Testing, testing, 1.. 2... 3... revisited

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I hate reusing titles, and I've used the one up above (Testing, testing, 1.. 2... 3... ) before. But ah well... I'm lazy.

Sometimes Mike Gilbert (tdragger) and I talk about various posts we intend to write. Mike, being both a better write and a faster typist, usually beats me to the punch.

He's got one of those that we've talked about here. Go read it. Great post.

Anyway, in the comments section, Nick Landolfi, who is taking a game software development class, said:

"My impression was that there was only one test plan, and its purpose was to test the finished product. I never realized that there could be multiple test plans for individual features, or feature sets..."

I thought it might be interesting to talk about how that applies to at one of the art areas.

From the visual side, we've seen a real jump in what we're able to do to make things look more like their real world counterpart.

We saw a pretty big jump in visual quality from FS 95 to, oh, say, FS 2002.

But with the advent of more stuff (exteriors, transparent parts, interiors, more vertices, extra textures, new shaders, etc.) being available to simulate objects on screen, the accuracy of what we do also has to increase.

In FS 2002, much of the beginning and middle part of our visual aircraft development process was left up to individual artists. This gave us a mix of quality and visual accuracy in our models and textures. When we got to the end game, we saw a lot of bugs. Enough bugs that what we shipped was not representative of what we were capable of shipping.

So in FS 2004 we instituted some new procedures, one in particular meant that Test (QA) got involved in much earlier stages. We decided to establish mini "test milestones." First off, we'd have a test pass on the source we were using. For FS 2004 this managed to catch the fact that we were planning on modeling the wrong engine variant for the Ford Trimotor we were doing. This saved us a bunch of time later on-- changing a modeled and textured item takes a lot longer than doing it right the first time, and heaven forbid if it means that you have to ship the bug because it was too late or too risky to change.

Next steps up tested the unskinned model, the textured model, the animations, and then finally the LODs.

This adds some extra time to the art development process, but cuts down on bug fixing later, and raises the quality and consistency bar across the board.

Take a look at the default aircraft we shipped in FS 2004.

There are some aircraft that we carried over from the previous version, like the 747, 737, Bell 206, Cessna 172, and a few others. They didn't change visually from the previous version (aside from some repaints).

But the new aircraft that we did, they're a lot better. Compare the Lear in FS2000 to the Lear in FS 2004. Take a look at how nice the DC-3 is.

Now apply the same process to Flight Simulator X's default aircraft... 

And a note for those among our users who never fly the default aircraft:

Raising the bar on the default aircraft raises the bar for everybody. ;)




  • I thought I'd particularly comment on the FS2004 J-3, since aircraft of that type (Cubs, Champs, etc.) are a special interest of mine.

    I'ts actually a well done aircraft (visually, not talking about flight model), with the clamshell doors properly done, moving cables in the cockpit, switches (even clickable) in the right places, proportions and colors correct, etc. etc.

    And not only is it visually pleasing, but it's easy on the frame rates. It's a rare 3rd party aircraft that is as easy on resources while looking so good -- excellent job, guys.

    Of course the flight model is a different story, but you're probably not the one with whom to address that. Fortunately, MS has provided us a way to fix that, though it's rather tough to do, with the minimal documentation.

    Larry N.

  • Yep - true that the bar further raises for everyone - including the likes of guys like me! :)



  • So *that's* why the new planes in FS04 are so much better :)  How do you determine which aircraft to "carry over" and which to redo?

  • Gary,

    Good question.

    It boils down to time and resources. In the previous version we triaged aircraft based off of need: The Lear and Mooney, for example, hadn't been touched since FS2000, and were in much "worse" shape compared with FS 2002 aircraft. So we redid those aircraft.

    Figuring out what to carry over is a contentious debate amongst even the team members, and usually boils down to some serious comprimises.  :)



  • Jason,

    I have a hard drive filled with add-on aircraft, both freeware and commercial, and time and time again, I go back to the DC-3.  I didn't really pay much attention to it at first, just being a default plane with all goofy mod-scene stigmas and pretentions, but I love everything about it.  The way it feels, the look, everything.

    And I'm coming from a background of not really liking the default planes as I craved more complex simulations in previous versions, but in the DC-3 you guys put in, there's a "pure joy of flying" sensation that overtakes everything else and just makes it enjoyable to me.  So definitely a good job there.


  • That hasn't already read it on Jason's ridiculously prolific blog, that is?
    If so, then run for...

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