Normally we try not to pre-announce new features before they are complete, but it’s been kind of an open secret around the company that we are working on native VR capabilities for X-Plane. Austin mentioned it on a Facebook Live stream, and Chris posted pictures of un-boxing his OcRift and Vive.
So today I’m going to show you a sneak preview of something that I’m just too excited not to post: X-Plane 11’s new Pirate-VR™ mode*.
There are two major challenges to integrating VR with a general purpose flight simulator:
Performance. X-Plane typically runs at 30-40 fps on a high-end system on a single monitor. How do we render a stereo image to two eyes without cutting frame-rate in half?
Usability. How do users interact with the complex cockpit buttons and switches using 3-d “wand”-type controllers that ship with today’s VR head-mounted displays?
Pirate-VR™ mode solves both of these problems.
When rendering to the head-mounted display, we simulate an eye-patch over the left eye.
By blacking out the left eye, we are able to recover quite a bit of framerate and run a stereo render at over 40 fps; minor optimization should get us to something fluid for the HMD.
In Pirate-VR™ mode, both of your hands are replaced by large metal hooks. Since it is pretty much impossibly to safely operate the over-head panel of an MD-82 with hooks for hands, we can skip 3-d interaction testing on most of the cockpit, simplifying VR interaction quite a bit.
I can’t announce when Pirate-VR™ will ship, but for scallywags who will be joining us at FlightsimCon in Hartford** this year, I think we’ll have something you’ll really want to get your hooks into.
* Yes, it is, of coarse, pronounced “Vee-ARRRRRRRRRR!”
** Update: my wife points out that the correct pronunciation is HARRRRRRRRtford.
Now that we have announced X-Plane 11, I can finally post goofy screenshots and videos from v11 development. Sometimes a bug makes delightfully goofy results, and Austin liked this one so much he wanted me to share it.
I am working on 3-d water for X-Plane 11 – we have a working prototype, but I am not sure if this will make the shipping 11.0 product; it still has a lot of bugs and rough edges.
Traditionally in X-Plane if you don’t have terrain installed, you just get water. This isn’t really an intentional design decision; we just defined “no DSF” as “all water” so that we could avoid shipping DSFs for the huge chunk of the Earth’s surface that is covered with ocean.
But we always have airport data, so in X-Plane you would get an airport floating in the middle of the water! While this was completely goofy and is a huge source of tech support calls (which is why X-Plane 10.50 now offers to install scenery whenever you hit this case) you could, if you really wanted to, land at this water-world airport.
Until now. Now that the water is 3-d, the peaks of the waves actually cover the 3-d buildings and make the entire airport as usable as…well, as it really would be if built in the middle of the ocean.
(This is about the point in the post where I would insert a snarky climate change comment, but I’ll let XKCD do the talking.)
Scenery developers might wonder: why is it that when the water level falls the runway lights and signs are revealed – but where is the pavement? The answer is in the comments.
This rather odd 747 picture is from a quick test I did to make sure the shadow options in Plane-Maker were working right after beating the shadow code silly with a hammer. The wing objects have been marked “interior only” for shadows, and since we are in an exterior view…the wings don’t cast shadows. 🙂
Now this is a totally silly way to use the feature, but there is a legitimate use: mark as many of your interior objects as “inside shadow only” as possible; for example, in the 747 the interior passenger cabin object can be marked as interior only – it doesn’t cast meaningful shadows on anything outside the airport.
By marking an object as no-shadow in Plane-Maker you save the sim the work of drawing the object, which is good for fps. If your airplane is used for an AI plane, this makes AI plane drawing less expensive.
In fact, you save it the work of drawing it multiple times. X-Plane using a shadowing technique called “cascading shadow maps”. Basically X-Plane renders different parts of the world at different resolutions, so that the closer shadows (that can be seen in more detail on screen) have a higher resolution. The user’s plane ends up being drawn in a lot of these rendering passes, and as a result the cost of high-geometry-count objects in an airplane can be amplified several times over by shadows. So savings in object-shadow count matter!
(Given the choice of turning off shadows in Plane-Maker or via GLOBAL_no_shadow, use Plane-Maker; it stops drawing earlier and thus saves more CPU.)
When I saw this near KMSY in New Orleans my first thought was: oh hell, what bug created that? All of the roads seemed to run over these channels of water, as if someone had created mini-rivers for them. I assumed bad OSM data.
Then I looked the area up on Google and…no, they actually built the road over water intentionally.
“Well little Johnny, when a KC-10 and a 747 love each other very much…”
On a more serious (kinda) note, this is a shot of what happens when ATC fails at spacing its aircraft properly. These two planes flew all the way down the ILS like this which is obviously a bug…but fun to have a chuckle about as well. If you look off into the distance, you can see some other aircraft, also on the ILS lined up against the golden sky…very dramatic!
(Notes: This is v9 scenery, v9 planes, a slow debug build…nothing special here)