as AI.)

  6. As the co-author of Xchecklist I am wondering if with the new SDK will XPWidgets have automatic scaling for high-DPI screens?

  7. I am hoping to see some improvements in the aircraft AI department in 11.10.

    I know it will be a long time before the aircraft can follow some real-world procedures or even schedules, but I would love to see them to be able to at least land consistently (right now the 737-800 doesn´t manage to do it even on a 10.000 foot runway) and maybe park in a sane way (not enter a stand from sideways or even through the terminal…).

    I think with the limited capabilities the AI has, it should at least get those right.

  8. hmm … I’m hoping this is more than just a switch which hides planes from the UI. It might be a good idea some basic AI validation criteria, sorta similar to WED’s validation checks. At the very least to ensure that the AI is able to fly the plane.

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