So as Ben has mentioned, I’ve been working on giving X-Plane a new ATC system. To be clear, the task was not to add features or fix bugs with the existing system, it was to write a whole new one…from the ground up. Why? Because our goal is to lay the foundation for a system that can grow over time; a system that we can easily expand and add features to. So what does this mean? It means that starting with the initial release of v10, the ATC system will grow incrementally until we feel it suits the needs of most of our users. It will never be a replacement for VATSIM however!
There’s only so much that can be done with artificial intelligence and since starting this project I’ve learned that humans make decisions in ways that are really really difficult to quantify, so lines have to be drawn somewhere. If you want that human factor, that’s what VATSIM’s for. The goal for our ATC is to make it as realistic as possible within the confines of what’s reasonable. It also needs to cater to a wide range of users. Some who are real pilots and do not deviate from ATC commands at all while others are new to aviation and may make some mistakes (even some dangerous ones). In real life making some mistakes will get you killed or at least earn you a phone call to the FAA…in here, the controller may grumble that you’re not listening and encourage you to follow directions again. I know that some of you are thinking “Why not just add levels of realism that the user can pick from a menu” and we may just do that for some things in the future, but for now I can’t stress enough that the goal is to be reasonable and flexible in our system design so that we can grow the system over time…all while keeping it fun for all types of users.
Enough blabber, time for some pretty pictures. The shot below is a picture of X-Plane with the North American ARTCC/FIR boundaries turned on. This is just for development purposes but it’s kind of neat to see the boundaries overlayed on the planet. As you fly from one center to the next, you’ll get handoffs from facility to facility.
And the shot below is what happens when I turn on the boundaries of towered airports. Any airport in the apt.dat file that has some combination of Delivery/Ground/Tower specified in it will be given a living control tower.
This only covers a tiny bit about the ATC system which is quite complex even in its infancy but I’ll do my best to keep the posts coming so that you can learn more about what it’s capable of.
I don’t have time to go into great detail about subsystems just yet (that’ll be covered in other posts) but I’ll leave you with a juicy detail….See those dots in the first image in the ZBW (Boston) ARTCC’s boundary? That’s a custom ATC pack (similar to a custom scenery pack) that I created that perfectly replicates Boston (KBOS) and Bradley (KBDL) TRACON airspace. Yeap, that means you can customize the system how you want it. More on what that means in the future….