Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Well, getting the blog off the ground hit a bit of a snag. There was some debate among the Scenery Solutions team on how the blog should actually be used.

Instead of putting long technical documents here in the blog, we decided that it will be better served if we place technical information in our support forum (http://www.simforums.com/forums/forum_topics.asp?FID=19). The blog will be used for product status updates and other flight sim tidbits related to what we are doing.

With that in mind, here is a quick update on what is taking place at Scenery Solutions.

Project X

Earlier this month, we finished our working prototype for the new "Project X" product. As you may know, Project X is not the official name for the new product line. A more official name will be determined a bit later. If you have not yet heard about "Project X", you can follow the link below which will take you to the announcement in the support forum.


UTX Alaska

Over the last 3 weeks we have been hard at work on our next product to be released. This product is the long awaited "UTX Alaska". Holger Sandmann, of Tongass Fjords X fame among others, is part of the UTX Alaska team and will bring a special expertise needed for that part of the world.

As expected, UTX Alaska will provide the standard Ultimate Terrain X features seen in Canada, Europe and the USA. However, the Alaska product will also be showcasing our "project X" features. Because Alaska is mostly rural, the urban areas of Alaska should make for a terrific "project X" demo region, without requiring extensive development. In the future, "project X" features will be released as brand new products, independent of the Ultimate Terrain line.

UTX Europe Landclass Update

We will be releasing a landclass patch for Europe soon. This patch addresses some misused suburban textures in Europe, improves the landclass around Paris and redraws the wet/dry line for the mediterranean region a bit. While the landclass patch will provide improvements using only the default FSX textures, it will have added benefit when used with the upcoming GEX Europe textures to be released by Flight 1.

That's it for today. My goal is to update the blog at least weekly.

Sorry for the confusion and for the late start in getting this blog going.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Flight Simulator Terrain System (photoscenery and landclass)

This discussion is something that I have been promising our users for some time. Many users are already quite knowledgeable when it comes to flight simulation products and what they actually provide. However, many new users, or even experienced flyers, find the differences between photoscenery and landclass very confusing.

Since we are in the business of providing terrain scenery for Flight Simulators, this blog entry may some of you to better understand the flight simulation terrain system in less technical terms (hopefully).

MSFS Terrain System

Someday, flight simulators will be able to cover the entire earth with consistent, beautifully colored, recent, high resolution imagery. To a smaller degree, the technology is here today. And, there are several fine photoscenery products available that support both FSX and FS9. However, neither the data (imagery) nor hardware capabilities are at the point where the world, or even individual continents can be quickly developed, easily distributed and stored on a user’s computer.

When you look at the terrain scenery in Microsoft’s Flight Simulators, the world appears as one continuous skin covering the entire globe. In reality, the entire world is broken into measurable 1km x 1km square cells. So, the world is one big grid system of individually tiled images that wrap around the globe in a North/South and East/West direction. Each of these small 1km x 1km cells is assigned a particular graphic image that is to be displayed. That graphic can be unique (photoscenery) or selected from a set of available graphic images (as in landclass).


In the case of photoscenery, each cell is assigned to a unique image that depicts the portion of the globe represented by the 1km large cell boundaries. How many cells does it take to cover the entire earth ? Well, the earth is broken up into 24,576 columns x 32,769 rows of these 1km square cells. So, the total number of cells for the entire globe is 805,306,368. That is a lot of individual cells that must be maintained by the flight simulator. What if you wanted to display the entire globe with photoscenery right now. Even if a global product was available, here are some rough numbers for you…

Right now in FSX, each cell is represented by a 1024x1024 pixel image (roughly 1m per pixel resolution). At this resolution, the bitmap storage requirements for each image in FSX (DXT1 format) is 699,122 bytes. In order to create unique textures for the entire globe, for a single season, you would require the following disk storage space:

805,306,368 cells x 699,122 bytes = 563,007,398,608,896 (roughly 563 terabytes of storage)

The roughly 563 terabytes would be necessary for depicting single daytime season (i.e summer). However, you need to multiply this figure by 6 to have 4 seasons depicted, plus a hard winter texture, plus a night texture. With unique 6 image versions of each cell necessary, we are talking about storage requirements in the petabyte range (I had to research that one in wikipedia).

You can see that without major changes in technology or image compression, covering the world in photoscenery is still some ways off. Also, the video card has to have enough RAM to hold the textures needed for a current scenery area when flying in a simulator. If the video card cannot hold all the images in its onboard RAM, it has to constantly swap the images in and out with the disk (paging). This will really slow down your performance.

For obvious reasons, photoscenery is a very popular addon product for flight sims. If it is well done, it provides the pinnacle in flight simulation terrain scenery. But, photoscenery products are currently restricted to smaller regional areas, like major cities of the world or very scenic regions.

Photoscenery is not the only way of depicting terrain in FSX and FS9. In fact, Microsoft does not provide any photoscenic areas in the retail FSX product. If photoscenery is not used to draw the terrain, the terrain is drawn using the landclass system (with vector graphic supplements).

Tomorrow’s blog entry will describe the MSFS landclass system and how it is used.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Giving it a try...

Well, this blog has probably been a long time coming. Anybody that has interest in this blog will already know that Scenery Solutions currently runs a busy forum at www.simforums.com for our Ultimate Terrain product line.

The forum environment works great when it comes to customer support. But, it is probably not the best way to keep our customers (and potential customers) informed of our activities. Information that is posted in the forum can be disjointed and/or quickly buried in the number of forum posts present.

It has been over 1 year since our last product release (UTX Europe). Yet, the last year has been one of the busiest for us. After releasing several patches in 2008, we are now trying to take our flight simulation scenery products to the next level. And, for the last 8 months we have been buried in new development. If things work as planned, the next 12 months will see a flurry of product releases based on the new technologies we have developed in-house.

The intial blog entries will attempt to give an indication of where we are now and where we are headed in the near future. Even though Microsoft has halted development on its flight simulation line for the time being, the 3rd party development community is alive and well.