This is a beta so make backups of your work before using!
Custom Spill Lights
Custom Spill Lights are now implemented (#312)! To use, make a light datablock with the XPlane2Blender light type as Custom Spill. Relevant properties are:
RGB color for the light
Spot light direction
Light Spot Size
The width of spot light
Size parameter (in meters)?
Dataref that controls the light
Custom Spill lights can make dataref driven custom omni-directional billboards and directional spot lights. As with Automatic Lights, the goal is What You See Is What You Get.
In this photo the green light is a Custom Spill, where sim/graphics/animation/lights/traffic_light changes the color between green, yellow, and red! The white lights have different widths, all made without doing any math by hand.
X-Plane has pre-made high quality GPS devices that are easily accessible to the artist. Thanks to (#481) using one is as simple as making a mesh, and giving it a material with a Cockpit Device set. Pick the device, at least 1 electrical bus (matching Plane Maker), the lighting channel, and if the screen’s brightness should auto-adjust. You’ll get a fully functional GPS device just like that! You can have multiple devices in the same OBJ, as well as use of the panel texture.
The Cessna’s cockpit provides 2 great examples of using cockpit devices.
Cockpit Features UI
Given the changes and additions to our Cockpit Features, the UI has been changed slightly. On the material Properties tab use the “Cockpit Features” to find “Cockpit Regions” and “Cockpit Device”. The updater should adjust the setting for you if you were using regions.
(#426) Shadow Blend’s Blend Ratio can finally be set. Thanks @kbrandwijk! (#548) Non-Exporting Lights are back in. They’re intended as “work lights” and will never ever show up in the OBJ! Simply set the X-Plane Light Type to “Non-Exporting” and use freely.
Light Level can now be used multiple times in the same .obj without tricks or getting lucky!
Thanks to everyone who downloaded alpha.1! I’m glad that this series has been so successful and I can wait to see what you make with the new light features! As always make backups!
This alpha contains changes to the updater. Make backups before using!
Global Material Settings -> OBJ Settings
This new version contains one of the most requested fixes (#357, #599) for XPlane2Blender: Normal Metalness, Blend Glass, and Global Tint have been moved out of the Material Properties Tab and into OBJ Settings! The annoying “All Materials in an obj must have the same Normal Metalness/Blend Glass Value” error is gone!
The updater tries its best to guess if you wanted Normal Metalness, Blend Glass, or Global Tint, however it isn’t perfect. If you have to manually correct more than 3 of your OBJ settings, please tell me.
These new settings can be found under the Textures section of the OBJ Settings.
Emissive Panel Texture Only and Panel Mode Selector
#595 Also known as ATTR_cockpit_lit_only, this directive has actually been in X-Plane since 11.10, but now is accessible in XPlane2Blender! It makes a panel only use the emissive “Lit” texture – a great speed boost if that is all you need. This is the perfect feature for computer displays.
For Aircraft or Cockpit export types, look in the Cockpit section for “Panel Mode”. This changes the meaning of “Part of Cockpit Panel” for the whole OBJ. Setting it to “Emissive Panel Texture Only” mode activates the feature. You cannot mix panel modes.
People who use Cockpit Regions will have to manually change “Panel Mode” from Default to Regions to see the UI and have regions export again. A one time fix. A future updater will do it for you. Until then I hope it isn’t too many OBJs to change.
Updater Version History Synchronization
#471 The updater now synchronizes its last version across every scene and new updater functions will not use data cleaning to protect against accidental or purposeful updater re-runs. Simply put this means a safer to use XPlane2Blender (but still make backups). Since this is new updater code, however, it had to be put in an alpha. People with multiple scenes should be especially on the look out for problems. I feel very confident about it however.
With testers and users like the ones XPlane2Blender has we’ll be getting to v4.1.0-rc.1 much much much much faster this time! For the users who requested moving Normal Metalness and Blend Glass, thank you for your patience. I know now just how annoying that error message was! I’ll certainly keep this experience in mind for future decisions and don’t worry, “make it the same across every material” is not going to be chosen again without an extremely important reason!
As you saw at Flightsim Expo, X-Plane 11.30 offers a wide range of new features for airplane authors, who wish to make their airplane engines and systems more realistic. This post links to the documents with technical details that are of interest to aircraft authors mostly. End-users are encouraged to try the Cessna 172, King Air C90 and Boeing 737 of X-Plane 11.30 to experience more fidelity in true-to-life autopilot and other system simulation.
Besides engine-driven vacuum pumps, X-Plane can now also simulate venturi-powered vacuum systems as found on vintage aircraft and electrical backup pumps that are sometimes found in slightly better equipped general aviation aircraft. The interaction of all the pumps, manifolds and instruments is explained here: https://developer.x-plane.com/article/vacuum-systems/
Propeller-driven aircraft can have distinct behavior of the prop governors reaction to engine failure or loss of oil pressure. Depending whether your plane is a single or multi-engine, whether it is driven by piston engines or propeller turbines, and wether the turbines are of the free-rotating or single-spool design, the equipment might be drastically different. X-Plane now features negative torque sensing in addition or instead of auto-feather, overspeed governors and fuel topping governors, to make turboprop aircraft even more true-to-life: https://developer.x-plane.com/article/propeller-feathering-systems/
X-Plane now comes with a few pre-configured autopilots for airplane designers to chose from, and offers more flexibility in creating a custom one.
General Aviation Autopilots
X-Plane 11.30 adds support for single- and dual-axis rate-based autopilots, control over the trim servo, and a separate static system for an altitude pre-selector.
Airliner autopilots learn new auto-throttle modes, Control Wheel Steering, have two independent flight directors and up to three channels for auto land. They can optionally even have a directional servo for CAT 3 landing rollout guidance.
The documentation for tuning the autopilot constants has been clarified and expanded with new sections about the new autopilot functions in 11.30: https://developer.x-plane.com/article/x-plane-autopilot-params/ Finally, have a look at the X-Plane airliner autopilot in action, performing an auto land in a gusting cross wind:
This beta brings in many new bug fixes and heavily requested new features! As with any beta, be aware that this could break your project SO MAKE BACKUPS! We don’t think there are any drastic changes to the data model, but, better safe than sorry.
#355 – A small UI fix relating to too many manipulator fields being shown
#360 – A bug fix for Drag Rotate manipulators giving false negatives
#353, #363, and #260 – All relate to warning people and correct what was allowed with NORMAL_METALNESS and BLEND_GLASS. Previously Blend Glass was in the same drop down menu as Alpha Blend, Alpha Cutoff, and Alpha Shadow. Now it is a checkbox allowing you to correctly specify a Blend Mode and apply Blend Glass to it. Existing materials with Blend Glass will see this new checkbox automatically checked. Blend Mode will be set to Alpha Blend or, if your plane is old enough to have been worked on during X-Plane 10, it will be set to whatever it was back then.
See the internal text block “Updater Log” for a list of what got updated, including this. You may see, for example: INFO: Set material "Material_SHADOW_BLEND_GLASS"'s Blend Glass property to true and its Blend Mode to Shadow
#366 – An Optimization! Useless transitions in the OBJ were being written, now they’re not. Custom Properties still work, there won’t be any visual changes to your OBJ. We haven’t done any profiling but it might have decreased OBJ loading time by a small amount too.
Command Search Window
Thanks to #361, just like the Datarefs.txt Search Window, we now have the same capabilities for searching Commands.txt (for manipulators). We are shipping with X-Plane’s latest Commands.txt file, but of course you can replace it with your own (as long as you keep the name the same). One day we hope to make it much more flexible.
Particle Emitters (not very useful to most yet, I know)
Thanks to #358, some people who have access to X-Plane’s cutting edge particle code can use XPlane2Blender to specify particle emitters. Don’t worry, we’re all working as hard as we can to get these into the hands of others. Fortunately, XPlane2Blender users can hit the ground running the minute it drops!
Build Scripts And Test Runners
#302 and #307 – Are you a professional XPlane2Blender maintainer and developer (if so we should probably talk!) Then you need a better build script, and a test script to match! Introducing mkbuild.py, the build script for the modern developer! It creates, it tests, it renames without messy mistake prone human intervention! To top that off, how about a testing script that doesn’t give false positives!
For airplane authors, the biggest question VR brings up is: what do I have to do to my aircraft to make this work? This is the first of three posts explaining not only how manipulation works with VR, but why we made our decisions and how we got here. Bear with me – this will end with specific recommendations for what to do with your aircraft.
A Long Time Ago…
Old-timers like me will remember that when the 3-d cockpit first came out, almost all of the “brains” of it were powered by clicking on the 2-d panel, which was “mapped” to the 3-d cockpit. X-Plane would find out where your mouse click intersected the 3-d cockpit, find the texture location on that triangle, and map that back to the 2-d panel.
This seemed pretty cool when it came out 15 years ago, but as authors started making more sophisticated 3-d cockpits, it became clear that we needed a way to specify how the mouse worked directly with the 3-d cockpit shape, because the mapping back to the 2-d wouldn’t allow the user to do basic things like dragging a throttle.
Thus in X-Plane 9 we added the first set of manipulators – tags on the 3-d mesh of a cockpit specifying what happens when the user clicks on it. The manipulator could specify a dataref to modify, a command to actuate, and some data about what kind of mouse click operation was happening.
The key words here are mouse click. The original manipulators were designed entirely in terms of a mouse on a 2-d screen; they were designed to be exactly as powerful as a 2-d panel system, which was of coarse also totally mouse-centric. The relationship between the generic instruments and the original manipulators is pretty tight.
Moving to Mechanisms
The good part of the original manipulator system was that it was very flexible – mouse-centric handlers were a low level tool around which authors could do whatever they wanted.
The down-side of this design was that mouse-centric handlers were a low level tool around which authors could do whatever we want. We examined our own default fleet of a dozen or so aircraft and found that no two aircraft’s cockpits operated the same way, and almost all of them had at least some aspect that was hard to use – a poor manipulator choice for the job.
Knobs were, in particular, quite difficult – the original 2-d panel system used click-and-hold over a knob to actuate it, but authors working in 3-d had often used drag actions to do knobs, and the drag actions would respond differently depending on camera angle. We received approximately 8,452,124 bug reports that the knobs in the 747 were hard to use specifically because of this.
So during X-Plane 10, we added some new manipulators to X-Plane, and they had a very different philosophy: the manipulator described what was happening in the simulated aircraft, and X-Plane picked a mouse behavior to make that work. The new manipulators described knobs that turned and switches that either flipped left-right or up-down. These manipulators reacted to the scroll wheel automatically because X-Plane knows what the knob is and therefore what a reasonable scroll-wheel interaction should be. (By comparison, with the old-style manipulators, the author has to specify what a reasonable scroll-wheel action is.)
Real Interaction Things Before It Was Cool
As it turns out, mechanism-centric manipulators are a lot better for VR than mouse-centric ones. Consider two cases:
The 2-d axis manipulator (ATTR_manip_drag_xy) specifies what happens when the mouse moves up-down and left-right, relative to the screen. What on earth does that mean in VR? Even if we made something that tracks up-down and left-right relative to the screens of the HMD, the results would be completely weird because the “thing” in the cockpit would not move the way your hand was moving. With a mouse, a mis-match between mouse and aircraft isn’t surprising, but in VR, it’s weird to reach out and touch something and have it behave the wrong way.
The knob manipulator. It describes a knob that does things when turned clockwise or counter-clockwise. This is pretty easy to deal with – you click it with your controller and turn your wrist clock-wise or counter-clockwise and it turns. Because we know what the mechanism is (and not just what the mouse should do) we can make a good decision about how to handle this manipulator in VR.
As it turns out, we ran into this problem of not doing what to do with the mouse, and needing to know what the mechanism was before we even started looking at VR. The exact same problem (“I want to touch the 3-d cockpit as if it was a thing and have it respond in the expected way”) exists in VR and on X-Plane Mobile!
Because X-Plane mobile runs on a touch screen and you have your physical finger on a switch, there are a lot of cases where the switch has to track really well and work the right way. If the switch goes up and down, you want to flick your finger up to turn the switch on; if it goes left-right you want to flick left and right, and anything else is astonishing.
So X-Plane mobile set us on this path toward mechanism-based manipulators, and VR further drove us in that direction, since both have the same physical, non-mouse environment where a user directly interacts with the 3-d cockpit.
Guidance For Authors
So as an author, what should you do when working on a 3-d cockpit? My answer is: use some of the manipulators, but not others, to model the way things work in 3-d.
Use these manipulators ALWAYS
These manipulators are the best way to create certain physical mechanisms – use them every time this case applies to your aircraft.
ATTR_manip_drag_axis. Use this for a physical mechanism that slides along a linear path, like the throttle handle of a Cessna.
ATTR_manip_drag_rotate. Use this for a physical mechanism that rotates around a fixed point, like the throttle handles of a 737, or a trim wheel. (Prefer this to the old technique of putting a drag axis along the edge of the throttle handles.)
ATTR_manip_noop. Use this to make a manipulator that blocks the mechanism behind it from being touched, e.g. the safety guard plate over a switch.
ATTR_manip_command. Use this for push buttons that actuate momentarily while a button is held down, like a button to motor a starter that you push in and hold down.
ATTR_manip_command_knob, ATTR_manip_command_switch_up_down, ATTR_manip_command_switch_left_right. Use these for knobs and switches with 3 or more positions that rotate or move. Pick the right manipulator for the mechanism!
ATTR_manip_axis_knob, ATTR_manip_axis_switch_up_down, ATTR_manip_axis_switch_left_right. These provide an alternative to the above manipulators when you must use a dataref. We recommend commands over datarefs any time you have a choice; the command system provides better interoperability between custom plugins, custom aircraft, and custom hardware.
ATTR_manip_command_switch_left_right2, ATTR_manip_command_switch_up_down2, ATTR_manip_command_knob2. Use these for knobs and switches with exactly two positions. You can use these to get a simple click-to-toggle with the mouse (quicker and easier for mouse users) while getting real 3-d movement in VR.
Use These Manipulators Sometimes
These manipulators are not perfect fits with physical motions and may require tweaking for VR, but they’re the best options we have now for certain problems. Try to use something from the always list instead if you can. Do not use these manipulators if the mechanism you are simulating matches something from the list above.
ATTR_manip_drag_xy. This is the only 2-axis drag we have, and is the best choice for eye-ball vents and the yoke. The yoke is special-cased in VR and should be based off of a 2-d xy manipulator. We are looking into more powerful multi-dimensional manipulation in VR, but this work won’t be complete for 10.20.
ATTR_manip_command_axis. This manipulator runs a command once based on moving a lever down or up. You should probably use a drag axis or command up-down switch, but there may be some odd mechanisms in aircraft where this manipulator is a good fit. It should not be your first-choice go-to manipulator.
ATTR_manip_push, ATTR_manip_radio, ATTR_manip_toggle. These manipulators can serve as alternatives for push-button style controls when you absolutely have to write to a dataref and not use a command. WARNING: Do not ever use these manipulators for things that move, e.g. don’t use these for banana switches, spinning knobs, or things like that.
Do not use these manipulators
These manipulators were for mouse-centric movement and should be replaced with knob or switch manipulators.
ATTR_manip_delta, ATTR_manip_wrap. These were designed to simulate knobs by click-and-hold – use the knob manipulators instead.
ATTR_manip_drag_axis_pix. This was designed to simulate a knob by click-and-drag – use the knob manipulators instead.
We Love Commands
As you may have noticed from this list and the ever-growing size of X-Plane’s built-in command list, we love commands – they have become our go-to mechanism for our aircraft. Commands have a few advantages over data-refs:
There is a clear design in the plugin system for changing a command’s behavior. So a third party aircraft can easily “take over” the existing engine start command. This is very, very difficult to accomplish via datarefs.
Commands can be mapped directly to joystick and keyboard hardware. There is no way to bind a joystick to a dataref.*
Commands can be mapped to sound to capture the act of the user “doing” the thing, regardless of whether it works. For example, if you want the click of the starter switch regardless of whether the starter motor engages (maybe the battery is dead), commands make this easy to do. Often there is no dataref for ‘the user is trying but it’s not working’.
In X-Plane 11 we’ve been moving to commands to get our planes ready for VR, the new manipulators, and FMOD sound all at once.
In the next post I’ll cover some of the issues specific to VR and the 3-d cockpit.
* Developers who write plugins that provide external interfaces to X-Plane: make sure you have a way to provide access to commands and not just datarefs! There are things you can do only with commands and not datarefs.
These smaller features are likely to be overshadowed by the release of the G1000 for default aircraft in 11.10, so I decided to dedicate a blog post to promote the articles I’ve written – you can find them among all the guides for aircraft developers: http://developer.x-plane.com/docs/aircraft/
Electric and remote gyro systems
Back in April, I flew a Mooney M20J with a KCS55A HSI in it, and realised that it was impossible to model in X-Plane correctly, so I got to work. See the manual for an explanation of this popular HSI/remote gyro system.
I’ve written a usage guide on the new datarefs and commands that I added, along with some more detailed explanation of all the different gyro systems X-Plane simulates, in this guide for aircraft developers. I also talked about the systems at length in a Youtube live stream earlier this year.
Separate GPSS autopilot mode
This is a feature that many add-on aircraft already simulate to some degree, but by means of more or less reliable plugin trickery. The X-Plane 11 default 737 and 747 are no exception. With X-Plane 11.10, a separate GPS steering mode for the autopilot becomes a standard feature. The new datarefs and commands are explained in detail here.
Screen-only popup instrument windows
Several people who build home-cockpit setups have asked about removing the bezels from the popup displays, so they can have only the screen of a GNS430/530, FMS or G1000 instrument to put on an external monitor, with a hardware bezel around it. While this can already be achieved through some clever hacking in the Miscellaneous.prf file, we now offer a more straightforward way to do this: The popup and pop-out windows now get their bezel graphics from the library system, so you can override the bezel graphics. How to override the bezel with nothing, if your bezel is made of hardware? Simply supply a 1×1 pixel blank .png as a bezel graphic, and X-Plane will know that you really want no bezel at all. In the case of a bezel-less 430, you’d put a 1×1 pixel png as the “cockpit/radios/GPS FMS/Garmin_430_2d.png” resource of your plane.
Please tell me what confuses you about XPlane2Blender on this bug, or here!
We are going to be releasing the XPlane2Blender 3.4 beta soon, and with it, a refresh of the UI and documentation. Thanks to a great e-mail about a lack of documentation, it was put as an important part of 3.4 release roadmap. It goes to show… we can’t fix it if we don’t know what’s wrong, even if its not a code problem. And we do want to fix it, I swear!
In addition, I want to remind everyone a core part of the Laminar Research philosophy, identity, and business plan is a thriving modding and third-party plugin ecosystem. Aside from build scripts and the like, Laminar Research employees use the same scenery development tools that are available to all. This is was a deliberate choice that elevates everyone to the same level – except when there is a gap of knowledge. This is never intentional, and never benefits anyone in the long run, especially third-party-devs. If your work is suffering because we forgot that not everyone knows what every little checkbox means, tell us! We’ll put it in the bug queue like everything else, and try to get back to you, personally, quickly.
Philipp made a change to the Cessna’s autopilot that makes it more realistic, but also slightly trickier to use.
As of 11.30, the Cessna’s autopilot uses HDG + GPSS for nav course selection. Philipp wrote a developer article explaining what all five of X-Plane’s nav course source modes do, but here are a few notes.
Among autopilots that aren’t totally hopeless (e.g. the Sperry, “none” for its course source) there are two major divisions:
Autopilots that get the heading for a VOR or ILS from the autopilot heading bug.
Autopilots that get the heading for a VOR or ILS from an (E)HSI, leaving you to use the heading bug to pick your own heading.
This first category is less high tech and less useful to the pilot, and it’s the bucket the Cessna is in. If you want to fly a localizer, you have to set your AP heading bug to the localizer’s course, or the autopilot is going to lose its mind.
What this means is: if ATC gives you a heading to intercept the localizer, you cannot just engage heading mode, arm localizer mode, and fly the course to intercept – when you intercept the localizer, you won’t track it properly. You will have to adjust your heading bug onto the localizer front course once you start intercepting it.
The GPS is a special case: It works like a VOR/LOC when you are in NAV mode (affected by the heading bug) and like you’d expect when you are in GPSS mode (not affected by the HDG bug). So if you want to fly a GPS flight plan with twists and turns fully automated, you must press the NAV button twice in order to turn the autopilot to GPSS.
Something that can trip people up is that you cannot use GPSS and APR/GS at the same time – if you want to fly a WAAS approach with vertical guidance, you have to step down from NAV GPSS to NAV APR, which means you’re dependent on the pesky heading bug again. Confusing? Yes. Annoying? Certainly. Realistic? Definitely! This is exactly as annoying as the real thing.
The second category gets the localizer heading from either magic (GPS/LOC) or the OBS knob “OBS”) and always gets the VOR radial from the OBS course (which make sense). These setups let you fly a “dual mode” approach – engage HDG, arm LOC, and fly the intercept heading – when the localizer comes alive, the AP can switch modes and know which way to turn to intercept without you having to mess with the HDG dial.
You’ll find GPS/LOC-based systems in our Kingair (which has an EHSI) and Baron (which has a HSI).
That got your attention, eh? Sorry, this is not a tip on how to tune your X-Plane system; it’s a tip for aircraft authors to make sure their 3-d cockpits are running at maximum performance.
Prefill is when X-Plane blocks out the clouds that will be behind the airplane cockpit. The biggest cause of GPU slow-down is cloud rendering, so reducing the area that the clouds have to fill is really important.
In the 2-d cockpit, X-Plane pre-fills automatically. But in a 3-d cockpit, the airplane author has to specify which objects should be used to pre-fill.
Aircraft Authors: go watch this video or read this page to learn how to set up pre-fill in your aircraft! If you aircraft has a 3-d cockpit this optimization is very important!