One of the thread posters has a quote from a PM lead here in ACES, Mike Gilbert. Here's the quote:
"Anyone who knows our third-party community is aware that they are ones creating the truly masterful individual aircraft and scenery. So, when we hire for an aircraft artist, for example, we don't really want the person who can create the best possible aircraft with the current technology. We want the person who will help us create the next generation of technology. " (emphasis added by the thread commenter)
The full blog post from Mike can be found here: Workin' for a Living
I'd also like to add a comment by Sean James, found on a post by Steve Lacey, graphics guru extraordinaire:
"I would hope that the default aircraft textures and virtual cockpits are looked at. 3rd party add-ons appear to have an edge over MS in this department. We all eagerly await the next release."
The thread and comment swirl a bunch of different responses from me.
Let me spew a few reactions forth--- but before I go any further, let me just state, I'm speaking about visual quality here. I'm *only* talking about visuals. Not flight models, or FMC, or drag coefficient. That hoohaw is way outside my baliwick. Just art. That's my area. I'm an art lead.
With that being said...
Now, I disagree a bit with Mike Gilbert's statement.
See, when we hire folk we do look for those "who can create the best possible aircraft." We want (and I believe we get) people on our team who can produce stellar results in the most economical fashion.
I have yet to see one third party add-on product that I thought we'd be unable to reproduce with our in house talent.
I have seen third party people produce work that is better than what we shipped.
I see a lot of third party work whose work I don't think is necessarily better than our default offerings, but is certainly different, and over the course of the lifetime of a product sometimes "different" is confused with "better." (and I will say, sometimes different is pretty spectacular!)
Please don't misconstrue what I'm saying here. There are add-on products, like PMDG for example, that produce a product that is radically different than what we shipped. They serve a different, more high-end market. Their panels are more complex, more detailed. The exterior model of their 747 for example is *much* more detailed than our default offering. People constantly compare our default version of a plane like the 747 with efforts by folk like PMDG. And in their eyes we come up short.
But let me let you in on a little secret: the default Microsoft 747 as offered in FS 2004 is the same model as what was offered in 2002. Different (and better) textures, but the model is the same one worked on nearly five years ago. (Again I'm just talking about the visuals here. There were code changes that made it a different aircraft than what we shipped before)
I can already hear the chorus: "I've been robbed! Those cheapskates wouldn't even give us a new model! They charged us for a whole brand new version and didn't even work on it! M$ sucks and even though they have billions of dollars they're out to rob me!"
Sorry. Not true. Honest.
Go back and look at a past version.
FS 2000 (professional version) had 12, yes, 12 aircraft.
FS 2002 (professional) had 16 (some of them untouched carryovers from FS 2000)
FS 2004 had 24.
That's a pretty rich selection to offer users. I understand the person who wants what PMDG (or Dreamfleet, or other makers) offer doesn't see our 747 as nearly as complete, but I argue that it gives a great introduction to what a 747-400 represents, and that it lays the groundwork for the enthusiast who wants to delve deeper as a PMDG offering does.
For FS2004 we did a bunch of new aircraft, and reworked some older favorites. It required a ton of work and many late nights. For example, the FS 2004 Lear exterior and virtual cockpit looks pretty good, in my opinion. We constantly upgrade what we offer people, and part of upgrade means we can take advantage of more capable modern computer hardware. That generally translates into things that look more real. Keep in mind that what we were capable of making in 2000 let's say, we were not necessarily capable of shipping in 2000.
Sure, you say: "The Lear looks okay. But so and so's version looks ever so much better..." Here's where I get to my point. The one about not seeing one third party add-on product that I thought we'd be unable to reproduce with our in house talent.
We fight with one hand tied behind our backs. We have tight constraints with both people, time, and material. Material? Yep. Polygon counts and textures are an example. Some of those very nice looking 3rd party aircraft use 5,6, up to 10 (or more) 1024 X 1024 textures. (that's a whole lotta memory to shoot up to a video card)
We use 1, maybe 2. Better yet, we might use 1 1024 X 1024 texture coupled with a 512 X 512 texture. Why do we do this? Performance.
We make all sorts of trade offs to get the best blend of visual fidelity and performance that we possibly can, given that we do something very few do: we build a planet. We also make an effort to be as inclusive as possible to as wide a market as possible.
What about people, and time? Well, our team is much smaller than the picture most people have in their head. A lot smaller. And a portion of the team is devoted to either management, or quality assurance (Test). Now PMDG currently lists 9 members on it's team (about 20% of the full time employees of ACES studio) producing aircraft. They've put out 6 aircrat for FS 2004, which has been on the shelves for what? close to 2 and a half years? There's a reason that it takes the amount of time to produce the level of fidelity those guys put out. (and they are to be commended for their work)
I'll comment on one more point a bit before I close. As I said before, over the course of the lifetime of a product like FS, sometimes "different" is confused with "better." We work hard to live up to the marketing tagline "as real as it gets," but the real world is so varied, and so complex, that we have to implement solutions that cover only part of the real world version. We often have to make aesthetic choices; ten sky sets, and not a thousand. Terrain textures that look more like Somerset, than say like Lyons, or Trondheim.
At the same time, a product like Flight Simulator gets used a lot over a span of a couple of years, and seeing the same thing over and over again is boring. So yes, it's understandable that when someone releases a new version of the environment maps for water, or a new texture set for Autogen, somebody will inevitably say "why couldn't Micro$oft just do it right the first time?" To those people, all I have to say is: vive la difference! I promise that if you took whichever add-on is your current favorite, went back in time, and substituted the shipped default version, in a couple of years someone would come out with a new add-on replacing that one, and everybody would rave at how much it's better than the default.
I say, embrace the different offerings. Every now and again someone'll come along with a new twist that everyone can learn from. I know that I personally have been influenced more than a few times over the years by an add-on or two: Lennart Arvidsson's texture replacements for FS 2000 were great, and influenced my future work. Gerrish Grey's tree work was also influential.
I guess my real point is that sometimes I think people read the words "Microsoft," and think "that's all the money in the world. Rich, good for nothing S.O.B.S." But you see, I happen to work with these S.O.B.s, and know that there's a lot of passion and talent that goes into programs like the Flight Simulator series.
Maybe almost as much as exists in the third party community. :)
Okay. I've rambled on enough. Hope I haven't ruffled any feathers.
I've got nothing but respect for all the people who work on titles like Flight Simulator-- whether they work in Redmond (next to a coyote infested gravel pit) for Msft, or in the real world as part of the 3rd party community.
A oouple of comments .... The artwork on some of the aircraft in FS2004, particularly some of the vintage aircraft is very good, and to call it generic would be selling it short.
It's a great pity many people don't get the open architecture 'sandbox' aspect of FS2002/4 and CFS3... It's this open architecture aspect that gives MS Simulators the lead over their competitors and why many people stay with these sims long after they've lost interest in alternative products.
If one were to dream the impossible dream and a perfect sim were released tomorrow, many people would find it boring because there would be nothing to tweak or mod ;) Half the fun is tweaking, modding creating and watching others do the same.
Thanks for the comment Robert.
Great read Jason, much appreciated. It's nice to hear what goes on behind the scenes and helps to put things in "focus". It's obvious many of us niche users can get jaded and have entirely to many expectations for the franchise (myself included at times), please don't let that discourage any of the team.
I do a lot of 2 and 3D work for FS and SIMS2 and it really puts it into perspective when I show my Sims friends FS and they are just blown away at how "real" it looks. keep up the great job!
Hi Michael, thanks for the comments.
Of course, having said all that about how capable I think team is, maybe next time I'll have to write a long post about how many boneheaded goofs I've been a part of with that same team...
At least then folk won't think I'm totally off my rocker...
I agree with you on all of this Jason !
I like posts from people who know what it takes to upload eight 1024x1024 textures to the video card!
Some of the add on makers don't know that ! This remind me of the time I was designing the commercial scenery called Polynesia 2000 back in 2000. It was right about the time when FSDS came out and people were going crazy on the poly count !
Sort of like : "kewl, i can make a 64 sided aircraft fuselage ! and make a 512x512 texture for my each of my wings ! Yeah !"
And then ppl wondered why the sim was so damn slow ...
That's why in polynesia 2000, I removed all hidden faces and made 3 sided light poles instead of 6 to 12 sided poles like I used to see in the addons at that time ... Who looks so closely at some light pole anyways ?
What I'm saying is that you guys are doing awesome work since your aircrafts still look pretty nice to me, and are framerate friendly !
Now did you think this post would slip me by? :-) I'm baaack!
Excellent topic, Jason. I've known, and always felt that your Art Team is most certainly capable of the work done by many 3rd party dev's, such as myself. I saw a taste of that with the "classic" aircraft you all put into COF. You went a little outside your box of using single 1024x1024 bitmaps for the "entire" aircraft, and upped your polygon counts a bit too. I really see this in the detail of the J-3 (my favorite default bird, BTW).
Yes ... I as a developer do use quite a number of texture maps for a single aircraft. It's the users out there who have tasted the high resolution bug of having such numbers of textures (and have the computer horsepower to handle it) who in a sense "require" us to maintain that. I do my best to minimize the total number of bitmaps. 4 1024's for exterior 4 or 5 for Virtual Cockpit, and a couple here and there for glass, props, etc. Plus the fact that any that are _T.bmps have to have a corresponding _L.bmp, or the aircraft goes "ghostly" at night.
Honestly, I'd *love* to work with you all full-time. But then again, I like knowing that I don't have deadlines ... I don't have polygon count restraints (within reason) ... and (again, within reason) don't have texture count restraints. I can be a bit more flexible, and I need that sometimes to get out a good product.
Keep up the great work ACES ... I'm a fan and always will be a fan of your "canvas."
My 2 cents,
" I can be a bit more flexible, and I need that sometimes to get out a good product. "
I agre that you guys target a specific market, one that's more likely to have the beefiest hardware, and consequently more likely to take advantage of the cream of the graphics crop. You guys do *good* work with the extra texture and polys.
And you're also correct; the aircraft in CoF that we worked on have higher texture counts and poly counts than the previous versions. I imagine that future versions wil also have yet more texture and faces...
That'll also probably mean you third party guys will use more as well... ;)
Your example of optimization for Polynesia 2000 is a good example of what we (MS) need to make sure we communicate, and that there are ways to try and mitigate potential issues (adding a lot of polys for example), and there are probably tips and tricks that we could share with the community...
I appreciate the feedback. By no means are we in a race of "lets see how many textures/faces I can use." My aim is to get the best resolution possible without going way crazy with texture counts or polygon counts. A good example of a project that I worked on (actually, only did animation work) was the FSD Navajo Panther. It was originally designed by Gerry Schmidt, and, no joke, there are 50 individual textures.....waaaaay too many for a general aviation aircraft. It has rightfully earned the reputation for being the Navahog for that very reason.
I don't intend on exceeding the number I am currently aiming for, because it gives great results. If more and more users have the hardware to "catch up," and display my aircraft better ... great!! It's not my aim to severely hinder a users FPS either. I just try to strike a balance with a target audience with a bit more "ooomph" under the hood.
I also noticed the fact that the "newer" classic aircraft are not used very often for AI purposes, with good reason.
Speaking upon that subject as well ... The high-end aircraft I've designed in the past are really not targeted toward the multiplayer/AI user either, and for that reason do not include multi-LOD models. Now, when I built the Bell 206 as a freeware model, I was conscious of the fact that many would be using it in multiplayer (especially over at Hovercontrol) and I built a few LOD models for it, and has been well received for that reason. Different target audience...
"By no means are we in a race of 'lets see how many textures/faces I can use.' "
There are lots of great add-ons that make perfectably acceptable trade offs for what they're doing, achieving a great balance. The more experience *any* of the makers get, the more we are *all* able to wrangle out of the same or slightly fewer resources (textures and polys).
We (members of the MS team) grow the same as others--- the more we do the better at it we get.
The fact there are people who use 50 textures isn't a slam on them, instead it's evidence of the fact that we (MS and the experienced add-on community) need to do a better job communicating what people *ought* to do...
So keep it up O. :)
"and there are probably tips and tricks that we could share with the community..."
Yep, perhaps :-)
One thing I've always asked myself is how I was supposed to order my objects in the scenery. We all know texture state changes are expensive and I always wondered if you guys were re-ordering anything. I ask this because the scenery language back then was based on some sort of script, and I was using lots of textures, and perhaps ordrering objects prior to compiling the BGL might have helped the simulator a bit... But maybe that's a question for Steve :)
I am so happy that several of you MS fellas
have started these blogs, as well as posting at
AVSIM and other enthusiast sites.
You all seem to be able to take the pokes and
jabs with a great deal of restraint, way more
than what I could muster if I were in your shoes I'm afraid.
I started my MSFS exerience with 2000 Pro
and am enjoying COF very much.
I am probably
in a very miniscule percentage of FS users, in
that the engine sounds are very important to
me. I don't know if any of you guys have
downloaded and flown the EXCELLENT L049A
"Connie" from FSDZigns, but if not you ought
to try it just for the sound file they have
for those Wright Cyclones. WOW!
It is the only Aircraft that I actually enjoy
doing Takeoffs in LOL. Those engines sound like
they are about to fly apart...which of course
in real life they were<G>.
I usually wait till no one else is in the house,crank the volume way up, then lock the brakes and inch the throttles up. When the manifold pressure gets
above 40" the hair on the back of my neck just
stands up, and the goose bumps start to form on
my arms LOL.
Oh well enough rambling..keep up the tremendous work, It is very much appreciated.
Jason, your comments make sense, but I don't think its hard to maintain perspective. When you read Avsim, you read comments from a small percentage of your customers. I suspect the vast number of folks few your work as fabulous, and may never realize a 3rd party community exists.
For those of us who enjoy decorating fs further, I suspect we appreciate that fs leaves room for our additions. I enjoy adding to the product more than flying it.
The most striking problem of the past was lack of opportunity to connect with ACEs team...this blog and the others like it are a welcome breath of fresh air.
Best to you and your team.
Thanks Bob. :)
Of course I read not only Avsim, but Simflight, Flightsim.com, Flyaway, Simviation, so on and so forth. *Sometimes* it gets to ya.
Of course, I *do* have the thinnest skin of the group... :)
"The most striking problem of the past was lack of opportunity to connect with ACEs team..."
It wouldn't matter if you made the most detailed, most accurate,most ........., there will always be someone out there that's gonna complain about it!
Being a "designer" myself, I know all about it getting to ya after awhile. I've came close to "throwin in the towel" several times, but always come back to it.
I think y'all do an amazing job. I don't know of anything else that I can either make or download one of my favorite WWII (or other kinds for different folks) planes and "fly" it.
"AS real as it gets!" hmmm, maybe, maybe not, but for _\+ 50 bucks......don't think you're gonna get much closer!!
Being more of a on again/off again repainter than anything, I do know what a pain it is to have to chase down thru a dozen or more texture files to figure out which ones need new paint slopped on and which ones don't. Also with my AI tweaker hat on I appreciate anything that helps keep the ol' frame rates down.
Anthony's got the right of it. Yall do an amazing job and have since I first got into flight simming with CFS 1.
BTW, if Anthony's the bloke I think he is, he does do some very good work as I've done a paint or two for him in the past. His philosphy is close to yalls. Keep it as simple as possible and still look good.